October 6, 2013
by Richard Foster
So, there’s going to be a film…
Really. A film about SUB071.
A film about a legendary place; scheduled for next year I think; I’m in it so I can promise that there is one. A film created for a space that doesn’t exist for 99% of this town. A place that probably has more emotional meaning in Manchester, or Brighton, or Los Angeles or Copenhagen than in the Sleutelstad. Really, I’m not joking.
It’s funny how spaces can assume new meaning. Look at SUB071, the cramped ground floor room that is located in the Multiplex squat. I’m sure when the tower block was originally built back in the 70s, the idea that this small, fuggy space would eventually become one of the most important stops for bands on the road; whether as an underground / emergency / convenience (delete / where / appropriate) the idea would have been laughed at. Maybe it was a place where generators were stored, or where pallets of commodity goods such as coffee cups or coffee filters, or spare PC parts where stacked. Or maybe a small bike shed or night watchman’s bolt hole. Who knows?
I’ve often thought of writing something about SUB outside of the gig reviews I’ve done, (and there are a lot of reviews about SUB on my other magazine, Incendiary since 2007), but wondered how to go about it. It’s a place that – like the Fall – is always different but always the same. Maybe it’s best if I take elements and examine them under the memory microscope.
Recently I visited the German military museum in Dresden. In the galleries devoted to the First World War there was a small structure that you stuck your nose in, one that apparently produced the smell of the trenches. It was an attempt at connection. Only by knowing the smell can you recover certain essences of memory; or empathize with past or other experiences. Now I can see why you would think using the smell of a battlefield as a metaphor to reminisce about a squat venue is pretty crass; but the point is nevertheless an obvious one. We can use it to bring clarity and gravitas to my conceit. If we use this article as the “olfactory depth charge” that dislodges and releases sensations long buried to the surface, then I think we can show that, just like the trenches of Flanders and Picardy, SUB’s smell is unique. To know SUB is to smell SUB. Its long accumulated residue of fag and joint smoke; of outdoor clothing, of clothing worn all the time; of the cold in winter and the heat in summer; of the harsh coldness of concrete, of bike parts, of fresh paint applied to moulding structures; of the residue of the Moksi takeaways that the bands have eaten and carry on eating during the line checks; of spilt beer (no, rephrase, rethink, refine…) spilt bargain basement, cheap, supermarket beer; of overheating equipment, of the eminence grise that fan kicks out, (a note; that thing must be the biggest health hazard outside of a reactor with a real life Homer Simpson in charge), and of slightly off crisps and nuts; it all adds up to something unique. Maybe we can replicate a canister that can replicate the smell of SUB, and stick it in the Lakenhall or Boerhave museums. A time capsule created for future generations to sniff at and to wonder over; just a thought.
That PA… the breakdowns… is the PA sentient? It could be argued it is when you consider the pathological hatred that it seems to show towards anything that resembles a laptop… Seal of Quality, The Show is the Rainbow… boy the fun they had sorting their sound. We had fun sitting there waiting, too. In any case it didn’t matter as the tweeters were done in. Or what about the early days when there was no PA when, (as at the Appie Kim / Chronic Heist show, show number 6 I think), leaning on the wall gave you a slight electric tingle. Actually it’s got a lot better. When the tweeters got fixed it was immediately noticeable what a lovely sound the room gave off, at Morton Valence you could have heard a pin drop, it was music, there were songs…
But for a fair few years the grumbling, rich, boom you got when a band cranked up the noise was akin to that of an old 78 played at extreme volume; a kind of aural antiquarian punk, a wax cylinder recording made manifest and LOUD. There’s just something about the quality of the sound there, thick, sludgy, animal, firebrand… It does take on a feral shape when you let it. I read back at my reviews and I’m struck how often I’m using ridiculous metaphors, symbols or similes to describe the sounds … Shards? Crystal? MOSS?!?! Bricks? Planes? Unguent? Spider’s webs? Come on man… Get a grip. Some shows were so loud it was better to stand in the corridor. Seriously; lots of dun hued, uncomfortable music lovers holding onto their ears. The grumble SCMB kicked out at a Multiplex festival in 2011, or 2012 (I forget now), sounded as if we were listening into a quick sound check for Ragnarok. It was better to keep your distance, however brilliant. Or standing outside with members of Julie Mittens some time in 2007… none of us daring to enter the “inner chamber”, a place where some LOUD Italian band was shaking the wall with some kind of sonic witchcraft… you could see the door move. And mention should be given to the numerous, and often incredible thrash bands taking hold of the noise that PA cranked out and riding it giddily round the room like some steer…
Mark from Air Cav was concerned. There was no space. He was stoned it was true, and that is maybe a good reason why his action did look drastic to us who were sitting happy in the lap of sobriety. You see, he’d decided to stack his guitar cases up around him to better protect his person from the audience; an audience that could threaten to engulf him, overwhelm him. You see, there was no space, none at all. And any audience, even three people could have wrecked his neutral space, crumpled it up, and thrown it away like some piece of paper… It was better to get the guitar cases out and hide. Showtime comes, lights are dimmed and Mark is gallivanting around as if he’s got the freedom of some corporate arena. He’s up there on the HMH stage. You see, SUB becomes bigger in the dark. Not in that normal, “it’s dark I can’t negotiate my way round this space” kind of feel. We all get that. It’s not about night blindness or adjustment to the dark. It’s a spiritual transformation; one that is mystical, one that initiates would be wise to note and revere. The tectonic shifts of space are enacted here in real time, happening in this functional concrete chamber. CS Lewis had a point, but fuck all those fawns and witches and daft things like that. This is the true land of War Drobe. This is Bellas Knap or East Kennet Longbarrow in an urban space. Be warned.
