Peter Rehberg, Geneva Cave12, 28 September 2016

Since I’m now based part of the time in Geneva, this blog, never frequently updated at the best of times, is becoming more sporadic than ever. There are a few decent venues in Geneva, but on the whole the live music scene is far quieter than it is in Vienna. For some reason there seem to be more concerts in the neighbouring cities of Lausanne and Vevey than there are in Geneva, even though they are both much smaller, which blows.

Anyway, since moving here in July I’ve only been to two concerts. The first of these was Cat Power, which I may get around to reviewing at some point (although I wouldn’t hold your breath). It was a great pleasure, though, to catch up with Peter Rehberg last week on the first date of a mini Swiss and French tour. The venue, Cave12, seems to be the nearest equivalent to the Rhiz in Geneva, with an impressive roll-call of visitors from the avant rock, noise and experimental music scenes. Centrally located just a few minutes’ walk from the main station, staffed by friendly people and with a PA that has plenty of wallop, Cave12 gets the thumbs up from me.

The last time I saw Rehberg live was back in March at the Rhiz, when he opened for Consumer Electronics – a highly enjoyable evening which I never got around to reviewing for this blog. That evening was notable, among other things, for the fact that Pita had left his Macbook at home and was playing, for the first time I could remember, off some kind of modular synth setup called a Eurorack – an arrangement that he also brought to Geneva. Now I have only the barest understanding of what this means, but speaking as an audience member, the change is dramatic. Instead of staring impassively at a laptop screen, the performer focuses on a range of modules festooned with dials and differently coloured cables, making adjustments to them in real time. From a purely visual standpoint it makes for a far more satisfying experience, invoking as it does the boffin-scientist image that remains key to the iconography of electronic music.

As for the music, that too seemed to benefit from the change in the way it was delivered. Over the course of his 45-minute set, Rehberg generated a single, constantly changing piece that was more variegated and hard-hitting than any I’ve heard him play before. Making few concessions to audience members’ hearing (earplugs were available, although I demurred), Rehberg ramped up the noise levels with explosive shards of frequencies, while deep sub-bass drones threatened to crack the floor open. It could have been the power of suggestion, but I certainly felt that the modular setup brought a more organic, earthier and less clinical edge to proceedings. As Pita busied himself with the plethora of wires and dials in front of him, the music modulated from visceral sludge to moments of Kraftwerkian beauty and proto-Ambient shimmer. For the most part, though, the atmospheres conjured up were distinctly unheimlich, sounding like the despairing cries of some stricken, hydra-headed monster.

Shampoo Boy, Vienna MUMOK, 9 April 2016

What a rum evening this was. Shampoo Boy, the group consisting of Editions Mego label boss Peter Rehberg alongside Christian Schachinger on guitar and Christina Nemec on bass, played a curtain-raising set on the second and final night of some heavily sponsored festival or other at the Museumsquartier. (The forerunner of this group, the sadly missed Peterlicker, also played the opening set at a similarly corporate shindig five years ago; see my review of that event here.) Thanks to the logos plastered everywhere about the place, entrance to the entire festival was free. The event was originally supposed to take place in the main Haupthof of the MQ, which would have been nice; sadly, however, inclement weather meant that it was moved inside to a very large and swish hall known as the Hofstallungen, where I had never been before. The audience was fairly large, but I suspect I was the only one among them who had come especially to see Shampoo Boy.

When I last saw this outfit at the Rhiz in 2013, I complained that the concert was too short. No such reservations this time, in fact this was one of those gigs where I couldn’t wait for it to end. Thanks mainly to the unorthodox approach of guitarist Christian Schachinger, the performance had a shambolic quality which meant that on this occasion the trio certainly outstayed their welcome. Schachinger had imbibed generously from the free drinks supplied backstage, and seemed to be having trouble standing up as a result. His guitar may or may not have been plugged in, but he didn’t seem unduly concerned about the matter either way; in any event, from my vantage point close to the stage, it was entirely inaudible. About halfway through, Schachinger finally succumbed to the inevitable and fell over backwards. There he remained for the rest of the set, his back to the audience, occasionally strumming his guitar in a doomed attempt to play some music.

With all of this japery going on, it was a relief to turn my attention to Rehberg and Nemec, who were bringing things nicely to the boil. Rehberg had an impressive array of dials, cables and whatnot on the table alongside his customary laptop, from which he emitted frequent blasts of scouring noise. Nemec ground out waves of implacable bass tones, her unflappable demeanour contrasting favourably with the events unfolding stage left. Eventually Schachinger staggered to his feet, the three of them concluded their business and they wandered offstage. By that time, though, I was pretty much the only person paying attention, as the vast majority of the audience had drifted off to the bar.

