Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?
– Douglas Adams
There is a rise in spirituality on the fringes of underground music. Music of substance seems to carry a burden of searching for something more than what one can see. The elders of the underground, Neurosis, embrace elements of paganism, ritualism and mysticism interwoven in their work.
Dylan Carlson of Earth and Neige of Alcest have embraced the more obscure idea of other worldly beings – namely fairies. Neige makes this clear that these are not fantastical themes. This is some thing he believes in and something he has experienced as a child.
If you hear the word “fairy” in Glasgow, it is usually preceded by the adjective “southern” in a jab at the perceived softness of their English neighbours.
Fairies or not, Alcest’s music lulled my head out of a grim winter in a Leeds bar at the end of 2010.
Tonight, Alcest did not lull me out of the subterranean Glasgow venue, Stereo. I did not think of other worlds or fairies or driving by the water’s edge by moonlight. I was engaged by the music itself. The garden is beautiful, even without fairies at the bottom of it.
All night, drums dominated the mix. Initially I thought there was just too much drums for support act, Les Discrets, and then again for Alcest – but it added a strange forward propulsion to the Alcest set. It gave it a far more rocking nature.
This rocking nature was complimented by a far more engaging performance by Neige and his band. Unlike in Leeds, Neige interacted with the crowd. All three bands for the night were completely overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of Glasgow. It was a solid turn out for a Monday night, and as always the crowd were drinking boisterously. It is always steamy in the basement venue, but with the unusually mild winter it seemed especially so. Like the rest of the punters, I found the beers going down way too easy.
Both Les Discrets and Alcest have quite sections within their sets. Glasgow failed to keep the volume down. They started “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chants. The Frenchmen embraced, smiled and were clearly enamoured by the enthusiasm.
I had not listened to the new record, Les Voyages de L’Ame, prior to the show. Initially I thought that Alcest has completely removed the black metal framework. Autre Temps sounds like fairy music – folky rock with clear soft vocal melodies higher in the mix rather than hidden in atmosphere. With the warm guitar tones, there is no hint of metal.
Midway into La Ou Naissent Les Colleurs Nouvelles a short passage of harsh vocals and blastbeats, reminded us that metal is still a tool in the Alcest arsenal. Overall the track is straight out rocking. I am still trying to think what that closing guitar riff reminds me of. Nineties alternative rock? Post rock? For a song previously unheard, that simple riff was a favourite of the night.
The terms of reference for Alcest have previously been black metal, increasingly shoegaze and a little cringeworthy the term, metalgaze. The black metal framework is now used sparingly… and I don’t know if it was the upfront drums, but the set seemed too rocky to be shoegaze. The strength of the new material is distinct songs and memorable riffs.
Later in the set the older material surfaced. Ecailles de Lune reminded me of that dream world that Alcest can create. The set closed with hugely catchy Percees de Lumiere.
Alcest have improved as a live act and their material has escaped easy categorisation. They engage the crowd. This may mean that they seem to real to create this other world… But I don’t need another world. The music is enough. It is a better live experience – fairies or not.
Another tired Monday night. This one after over week ridden with a chicken pox like virus. All I saw for a week was work and my bed. Rashes and bumps covered my body, head and face. There is only so much a beanie and short-notice beard can hide. Looking like a leper and generally feeling like sh!t can get a man down. Also not touching a drink for over a week is a harsh state of affairs for a man who has lived in Glasgow for nearly 11 months.
Even though Noise Road wasn’t feeling super energetic, we took the short post work shuffle from the flat on the western edge of the CBD to Stereo – a club in the Rennie Mackintosh building, hidden down a lane a block from central station.
That is Glasgow. You have to keep your eyes open or you’ll miss the gems amongst the the wet, grey tenements. And don’t ask a local, as they don’t know what they’ve got. They won’t tell you about the amazing cobblestone alleys tucked away in the west end. They won’t tell you about all the parks. They won’t tell you about awesome pubs hidden behind the university… and they won’t tell you about Glasgow’s best venue, located in a building by a world renowned architect in an alley a few metres from the central station.
Stereo has oodles of character. One might be initially wary of the kids upstairs with their fashionable hair cuts and scarves (never trust a man who wears a scarf when it is above 10 degrees celsius). It kind of looks like the crowd at an Interpol concert circa Antics…. I often bring cats to Stereo because I have fond memories of gigs here – Earth, the Ocean… Fond memories of seeing dudes from the Ocean stealing the club wifi on the upstairs lounges while the headline played. Stereo is central and always open late – which is handy with the weird Scottish liquour laws. When you are entertaining a squadron of whisky-thirsty Swedish pilots for work on a Tuesday night where else do you go?
Like the best venues in the world, Stereo features entirely intrusive structural pillars. Like many venues in Glasgow, expect to pay half the price of a beer at a London show. Although that 10p increase to £2.10 for a can of Carlsberg, started to weigh down the pockets with shrapnel.
Earlier in the mild evening, the rotating show of Frenchmen kicked off. Noise Road strolled in towards the end of the Soror Dolorosa set, oozing a gothy post-punk type vibe. I didn’t get the opportunity to study the band in detail, as I checked out the merch desk and handed over my first £2.10 of the evening. I believe Soror Dolorosa’s singer switched to drums for the remainder of the bands for the evening.
Call me a savage but I had not even heard of Les Discrets before the start of the night.
Les Discrets main man, Fursy Teyssier, joined the rest of Alcest lineup onstage, including Neige on bass. We had the most black metal moment of the night as the members of the rotating troupe performed a song from their former guise as black metal band Amesoeurs.
I don’t know if Les Discrets are rooted in the warm take on black metal that Amesoeurs were. There is very little metal to the set. There was the odd double-kick break accentuated by the loud drum mix. Even more so than Alcest set, Les Discrets set rocks in an almost psychedelic way. There are clear guitar leads and noodley passages. It was another rocking set.
Teyssier continued a night of charming Frenchmen showing great enthusiasm. In a second language, he awkwardly apologised for microphone failures and guitar string breaks.
I was suitably impressed by both Alcest and Les Discrets that I bought the latest CDs of both bands. I am mostly sure it was because I enjoyed a night of French rock in Glasgow, and only a little to do with the enthusiasm generated by one too many £2.10 Carlsbergs.