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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Live Review: My Cat Is An Alien


Café Oto, London, November 24 2011

So, what exactly is “psychedelia”? Is it (a) any music which is designed to alter the mind, either with or without the assistance of hallucinogenic substances, and take the listener on a trip into stratospheres henceforth unknown? Or is it (b) wearing a flowery shirt, purple velvet flares and suede boots and having your hair cut like Brian Jones? If your answer is the former, then the chances are My Cat Is An Alien will hover in your orbit. If it’s the latter, you’ll hate them. To further clarify my point: what is “progressive music”? Is it (a) any music which attempts to experiment, do something original or creative, and take bold sonic steps beyond the ‘norm’, or is it (b) a bunch of blokes, sometimes accompanied by the obligatory hippychick vocalist, going widdly-widdly in an attempt to rehash the glory days of Yes, ELP and Gentle Giant? Again, if yours is the second choice, then you might as well stop reading now.

That’s not to say that the music they make is unbelievably original or brand new, but somewhere between the downtuned nebular voids of Saucerful-era Floyd and ‘In Search Of Space’ era Hawkwind’s sonic attacks, the Butthole Surfers or MBV’s pioneering ‘arsequakes’, the utter chaos of ID Company or John & Yoko, Nurse With Wound’s anarcho-surrealism, the minimalism of Sonic Youth (whose label they are signed to) and the whooshing sound continents of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, the brothers Maurizio and Roberto Opalio have found their own world, a playful tinkering bedroom of sound: hence the use of toy light sabres, instamatic cameras and all manner of primitive battery-powered ephemera as an integral part of their stagecraft.

Occasionally they also bring out acoustic guitars and trample on the free-folk territory of Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Voice Of The Seven Woods or Spires That In The Sunset Rise, with obvious tips to the atonal outsider strums of Skip Spence, Simon Finn and The Shaggs, but not tonight. Regardless of what mood they’re in, though, MCIA sound at all times like themselves - two brothers from downtown Torino who grew up collecting unusual music and in the end decided to start making it themselves, for no other reason than sheer enjoyment (which is evident on their faces tonight), on their own terms, releasing a quite amazingly varied, not to say prolific, series of limited edition albums in a variety of elaborate packages over the course of the last decade.

So why is this in Happening? Whilst they may be, with the possible exception of Psychic TV, Current 93 or Dharma Sun Collective, the most outré, extreme or uncompromising band ever to grace these pages, they play, quite clearly, with the attack of all great psychedelic rock n roll bands, guitars thrust and held aloft under strobe lighting and back projections, shapes thrown, hair and leather jackets flailing, and drums battered senseless. And besides, somebody has to not only remind people that the word “psych” is still occasionally suffixed by the word “edelic”, and write about avant-garde artists without stooping to the kind of po-faced erudition-flaunting so typical of other publications - and if that task falls to me, then so be it.

Vocally, we’re in the realm of wordless, swooping space whispers and wails - they could be in English, Italian, or an invented language, but to try and decipher it would be to solve the mystery, which would defeat the object. Guitars scrape, bass thumps and pounds in full, doom-laden chords, and cymbals are used as plectrums: if you’re wondering what separates such “art” from people merely arsing about, just trust me when I say that while there may be no immediately discernible melody (save for the manifold ones you can hear squalling in your own head), there’s definitely a structure, and it tells a story. The difference is no-one, not even the brothers themselves, knows quite where it will end.

The makers of licensing laws do, though, which means that sadly, just as it gets going, it’s all over. Never have 75 minutes passed quite so fleetingly, or been appreciated by so few: the warehouse-like environs of Oto are half-full tonight. I guess even within avant-garde progressive circles there are denominators….That, of course, is also true of our own scene, but some are still adventurous enough to entertain the idea of sheer unadulterated soundscapes for the sake of cosmic exploration alone, and while not all voyagers will be present for the duration of the journey, the terrain will be fascinating.

Darius Drewe Shimon

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