Words by Matthew Osborne / Pics by Emily Doyle
Dublin’s Gilla Band are riding the crest of a wave of noise-punk bands currently enjoying a surge in popularity and critical acclaim. They are joined at The Castle and Falcon this evening by the equally abrasive and experimental French noiseniks, The Psychotic Monks, for the first date of their UK Tour.
There is a sense of expectation in the cosy little front room of the venue before doors open for the gig, with The Psychotic Monks being as eagerly anticipated as the headliners. It is the end of another frenetic working week for most of us, and a couple of slightly dazed looking gents in full suits remind us all of that. We are here to relax.
Although relaxing isn’t a word that springs to mind when describing either of tonight’s acts. Gilla Band’s second album, The Talkies, begins with a close mic recording of singer Dara Kiley having a panic attack.
But whilst both acts produce music which is harsh, atonal, and unforgiving, these anxiety-laden walls of noise are bringing in the punters tonight – and the main room at The Castle and Falcon (for me, one of Birmingham’s best live venues) soon fills up.
The Psychotic Monks take the stage quietly, tinkering with machines and sending a rhythmic pulse through the audience, before slamming us with two gut punchers influenced heavily by the dirtiest German techno. Multi-instrumentalist Paul Dussaux writhes to his panel of buttons and wires like Jimmy Somerville channelling Ian Curtis and, despite the unflinching harshness of the music, all four members look to be having a great time.
Just as I think I’ve got the hang of the band they morph into a more abrasive Sonic Youth-informed monster with a perverted but welcome sense of melody, before closing their set with a stunning and sprawling song called ‘Décors’.
This is fronted by guitarist Martin Bejuy, who downs tools in favour of thrashing about the stage, unhinged, and, foot on monitor, goads those of us brave enough to be standing on the front row with a dangerously untethered microphone stand.
Gilla Band have a tough act to follow. Making it harder is a drunk guy flailing about at the front. He tries to shake Dara Kiley’s hand, and when he is rejected he grabs for his leg instead. Knowing that Dara suffers from anxiety (and reading the grimaces on the faces of those nearest the drunkard) I tense up, bracing for an inevitable confrontation.
Thankfully, security wade through the crowd and eject him a couple of songs into the set, leaving the rest of us free to finally unwind to an hour’s worth of concrete static, air raid siren guitars, and shrieked vocals. Ah… pure bliss.
There is something cathartic in this kind of music. Not everyone is able to chill out to whale noises, gong massages, and finger cymbals – some of us prefer retreating into dark rooms with barely contained explosions of sound obliterating what is left of our eardrums, bouncing with and rebounding off a room full of strangers. Overstimulation clears your head; with senses running at maximum capacity, the brain has no time to think, no time to worry.
Halfway through the gig I become mesmerised by guitarist Alan Duggan’s technique. He spends more time kneeling at his enormous bank of pedals than he does strumming the guitar’s strings.
I watch his fretboard work; at one point I see he is playing an A major chord, but that is not what is ringing out. What I hear when he strums this chord is a concrete slab of white noise weighing roughly the same as a really fucking huge concrete slab smacking me in the face, ribs and heart. All sense of melody is removed from the band’s sound and we are left with, I suppose, Drum ‘n Noise…?
It hurts. Why am I enjoying myself so much? Why are we all enjoying ourselves so much? The crowd behind me is lurching forward, and I turn to see a sea of hypnotised faces swaying in the strobe lights, Buddha-like grins now replacing the traditional British frown.
Gilla band are relentless live. They briefly acknowledge their audience some five or so songs into their set, but banter is sparse. And unlike their support, they don’t look like they’re enjoying themselves so much as exorcising something from within them.
The beats are propulsive; the sound is ferocious and gnarled, broken, but not defeated, not hopeless. There is something about Dara’s vocal delivery that brings to mind James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
Gilla Band could be seen as a reworking of that band, if you pushed them violently through a food blender with no regard for your own limbs and recorded the resultant mess onto cassette tape which you then spooled out onto broken glass and stamped on in a fit of cynical rage.
Which is to say, there is humour and playfulness in there somewhere – but it masks something altogether more disturbing.
At the end of an intense hour or so of fresh sounding music that resembles the overstimulation of our times, I leave the gig feeling calm and relaxed and decide to buy a kebab with no concern for my cholesterol at all. I listen to the two bands I just witnessed on my headphones whilst I eat. I feel calm, happy, and content.
Tomorrow will be another day with its own challenges, but tonight I will sleep. God bless noise rock for pummelling my brain into a quiet submission.
Gilla Band + The Psychotic Monks @ Castle and Falcon 23.02.24 / Emily Doyle
For more on Gilla Band visit: www.gillaband.com
For more on The Psychotic Monks visit: www.fmly.agency/artist/the-psychotic-monks
For more from The Castle and Falcon visit: www.castleandfalcon.com