THE ROOM WAS ALMOST DANGEROUSLY OVERCROWDED, AND MOST OF THE PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE, TO MY NAIVE FIFTEEN YEAR OLD SELF, LOOKED LIKE THE WEIRDEST BUNCH OF FREAKS I’D EVER SEEN.
Up until that point the only live shows I’d attended were local grungy guitar bands playing terrible cover versions to their mates in South London pubs. And then, one day in 1992 someone invited me to see Daisy Chainsaw supported by Elephant Witch at the ULU. I guess me and my friends were just expecting another grungy rock gig, albeit on a slightly larger scale…
I still have no idea what the DJ was playing before the first band took to the stage, but none of it was familiar to me – I recall the sound of drum machines, unsettling distorted noises and atonal feedback and wanted to run to the DJ booth each time a new song faded in to ask him or her what it was. Which was impossible since by now we’d been pushed close to the front of the stage in a tightly packed sea of people. We were clearly going nowhere else for the remainder of the evening. I remember thinking momentarily “What if I need to pee?” and then immediately forcing myself to block this unrealistic notion from my mind.
Eventually the lights in this already pretty dark room dimmed further and the first band walked on stage. I say “band” but up until this time, the only bands I’d seen tended to consist of four or five guys playing drums and guitars. Elephant Witch walked on carrying two large metal bins and a bag full of bread.
This is where the weirdness levels began to escalate. I can’t remember when or how they started playing, like you can’t really remember the start of a dream. But their set consisted of two men dressed identically (red dreadlocks, dungarees) each carrying a megaphone, each standing on top of one of the big metal bins which had been placed at either side of the stage. There may have been a drummer somewhere onstage but by this time there was so much dry ice it was difficult to tell. An incredibly loud monotonous beat was playing which sounded like workmen disassembling scaffold in a wind-tunnel and the two identical red haired boys began chanting the words “WELCOME TO EARTH” into their megaphones.
At some point two women appeared in the centre of the stage. Both were dressed in huge wedding gowns and wearing gas masks. One of them took a loaf of bread out of the bag and they began to have a kind of tug of war, each violently pulling on one end of the loaf until it split in two. Then the other would take a new loaf of bread from the bag and they would again begin to pull the bread apart between them.
At some point I became aware of a strange sense of nausea. It was then that I realised that the only lights in the room for the last few minutes had been two slightly out-of-sync strobe lights.
I should point out that my memory of all of this is somewhat hazy so I might be incorrect about some of the details here, but the overall sensation of confusion, danger and disorientation coupled with the relentlessly hypnotic music – a constant drum groove with clashing metal percussion and tons of echo on everything, combined with the now incessant mantra of “WELCOME TO EARTH” – lodged itself into my brain like a religious epiphany.
Live music didn’t, it turned out, have to be a flimsy xerox copy of your favourite rock’n’roll heroes. It didn’t have to be long haired boys* singing songs about how much they hate themselves. It didn’t even have to consist of sounds that were traditionally considered “music”. It could be used to convey those subliminal mental sensations that exist between wake and sleep. It could create worlds, either utopian or dystopian. It could change the nature of immediate reality.
I’ve never heard anything else from or by Elephant Witch since then. I have no idea if it was some kind of one-off prank or a serious artistic endeavour. And to be honest I suspect that if I was to hear them now I’d find the whole thing a bit silly.
…But it was that culture-shock that my fifteen year old brain didn’t even know it needed that night. It was a spark. A first step** in a journey towards my own attempts at making music which tries to create worlds of universal joy, rather than obsesses on the tranient feelings of “I”.
I doubt that you’ll see The Infinite Three tear up a load of stale bread onstage anytime soon, but we do try our best to aim for that non-linguistic place between mind and matter. Feel free to pick up a copy of our latest album, Innocence / Foam, to hear how close we get.
Thank you for listening to my inane ramblings but, much more importantly, thanks for supporting our music.
Love & Rage
The Infinite Three
*I say this as a long haired middle aged man who, despite everything rather likes guitar music as long as it’s not too self-loathing.
**I’ve left out the much earlier first step of dancing to Adam & The Ants in my pants at the age of 5.