18 May: Mary Ocher @ Cafe Oto
18-22 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL
Mary Ocher’s incredible voice can go from quasi-operatic wartime glamour to the extremes of a low murmur or a blood-curdling scream without losing the instant connection it makes to listeners. Live, she can move from semi-acoustic guitar (sometimes powerfully modulated, sometimes clanging and rootsy) to piano, outlining pleading, folksy torch songs with the commitment and emotion to keep one captivated. Her songwriting is perhaps more avant-garde than that description suggests, capped-off with various electronics and touching on political themes like militarisation and nationalism.
She’s even taken on some synthy, Eno-funk work bolstered by live drums, although there’s no suggestion that regular double-drummers Your Government will join her at Oto – instead she’s touring new record Faust Studio Sessions and Other Recordings, a collection of more slippery indefinable songs that will creep out into the Dalston venue. Given Ocher’s interdisciplinary magic – in photography, video, poetry – there’s no better place than the omni-cultural Cafe Oto to host her; plus, the Ashwin Street space is celebrating its 10th birthday.
25 May: Raw Power Festival @ Shacklewell Arms (and elsewhere)
71 Shacklewell Lane, E8 2EB
Cocaine Piss is the name of a band playing the Raw Power Festival, and I’ll be frank and admit that’s not an act, name or concept I’ve come across before. I’m putting them on now; okay, they’re pretty great actually, a runaway-train of a Belgian-accented noise rock four piece. (From Liege, natch. She’s not just putting the accent on.)
From what else I know about the fifth annual fest (and at £64 it’s cheaper than yer Reading and Leedses) Cocaine Piss only hint at the spectrum of noise involved – from heavy Geordie sludge-psychesters Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, to the more melodic likes of Slowcoaches, via the agitated dance-punk of Snapped Ankles and the ritualistic industrial sound of legendary headliners Godflesh.
Most of the action actually takes place at Tufnell Park’s Dome and Boston Music Rooms venues, but one leg takes place at Dalston’s Shacklewell Arms, where Bonnacoons Of Doom will deliver some religious fervour (the hypnotic wailing on latest track ‘Solus’ is a must-hear) and Italians Father Murphy will build on that theme with their occult sound.
26 May: Apostille @ The Victoria
451 Queensbridge Road, E8 3AS
Michael Kasparis’ life in Glasgow seems incredibly busy. He’s the founder of Night School Records, which has had a line in diverse and colourful electronic music since 2011, releasing incredible artists like Bomber Jackets, Ela Orleans, The Rebel, Molly Nilsson and more in some kind of permanent purple patch. He has a hand in Glaswegian cultural institutions Monorail and Mono, and only recently called time on his hardcore band Anxiety. (He has another, The Lowest Form.)
He has self-deprecating called it “sad synth-pop” in a past interview with Test Pressing, but perhaps Apostille is a pure distillation of his musical life. As such, synths are in full effect – on previous releases like Powerless and Virile Strain Transmission they tend to strain and push against the vocals in an enjoyably anxious way. But the first track to be released from newie Choose Life (out in June), ‘Feel Bad’, the synths swirl up around him like a reconciled friend, demanding an amazing pop chorus that’s duly delivered. Live at The Victoria, he’ll be joined by the always impeccable Sauna Youth.
27 May: Big Freedia @ Village Underground
54 Holywell Lane, EC2A 3PQ
Two breeds of aficionados will be counting the days until Big Freedia (pronounced Big Free-da) sashays onto the stage at Shoreditch hangar Village Underground. The first are RuPaul superfans, with a penchant for the last few years of Drag Race-adjacent earworms – New Orleans icon Freedia contributes energetically to Ru tracks like ‘Freaky Money’ and ‘Peanut Butter’. (The latter’s “P P P P P P P P P P P P P NAH BUTTER” refrain, as I write, is not leaving my head any time soon.)
Fans of bounce music – the loud, crackling hip hop scene who discovered that the beat from The Showboys’ ‘Drag Rap’, the so-called Triggerman beat, sounds good over everything – will also be rubbing their hands together at the thought of a rare bounce night out, helmed by one of its stars. No greater luminary than Beyoncé sampled her for ‘Formation’, she’s set a Guiness World Record for twerking, and she’s coming to East London with booty-shorted dancers in tow.
29 May: The Goon Sax @ Sebright Arms
34 Coate Street, E2 9AG
The Goon Sax are a second-generation Brisbane rock success – singer-guitarist Louis Forster grew up with father Robert, co-founder of rock-crit faves The Go-Betweens, in the Queensland city. On Goon Sax moments like ‘Make Time 4 Love’ (to be the opener of forthcoming second record We’re Not Talking), where Forster Jr laconically announces the cowbell before it drives into action thanks to drummer Riley Jones, you get a sense that there may have been father-son talks about how to use rhythm to give rough edges to wistful jangle-pop.
Whether The Goon Sax can escape the shadow of The Go-Betweens is too early to say, the band are all aged around 20. However, with rolling bass, sometimes quite violently strummed acoustic guitar, and their half-sardonic, half-introspective lyrics, on their third visit to the UK they already know how to charm a crowd of poms. Catch them at this Bethnal Green pub on the 29th.