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Scud FM at Windmill Brixton

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
Brixton, The Windmill,
This is one Windmill you don't tilt to

If The Windmill pub in Brixton was in a film, it would be straight from Central Casting with its graffitied toilets and stickers championing left-wing causes, saying they Things like "No Borders, No States", as well as punk, indie and hardcore band stickers. If this was in Shoreditch, it would've been ironic (sarcastic, really, according to Charles Hayward), but this is Brixton and the grimy look is central to punk and post-punk venues.

These plastered stickers on the toilet walls and doors are framed with a mural of sunflowers trampled by feet that are looked down on by a sad man in the moon that would be on the lorry of a New Age traveller sometime in the 1990s before the loathed Criminal Justice Act 1994 was passed.

Despite looking "alternative by numbers", The Windmill is one of the most important music venues in south London now The Montague Arms in New Cross has been closed down. When I wrote for Toy Pirate, I used to drink in the latter because it was an integral part of the New Cross Scene. I used to see bands like The Violets, Klaxons, Alice and the Enemies, Hatcham Social, etc. Beyond the New Cross bubble, The Windmill in Brixton is standing its ground against encroaching regeneration as it hosts gigs by Sleaze, Shame, Phobophobes, Fat White Family, Madonnatron and Bo Gritz, to name a few. Geographically, Like the Montague, it's a local hub for the underground scene that's being run to ground, but it's hidden from the high street, on Blenheim Gardens. A high street where champagne bars rub shoulders with soup kitchens and I encountered my first glimpse of Brixton's crack problem when interviewing Levelman, a grime artist for the book I'm working on, which is also going to include The Windmill and other venues.

Yes, they said it was in aid of a good cause

What about Warren Mansfield's new band, Scud FM? Named after BBC Radio 4's experimental FM service during the first gulf war, Mansfield's radical left-wing polemic evokes the punk poetry of John Cooper Clarke and a more political Derek and Clive, especially when he talks about "preserving Great British Diseases."

His multifaceted interpretation of post-punk recalls John Cooper Clarke, but also jazz legends such as Sun Ra and John Coltrane, thanks to his trumpet. I even think his trumpet reminds me of the trumpet samples you get on early drum and bass records, as it comes in snatches, such as a solo, rather than throughout the whole song.

Armed with a drum machine, guitarist and trumpet, Sapien recalls Straight rock'n'roll, by way of The Fall, on "Bob Crow". As Mark E. Smith said: "If you can't play it like a garage band..." Well, I'll get censored if I complete it. While the song recalls Nuggets era garage, one of the late Mr Smith's formative influences, the variety of Sapien's work is extensive. "Love Industrial Complex" looks at how love is treated as a commodity and a marketing device to sell stuff. Its reggae riddims, reminiscent of Public Image Limited, and are a conscious parody of lovers rock that brings attention to how the love-industrial complex works by evoking a genre that is purely love songs, while pointing out the way they blind us to what Sapien believes is the economic basis for relationships.

While Sapien evokes post-punk legends like The Fall, Public Image Limited and even The Birthday Party on a few songs, his approach is very postmodern. It's almost rootlessly eclectic in the way he takes sounds from different genres for different songs, even including almost retro video game sounds and lovers rock. No one song is the same as any other, unlike Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus.

One of his funniest songs goes through the insides of an amplifier, telling you how it works, mixing almost video game like noises and hard rock guitar, as if pushing the amplifier to the max. Because it's an apolitical song, I thought I was at a John Ottaway gig for a moment. There were moments where I thought I was at one, musically speaking. The Song, "Bob Crow" sounded like a Marxist version of Ottway's cult hit, "Really Free", filtered through Mark E. Smith.

As much as I don't agree with Sapien's politics, catch him while you can. He's just an interesting part of Trashmouth Records stable, if only by being a snapshot of the south London music scene and wherever the left's head's at, but also because he's tackling subjects songwriters dare not tackle.
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