Sunday, February 20, 2011

Miles Brown—The Night Terrors

Though undoubtedly psychedelic by nature, Melbourne instrumental quartet The Night Terrors defy description. Even to label them ‘instrumental’ is something of a misnomer as Miles Brown’s Theremin sings in such a profound fashion that it nudges many ‘vocalists’ (garage bands, I’m looking at you) from their precarious perches. They are a band that transcends genre, audience profile and style. They have carved their own path and, like many ‘niche’ bands from this end of their earth, European ears seem somewhat more responsive to their distinctive take on psychoactive music.

Brown’s unusual choice of instrument sits remarkably comfortably wrapped in the waves of sonic propulsion the foursome creates. To have the opportunity to experience their fusion in intimate surrounds here at home is something not to be passed up. The band’s drawing and exhaling of sound is set alight by Brown’s weird and illusory Theremin playing—it’s like he’s playing the air itself, taming the atmosphere of the room and recycling the energy into melody. It’s a rare thing to behold and, as Brown explains, not a simple concept to grasp.

“There are a lot of variables,” he says, “that’s probably why you don’t see too many people playing them in rock bands. You take two opposing electromagnetic fields or plates and move them closer together and further apart. One plate is the Theremin and the other is your body. So not only does it react to my body but to everybody else around it. It can be affected by the temperature in the room, how many other appliances are on or how the stage is lit. You can be playing an awesome venue with great sound but the stage is too close to the toilets so every time somebody walks past it affects the instrument. It can be difficult when people come in close to try and work out how it works or if someone’s really rockin' out in the front row.”

The Night Terrors evoke the inner nerd in their listeners. Devotees will babble about the art and physics of the Theremin regardless of levels of understanding—it’s a geek magnet from hell and Brown is the first to embrace this. “Because the Theremin’s so unusual, it kind of stands out; it’s a door opener,” he says. “You soon find out who the nerds are. The Keyboardist from Black Mountain [Jeremy Schmidt] is the kind of guy who knows the serial numbers of instruments. I studied Theremin with Lydia Kavina who’s the grand-niece of Theremin himself, she was taught by him. We played a Theremin festival in Germany with about forty players. I met most of the European Thereminists there; it was a pretty unusual bunch of people. I played at the Sydney Opera House last year and got to jam with Lou Reed, Marc Ribot and Ichirou Agata from Melt-Banana. Lou Reed is a real gear nerd, he even has the same Theremin I have; all we talked about was Theremins. The downside is that after shows when you’re ready to go home there’ll be some dude in his forties with a ponytail wanting to talk Theremin.”

Recently back from their second European trip The Night Terrors’ year is off to a flier with support slots for Black Mountain and legendary psych pioneers Hawkwind here before their own fund-raiser to aid with another trip to Europe to play Polyhymnia—a Neo-Krautrock festival in Berlin—in March. This impetus is surprising to Brown who has been plugging away with The Night Terrors on the relative down-low for ten years now.

“It’s weird after so long,” he continues. “Initially I just wanted to see whether it would work putting a Theremin out in front of a rock band and seeing whether we could make a record. I never expected it to be released. It’s funny because for so long people were saying ya’ know, you should probably get a girl in to sing or why don’t you write a hit or why don’t you go more electro. We just consider ourselves really lucky to play with other people who make underground music and other people who appreciate what it is to stick to your guns and make it happen—otherwise we’d all end up playing garage music. I hear Hawkwind have a Theremin player too. I’m hoping for a Theremin off.”

The concept of Neo-Krautrock is hazy to Brown but the band’s interest in playing Polyhymnia was piqued by the mention of headliners Goblin. “We get compared to Goblin a lot and they are the archetypal horror movie soundtrack band,” he continues. “They say [Neo-Krautrock is] all these bands that are referencing Krautrock but combining it with modern sounds. We were trying to get a gig with a band called Circle from Finland who were touring the last time we were there and [the bookers] told us that they didn’t want us for that but that they would like us to play this festival in March. It was soon after we got back [from our last European tour] so we thought we wouldn’t be able to go but then we found out what the festival was and that they’d booked Goblin to headline, we just went ‘Oh my god’. We asked if they had any idea where and when we would play at the festival. When they told us we’d be playing right before Goblin we decided we had to go.”

With Neo-Krautrock yet to establish itself as a recognised genre here in Australia, I was curious to find where Brown considered The Night Terrors to ‘fit’ in terms of musical comparison. He told me that despite their disparity from other musical groupings, they’ve found connections with musicians across a range of genres. “We haven’t got a scene, so we’ve always tried to latch onto everyone else’s,” he says. “In Australia our sound is so niche that there are people who are into it but not that many. In Europe there are heaps of people doing unique and obscure stuff, the more obscure the better it seems. There are a lot of metal acts here in Melbourne that say they’re progressive and we’re happy to jump in with them. We’ve done tours with doom bands and electro bands. One promoter in Germany said we were like a mix between hyper-gay electro and doom and we thought ‘yeah that sounds alright’. We’ve played crust doom metal clubs where everyone’s dreadlocked and anarchy and we think they’re gonna hate us but we always seem to go down really well. Those communities in general are really open minded, they’re always cool shows.”

Samson McDougall

The Night Terrors fundraiser is at Gasometer on Thursday the 3rd of March. Supports are Tantrums, Pearls and Spacerock DJs. 8pm start, $13.

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