Saturday, July 07, 2007

Sunn O))) + Earth @ The Independent, 4 July 2007

These are two of the leading drone metal bands. Earth are pioneers of this genre and Earth 2 is definitely a classic. Sunn O))) supposedly started out as a tribute band to Earth but they have now taken a very different path.

The audience at the Independent was mostly white studenty types, mixed with about 10% older metal regalia types. I didn’t see much of the metallers later except for a drunk girl who headbanged to Sunn O))). At one point someone near me kept doing something that was creating a light behind me. When I sneaked a look I saw it was someone playing with their new iPhone. It is improbably thin.

I liked Earth. The band set up their own equipment. Leader Dylan Carson wears a Fender cap and looks like a regular guy. He wished us a happy 4th of July, which some people took as an excuse for cheap irony, but I think he meant it. The Earth sound is based on low bass tones. Carson tunes the bottom string of his guitar for each song. He starts a riff by playing the low note, which the bassist doubles, then Carson plays the rest of the riff on the other strings. This doesn’t sound all that innovative, but music is mysterious, right? It works. They also have a drummer, who punctuates the beat rather than driving it, and a keyboardist who adds drones and occasional jazzy piano. There’s no singing, and each piece lasts about five minutes. There’s no showing off, this is a band performance. A song is dedicated to Link Wray. Earth are clearly a band in the rock tradition.

Sunn O))), on the other hand, in performance, are about ritual and noise. Some of this works well. They have smoke machines and lights. They dress in hooded cloaks. They lift plectrums and guitars high above their heads. The sound is intensely loud. You know how in a club you can sometimes feel your chest vibrate sympathetically with the bass? At Sunn O))) I could feel my legs vibrating. I pity anyone who did not have earplugs. They don’t have a drummer. The sounds changes very slowly.

Some of the performance did not work for me. The amazing noise did not actually change very much. I could not hear any of the subtlety and dynamics that Sunn O))) have on record. It went on far too long, I was bored after a while. They have a silly singer who mutters satanically, later in the show he dressed in a bloody smock. I think it’s funny that the band drink so much when they’re playing. Obviously I am some sort of weird puritan but I think it shows lack of dedication to the ritual. Playing this sort of stuff involves some risk, and maybe a show like this doesn’t always work. For me it was a failure, though I’m glad to have seen it.


  1. I didn't see (((Sunn-O))) drink beer at the concerts of theirs I was at, but then they were buried in dry ice. They only had a vocalist one time, but I thought he added to the occasion with his strange inhuman noises. Actually, the really great thing about him were his hands, which were often all you could see of the band.

    For weirdo ritualised live bands, see if you can catch Thighpaulsandra, the very gay former collaborator with Julian Cope and others. I think I saw him before I started my blog, so I can't post a link, but basically imagine some of the band wearing burkas while others (the pretty young ones with names like The Boy Anal) just wore silver kecks. Thighpaulsandra is great for the spectacle, whatever about the music.

  2. *Sigh* Sunn O))) just visited Australia and I stupidly decided to save my pennies and not see them. I regret missing the ritual! Nice blog by the way.

  3. @Ian:
    The two main Sunn guys were swigging wine from the bottle. I was dangerously near the front so I could sometimes see things through the smoke. Have always liked the sound of Thighpaulsandra, I think he/she/it was in the Wire mag a long time ago.

    thanks, the Sunn experience is, on the whole, worth the pain.