When I started Kowa Axis a couple of months ago the intention to play live was there from the start. The improvised and malleable nature of the music let my imagination run wild – Kowa Axis is a solo project, but that doesn’t have to mean that every single performance must be solo.
I really hope I can make enough of a success of this for other people to want to collaborate with me, and I’m (very) slowly working on a piece of music for massed guitars, but in terms of practicality solo performances are likely to make up the initial bulk of the Kowa Axis live experience.
'One-man noise machine' - I quite like that. Might nick it.
So why am I so terrified that I actually have a gig next week? A couple of days ago I got a message offering me the show and instinctively I jumped at the chance. Playing music this awkward means my phone battery isn’t being run down by promoters bribing me with coke and hookers if I’ll just deign to play their night. As with so many things in my life I agreed to do it without actually giving it any rational thought.
I must admit I love the attention, why would I be writing this blog if I didn’t? But now I find myself in a completely new situation…what the hell am I actually going to do when I get up there?
I’ve plenty of experience playing live, I’m pretty confident with being the band member who does the talking on stage and I enjoy dealing with the random challenges the performer/audience dynamic brings up. The difference now is that there are no band mates to share the nerves with and no well-rehearsed songs to play.
When I get on stage I’m only going to have one chance to get it right. I will be in sole control of what the audience sees and hears, and with eight days to go, I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m going to do.
When I signed up to be an improviser I never considered I might have to get my shit together and play on demand. I was quite happy just recording stuff when I felt like it and telling anyone I thought may be remotely interested that ‘I’ll be doing some shows in the near future’. I’m staggered by how naive I am at times.
But I suppose this is going to be a good test at least. I’ll get to play in front of a small audience and see if I can viably peddle this racket as entertainment. Half of that audience will probably be my friends who know me well enough to not be expecting me to be sitting down with an acoustic scrunching up my face and crooning passionately in a south-London mockney twang , but the other half will be regular punters up for some rock, probably not expecting to see someone who thinks their wail of feedback should be appreciated.
I’ve been batting some ideas around of whether I should try to incorporate some sort of visual elements, and by elements I mean – ‘gimmicks’. I’ve always had this internal struggle around ‘performance’. Many of the bands I’ve truly loved have been particularly attractive to me because they didn’t dress up and pose. They just got on stage, fucked you up, then left. However, I am just one man playing guitar with no accompaniment – is that going to be interesting enough to watch? For every Nirvana, Helmet, or Dillinger Escape Plan – I also love Bowie’s platforms, Jaz Coleman’s face paint and the Bad Seed’s suits.
I’ve considered using a bit of lighting. My little sister kindly bought me a strobe light a few years back. It often comes out of the cupboard when my wife and I are having a drunken night-in dancing around the living room; but hasn’t yet accompanied anything I’m playing on a stage. I owned a smoke machine for a short period too. This was great (and hilarious) at band practices, but sadly got half-inched before it ever got the chance to set-off a venue’s fire alarm.
I suspect I need to just accept a few things about myself. I’d like to get on stage and give off an air of mystery and intrigue, but the truth is I’m closer to being a fat, noisy clown smashing a huge cake with a mallet than I am a folkloric wisp conjuring forth a black mass with my guitar.
As I wrote that last paragraph it’s suddenly become clear that I’d probably be less stressed if I gave up on trying to make this some sort of visual extravaganza. Last week I saw Alexander Tucker keep a room’s attention at Cafe OTO while he stood-still in front of a table. He wasn’t even doing card tricks. But he’s earned his reputation and his audience; I’m just starting at this. He also has some pretty great songs, but that’s beside the point.
This then leaves me with just the sounds to worry about – and worry about them I will.
Steve, the promoter, wants the night to start heavy and get progressively more gentle as it goes on. Theoretically this means I need to get up there and spend 30 minutes punishing the audience with fat square waves of distortion. But as funny as the idea of completely alienating a room full of people is, going back to what I mentioned about liking attention, I want people to like what I do. I’m not saying I’m going to go up there and play a full set of quiet improvisations, but I might do well to try to add some dynamics to the set.
I’m not so needy that I’ll write a bunch of pop songs and apply to appear on whatever mobile phone company-sponsored talent show T4 is doing this summer – this is a noise project after all. But maybe I need to play to my audience rather than at them.
I suspect that in reality, I won’t know what’s going to come out of my amp until I’m standing there playing through it.
But maybe that’s precisely as it should be?
Anyway, come and see me play if you like. The show is Saturday the 18th of June at the Unicon in Camden, London. It’s a free show, and I’m on early… go here for more info.