Peter Rehberg & Fennesz, Vienna Grelle Forelle, 19 December 2014; Peter Rehberg/Stephen O’Malley/Bruce Gilbert, Vienna Grelle Forelle, 26 June 2015

I never got around to reviewing the last concert I attended in 2014, which consisted not only of Peter Rehberg’s first solo appearance in more than five years, but also the world premiere of Fennberg, a.k.a. Rehberg and Fennesz, as well. (I was, sadly, not in Vienna at the time Fenn O’Berg, a.k.a. Rehberg, Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke, played at Porgy & Bess in 2001, part of which was recorded for posterity as “A Viennese Tragedy” on the trio’s second album The Return of Fenn O’Berg. Legend has it that the track was so named because the audience on that occasion was so pitifully small.) Now is as good a time as any to rectify that omission, since last week Rehberg appeared again at the same venue, this time at the second of two concerts to mark the 20th birthday of the (Editions) Mego label. I didn’t bother with the first of these, but the prospect of seeing Rehberg on the same bill as Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))) and ex-Wire man Bruce Gilbert was too good to pass up.

First, though, back to that cold evening in December. With solo sets from Rehberg and Fennesz followed by a duo performance, the concert was a gripping illustration of the continuing power and importance of Viennese electronica. Bathed in incongruous flashing lights and buckets of dry ice, Rehberg generated moments of unearthly, twilit beauty among the gravel-hard glitches and massive, pulverizing drones. The soundscape constantly shifted and evolved, seeming almost to resolve itself into warped song structures – an impression doubly reinforced when Fennesz took the stage for his own solo set. Wearing a smart suit and scarf despite the heat inside the venue, the guitarist seemed on the point of sending the audience floating off into the Donaukanal with his shimmering silver riffs and fragmentary, blissed-out tunes.

After a short interval these two legends of the Vienna experimental scene came together for the first time ever as a duo, an event that was as moving as it was historic. Fennesz left his guitar on its stand and joined Rehberg on laptop and devices, creating a music that easily resisted the monolithic and revelled instead in its own deranged beauty. A brief, lulling sample of Tears for Fears’ “Advice for the Young at Heart” added a reflective note that contrasted with the prevailing mood of brittle agitation shaped by the duo. I very much hope that this first Fennberg appearance will not also be the last; it’s a collaboration that’s far too precious to let go.

Six months later Rehberg rounded off the second (Editions) Mego 20th anniversary concert, this time with accompanying visuals by artist and frequent Mego cover designer Tina Frank. It was another excellent performance, with Rehberg’s hovering drones and frequencies finding dreamlike parallels in the flickering, coalescing images on the screen. If there’s TV in the cold reaches of outer space, this is surely what it looks and sounds like.

The evening had been billed as starting at 7.30pm, so having made the effort to be sur place at that time it was quite irritating to find a schedule posted at the door saying that the first act would not be on until 8.00pm. In the event, I needn’t have bothered. I was distinctly underwhelmed by Stephen O’Malley’s opening slot, which consisted of 45 minutes’ worth of muddy guitar riffage and effects pedal action that reverberated and recapitulated without development. I yield to none in my admiration for the mighty Sunn O))) and for KTL, O’Malley’s project with Rehberg. But this was, I’m sorry to say, very boring indeed. Bruce Gilbert’s intervening set did little to lighten my mood, so it was a relief when Rehberg and Frank came on to rescue the evening.

To finish up, a word or two on the venue. December’s concert was my first visit to Grelle Forelle, and as I was to find out, the place had set a number of psychogeographical traps for the unwary. I somehow managed to navigate my way across a thunderous highway to the approximate area where I thought the venue was, but it took a good half hour’s trudging up and down Spittelauer Lände before I was finally able to locate it. It was only when retracing my steps back to Spittelau station on the way home that I noticed the venue’s stylized fish-shaped logo painted now and again on the pavement as a directional aid, somewhat akin to the famous yellow line that runs from Barbican underground station to the Barbican Centre in London. Clearly I should have followed those logos to find the venue, although how I was supposed to know that given that I had never seen the logo before was not adequately explained. Last Friday I was a little more confident of being able to find my way, but I was still on the lookout for the little fish designs on the pavement to help me. And guess what, most of them had disappeared, leaving me floundering just as much as on the previous occasion.

What’s more, Grelle Forelle seems to be a nightclub that puts on occasional concerts, rather than a live music venue per se. This quickly became apparent from the way the venue pulled the tiresome trick of getting the live music audience in ridiculously early and then clearing them out in double-quick time in order to prepare the room for the main business of the evening, the club night. The alternative option, of putting the live music on at a civilized hour and then not having the club night at all, is something that seems not to have occurred to the management at Grelle Forelle. Which is a shame, since the venue’s acoustics, the location and (not least) the bar are all excellent. Still, there is something insulting about being politely but firmly escorted off the premises at the end of a concert and told to relocate to the outside terrace. On a warm evening in June this was not much of a hardship, but on a cold night in December it certainly was. All things considered, both these concerts should have been held at the Rhiz, which could easily have accommodated the number of people attending them.

