By Frederic Bruhin-Price
Band on the Wall is a fantastic venue. Somehow, along with its consistently heady atmosphere, it manages to provide a sense of homeliness for the wandering music-lovers of Manchester, as well as some truly exotic musical selections and excellent ale. BOTW has a reputation for booking acts who make music with soul: this year’s future program includes an almost exhaustive range of styles, from reggae (Dreadzone, Lee Perry), to Psychedelia (The Soft Machine), through Drum and Bass (Roni Size) to Blues and even Jazz (the brilliant Bill Laurance). Last Friday, the venue hosted Ozric Tentacles, a band who seem to fuse all these styles and more to create their own unique sound, transcending barriers of genre and indeed language. The Ozrics make primal music, free from vocals, which is international, inclusive, progressive, stimulating for the mind and an absolute wonder to experience live.
26 albums into their 33-year career, the Ozrics have the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a band writing their first songs and playing them live for the first time. Interviews with the band confirm the importance of enjoyment to the band’s musical mission. Bassist Brandi Wynne says of a good musician “they have to be smiling,” with husband and only remaining original member Ed concurring that “[musicians] have to enjoy what they’re doing.” At BOTW, the band seem genuinely happy to be here “Manchester… You guys are always so awesome… The best – it doesn’t get any better than this.” The Ozrics made the crowd feel special.
Ironically a band with the Ozrics’ ability to create such an immersive atmosphere in a room and create music that laughs at any notions of trends, commercialism or genre, enjoyed a brief spell of mainstream success in the early 1990s. That passed, but Ozric Tentacles never wavered from their path, with their live shows still offering an audio-visual extravaganza for fans new and old. At Band on the Wall on Friday night the visual imagery of mandalas, strange pulsating space-urchin-like forms and squelching liquids combined with the music to form a sort of fog which musicians and spectators were, for over two hours, caught up in together.
Tellingly, bass player Brandi sets up all the band’s gear – and she had been grooving with us at the front throughout the support band’s set. Is this another episode in the ongoing tale of the subjugated bassist? It would seem not – just a truly effervescent character who has complete love for the music. She wore a tie dye dress and sandals, with dark flowing hair completing her persona: a sort of Distant Amazonian Earth Mother to Warpaint bass player Jenny Lee Lindberg.
Live, Wynne and rubber-wristed drummer Balázs Szende are in divine unison, and to the listener are completely indivisible. In fact, at times the bass seems in fact to bubble from within the skin of each drum like boiling engine lubricant, as the many varied “sound textures” of psytrance synths and guitar squalls fill the room with silver steam. On second track Sniffing Dog, the pair create a driving, Hawkwind-style rhythm as spaced-out synths and Zappa-esque guitar solos fill the air. Suddenly, the song drops into a pastoral, dream-like boogie, with soft, bongo-like drums tapping away below the ever-present bass. There is a definite sense of mutual respect between the two – which becomes apparent when Wynne explains the circumstances of Szende’s appointment: “We saw him on Youtube, playing a song we recorded without a drummer, and thought no drummer could play, and this guy does it and makes it look easy.”
On third track Changa Masala, we feel the full effect of the groove this pair can create. The track, taken from their latest album Technicians of the Sacred, fuses pulsing bass and frenetic breakbeats to create a truly uplifting sound. Xingu is another one for the bass-heads, complete with marching drums and rotating synths. On this track, the dreamy layers of synthesizer and keyboard have definite Eastern flavours, which perhaps stems from guitarist/composer Ed Wynne’s well-known interest in exotic cultures and their musical heritage.
With keyboardist Silas Neptune completing the lineup, there are no vocals in the Ozrics’ music. Part of the band’s vision, stemming from their belief in the power of music alone to create imagery, is that they prefer not to tell the listener what these images are. This approach, though esoteric, is admirable – and Ozric soundscapes can indeed conjure up whole worlds in your mind’s eye – swirling masses of deserts, or in the case of Space Reggae masterpiece Sultana Detrii, a strange Ultra-Zone of hyper-real natural beauty, with echoes of Steve Vai in some storming guitar passages. Penultimate track Zenlike Creature, another cut from latest album Technicians of the Sacred, once again showcases Ed Wynne’s endless supply of groovy riffs and licks and Neptune’s ethereal keyboards.
This is what might be described as “cerebral music,” but glancing around the audience, one could see that the effects of this music on the mind also translate to a compulsion for movement. At least from the younger members of the crowd – many of the band’s more staid fans, perhaps followers of the Ozrics since their English hippy “Crust”-movement heyday, are content to stand still, letting the sounds wash over them like holy water.
If a band has a hippy vibe doesn’t mean they only want hippies as fans: it means they are inclusive. But people who are ignorant of inclusivity, equality and community are never going to understand why this music is so compelling. Apart from the complexity of the compositions, it’s the selflessness of the performers, which allows them to become one with the audience, and for all to become one with the music. This might sound sentimental, or even whimsical, but it really has to be experienced to be understood.
Ozric Tentacles’ tour continues across Europe. Visit their website for more info www.ozrics.com/
For Band on The Wall listings and info, visit bandonthewall.org/