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The shell of Islington Mill is a relic from the North West’s industrial age.  Once a cotton mill where the sound of harsh machinery deafened it’s workers in pursuit of profit, it’s now become a quiet refuge for Salford’s burgeoning art scene.  Fortunately Islington Mill has also taken to hosting regular gigs by bands and artists that occupy the more esoteric end of the musical spectrum.  Tonight it’s the turn of legendary Japanese noise rockers; Melt Banana. 

I got to Islington Mill later than I wanted to and missed the first two bands though I’m just in time to catch all of main support band the Ex’s set. I love bands that leap before they look; musically it can pave the way for the happiest of accidents, and tonight the Ex leap all over the place. The current version of the Ex is an odd mixture of three lead guitarists – though one guitar appears to be a curious hybrid of bass and lead - and a solitary drummer. However once this wonderful Dutch band embark on it’s strange improvised journey it isn’t long before all these components fuse and start to cascade over the audience making everyone move with the fluid rhythms. It’s amazing how this band manage to have one foot placed firmly in the avant-garde, whilst the other’s tapping out funky beat but they manage to balance the two with supreme agility. Sadly their set comes to a close all too quickly, but they set the scene perfectly for the arrival of Melt Banana

Formed in 1992 and with ten full length albums to their name, Melt-Banana have built their career on playing extremely fast noise music mixed with experimental electronica though it’s the latter form that the group use to start tonight’s show. Initially it’s only singer Yasuko Onuki and surgically masked guitarist Ichirou Agata that slip onto the darkened stage to create the soundtrack to some manic video-game that’s going totally berserk. To the uninitiated like me, because there’s no clear definition to each to ‘song’ to warrant calling them different, it’s almost impossible to tell when one stops and another starts, though one can’t fail to marvel at the precise aggression of what’s being birthed on the stage. 


How long this aural battering lasts, I don’t know, but a bassist and drummer join the fray to add a thunderous locomotion to the sonic maelstrom, and, it’s at this point that the crowd starts to lose its composure and engage in furious activity.  In a game attempt to outmanoeuvre musical convention, Agata strangles out otherworldly sounds from his vintage Gibson using a limitless array of effects, while Yasuko O’s words emerge from her lips armed with knives and ready to kill. Of course all this is done with the volume set at ear-splitting levels to blanch out any thoughts other than those needed to concentrate on this particular moment. In essence Melt-Banana produce music that’s cleansed of every trace of silence, so-much-so that for the duration of this performance there’s not one cubic centimetre air that doesn’t vibrate with unremitting noise. It’s a little like having Rothko tattoo a flawed masterpiece on both eardrums with a dentist drill; it’s a loving creation that’s both incredibly beautiful and painful in equal measure.

While some bands tinker with the mechanisms, others, like Melt-Banana, have built a whole new apparatus to express themselves.  And here, in the industrial tubing and whitewashed brick walls of Islington, Mill Melt Banana lay the severity of the present bare and give noise a human face.

Review/photos by Phil King