Residing in London but formed in Berlin, the repetitious, ambient and often piercing experimentalism of krautrock is clearly audible in Ulrika Spacek’s lo-fi sound. Their debut album The Album Paranoia was released last year and made modest waves for its whirling cacophony of drifting vocals, repetitive effect-heavy guitar and bass lines and building eruptions from ambiance to explosive noise. It’s an album that deserved the highest merit but somehow managed to slip under the radar of many of the biggest music publications.
Tonight, Ulrika Spacek return to London to play the newly refurbished and re-branded Sebright Arms. One of a number of gigs (including the likes of Circa Waves, Spring King, Nilüfer Yanya and Gengahr) to mark the reopening of one of Hackney’s favourite pubs under partnership with The Old Blue Last and Vice, the intimate backstreet venue is totally sold out, playing host to some of London’s tallest, skinniest and trendiest music/alcohol fans.
After a lengthy soundcheck and the organisation of about twenty effects pedals, the five-piece Ulrika Spacek make a quiet entrance to the stage before, without acknowledgement of the crowd or a single ounce of any fuss, opening with the recently released single ‘Mimi Pretend’. A track that’s as hazy as the majority of the rest of Ulrika Spacek’s stuff, but perhaps just a little fluffier in the essence of Pavement, ‘Mimi Pretend’ is accompanied by rather destabilising fuzzy projections onto hanging bedsheets at the back of the stage and sets the tone nicely for the rest of the night.
The set slowly creeps higher and higher in intensity, with chorus refrain of ‘Strawberry Glue’ really bringing the crowd to life. The long drawn out song repeats its bassline over and over with increasing collective reverb, sandwiching moments of explosive sound met with fearsome strobing. The result, at least until softer vocals and instrumentation allow the song to plateau out again, is a vibe of intense, frenzied chaos. In between songs (and in between sips of Holsten pills), singer-guitarist Rhys Edwards makes an admission, “I thought two weeks would be enough to rehearse, but I’ve already forgotten the lyrics”. In all honesty, considering the nature of their noise, I doubt even the most studious fan of Ulrika Spacek would have noticed lyrics inevitably lost in the dense haze.
A majestic rendition of ‘Beta Male’ towards the end of the set brings the volume levels to a new high. Bass, amongst three layers of guitar and effects, reverberates throughout absolutely everything in the room and the raw power and noise of the band feels almost tangible. Edwards could literally be singing about dunking biscuits in his brew and it wouldn’t make it any less vigorously forceful. Amongst tracks from The Album Paranoia, new tracks are tested out too. Whilst amidst the crashing, distorted noise of three guitars it is a little difficult to make out the subtleties of these songs, they sound cool and certainly whet the appetite for new material.
Tonight’s set, like the album, feels like a chemical reaction of noise interspersing powerfully abrasive instrumentation with streaks of drifty ambience. It’s a cacophonous and hugely exciting hour of live music. If Pixies were loudQUIETloud, Ulrika Spacek are deafeningLOUDdeafening (in a good way).