Drew McDowall & Helm live @ Kuudes Linja, Helsinki 10/2/2016 (Gig Review)
As Time Machines by Coil of my favourite pieces of sound and safe in the knowledge that the core gestation of it came from McDowall, finding out last minute that Drew McDowall and Helm were playing was a source of acquired brain injury seal happy for me.
I say last minute because if Helm had not tweeted his whereabouts and schedule about playing, we might never have known. So it was off to drag the bandmate from work with a surprise.
The gig was at Kuudes Linja — the sort of cooler older brother venue to Helsinki’s Kaiku. I had yet to visit this venue and found it impressively intimate, with a sound system that brought the hefty. Besides a bar with booths, the main room is a black sound padded box with a stage at one end, the sound desk at the other and nothing else.
Sadly, we missed the start of Helm’s performance. What I did catch was teethrattingly impressive and I am unsure I have seen my bandmate that happy at new sounds. It was a wall of imposing soundscape that was as completely engulfing as it was damagingly loud. A sonic hyperbaric chamber that crushed fragmentary textures of Fantômas, Coil, Tetsu Inoue, Olhoun, of tangled bits of rave, Cindytalk, Lustmord, Raime and other fleeting echoes of those dealing in similar stations of audio…audio…I’d say bludgeoning, but it’s far more like getting chloroformed, wrapped up in a douvet, then a carpet, and driven to a bridge. It’s a long drive mind, and they may stop to pat you or kick the parcel a few times.
It is a testament to Helm’s skill at the loom that he slots into a litany of expansive genres in a timeless fashion that makes his music feel like it could or should always have been there. Post nothing, it just is. It is easy to see why McDowall took to the road with Helm.
Between the soundsystem and his own sonics when Helm did finish, it was reminiscent of the curtain scene from Nosferatu. A sudden whoosh of void and silence where before had cloyed a heavy sort of throb that reminds me of the dark cul-de-sac of Italian exploitation films and wondering if this is what ECT and Largactil feel like at the same time.
Helm had little interaction with the crowd and considering the sort of weaponry he’s plying, I don’t think he needs to do anything other than politely wave and say thanks at the bar when you accost him to babble thank you.
The gap between Helm and McDowall had a strange listless and in that foreplay were momentarily unsure whether we had missed McDowall. I vaguely remember seeing McDowall at the sounddesk at the back of the room, but could be mistaken.
What followed was easily my gig of the year so far. With a modular synth bank, an Octatrack, a custom machine of upright wires and some other bits of machinery. The following sound of McDowall bore the monolithic step of something biblical and forgotten as it did the cracked fluttering fluorescence of a semi-operational semi-derelict Bethlem Asylum.
This was only disturbed by a small group in the crowd who loudly spent portions of the gig complaining about the sound, the volume of the sound and how it was the wrong venue for McDowall and they should turn it down. After awhile, this vague melted into an odd susurrus beneath McDowall that felt a bit like people giving out about kids in the orchard and occasionally saying “808” as if some sort of sound designer dementia has took over their time minding the orchard.
With Collapse being one of the most essential releases of the last couple years. McDowall brought a type of sound that slightly resembles the phrase “The Colour out of Space” and a mescaline addled Huxley replying “There seems to a lot of it” when asked “What about time?” Somewhere between all that; in those spaces of burnt damp Polaroid memories from the bottom of a fungal suitcase.
Between the desolate landscapes of broken dystopian cities built from and onto each other, with old rooms where forgotten computers babble their evolved consciousness through intermittent ISDN and masked figures search for salvage.
There was room to dance and sway to the “continually changing apocalypse” McDowall was spinning from his machines.
Like Helm, when the portal closed; it brought us to a stagger as the wall we were leaning on disappeared back into McDowall and his machines.
If music can be drugs or entheogenic then McDowall buffered up by Helm was the sort of glee filled catharsis you read exaggerations like this about.
If anything — my only criticism is that the experience was too short. Its ending unexpected; left shaken, wanting more. A sudden audio DMT trip through an alternate Babbage, Brunner, Rankin future. But, as with other things, I am unsure if that is even a criticism. Between Helm and McDowall I may have lost access to a few frequencies in my hearing.
It was very heartening for McDowall to be as good as hoped. Though it is hard to measure if he would have had the same impact if Helm had not pummeled the field and poisoned the wells in preparation. It was in essence, a slice of happiness that left us both with a kind of dazed uninhibited sugar high. That was bold enough for us accost a seemingly shy Helm and an initially quiet then warm old school gentleman McDowall with wide armed effusive thanks. I don’t think since Yob has a performer or act been that generous with their time.
One of my main problems with gigs in Finland is the odd sometime supplicant nature of the crowd. It seems rare they bellow for more and when the noise stops, they seem to immediately file out the door. Sometimes, with waves of the crowd leaving before the final songs are finished. It also seemed a mistake by the venue that they had nothing planned to carry on after as a sort of gentle let down.
It is rare I write about gigs anymore. The “you had to be there” litany of other people talking about gigs is bad enough. Until it’s you, chewing a pen in a bar, boring the shit out of yourself. But I had to write something about Drew McDowall and Helm, you probably would want to after you’ve seen them too.