The Utopia Strong – Gunther Prague – Cristiana Ilie
The Tin Music and Arts Coventry
4th of February 2022
Fighting Boredom saw Steve Davis DJ a while ago, well to be fair, we saw most things a while ago now, he was brilliant. So when we saw that Creature Lab Recordings had booked his band to play in Coventry we were enthusiastic to say the least. Featuring Coventry’s own excellent Gunther Prague and Cristiana Ilie it looked like an excellent night. Read what we thought below.
There’s a big table of electronics, leads snaking between components and creating a little ecosystem of electrical parts. There’s a background of white noise and static while a small electronic tune plays over and over the feeling it gives you is of a warped out of focus sci-fi soundtrack. Cristiana Ilie is a hooded figure onstage leaning right over the top of the equipment. Odd visuals are projected behind her and the throbbing sound gets louder. Arcade bleeping takes over and it all shifts back to the noise.
Mutations and synth wonderfulness is wobbling from the stage now, interference breaking over the top of it. But still the little tune wiggles on. It’s changing to spooky, resonant and very interesting, it’s making my brains synapses click. It melds over to what feels like a fifties pulp alien invasion film now, crackles and odd sounds, bass throbbing and blasts of noise, layers upon layers of music. The discord grows and the sound becomes shattering before it fades away again.
I can float away into this, the white noise is strangely soothing while the blasts of bass and pure nasty noise are like machines snoring and stirring in their sleep, it’s absorbing and enfolding. She stands hunched over the board like an alchemist coaxing sound from the air, she stands up as the noise increases but her hood is hiding her face completely, you can just see her hair falling from either side of her hood like curtains.
Gunther Prague are hard, angular and massive. They are hard-core post hard-core from Tile Hill College. A Cov thing. The tallest guitarist in the building sings with a voice just a hairbreadth away from desperation as he wrings sound from his instrument that shakes the stage. The music stops, starts and echoes like the sounds Big Black made years back. But this is no derivative dirge. This is a fresh fast short sharp shock to the system over and over again.
It’s a collection of shuddering guitar, bass slabs and idiosyncratic drum patterns, it plays with your mind. It’s bloody relentless. The next track is almost a coherent and predictable ditty until they fuck you over with a rhythm so far away from the norm that they may as well be in space. It’s intense, immense noise with gaps, stutters and lurches which lead into thrash but it’s got imagination and intelligence. There’s also an anger in the music, an aggression pounding into you making it feel like you’ve been punched. I’ve not seen a three piece this solid for years. I’m standing twitching feeling the urge to start a circle pit.
Through the set we’ve been kept up to date with the drummer’s injured bleeding hands which are hardly a surprise when he has been channeling the spirits of Keith Moon and Colm Ó Cíosóig all the way through the set. Brilliant to watch and making me feel exhausted. Eventually we are told that his hands are bleeding so much he can only play one more song which bursts at you again with noise that just about lets you draw breath.
The stage is lit by the projected images of lines, they form contours around the Utopia Strong who look like they are taking this very seriously. They feel like they are concentrating very hard. There’s a delicate rising sound leading into a psychedelic soundscape. The vocal is long and drawn out, sung like another instrument, there are no discernible beats just swathes of sound rising and falling, you close your eyes and drift away.
The sound grows a little more disturbed and the music is reaching further out, it’s orbit expanding and growing. It feels like you are moving into one of Roger Dean’s Yes album covers. Probably seen as a compliment by the people onstage but my attention is starting to drift. There are the beginnings of beats now, the rhythm is building up and the sound is crystallising and becoming clearer.
It starts whooshing and meandering all over the place, kind of like a cleaner, polished Hawkwind. The music is all over the place, a recorder is played to add to it and it works, everything just works. To be completely honest I find it a little flat. It’s grabbing me a little but not as much as I hoped, all of them are playing seriously, intently and focused entirely on their instruments or in Steve Davis’ case his bank of modulated synths. But the enthusiasm doesn’t resonate with me, it’s somewhat disappointing. It’s music to sit and absorb yourself in but not tonight.
The Utopia Strong
Cristiana Ilie has a Facebook page
All words by Adrian Bloxham, all pictures by Martin Ward.