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Marquee, London. 7/10/2005
Dominic B. Simpson
It’s been proved that certain frequencies can induce terror in people, ranging from hallucinations to vomiting, panic and involuntary bowel movements. This is a lesson that will turn to have relevance for tonight’s gig, held at the Marquee Club in Leicester Square, which is a strange place indeed. It’s some five floors of different venues, with this journalist initially wondering onto the wrong floor, only to find himself confronted by a ‘Free Tibet’ benefit concert featuring Beth Orton. The venue on which the Telescopes are to play turns out to be the fifth floor, an extremely brightly lit room with a bar and plush sofas that only adds to the feel of unreality. After all, when was the last time an experimental guitar night was held right in Leicester Square?
Tonight the room has been taken over Club AC30, who specialise in bands that often lean toward the early 90’s aesthetic, and particularly that of the so-called ‘shoegazing’ movement. The bill was meant to feature former Spacemen 3 figurehead Sonic Boom (Pete Kember to his Mum) and Fuxa, who specialises in drone atmospherics, and whom would play together. Fuxa, however, had problems with customs in Britain, to the extent of being held in a cell at Heathrow overnight and his equipment confiscated. Quite why a musician specialising in this kind of music was deemed dangerous is inexplicable – perhaps the police were afraid that he could produce sub-audible frequencies with his machines that could induce nightmares and vomiting, as Throbbing Gristle once did - but it meant a failure to make the dates. Meanwhile, Sonic declined to turn up, informing the promoter by text message that there had been mid-tour ‘problems’ with the Telescopes. Over what can only be speculated, but you suspect the issue of plagiarism could have been one topic.
Rather unfair given Spacemen 3’s propensity for lifting a few tunes themselves, but it’s true that the Telescopes initial carnation was somewhere nebulously caught between a conjunction of Spacemen 3 with the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, with their propensity for hypnotic drone riffs, feedback-laced pop song and druggy image solidified by releases such as 'The Perfect Needle' and their debut album 'Taste'. Released on a number of labels – including Che and Creation – the Telescopes were often cast by the press as also-rans in the shoegazing scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s, yet the tag was unfair as the band proved with releases such as ‘Celeste’, which featured some beautifully ecstatic music and experimental grooves. After disappearing completely off the musical map around ’94, they reappeared some nine years later, whittling down from the original five members to just three, and with an often radically changed sound that was aired on their album ‘Second Wave’.
First on though are the Flowers of Hell, who promptly inform us that there ‘set’ will only have two songs, albeit both very long ones. Their music soon emerges as a mix of Velvet Underground-style drone minamalism (replete with Mo Tucker-style drumming) and hypnotic style guitar, all built around dense violin takes, with echoes of the first Velvet Underground album never far off. Thankfully they’re more than the sum of their influences – a lot more – and there’s some particularly deft use of e-bow, which rises to a thunderous crescendo. They finish a magnificent set to a rapt audience.
Anyone in the crowd hoping that the Telescopes would revert to an early 90’s Mary Chain-style feedback workout would soon have been severely disappointed. There’s feedback certainly, but not accompanied by Ramones-style pop songs in a ‘Psychocandy’-influenced style. Instead, their sound has changed dramatically, utilising various drone frequencies and oceanic washes of guitar noise that have more in common with celestial improv instrumental outfits like Vibacathedral Orchestra (who they’ve played with) and Growing than the more conventional end of the dream pop movement. There are shades of My Bloody Valentine too, but more in that band’s later work, and particularly in the sonic web of treated guitar noise that dominates 'Loveless', with it’s frequent use of the tremolo and the resulting ‘guitar glide’ effect that produces an other-worldly feeling.
Without any conventional signifiers such as song endings, the set flows as one dense long piece. Occasionally a riff will appear above the magma of guitar, together with some lyrics, sung by Stephen Lawrie and Jo Dorian, while a third member plays a theramin and what looks bizarrely like household appliances; otherwise the wash of sound remains purely instrumental, buoyed along by a hypnotic beat.
Just as with 'Loveless', the lyrics remain hazy and a musical instrument in themselves, with the occasional line – the mantra “walk on water” repeated over again – discernable. As the music becomes heavier and more frenzied, the sound begins to take on a heavier, nightmarish tone, with the third member producing jarring high-range tones from the various effects built into his amplifier, and Lawrie’s treated drone guitar – played on a table with an e-bow -becoming heavier and producing spluttering feedback. This head-fuck of sonic frequencies proves to be too much for some, and near the end of their encore I notice the stewards near the exits with their hands over their ears, pulverised by the wash of noise. Others are retreating to the far end of the room, away from the speakers. What they failed to understand was that music like this circumnavigates any need for verbal communication, with the music’s message encoded in the noise itself. Where the Telescopes will go from here is anyone’s guess, but it’s a beautiful sound nonetheless, and celebratory despite it’s ostensible oppressive nature.
Feeling dazed, I exit the venue to the milling crowds of Leicester Square, feeling strangely purified from this engulfing wave of freeform noise and sonic frequencies. I still feel dazed hours later.
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Space Age Recordings
What Goes On
The Telescopes were often bracketed as a shoegazing act in the early 90s. Back after a long absence and having completely changed direction, Dominic Simpson sees them play a stunning set that utilises drone frequencies and oceanic washes of guitar noise.
Anthony Strutt speaks to Stephen Lawrie from experimental/psychedelic act the Telescopes about his band's lengthy history and their recent inclusion on 'Still in a Dream', a new five CD shoegaze box set
Telescopes:Mondo Underbelly, London, 17/2/2010
Anthony Strutt watches former Creation band the Telescopes play a violent and darkly impressive set of songs from their 1989 debut album, 'Taste'
Former Creation label signings, the Telescopes play their own unqiue blend of instrumental electronica and post and industrial rock. Main man Stephen Lawrie talks to John Clarkson about the band's new mini-album, 'The Hungry Audio Tapes'
One of the great Creation Records bands, psychedelia act Telescopes returned in 2002 after long absence with their third album, 'Third Wave'. Frontman Stephen Lawrie chats about the band's rapidly evolving style, and plans for their firuth and fifth album
Hidden Fields - CD
Eighth offering from Stephen Lawrie's the Telescopes, whom deliver a fine soundscape of noise and confusion
4 - CD
Excellent and atmospheric largely instrumental rock from former Creation label signings the Telescopes back with a fourth album on their own Antenna Records label
Altered Perception - CD
Patchy retrospective for What Goes On and Creation Records signings, the Telescopes, which compiles together material from their first two early 90's albums
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