Snapped Ankles @ Mono, Glasgow, 11 Mar
Celebrating the release of new album Stunning Luxury, East London kraut-psych tree folk Snapped Ankles flourish in spite of some sound hiccups
"We want people to be in some way surprised," Paddy Austin recently told The Skinny. If you saw his band Snapped Ankles a year ago, they’d have been dressed head-to-toe in mossy regalia, like covert loiterers in Shrek’s back garden. It’s an overarching concept; thin logs, electrified into future-primitive percussion, prop up microphones and wires; their sprightly kraut-psych painting a sonic image of being desperately lost in woodlands, weaving about the trees.
But after the disobedient disco of support act WomanSaid departs the stage, our headliners emerge wearing… suits? The shrubbery headpieces persist, but paired with formal attire from the neck down; they look like a band of wood sprites playing their mates’ wedding. The outfits are so disarming that the band plays an earthy pulse for two minutes before anyone notices. This develops into propulsive movement more urgent than anything they’ve put to record, a testimony to their formidable performer credentials. Snapped Ankles seem like a group that only release music because constant touring would surely kill them.
But the group demonstrate new tactics tonight. If the suits haven’t given it away, the estate agent placard labeled 'Stunning Luxury' (also the name of their most recent LP) surely will. Amid the mirth of this jazzed Mono crowd, now unravelling into a teeming pit, is the vague notion that something is being sold off.
Or not. It’s often hard to make out (ah, the age old rivalry between sound guy and band!), but lead vocalist Austin appears to invoke the spectre of gentrification at least once tonight. "The cultural capital we invest in this venue…", he seems to say. As the rest of the group dutifully hurl themselves into a swirling jam, it looks as if Austin is headed to the other side of the room to give the sound guy a stern telling-off. It then becomes clear he’s been holding the business end of a surveyor’s measuring tape. He dryly notes the length and width of the venue, play-acting the property developer hand-wringing over prime real estate.
The satire is timely, given the precariousness of arts spaces today. Scrapped funding, urban regeneration and hiking living costs are only some factors signalling the death knell. Take a walk down any backstreet and you’ll find venues scrambling for revenue streams (record outlets, cafe-restaurant-bars) to keep the crowds coming – if they haven’t shut down altogether. Small DIY venues face the brunt of the latter. That seems to be the story in East London, where Snapped Ankles got their start as Ent-like band of choice for abandoned warehouses and derelict buildings. It seems their reputation still stands, despite the eminent popularity of future classic I Want My Minutes Back, a song accoladed tonight by Austin as having been "played on Radio 3… or erm, was it 1?"
But there’s an uncomfortable irony here. The tree-folk play with the shapes of anti-establishment, anti-gentrification and anti-regeneration to great effect – allegorised as the vengeful arms of the forest reclaiming the sanitised urban sprawl – but staged tonight from a corner of Glasgow’s middle-class-vegan cuisine empire, the hands of live music don’t seem quite so clean. Don’t the league of bald-headed men drive BMWs, lecture about craft ale, invest disposable income in their rekindled passion for vinyl? Don’t venues also displace, price out, drive the interests of gentrification? We’re lost in this thicket, ensnared by wild overgrowth. Snapped Ankles are right there with us, incapable of seeing the wood from the trees.