BEIRUT: Memory being what it is, a great performance can remind you of much older music. It’s most common in formulaic Top 40 and classic rock, of course, but – as Irtijal’s closing night concert at Ashkal Alwan demonstrated this past weekend – echoes can be heard in experimental music too.
Such reminders are not necessarily such a bad thing.
The perpetrators were the Lebanese-Canadian multiinstrumental duo The Cripple – Khodor Ellaik, aka Kid Fourteen, on percussion, vocals, guitar, electronics, and Alex Zhang Hungtai, formerly Dirty Beaches, on percussion, vocals, sax and electronics.
Hungtai and Ellaik’s duet was a two-part sprint through the dancehall preconscious, one that began as an atmospheric exercise in no-wave intensity, with each player abusing a minimalist acoustic drum-and-cymbal battery.
Like roadside Pentecostals channeling the room’s untapped reserves of inchoate sexual anxiety, the duo hammered away with expressionless glee for 10-15 minutes – occasionally augmenting the skins with a spare cymbal to bring a hint of gamelan to the sound.
With more energetic audience members driven to the brink of actual dancing, The Cripple stood, as it were, and abandoned their drums. Ellaik donned an electric guitar (Hungtai later shouldered a tenor sax) yet the percussion – now transmigrating to synthesized and regularized playback – remained the pulsating foreground of the number.
As the tempo picked up, the two performers exerted themselves by ornamenting this undulating sonic landscape with gouts of incomprehensible lyrics and ragged guitar riffs, abrupt horn blarts, howls and other performative gestures.
For some in the audience, this sound was highly reminiscent of Swans – Michael Gira’s truly iconic experimental band that cut its teeth in the early 1980s and is still touring to this day.
This isn’t to dismiss The Cripple as derivative. Through their 45-minute set, Ellaik and Hungtai led their highly receptive Irtijal audience on a raggedly visceral and entertaining sonic journey.
The Cripple wasn’t the closing act of Irtijal 17 – followed by Lebanon’s Kinematik and DJs Bogdan Scoromide and Drago? Rusu, the music continued well into the morning – but it was a great act to have on the festival’s closing night.
For more on Irtijal 17, see http://irtijal.org/irtijal/irtijal-2017.