Shampoo Boy, Vienna Rhiz, 13 October 2013

A couple of years ago Peterlicker, an Austrian noise rock band with a silly name who were originally and briefly active in the late 1980s, reformed to make an album and play a few gigs. Peterlicker were notable, among other things, for having Peter Rehberg in their line-up. Reviewing their gig at the 2011 Waves Festival, I urged the group to “please try to stick around this time”, a forlorn hope as they split up again soon after. But fear not, as Rehberg and guitarist Christian Schachinger have regrouped to form another band, the equally daftly named Shampoo Boy, which also features Christina Nemec on bass. Having signed to Blackest Ever Black Records, the group played their début Vienna gig last weekend at the Rhiz.

Shampoo Boy may lack the tormented vocals that Franz Hergovich brought to Peterlicker, but Schachinger and Rehberg made up for his absence with a set heavy on explosive guitar and harsh analogue drones. It was a pleasure, indeed, to see Pita using an analogue synth, although it was of course hooked up to a laptop rather than anything so retrograde as a keyboard. His head bowed as he focused on his various dials, never once looking up at the audience, Rehberg issued a constant stream of uneasy atmospherics which lent some needed structure to Schachinger’s psychotic soloing. The guitarist hacked frenziedly away at his instrument, making extensive use of effects pedals to render his playing ever more venomous and thrilling. At one point he ill advisedly took a violin bow to his strings, which didn’t last long before it got wrecked. Standing coolly and unflappably between the other two, Nemec was an unassuming presence on bass, her contributions tentative and frequently inaudible.

All too soon it was over, the group having played for no more than 35 minutes. Coming in the wake of No Home’s gig the other week, which also clocked in at well under an hour, I’m beginning to wonder if playing abbreviated sets is some kind of avant thing these days. Compared to the world of free jazz, where two 45-minute sets are standard, or even that of rock, where gigs also normally go on for at least 90 minutes and often more, audiences at these events are entitled to feel short-changed. I hesitate to make this observation, for fear of sounding like some blimpish value-for-money merchant. But it wouldn’t hurt these avant types to stretch out their live repertoire somewhat, lest people start to think that playing short sets isn’t so much about being extreme as it is about running out of ideas.

Peterlicker: Nicht

On 9 November 1989 an East German Communist Party official named Günter Schabowski spoke to assembled journalists at a press conference in East Berlin about the mounting crisis in his country. A few minutes before the conference began, Schabowski had been handed a note by his superiors giving details of new regulations whereby private individuals could travel freely from East to West Berlin. But he was unprepared for the question that quickly came of when the new rules were to take effect. The note he had received was unclear on the matter, so Schabowski assumed that the regulations were effective immediately, and told the press conference as much. The news quickly spread, and thousands of people began gathering at the Berlin Wall. By 10.45 that evening, the checkpoints were open.

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Concerts of 2011

Here’s some kind of list of the concerts I enjoyed most in 2011, with links to the reviews I wrote at the time. In chronological order:

1. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arena, Vienna
2. Frode Gjerstad Trio with Mats Gustafsson, Blue Tomato, Vienna
3. Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger, Shelter, Vienna
4. Home Service, Half Moon, London
5. The Thing with Ken Vandermark, Porgy & Bess, Vienna
6. Glen Hansard, Porgy & Bess, Vienna
7. Peterlicker, Waves Festival, Vienna
8. Death In June, Ottakringer Brauerei, Vienna
9. Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, Stadttheater, Wels
10. Ken Vandermark/Mats Gustafsson/Massimo Pupillo/Kent Kessler/Hamid Drake/Paal Nilssen-Love, Alter Schlachthof, Wels

Peterlicker, Vienna Waves Festival, 1 October 2011

I guess I wasn’t really part of the Waves Festival’s target market (market being very much the operative word here), which probably explains why I found myself being riled by practically every aspect of this event. In the first place, its corporate logo-infested identity did a great job of concealing its unique selling point (gah, it’s catching): the bringing together of artists from all over Europe to the city that stands at the crossroads of eastern and western Europe. Plus, if pan-Europeanism was the key, it was depressing to see how narrow and constrained the programme was. The most important musics coming out of eastern Europe these days incorporate significant elements of improvisation and radical performance practice, but you’d be hard pressed to find any challenging sonics in the endless ranks of twee indie boys and pale, waiflike girls who dominated the schedule. Not to mention the crap organizational arrangements which made being a paying punter at this festival a very dispiriting experience.

