London’s love affair with the psychedelic has once again been rekindled. Not since the drug-addled excesses of the late Sixties and early Seventies has the town reverberated so headily with garish guitars, whimsical lyrics and preposterous drumming. The freak scene is back in a big way, as a host of new bands embrace the heady Dionysian values of their forebears. The rut of identikit landfill indie that populated the town post-Libertines has stirred a new breed of artists into challenging mediocrity, as even the most mainstream bands get in touch with their wild side. The Arctic Monkeys have grown their hair, and The Horrors have been critically adored for their krautrock-meets-psychedelia opus ‘Primary Colours’.
Leading this colourful new pack are Invasion, a three piece from North London, who bravely (some would say foolishly) combine vintage Seventies rock riffs with Motown soul, throwing in a touch of obscure Eighties metal for good measure. Marek Steven, founding member of the band, is as good a guide as any to the rumblings of the psychedelic London underground. An extremely busy man, he is also, despicably, a music journalist, while somehow finding the time to shoot ‘just low budget’ music videos for cult bands such as Hackney art-nutters Comanechi. With just a set up of guitar, drums and vocals, the amount of psychedelic funk metal racket the band kick up is astounding. As Marek admits, “the band evolved from another I was in where the bassist left and we just carried on”. No great loss, as he more than makes up for it with a huge, classic guitar sound, combined with riffs that dangerously will you to both dance and fight. Contrasting with the metal power of the guitarist is space-robed diva frontwoman Chan Brown (ex-Do Me Bad Things). Chan is a frontwoman in the classic soul sense, like Aretha Franklin if she’d lived on Venus for a couple of decades. Marek agrees that “Motown is just incredible” and it’s this open-mindedness and willingness to experiment that separates the band from hordes of generic metalheads. While definitely retro in its themes (wizards, space, other metal clichés), new record ‘The Master Alchemist’ combines breakneck speeds (songs rarely go over the two minute mark) with megalithic riffs and gloriously powerful vocals. Recorded on analogue, released by This Is Music Ltd and produced by Simian Mobile Disco’s Jas Shaw, it’s like members of MC5, Black Sabbath and Megadeth jamming with Etta James. In a good way. Perhaps that’s why the NME has been so vocal about declaring them the future of metal. Or perhaps it’s because drummer Zel plays with her cymbals aflame.
Marek admits he was “surprised, in a good way”, by the press hype of his band, pleased that “they’ve finally started covering heavier bands”. Invasion may be the most successful of this new crop of bands, but a fertile scene is growing, which Marek has helped cultivate through his Skill Wizard clubnight. Nights vary from “very popular” thrash nights (playing classic Metallica and Megadeth) to more cult-orientated psych and doom nights (playing everything from the Yardbirds to Electric Wizard), with the cream of the psychedelic crop being invited to play.
There are plenty of other notable acts on the London circuit that are helping raise psychedelic awareness. Marek recommends Chrome Hoof, a twelve piece inter-dimensional George Clinton style jazz funk metal orchestra adored by Klaxons. Their recent tour nearly made it to Leeds but failed due to running out of money, thanks to lavish spending on a giant Ram stage prop which fired lasers from its eyes.
Bo Ningen are touring with Invasion next year and are possibly the most awesome looking band of all time – bellbottom clad, Japanese psych warriors with hair as long as Rapunzel and a distinct lack of health and safety onstage. Marek also brings up progressive hammond organ botherers Diagonal, who hail from sunny Brighton. Their potty live performances are balanced with consummate musicianship.
All these bands combine their retro influences with a truly modern mindset, experimenting with sounds in the same way as their Seventies heroes, and bringing a more acid-drenched shade of colour to the town’s bounteous music scene.