Black Box Recorder – Live

The irony was laid on pretty heavy from the start: the band came on stage to Elton’s Goodbye English Rose. They were wearing complementary stage outfits – Sarah in a red satin shift, showing off her new BBR tattoo, and the guys in white suits, with John, all Robert Foster suave, in red shirt and black tie, and Luke in a black shirt and red tie. (Maybe it was the other way round, but I like the idea of Luke being a blackshirt.) The Japanese flag was draped over the back of the stage; or perhaps it was the ‘record’ symbol of their new logo (

They’re a creepy bunch: John just that touch too louche, and Luke sneering like a spiteful child, delighting in the naughty words he gets Sarah to perfectly enunciate. I like Black Box Recorder, but a live setting is perhaps not the best way to experience them – the crowd forced to keep silent and straining to hear Sarah whispering. However, seeing Luke cooing the harmonies of current teenage sex single Facts Of Life made me feel I’d witnessed something perverted.

With the exception of Facts Of Life, they’ve moved on from the alienated child of the first album, and have turned their ruthless gaze on bored British adults. Having dull sex, endlessly driving on motorways, visiting Ideal Home exhibitions. They play almost the whole of the new album. The Art of Driving is a driving-as-sex-metaphor song, with Sarah urging her partner to take it slow. French Rock’n’Roll is a cruel, accurate parody of Gallic music: all whispered entreaties and la-la-la-la chorus. The English Motorway System is like Autobahn, with its motorik keyboards and chorus of “the English motorway system, beautiful and strange”

They encored with England Made Me, and a brilliantly dispassionate version of one of Bowie’s more histrionic moments: Rock’n’Roll Suicide

David Sim (boy scribbling in the wreckage)

Killing Music – Home Taping, THE ICA

Home Taping is a great idea for a club night even if it was thought of by the Sneaker Pimps. The idea is you get celebrities to make mixtapes and then you get people to pay to hear them. It’s as much of a rip-off as it sounds, though more fun, because the ICA bar is open until late and staffed by beautifully obnoxious/obnoxiously beautiful young art things. It’s best to avoid going on those evenings when the Pimps themselves turn up to plough through some ghastly live set, because the ICA is twice as full as normal, and the extra people are twice as annoying (generally you get a lot of down-at-heel music fans and art kids, on Pimps night you get a lot of fashionable young things whose self-consciousness is as infectious as their company isn’t).

The tapes vary widely in quality, but unlike every other club I can think of you genuinely have no idea what you’re going to hear (as opposed to just not recognising who did it). The best ones tend to be by young soap actresses who don’t know what cool music is, or so I anti-intellectually surmise on two visits’ evidence. The worst one yet was by smug investigative journo Donal “Football hooligans are violent shocker” MacIntyre, who seemed on this occasion to have taken his cunningly-concealed tape recorders to a bad Soho bar. You don’t find out who’s doing tapes before you get in, which is a good thing as it meant we were all pleasantly surprised when Black Box Recorder’s mix came on.

I truly wish that I could tell you what they played or even whether it was good or not – early European art-techno as I remember, and the excellent “Moon River” – but I was much more interested in the actual presence of the band (minus Luke Haines, but I’ve seen him anyway) a mere one table away. When I mentioned this to my friends I was met with befuddlement, though as it turned out this was because my “It’s Black Box Recorder” was taken to refer to the monster picture of them which had been up for 5 minutes to announce their tape starting, and they were wondering why I was being so thick.

My observations of Black Box Recorder in a social context: Sarah Nixey is absolutely gorgeous. John Moore looks like Nicky Campbell and is not. If you’re in a fashionable subversion-pop outfit you don’t need to buy your own drinks.

The ICA, being down with the wired generation, had a computer hooked up in the lower bar area for The Kids to surf on. Needless to say we used it to surf straight to Freaky Trigger, and then left it on our favourite of Al’s cartoons in the hope that a pop star/Funny Folk interface would occur. (“Oh my goodness, who is this brilliant cartoonist? I must marry him immediately. Or his brother.”) No such luck, though we did attract a bespectacled, short, serious young man who surfed for two hours. Had he been reading Freaky Trigger all that time? No he had not, as a quick check of the history file revealed. (Swap two letters in this link to see what he’d found so interesting.)