For reasons best known to themselves, most reviewers of Saturday’s line-up made no mention at all of Peterlicker’s appearance on the romantically named Opel Corsa Stage, opting to write instead about the empty bombast of British Sea Power which followed. This is my small attempt to redress the balance. Peterlicker, of course, are the latest group to hit the reunion trail, a little-remembered Austrian outfit from the late 80s and early 90s who just happened to include in their line-up a young Peter Rehberg. A track recorded live at their first ever concert, in Vienna on 9 November 1989 (also the night the Berlin Wall came down, fact fans), surfaced last year on Neonbeats, a compilation of Austrian new wave and post-punk music on the Klanggalerie label. That compilation appearance not only got the members of the group talking again, it provided the impetus for them to produce a new album, Nicht, and to play live again.

For a group who hadn’t played together for over 20 years, Peterlicker certainly went about their business with an air of confident swagger. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Pita were Franz “Hergo” Hergovich on voice, Der Standard music critic Christian Schachinger on guitar and Gregor Weissegger on bass, who together produced a sound that was utterly crushing in its totality. Schachinger and Weissegger were like evil axe-wielding twins, the former’s monstrously dense riffs hovering like black clouds over the latter’s doomy, effects-damaged bass progressions. Every so often Schachinger would hold his guitar up and knee it in the groin, each blow reinforcing the impression of barely controlled violence emanating from the stage. The studied, outwardly calm Rehberg issued wave after wave of electronic venom from his laptop, while Hergovich was simply a star. Coming over like a cross between the abject self-abasement of Michael Gira and the assaultive malice of William Bennett, this tall, well-dressed figure threw himself trancelike around the stage while delivering himself of abstract, tormented vocals. Basically, Peterlicker were out to obliterate everything in their path, and did so without any hesitation.

For those who remain sceptical of the static, anodyne approach favoured by so many contemporary Noise musicians, Peterlicker offer a wholly convincing alternative, one predicated on immense physical engagement and collective presence. Welcome back, guys, and please try to stick around this time.

Austrian Chart

Chart of 15 Austrian records published in the December 2010 issue of The Wire. To be eligible for inclusion in this chart the artist just needed to be Austrian, or be based in Austria, or have at least one Austrian member, or something. They weren’t the most rigorous of criteria.

chart

Concerts of 2009

Here’s a list of the concerts I enjoyed most in 2009. There’s not much of an order to these ten, except for number 1, which was an incredible evening for me for all sorts of reasons.

1. Jandek, B72, Vienna
2. Spiritualized, Krems, Austria
3. Peter Brötzmann/Toshinori Kondo/Massimo Pupillo/Paal Nilssen-Love, Fluc, Vienna
4. Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love, Blue Tomato, Vienna
5. Mats Gustafsson/Barry Guy/Raymond Strid, Blue Tomato, Vienna
6. Sonore/The Thing, Blue Tomato, Vienna
7. Naked Lunch/Universalove, Gartenbaukino, Vienna
8. Sunn O)))/Pita, Arena, Vienna
9. Bruce Springsteen, Ernst Happel Stadium, Vienna
10. Kraftwerk, Wiesen, Austria

Pita & Z’ev, Vienna Rhiz, 6 December 2009

Exceptional concert of crushing noise from the reliably hardcore Peter Rehberg and his partner for the evening, American percussionist Z’ev. Aside from this brief review of an album he made a few years ago with David Jackman a.k.a. Organum, this was my first acquaintance with Z’ev, whom I was vaguely aware of as some kind of Industrial metal-basher. No metal onstage tonight, though; instead Z’ev played the V-drums, and did so with great skill and panache.

Because the V-drums don’t require a huge amount of physical exertion to play, the American was able to lay down all manner of complex and interlacing stickwork, which ended up sounding like a vast and heavy cloud of noise. Z’ev’s playing was especially notable for the way it almost-but-not-quite resolved into a steady rhythmic pulse, leaving the listener with a distinct sense of unease and discomfort.

Over on the other side of the stage, Rehberg made plenty of contributions to that sense of unease himself with the squalls of sonic violence issuing from his Macbook. Indeed, such was the totality of noise in the room that it was frequently impossible to tell whether a given sound was being generated by Rehberg or Z’ev. Not that it mattered. The two of them barely exchanged a glance at each other for the hour or so they were onstage, yet behind this apparent lack of communication lay a supremely intuitive understanding of how to ramp up the tension to monstrous levels. Possessed by a malign sense of urgency, Rehberg’s hissing drones and Z’ev’s clattering percussion are made for each other.