NEU! REEKIE! | Edinburgh, Leith Theatre

A good indication that you’ve wandered into a Neu! Reekie! event: a 30+ minute piece of avant-guard European animation is being projected onto a big screen in front of you with no explanation. This, then, was a reassuring sight to those trickling into the restored Leith Theatre on Sunday evening. Presided over by Kevin Williamson and Michael Pedersen, the titular Edinburgh-based music/poetry/short-film night has evolved into a continent-spanning juggernaut over the past seven years, and is now bringing a typically eclectic and exciting series of performers to this year’s International Festival. First up after the opening animated salvo were Honey Farm – a new (but rapidly ascending) trio who are the spitting image of the young Beastie Boys. If they were all-female. And from Dunbar. Their whole set fizzed with semi-choreographed exuberance, inventive call and response word-play and funny ad-libs. One particular highlight was a searing (yet hilarious) feminist deconstruction of contemporary Lad Culture.

Following them was the act I was most desperate to see. The Fire Engines were perhaps the most under-acknowledged of all the glorious, ramshackle, one-album-and-a-peel-session Scottish post-punk bands of the early 80s. Their first single – Get Up And Use Me – can lay claim to being the greatest two minutes and seven seconds in Edinburgh music history. Plus, the evening marked their Official Last Gig Ever (probably). No pressure. After the rest of the band had shuffled out and made a cursory attempt at tuning their instruments, frontman Davy Henderson strode onto the stage in an outfit consisting of: 1) his pants, 2) some tinfoil & 3) a fetching woolly hat. Scarcely had he plugged in his guitar and arched an eyebrow at the crowd before the torrent of ragged, hypnotic punk-funk riffs and cowbell-propelled drums lurched into gear. What followed was a sublime triumph of intensity over slickness – Hungry Beat and Discord being particular hair-raisers. They even brought ex-Josef K guitarist Malcolm Ross onstage to play in their second half, before being given a rapturous send-off.

In the middle of the two Fire Engines freakouts was a solo set from New York no wave icon Lydia Lunch. As spoken word performances go, it was on the uncompromisingly furious end of the spectrum – reverb-drenched song-snippets and beat poetry meditations on sex/war/schizophrenia/death mixed with furious tirades at bar patrons who were talking amongst themselves during her flow. By the end, Lunch was invoking ghostly male figures with “lips thin as paper cuts” and screaming “DUST AND SHADOW” on repeat at the captive audience. A friend later described it as “genuinely disturbing”, but not necessarily in a bad way.

The final act of the evening was Michael Rother, of Neu! fame. Given that the whole event was partially named after his old band, anticipation levels were große. In contrast to the anarchic energy of the rest of the night, this set was a controlled affair – the Motorik beat kicked in with the first song and barely let up for the next hour, underpinning Rother’s serene (at times Vangelis-esque) guitar and electronics. Drummer Hans Lampe has to come in for special credit for sheer energy and relentlessness. By the end of the night, the rare sight of an Edinburgh crowd dancing euphorically was the best testament to a brilliant (if exhausting) four hours. The next Neu! Reekie! event is on Friday, with another fantastic line-up. It might well be worth popping along to.

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