Remember when Calvin Party tried to balance more than 3 people on the stage on the stage and couldn’t, finding that falling off stage was the only recourse? Remember when someone tried to invade the stage (I think during a Gul Night Out gig) and tripped up, but couldn’t fall because the stage was so narrow and full of gear; showing that the act of falling over was actually an impossibility? It’s the weirdest stage of all time. In that it’s not really a stage, in that no-one but the drummer can get on it. The drummer’s surrounded by amps and the other band’s stuff… Better to do what TV Buddhas or Electric Soft Parade did and plonk yourself bang in the middle of your audience, make it into a freak out or a studio session; or do what Stöma did and stand behind your audience, using the raised platform at the back (where all the gear is stored) and attack everyone from behind. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.
Up and down those spiral stairs, going to or coming back from the toilet. It’s a journey you will make many a time, given the powerful and almost instantly diuretic effects of Schutters beer. They are weird stairs though; I don’t really know why but they always give off this unforgiving vibe. What’s at the top? No one really hangs out on the stairs. You would think people would, given the size of SUB but no. Below the stairs is the command centre, where the money is taken; where the hand stamps are given out. Sometimes in the little rectangular recess at the bottom of the stairs, merchandise is propped up. The stairs are spiral but despite this not ornamental. No. They tap into the power hub, the spider’s web, and the nexus of command.
It says SUB 071. Nothing more, no dumb design. Just SUB071. Somehow this is very significant to me. It means you’re in. The no-nonsense, straight up communal living in Multiplex doesn’t allow for frippery. You are there to see a gig, here is a beer, go in there. This is what those intellectual types at the Bauhaus were after. Form follows function.
Oh boy, I hope someone’s collected them all. Come the day I am asked to mount a celebratory 50 years of SUB exhibition, I know I have enough flyers to paper one wall, but I think that’s about a fifth of the flyers. As an expression on paper of hardnosed, brazen independence in music I’ll be bold and say the only rival SUB flyers have is the legendary and much missed Vera krant.
There’s a lighting rig of sorts now. It looks quite professional. Witnesses to Ronald knocking the light out with a broom handle, (to better dim Daniel Land’s performance, to add that all important feel, to conjure up that SUB atmosphere we’ve been talking about above), will not believe me, but it’s true. Professional shit aside there is another element to the atmosphere in SUB, noticeable when there is no show on. We’ve talked of the fact that the show time darkness creates a third dimension, but that’s one which gives a friendly, all-encompassing vibe. At other times the space can be forbidding. It’s always gloomy here. The room only “likes” you in there if there’s a show on. What gloomy Domovoi or Bannick guards this space?
It’s not the same without the sandpit. It was a space where a lot of activity happened. Pets were buried there, bands assembled there to unpack their stuff, and various sorts of merriment enacted and witnessed post show. It was a place to go and sit before a gig in summer, a hippy enclave just in front of the station concourse. Peering through the boarding provided a window onto a more sober, respectable world. For a while you became a piper at the gates of dawn, casting a leper’s squint at the thousands of Mr. Toads running to their trains. I miss it. Before the sandpit there was the space where vans, (in various states of repair), would be parked; where interminable jams happened, where (if we are being honest with ourselves) a lot of shit was talked. The space hosted a lake as well, a shallow expanse of water that terns and the ever present herring gulls patronized. Did anyone ever jump in? Now it’s a bike rack. Its vibes are chained under the weight of steel and concrete. It’s not coming back.
To this day I have never really settled on the quickest way home after a show, never really resolved where to go. There are so many options; so many back ways to negotiate. Your hearing is thrown out of joint; your directional senses are knocked off kilter. You do feel weird leaving, stinking of fags and sweat and booze, knowing that a cup of tea is needed to clean out the cheap beer taste… Still it can be euphoric, that stagger home; distrobox vinyl under your arm, weird and righteous stuff spinning round in your head.
I know it’s a shit moniker on which to end but it’s the sort of off the cuff nonsense remark you can get away with when thinking about SUB…
I’m wondering anyway, does this last 7 or 8 years have any emotional substance to it, any weight of history to carry? I’m sure many would say yes, of course, after all why write this if not? But then SUB’s always been great in my mind because it’s never ever been a sort of place that is self-regarding or interested in its own legend. How then to sum up a glorious and totally unnoticed chapter in this town’s musical history, when you feel that even the venue’s not that arsed? I know I’ve failed anyway in even trying, but then, like the greatest and most cherished myths, SUB is one that can’t – or maybe shouldn’t – be annotated correctly. Let’s leave it to its own devices.