Fire 40 @ EartH Theatre, London, UK, April 27, 2024 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, June 25th, 2024  

The Dream Syndicate

The Dream Syndicate, Bas Jan, Monde UFO

Fire 40 @ EartH Theatre, London, UK, April 27, 2024,

May 29, 2024 Photography by Anete Lapsa Web Exclusive
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The venerable independent record label celebrates its 40th anniversary at the art-deco EartH Theatre.

Celebrating the 40th anniversary in the atmospheric and decadently charming space of EartH Theatre, the label reinstates its raison d’etre. The line-up embraces some of the Fire Records roster from venerable Paisley underground rockers The Dream Syndicate to new signings Monde UFO. As the name of the label implies, sound is the unifying component. Since its inception in 1986, Fire has embraced psychedelic art-pop leanings from different directions. During the early phase of the label, Fire was home to Pulp, the Television Personalities and Spacemen 3 to name a few. The operation, however, nearly came to a halt by the end of the 90s. In 2001, James Nicholls, the current creative director of the label, came on board and pondered over the new strategy.

The event in Hackney is a snapshot of Fire in its current state. While some collectives can be hardly defined by one genre, all possess psychedelic qualities. The halo of reverb at the venue helps rendering all sets into a template. In a conversation with Bandcamp Daily, Nicholls drew a parallel between two eras of Fire Records. “I think there’s a light dusting of psych and art pop to the core of the roster and everything we do because it’s part of the legacy of the label. There’s a genuine throughline from Pulp to Bas Jan, and from Spacemen 3 to Monde UFO—but the reality is that we just like what we like”.

Monde UFO
Monde UFO

Monde UFO’s frontman Ray Monde informs the audience that his band have just completed the tour across Italy. “Trains were not a great idea”, utters Monde apologetically. He might look and sound a little bit spaced out, but this perfectly suits what is transmitted from the direction of the stage. The set-up features a cassette player, a singing bowl, synths, and percussion – hence, the idiosyncratic sound that combines the lo-fi quirkiness of Ariel Pink and intricate psych textures hinting at the exotica of Les Baxter. After the set, the band are asked by the event’s host Stewart Lee: “What gang are you?”. “Surfers!”, Monde says, seemingly longing for Californian waves. The ebb-and-flow feel of their compositions conjures up balancing on the choppy water surface.

Three hours later, Monde UFO play in the smaller room by the bar. With the halo of unnecessary reverb removed, they sound even more appealing. The following set by Vanishing Twin is less accessible yet intriguing. Sitting at the round table as if they were holding a séance, band members Cathy Lucas, Susumu Mukai aka Zongamin and Valentina Magaletti operate a variety of instruments from flute, violin and acoustic guitar to shruti box and samplers. Announced initially as a performance in two parts, the set runs seamlessly for ninety minutes and imposes a hypnotic effect. Some compositions from their latest album Afternoon X can be recognised, yet vaguely allude to the source. The whole show is akin to a riddle or a sonic labyrinth.

While the metaphor above also relates to the label’s experimental oeuvre, on the whole, some collectives come across as more lucid. One such is American collective Immaterial Possession whose love for Anatolian rock is channelled through oriental melodies and distant siren-like vocals. Live, they sound a bit tougher, with vocalist/guitarist Madeline Polites having a cool stance of Chrissie Hynde. The band’s latest album Mercy of the Crane Folk balances between the mid-70s Turkish psychedelia and New York’s art-punk scene, e.g. Television. It’s an amusing coincidence that, having Greek roots, Polites and the collective are based in Athens, Georgia.

Steve Wynn and Jason Victor of The Dream Syndicate do a jangling set resonating across the elevating seating space of the theatre. The acoustics of the venue make it a bit challenging – the ringing sound of Fender Squier Telecaster creates an echo chamber which can be a bit intimidating if listened from the first rows. Guest appearance by Jane Weaver smoothens the intensity.

London-based Bas Jan play next. Seen by this author last time at Two Palms in November 2023, the collective performed with its usual line-up – keyboard player/vocalist Serafina Steer, bassist Emma Smith, guitarist Charlie Stock and percussionist Rachel Horwood. At Fire 40, Horwood, who was admitted to a maternity ward, is replaced by a session drummer, while Steer is “too pregnant” to rotate her whirly tube up in the air. Still, the band is charming as ever, playing dreamy new wave and life-affirming songs from their most recent Back To The Swamp.

Bas Jan
Bas Jan

All shows of the day, including the closing one-off set by the Giant Syndicate featuring Giant Sand, Steve Wynn and Kristin Hersh, are a testament to the label’s longevity. Here, such adventurous talents as Josephine Foster, Vanishing Twin, and Bas Jan embody the powerful element behind the name.


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