Nots, Cafe Oto, London, UK (7th June 2017)

Nots are a “weird punk” US four-piece on a brief European tour, including a stop at Dalston Junction’s Cafe Oto.  It’s a large, scruffy room, with no stage — just a designated floor space under dim lighting. Just as there’s no clear delineation between stage and crowd, Nots flow seamlessly from a sound check, to playing an instrumental intro, to singing their first track. They delight in blurring boundaries between entertainer and viewer. ‘Blank Reflection’ emerges —  shouted lyrics, splintered guitar, sci-fi keyboards, motorik drums and throbbing bass. Just as on their latest album, ‘Cosmetic’, the next song is the fast punkabilly of ‘Rat King’, but first singer/guitarist Natalie Hoffmann says: “We are Nots, from Memphis, Tennessee.

She doesn’t say much more for the rest of the set. Nots don’t want to win you over with chit chat and charm; they aim to overwhelm you with yelling, intensity and commitment. The third track tonight is a Ramones-ish few-chord wonder called ‘No Novelty’ that starts with a big drum roll from entrancing high-energy drummer Charlotte Watson and ends before you know it. The song deserves a proper mosh pit.

‘Televangelist’, from debut album ‘We Are Nots’, begins with beautifully simple bass from Meredith Lones before weird keyboard noises turn into a hook of sorts, while Hoffmann adds goth elements — her voice echoes “I hate watching you” and her guitar churns darkly — to an underlying beat not unlike something by Manchester legends The Fall.

‘Inherently Low’ is driven by thumping drum and bass, as the guitar chugs away and Alexandra Eastburn on keyboard produces another great riff, ending the song on vibrato as she manipulates her vintage Korg synth with a Fender device that looks like a toy. Hoffmann’s yelping is primal in its intensity and refusal to embrace melody, and she reserves moments of tunefulness for her frenetic guitar work. Again, The Fall come to mind.

Nots next use a blast of feedback, augmented by a 1-2-3 on Watson’s drums and flying saucer keyboards from Eastburn that turn into a Cramps-like psych racket, and a punk refrain (‘Reactor’?). Hoffmann then switches from guitar to a Korg minilogue for ‘Black Out’, and the relentless Watson can finally slow down on drums, the dual keyboards giving the track an atmospheric spacey sound that soon kicks off as Eastburn takes her synth on a rocket-ship trip. 

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Hoffmann says they’ll play some “new songs”, the first of which turns out to be ‘Violence’, to be released on 30th June as a single with ‘Cruel Friend’. Sticking to the previous track’s two keyboard/no guitar sound, ‘Violence’ is the closest Nots come to a pop song. It mixes the band’s weird punk with the sound of Suicide and later ’80s industrial synth bands over a slow churning bass — think of an American industrial art-punk makeover of Spandau Ballet’s ‘To Cut A long Story Short’ and ‘Being Boiled’ by Human League.

The guitar returns for ‘Cruel Friend’ and ‘Shelf Life’, along with whoo, whee synthesiser, faster bass and instrumental soundscapes. “Sing along if you know it,Hoffmann says before TVOD lurches into life — great synth, with several episodes of staccato guitar and drums, and chanted lyrics — “I don’t need no TV…” The chords speed up, the keyboard emits bloops and bleeps and the track ends in glorious noise. 

The five-minute ‘Cosmetic’ is heavier and slow, built on a deep bassline, and only speeds up after around the four-minute mark to remain heavy but become faster. “Cosmetic. Aesthetic,Hoffmann barks. “Thanks for coming out,” she says.

The final track of the main set is ‘Cold Line’ (also the closer from the ‘Cosmetic’ LP), held together by a great melodic bass riff. The whirling garage tune on the keyboards and sharp Bauhaus-like shards from the guitar seem to be at war but somehow combine to create a gratifyingly unholy noise. Hoffmann uses her single square yard of space in the tiny stage space to twist and spin, flailing her guitar, and ends up playing on her knees. Half way out of the performing area after finishing their set, Nots decide to come back for a spontaneous encore — again blurring the audience/performer narrative: “Are you sure you want one more?” They play an “old one”, Hoffmann disappearing with her guitar into the crowd as the bass thumps and the song veers from fast and loud to slow and back again. 

After the set, boundaries remain fuzzy. Hoffmann and Eastburn put away their guitars and keyboards, signing records for fans at the back of the the designated stage space. Watson puts her glasses on and joins the already spectacled Lones to mingle with fans at the merchandise table. London needs more Nots.

 

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