Smegma, Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock et al – gig review

Here’s an old review of a Freenoise gig which I wrote for Sandman, published about a year ago.
Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock

Smegma / Chora / The Hototogisu / Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock
Freenoise @ D’nR Live

Freenoise have showcased some fascinating line-ups in Sheffield over the last six months. Tonight they’d coaxed veteran “kings’n’queen of Freenoise” Smegma all the way from the USA. It’s a great shame that so few people ventured out on a Wednesday evening to witness the bizarre goings on.

The evening kicked off with local boys (and Freenoise regulars) Chora. Two men scrabbled on the floor, fiddling with guitars, percussion, effects boxes and other sundry noise toys. It didn’t make for great viewing but the sounds they conjured up were awe-inspiring. Actually, the whole 15-minute performance was made up of just one sound: an ever-advancing wall of noise which masked unexpected subtleties, dancing symphonies of tinnitus.

Hototogisu offered more of the same but different. Again, two people tinkered with guitars and toys, making loud-yet-subtle sound sculptures. Their performance had rather more dynamic range than Chora’s, stretches of quiet among the deafening tumult. But they also proved the maxim that less is more: 15 minutes is about the right length for this sort of set, 45 minutes somewhat exhausting and counter-productive.

Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock (from Switzerland via Japan and London) were very different, different in fact from anything I’ve ever seen before. Runzelstirn, looking like a bedraggled S&M gimp, sat in a chair wearing a skirt, rubber gloves and a long black wig. He hardly moved, except to open and close his eyes, but two microphones hanging from the corners of his mouth broadcast heavy breathing to the audience. In each hand was a switch connected to a wire, and as he caressed them the room filled with sounds of children and chaos. Meanwhile his partner Gurgelstock stalked the venue in a goblin mask, unsettling the audience by singling people out and standing next to them, while the tiny Roland amplifier on his shoulder beeped intermittently.

Finally Smegma took the stage. The band have been together since 1972, and had more than a few grey hairs to show for it, but their performance was full of energy. The set was entirely improvised, but their long experience playing as a unit made it incredibly coherent, frequently coagulating into swampy jazz-rock rhythms and funky beats which would hover for a minute or so before gradually reforming into something different.

Shame you missed it, next time, try harder! And keep an eye on www.freenoise.co.uk for more of the same, but oh so very different.

Dan Sumption