Guardian Alien @ Power Lunches, London 08.07.14

It's not often that punishingly intense psychedelia comes as a light relief but that was the case when Guardian Alien played in Dalston, writes Ben Wood.

Jul 8th, 2014 at Power Lunches, London / By Ben Wood
Guardian Alien Dalston’s Power Lunches is a gloomy batcave, its vibe just seedy enough for gig-going. It may be sunny outside, but down here in the basement things are getting pretty darn dark...

Opening act William Rees, aka Curling Hands, serves notice that those in search of catchy tunes and obvious song structure are in the wrong building, baby. One man, his guitar, and a shitload of F/X, he creates a sludgy, minimal avant-rock symphony which circles round a simple repeated guitar figure for a...g...e...s. It’s kinda hypnotic, but when the pace picks up and the piece gets thrashier, Bearded can’t help thinking of Nigel Tufnel’s ‘legendary’ Spinal Tap solos.

Electronic duo Don’t Argue describe themselves as a cosmic synth act but any hopes of gentle trippiness are soon extinguished. Whispered ‘moody’ vocals, a crashing, harsh drum machine and a general sense of gothy misery make this a tough watch. While this is happening, more fortunate souls are seeing Brazil’s astonishing World Cup disintegration at the hands of Germany. Lucky buggers!

In such company, the blitzed, maximalist avant-psychedelia of Guardian Alien sounds surprisingly accessible. The brainchild of super-drummer Greg Fox, formerly of dark metal band Liturgy, GA’s album See the World Given to a One Love Entity was inspired, says Fox, by an out-of-body experience he had while meditating. He found himself in a field where a dreadlocked grey alien wearing a tracksuit, who he instantly recognised as his spirit guide, gave him a copy of his yet-to-be-written album, complete with title. Pretty fuckin’ far out, huh?

However, don’t be imagining Guardian Alien are mushy Ozric Tentacles types. This is powerful, no-fucking-around stuff. On record, they seem to be aiming at replicating the feeling of being blitzed on extremely potent psychedelics, one’s sense of reality bending and warping. In this context, the tones of the shahi baajae (a sort of Indian electric zither) seem to imply either impending doom or divine revelation.

This is music that bypasses rationality completely, aiming at a deep, tribal rush. It is to be surrendered to, not analysed. However, live, what can come across as a tad formless is anchored and made more accessible by Fox’s astounding playing.
The man is incredible: seemingly octopus-armed, like a Hindu deity, he is a dervish, a perpetual motion machine. The strobe-lights add to the effect, freezing projections of his hands in the air as he plays, like the impressions left by sparklers during Bonfire Night. Meanwhile, alternatively doomy and ecstatic electronics slither and loom around Fox’s playing.

But while the awesome drumming is even more noticeable live, so - unfortunately - are the vocals of Alexandra Drewchin. While not adding mind-scrambling synthesiser to the mix, she intermittently howls away, and it’s most offputting. It’s not really that sort of band, but oh for some proper singing! The spooky commanding tones of Jefferson Airplane-era Grace Slick would be perfect (think the none-more-trippy ‘White Rabbit’). But as it is, these sections must be endured rather than enjoyed.

Nevertheless, it is a pretty impressive barrage, and our sense of time is obliterated by these dedicated brain-fuck merchants. Before we know it, the gig is over and we must ascend, blinking, into the night.

You couldn’t call tonight a ball of joy, that’s for sure. But while all three acts attacked our senses, at least Guardian Alien did so (largely) enjoyably.