Scott Walker + Sunn O))), Soused (listening event) – Church of St John-at-Hackney, London – October 14th, 2014

So far, so transcendent. For long enough the soundsystem, which had been the subject of much self-satisfied, speculation in the queue ahead of the event, had pumped out Scott Walker + Sunn O)))’s visceral, thundering, grim new record, Soused, into the plaster-clad church in Hackney. The album is superlative – much more superlative than you might expect of Scott Walker plus Sunn O))); more superlative than Scott Walker times Sunn O))).

(This was all written, in a rush, in a notebook, during and shortly after the event, and hasn’t been corrected.)

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But then someone – gender, identity unknown, unspecified – leapt in to the middle of the room. She – by this time I know it’s a she – she blunders into the middle of the room, just in front of the altar, standing just where one might kneel for communion. And she begins to contort. Not enough to be genuinely profound, just enough to remember that she is probably aching, questioning, throughout. “Nearly fucked up,” she says at one point.

This music – which derives its intense, indisputable power from its summoning from the deepest bits of human (anti-)culture, from the warping and vivifying of the religious ferment that it rescued from the stultification of history – had found its vessel. She remains awkward, she shuffles about in the area before the circular area, approaching something like the kinds of unnatural dance of almost-there acting, or a first performance on Top of the Pops.

(She is wearing at least 3 layers. She took 2 of them off when she began dancing. She has dark hair that appears – from my seat on the balcony level – frizzy.)

Anyway after a short while, someone dressed similarly – leather jacket, tight-ish, jean-y trousers – comes and tries to talk the dancer into sitting back down. I agree – it’s attention-seeking, and I have attention to expend elsewhere – and it’s intentionally being obvious. She fails to do so; coaxing doesn’t work.

So that is left a while. She continues to contort.

Then two people – who look like the people who let me in, who served me a £3 can of Red Stripe at the bar – approach.

(While this happens Walker is summoning something or other. “Hey nonny nonny,” he sings, pagan witch-y. Followed by a disembodied screech.)

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Anyway the men attempt to take her away. They take places either side of her and put their hands across her back, as if helping her away. It quickly becomes clear that she doesn’t want to do so. At first she folds up her body so they can’t support it. Then she gives up all claim to her body and drops, resolutely, on the floor, in something like a protest.

Anyway clearly the audience are protesting too. A group of people that has been entirely quiet until now – except rude and uninterested chat between friends – erupts in protest. “Let her dance.” “Leave her alone!” and so on. The two men try a while, try everything until it’s clear that they’re going to fail, both practically and in the eyes of those watching.

I’m on her side, now. The awkward artifice of the experience has prevailed. We continue listening to the great, truly great album – in all of its silliness (“what makes their music feel sublime can also make it seem ridiculous,” as the Quietus noted of both artists) – as it erupts from the neon glow of the large hi-fi set-up. (More details on the specifics of that huge luminous thing here.)

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. . . . . . . . . . . . .

The album gets its power – its soaring, near impossible power – from offering a kind of enchantment, a dark call to dark prayer. It seems something like – more than anything I’ve heard before – something like the sound that the rigid men of the 17th century heard echoing from the witches of their worst imaginings. (Hey nonny nonny…)

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

I think I see the woman when I leave, and she’s begging: I realize that all of the arrogant guesses I’d made about her motivations are probably wrong.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

And then I walk home, through Hackney’s ever-congealing theme park kitsch, to Hackney Downs train station. On the train a man with an African accent gets on at Clapton saying “I’ve got the Ebola disease,” followed by a chuckle, and kissing his newspaper. He keeps repeating it. Then he gets off at St James’s Street, one stop later, singing “Ebola, Ebola, Ebola.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

I look forward to getting home and listening to the album in the confident comfort of my own headphones.

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