Body / Head [Live]


Café Oto is an artisan bunker of a venue with its cold concrete interior, lack of furniture and the red lights that would put Amsterdam to shame.

Thanks to its artfully distressed design, it is also a grown up venue where you are more likely to sip organic coffee or a full flavour Beaujolais than a flat cider and black. The clientele normally matches, as bearded East London critics sit chatting over the latest in experimental with a chai latte and chip on the shoulder.

Tonight this stereotype is not far from the reality as every aging post-punk fan in the city has come to worship their queen; Sonic Youth’s beautifully iconic Kim Gordon, who has joined forces with long tem friend Bill Nace to form the partnership Body / Head.

It is fairly common to see devotion at gigs, people elbowing their way to the front to mark position a breath away from their hero, but it’s even better to see dedicated middle age men fight each other for a good spot over an hour before the headline act.

But then Body / Head make a foreboding duo that demands that kind of anticipation and respect. A perfect platonic marriage forged over the meeting of electric guitars and minds. The guitars are really at the centre of this friendship with both members embracing the avant garde in every strum, pluck and tap.

Gordon also brings her talented artistic merit to the Body / Head table with a video narrative projected behind the thick and relentless wall of reverb. That’s where she’s been hiding. After the dissolution of Sonic Youth due to marital differences, she has been on an underground mission to bridge the gap between post-punk and performance art.

At this Dalston performance, the audience is treated to an unsettling visual depiction of a photographer’s interaction with his young subject. As the music vibrates around the opening hums of feedback, the protagonist glares blankly out of the screen, boring menacingly into the audience. The mood is set for what the crowd is in for; an hour of unrelenting noise and visuals that stares you fully in the face and gets inside your head.

There is not much in way of songs, with the rulebook repeatedly stamped on and thrown out of the window. Instead, each musical odyssey is only broken by a change in pedal or effect. Nace repeatedly works his Les Paul into the ground, holding the loose strings of a melody against Gordon’s six stringed abstract sounds.

The vocals are guttural and Gordon’s power is fully apparent in every growl. Most of the words are lost and totally inaudible over the rhythmic howling of the guitar under them but it actually doesn’t matter what she’s saying; it’s about how she is saying it. The raw emotion and power of it speak for itself.

At one point an unlikely mouth organ appears from between the spool of wires and attached pedals. It’s not like you’ve ever heard it though, stretched and distorted beyond its folk heritage. Unexpected twists like this peppered throughout the set are what keep the whole performance absorbing despite the chaotic structure.

The duo’s Coming Apart LP, released back in September, is visited only briefly in a reworking of ‘Black’ that is only just recognisable in the flesh. An ominous cover of a folk favourite, the set closes with an almighty thunderclap of static.

They may not ever reach the heights of Sonic Youth, but Body / Head aren’t trying to. Instead they are pushing the boundaries defiantly and testing how far the guitar can go. It’s all an experiment and one that’s producing some captivating results. Just remember the earplugs.

By Sarah Joy