f a u s t

[ 23:45 monday 11 july – shipton street, london ]

on saturday night jan got wind of a big open-air party at a location that would be announced on a secret number. this seemed splendidly nostalgic, like a proper old rave from 1989. however when it was revealed around midnight that the venue was actually a field in the middle of norfolk the distance seemed a little forbidding. hence jan and i found ourselves pedaling over london bridge, with vatche racing ahead on his ancient lambretta, towards kosmiche club’s ninth birthday party. this was being held in two of the railway arches under elephant and castle station, promising a line-up of bizarre krautrock bands and misfit djs. earlier in the evening i’d taken the precaution of sending our names down for the door list so we were hopeful we’d be allowed in.

we arrived to be told that faust was about to start their set. gosh! faust as in the german experimental rock band from the early seventies? we zig-zagged through a scattering of odd-looking dancers making angular movements in the first room, cut left around the back and squeezed our way into a room crushed full of wide-eyed people.

it was several degrees hotter in this room and drippingly humid. at the front was a small stage piled haphazardly with exotic instruments. and sure enough in the midst of the instruments were three members of faust, back together thirty years after the band split up. initially my excitement was tempered with a certain doubtfulness. once-radical groups going back on the road decades after the peak of their fame can be a less than edifying spectacle. but as soon as they started playing, or rather speaking, my scepticism was dispelled. this was not at all like the effects-drenched electronic droning of their former incarnation. in its place was a dry, unaffected, acoustic-driven sound-world based on percussion, soprano saxophone, flute, guitar and a variety of more exotic plucked instruments. but really the driving force was the words; issuing in a cannonade from jean-herve peron; sometimes sung, often declaimed, with a great deal of looping and repetition.

he is a strikingly charismatic musician who treats performance as a way of playing with the audience. he makes us complicit, sets us racing to follow him. we know he is telling us something, offering clues, teasing us. but we aren’t sure what we’re meant to do. he waits. repeats a phrase a few more times. sits on the front of the stage and holds the microphone out to his right. his eyes twinkle above his bushy beard. he repeats the phrase again. ah! someone at the front realises that peron is inviting us to come up to the microphone and say the phrase ourselves. with trepidation they go forward and lean towards the microphone. are they right? maybe. yes! then another person understands and goes up, and another. in a later song most of us end up taking off our shoes and clapping them above our heads.

possibly i’m making the performance sound like a sort of irritating novelty act which it truly wasn’t. there was an energy, an inventiveness, a delight and joy in the act of making music, that completely swept me up, along with the rest of the audience. peron and his associates possess a rare kind of greatness that has no interest in taking itself seriously.

at the end of the set peron explained that there wasn’t time for them to get all the instruments back to the green room ready for the next band, so we would have to help. i ended up carrying his zither. much later, when it was time for me to cycle home, he was standing by the exit and i spoke to him briefly. he invited me to go and visit him, “it’s a large house” he said.

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