Ether column, December 2009

If you’re tired of the usual New Year’s Eve party locations, or you don’t much fancy having firecrackers thrown in your face by children on Stephansplatz, why not head over to the Rhiz for a special end-of-year show by Bulbul? This fun-loving Austrian trio are a regular fixture on the Vienna live circuit, bringing home the point that there’s nothing like frequent gigging if you’re a band that wants to get noticed. Fresh from his triumphant appearance with Jandek in October, drummer Didi Kern will be joined by Raumschiff Engelmayr and Derhunt (possibly not his real name) for an evening of angular, splintery rock with lots of distorted guitar and pounding bass – the ideal way to wave goodbye to the old year and say hello to 2010.

My final recommendation of the year also goes to an Austrian group, The Scarabeusdream. The duo from Burgenland serve up an electrifying mix of keyboards, drums and screamed-out vocals. Pianist Bernd Supper approaches the keyboard like he’s fighting with it, standing up to play and hammering relentlessly down on the keys, while drummer Hannes Moser’s engagement with his kit is similarly deranged and physical. The group’s début album Sample Your Heartbeat To Stay Alive showcases their aggressively minimalist approach to great effect.

The Scarabeusdream, Vienna WUK, 7 July 2009

Two gigs in three days, from the cavernous expanse of the Happel Stadium to an intimate space in the WUK arts and performance centre. Woot, as I believe the young people would say.

The Scarabeusdream were a name new to me, but I somehow think I’ll be seeing them again. This was originally supposed to be an open-air event in the WUK’s courtyard, but the inclement weather forced them to relocate upstairs. And I’m very glad they did, since the duo of electric pianist Bernd Supper and drummer Hannes Moser were immensely powerful and watchable in the Projektraum, the sheer physicality of their performance often threatening to bust the walls. By the end there was a very tidy audience in the room. Some of them were no doubt Scarabeusdream fans, some may have been sheltering from the rain, some may have heard the group’s angular noise blasting out across the courtyard and come over to investigate, and some may have been bored refugees from the Joe Jackson concert over in the main hall.

If anyone did indeed make their way across from the Jackson show, they would have seen a keyboardist whose playing was light years distant from the beanpole’s tasteful stylings. Bernd Supper’s approach to the piano was physical, daring and frequently electrifying. Hammering down on the keys, often standing up and seemingly engaged in a wrestling match with the instrument and with his piano stool, Supper at times resembled a deranged Peter Hammill – the only other musician I’ve seen whose relationship with the piano is so laden with tension and aggression. His singing too, while lacking Hammill’s majesty and gravitas, certainly had something of the Van der Graaf Generator man’s blood-curdling intensity.

Sitting directly across the stage from Supper, Hannes Moser was a thunderously effective and relentless drummer. Even more so than the pianist, Moser was driven to physical engagement with the space – perching precariously on his kit and launching attacks on anything that came to hand. The two men were clearly feeding off each other’s energy and commitment as they drove themselves to ever greater heights of Sturm und Drang.

With its restless quiet/loud dynamics and sense of urgency bordering on desperation, this music had something of the flavour of Radiohead and Silver Mt Zion, blended with a progressive-style complexity. And yet with its limited tonal range and clusters of notes that stubbornly refused to resolve into melodies, the duo often seemed like they were caught in some zone of mathematical entrapment from which they were struggling to escape. Screaming “Are you alive or are you just a reflection?” at the top of his voice, a livid and dangerous glint in his eye, Moser was clearly in a place that you wouldn’t want to hang around in for too long.

There’s a great set of photos of the evening by David Murobi here.