When we talk about something being incongruous, more often than not it’s as a criticism – to advise amendment or removal or replacement of some offending article. Something doesn’t fit in, and it should. Which is odd, perhaps, considering current concerns with individuality and non-conformity; maybe the aversion to disharmony is tricky to shake.
But incongruity isn’t always a bad thing, as venues like Union Chapel, St Pancras Old church and myriad other venues well know. Fundamental to their success, or at least their initial impact, was the framing of acts in an unexpected setting. So the fact that the Islington place of worship isn’t the most obvious place to find post-punk dance duo Sink Ya Teeth is a remark perhaps so banal as to barely warrant mentioning. But there was more juxtaposition to their support slot ahead of ex-Magazine bassist Barry Adamson than the ornate lectern behind them.
For one thing, there’s the time; there’s something inherently late night about Sink Ya Teeth’s self-titled debut, especially breakthrough single ‘If You See Me’. For another, there’s the audience; who you might expect to be close-packed and writhing rather than calmly seated on evenly rowed pews. For a third, there’s the stage; which, arranged as if prepared for a school’s big band recital in anticipation of the headliner, seemed to leave little room for the duo to assert themselves. So, yes, incongruous in more ways than one. But all for the better.
From the moment ‘Freak 4 the Kick’ rolls into action, there’s something so starkly apparent about the duo and their music. They stand out so strikingly against the circumstances that the force of personality that seems to form the heart and driving force of the act is so blatant. Maria Uzor’s hand-on-hip strutting, the cacophonous bass that introduces ‘Glass’, the personal stories the songs tell without weary anecdotes. It all speaks to the forthright honesty that makes their dance music so tangible.
That’s not to say it’s not dripping with style and verve and vitality. But in this particular setting, without the expected circumstantial adornments of a club or a dance or a soundsystem set up to clear your lungs, the personality of the band shines through. Not, necessarily, the personality of Uzor or Gemma Cullingford, but the personality of Sink Ya Teeth. It clears a space (not literally) on the busy and regimented stage and leaves an indelible mark on the audience. And while it might be hard to deny that the building throb of ‘Friends’ or the shrill, mounting drama of ‘Substitutes’ would be all the more enveloping in a louder, darker, later setting, this particular occasion was an uncommon opportunity to see Sink Ya Teeth, unrepentantly dynamic and tinged with mischievous militancy, for what they are.