“…it’s a strange world that they create, with elements of pagan ritual sacrifice, witchcraft and violent fairytale imagery”
Live review: Madonnatron @ Soup Kitchen, Manchester 17/03/18 by Joe Creely
Something about this current crop of south London bands really doesn’t sit right. There seems to be a generation of bands who saw Fat White Family and, rather than take inspiration from their political fury and emotional intensity, decided it was prime time to get scruffy and swing their cocks about. This has led to an endless stream of singles that come across as Earl Brutus ‘Navyhead‘ pastiches stripped of all idiosyncrasy and replaced by roll-up fetishism and faux prol posturing. This is why it’s strange to see Madonnatron aligned with these bands by some sections of the music press when other than geographical proximity and a few similar guitar sounds they are worlds apart.
Like the early beats of El-P and The Fall before them, Madonnatron take inspiration from sci-fi in building a cohesive world through their songs that use the fantastical to express their reality. And it’s a strange world that they create, with elements of pagan ritual sacrifice, witchcraft and violent fairytale imagery. Their world isn’t some HMLTD elaborate pantomime, it clearly stems from real emotion and political frustration. On their debut album they used these elements to concoct an atmosphere perfectly balanced between airy psychedelia and sinister atonality. They are however the sort of songs that, in their otherworldliness, could feasibly be battered down by a live setting, particularly when it’s a freezing, shit faced, St. Patrick’s Day of a live setting. However, the opposite becomes instantly apparent.
Set up as a wall of three and exchanging lead vocals throughout songs, Madonnatron have a viscerally flattening power. The lascivious guitar squall of ‘Glen Closer’ marks an early highlight, creeping along the thin line of sex and violence in an exploration of sexual power dynamics. But it’s in the latter half of the set when they really hit their stride. ‘Headless Children’ (one of the absolute best singles of last year) loses none of its motorik, folk horror strangeness with its eerie backing vocals wandering around the track, lining its repetitive groove with something queasily off-kilter. From there they never lose momentum. The Ronettes via Jesus and Mary Chain simplicity of the drum patterns are brought to the fore with the crisp snares piercing the walls of sound, equal parts danceable and momentous while Pulpy, Tomorrow’s World synths sit atop them lending everything a feeling of something locked in the vaults by the BBC post-Yewtree. They end in a drone of feedback and a long vocal run that borders on Sufi devotional music whilst never losing the sense that it’d seem perfectly in place soundtracking Witchfinder General. A perfectly fitting end that means the unease hangs in the room long after they’ve left.
By Joe Creely