Sheep on Drugs, The Garage, London, 17th August 2002
'Twas a night to look forward to, the return of the classic alternative dance band, back from exile in the US (via Eurorock) and reinvented for the "noughties". Many had heard that Duncan X was not going to perform, leaving a major question mark in the air as to what the gig was going to be like. As with many dance-based bands, SoD's live presence used to centre on the vocals, with much of the music pre-recorded, what the hell were they going to be like without even that?
Firstly, though, was the rest of the fairly packed bill. Lee's Bagman DJ set was cancelled because of "technical problems", which Lee explained was the fact he'd gotten hardly any sleep the night before. First up were noiseniks Mechanical Cabaret, who I unfortunately missed because I was running late, and I arrived just before greenhaus took the stage.
By this point, the infamously unventilated Garage was starting to heat up ridiculously, the day's heat-wave weather turning the usually overheated venue into a sauna. However, greenhaus soldiered thru the heat impressively, treating us to a synth-based set that got a substantial amount of the crowd moving. Playing without their guitars, they concentrated on an interesting mix of instrumental synth, banging techno and uplifting trance. Not having heard their stuff before, I was suitably impressed, even with 'Russia', which is based around Carl Orff's sampled to death 'O Fortuna'. The heat seemed to get to them towards the end of the set, though, and they left the stage somewhat abruptly when they couldn't find the right track on their DAT.
The heat continued to build and those of a Gothic persuasion started to melt, with eyeliner streaming down people's faces. However, that didn't stop the place erupting when Lee took the stage to kick off what could only be called the "Sheep on Drugs Sound System". It was Lee on the laptop, with a guitarist to the side. Lee hit the stage in something of a mess, drink and dope contributing to his already sleep-deprived state. As a result, it was largely a case of him hitting play and gurning around the stage.
However, for those of us with a taste for techno, the set was fucking amazing. Lee's spent a few months deconstructing and reconstructing material from SoD's classic "Greatest Hits" and it sounds as fresh now as when it first came out ten years ago. Kicking off with a virtually unrecognisable 'Drug music', all pounding beats and distorted vocals, the crowd was instantly split, with a dancing frenzy on the floor and moaning traditionalists at the bar. Through the one-hour set, some tracks were close to the originals, like the only slightly tweaked 'Motorbike', while others were completely distorted and mutated, 'Acid test' was only just recognisable for the lyrics. All the while, an ever-shifting visual display moved behind them, with the nice touch of pics taken on a digital camera during the show being added in.
Duncan X was present, showing off his impressive collection of tattoos, mainly dancing in the audience, but joining Lee on stage on a couple of occasion, staring at the crowd and then jumping back among us. Something of the live experience of yore came back towards the end, as Lee's patience wore out for some of the abuse he was taking and he got somewhat aggro with a few people up the front. He also took over Duncan's duty of chucking the mike around the stage.
A considerable amount of hilarity erupted half way through the storming reworking of '15 minutes of fame', which kicked off with an undeniably nu-electro sound and then bursting into a tranced up take on the classic. Lee leaned over to converse with someone at the front and managed to knock off his laptop, stopping the sound dead. Some panicy reloading later, with Lee asking if we wanted him to start the track over. An emphatic "yes" from those enjoying the show, a rather grumpy "try singing" from the others, and '15 minutes...' kicked in again and we danced like crazy, sweat virtually dripping from the ceiling at this stage.
Then it was over, no encore, people streamed out onto the streets to escape the heat. Those who enjoyed themselves were grinning from ear to ear, immune to the whinging of the rest. So consider this a health warning, if you're not going to dance, stay away. This will hopefully make room for clubber when they finally realise that Sheep on Drugs are, undeniably, one of the UK's finest dance acts.
Girl the Bourgeois Individualist