You can live in a city for years and occasionally stumble across a cluster of streets that have so far completely evaded your carefully constructed internal mind-map. Although a lot of your mental cartography may be a little skewed by one too many, there’s still a homing mechanism somewhere in your subconscious that records the blurred walls and swirling pavements you stumble past. Meandering my way to The Duck & Drake in downtown Leeds for the first time however, it struck me that I had never encountered the strangely eerie, smoke-filled lanes that the pub resides amongst, and coupled with this I felt like I had accidentally walked straight on to the From Hell film set. Hired Muscle, clearly unwilling to brave these ominous surroundings, ignited a rumour early into the support bands that they were stuck in solid traffic outside of Leeds and would be unable to play tonight’s gig. This crushing news somewhat voids the original intended object of this review, but when I heard these whisperings I decided to press on with a pint in hand and enjoy whatever madness was arranged to precede the Muscle. And so should you.
Cobra Fist valiantly decide that the best way to liven up a pub half filled with smog and an older generation who were probably going to snub them anyway, is to don full ninja body garb and act like the Power Rangers. Complete with their coat of arms on a standard behind them, they conjure up a ball of pulsing electronic noise rock with as many muscles as the recent Conan The Barbarian remake for which they should have provided the soundtrack. Utilising complex hammering bass patterns with a screaming synth and vocal harassment, it’s unnerving to close and open your eyes again to find the wailing scuzz you were enjoying being played by men in lurid cat-suits.
After a brief slurping of ale, Bearfoot Beware spring to the stage to jerk out some skittish indie rock that sounds like Maximo Park if they were top of their maths class. Their glasses clad singer, particularly fond of the yelp, is hardly stationary with six string in hand but it’s their bass player that really demands the attention. With feet in basketball boots his legs move like he’s nicked the wings of Hermes and injected them with energy drink, yet he still manages to finger out catchy and jumping rhythmic lines to each song.
By default the main event tonight are Bad Body, who are unfortunately lacking one of their usual three members due to Hired Muscle’s motorway debacle. Their instrumental toolbox consists of a keyboard, samples and a large sheet of transparent plexiglass bristling with contact microphones and lights, that looks like it’s been stolen from the kid’s interactive section of the Science Museum. Coupled with this ambitious hardware layout all controlled by one human component, the audience peers at a half-crazed man in a bloodied green hospital robe holding a microphone. By the time they are ready to unleash from the enclosed corner stage they are squeezed on to, tensions run high and fill the small room, purely based on anticipation and sheer confusion about what on earth will unfold. All inhabitants of the vocalist’s personal space are treated to a disorientating barricade of white noise and poetic rants, as visceral feelings of rage and despair wash from the stage without a pause for breath or thought. This is not designed to be comfortable viewing and during one fuming torrent of words attacking government spending cuts, the central character in the melee asks the audience "What’s expensive?" and demands answers. A lack of discernible breaks between songs and the occasionally inaudible vocal expression leaves the listener with a trance-like feeling of claustrophobia, akin to waking from an almost enjoyable nightmare that you can’t quite remember. Bad Body wholly deserve the unplanned time and attention they are given in Hired Muscle’s absence and create a chilling art performance that implants itself visually and sonically on the brain like a parasite. It is unimaginable how this cacophony would translate to record and enjoying the experience relies on being wrapped up in the queasy atmosphere that the band create, allowing the grim waves of nausea to lap gently against your face.