There's been a lot of noise made recently about the regeneration of Elephant and Castle. Southwark Council is apparently working hard to turn the place round by 2020. As well as, hopefully, ridding the whole area of the faint smell of urine, there's an ambitious programme of building, the way being led by a monstrous tower-block (just what the area needs!), with the aim of turning the whole area into a sanitised car-free plaza of joy. Southwark has, astutely, been looking to win the cultural hearts and minds hence a blossoming of press articles over the last few months looking at the areas 'thriving cultural scene' (ummm The Coronet, Corsica Studios and the Ministry of Sound, by my reckoning). You know, kind of how they've been trying to do to New Cross since forever.
Despite my cynicism, tonight's show was refreshingly different. Billed as a 'Ritual for Elephant and Castle', the aim was to exorcise the area and provide a cultural platform for regeneration (casting out the demons of Southwark Council's previous failures, presumably). A product of artistic collective NOMAD, it saw rising performance/video art star Marcus Coates collaborate with doom, prog, disco stompers Chrome Hoof. According to the press release, its the latest fruits of their ongoing residency, but anything else they've done together seems to have passed me by. We were promised 'one hell of a rock'n'roll disco show and, by golly, they didn't disappoint.
A collaboration between an artist and a rock band should be terrible, on paper at least. It gets me thinking of Neil Young having a live painter on stage with him at his last headlining London shows, and some of Yoko Ono's questionable happenings. But there's definitely a natural synergy between Coates and da Hoof. Both are credible artistic bodies in their own right – Coates has steadily been gaining plaudits over the last few years, most recently forming part of Tate Britain's Altermodern, with Chrome Hoof's brand of cross-genre space rock gaining them fans from right over the musical spectrum. Both also have a track record in surprising and subverting an audience's expectations; Coates with his exploration of the role of the shaman in contemporary culture, Hoof by radically re-imagining what we define a rock band to be (eleven people and two dancers on stage – no problem!). Both resist pigeonholing and both are producing some of the most exiting work in the UK at the moment.
After impressive support from Wildbirds & Peacedrums, first up, were Chrome Hoof. I have to admit I was a massive fan of Leo Smee's first band, retro doom-mongers Cathedral back in the 1990s but this is the first time I got to see his new project. I'm an admirer of their debut Album – Pre-Emptive False Rapture, but it works so much more effectively live than it does in records. Sure, we got the stand-out tracks from their platter, but this band is about much more than the songs – its the sensual overload of the totality that the live experience is all about. It's not subtle, its certainly not fashionable but its not supposed to be. They've emerged from the land of an NME-stylist's nightmare and do exactly what you shouldn't do on stage – fusing everything from metal to jazz to Parliament funk. Hell, they've even got a couple of terrifyingly in-character dancers, looking like refugees from Blake's 7.
After a few songs, Coates makes his entrance. Wearing a giant horses head. Not a rubber mask, but what looks like a REAL horses head from a taxidermist. With scarily real eyes and everything. Coates' artistic method is based on taking journeys to the spirit netherworld, and reporting back his interpretations of what he sees. This, he combines tonight with an extension of his shaman persona. He starts gently, with a locally-relevant traditional folk song, then as he enters the animal world, he becomes horse rock god. It's an explosion of sex, of nature, of dormant animalism. I could ramble on about Coates for hours, but I'll leave it there, for now.
In short, it works as an extension of Chrome Hoof's set. Importantly, and this is a crucial feature of the rest of Coates' work, it's done with a sense of humour. When Coates' time is up, he retreats back into the shadows from whence he came and its the back to the Hoof to round things off.
As far as Friday nights out go, this one was life-affirmingly joyous – part performance art, part rock sure. Yes, the place was packed out by twatty art students, but, above all, it was good old-fashioned fun!