The thing about the chaps from Fluffer Records is that they’re always up to something new… First it was the Pit Parties, then they super-sized the pit, creating an incredible vista of utter mayhem with the Black Lips. Selecting new music from small and up-and-coming bands based on their sound alone and not the hype has been a constant throughout, but the Pit begs for the bands with the harder, more confrontational punky-edge to be let off the leash to drive the crowd in to a animalistic, chaotic, sweaty, beer-soaked mosh. So what of all the other small bands? The ones who are no less talented, but perhaps whose music is more subtle than the fire-breathing gods of the Pit demand… What if you’re looking for something with vibes that a little more chilled but still want to be fully immersed in the best new music out there out there on the fringes? Well then perhaps Custard Thruster might be just the thing for you.
The concept was simple: One day mini-festivals running from early afternoon to the early hours of the morning combined with a cheap bar, a BBQ and plenty of space to chill out in between bands. Custard Thruster was born.
The setting for the first ever Custard Thruster was The Engine Rooms. Normally this space in the tunnels under the railway line running through Bow houses four nicely decked out rehearsal spaces with top-quality sound kit, but for a night of Thrusting Custard two of the smaller rehearsal spaces became storage, one the band room and the large room at the back of the tunnel with a large stage, the venue for the days festivities. Saturday’s being what they are, Lampy and I arrived (very) late, just in time to check out the second band of the day, “Flirting”. The sound is good. Very good. There’s no real front of house, instead the sound-engineer crouches by his box of tricks at the side of the stage. The lighting is a little more “exciting” with a stand of pars at the back of the stage on the left, and a mongrel line of coloured LED effect lamps on the other side of the expansive stage. The whole lot is set to react to the beat and the combination provides strong backlight and silhouettes the band whilst simultaneously bathing the crowd in swirling laser-beam effects (and coincidentally providing some searing lens flare photographing in to the light).
The venue is beautifully set up with plenty of power points spread around the stage and it’s not long before Lampy is delving in to the suitcase of goodies I’ve hauled across the city to augment the existing lighting rig. A flock of birdies, half with amber gels, provide some side and uplighting so you can see the faces of the performers. It’s the first outing for one of Lampy’s Par 36’s plugged in at the back of the stage. She artfully combines it with some of the crazy lamps at the back of the stage to provide some light for the drum kit and nice some colour differential highlighting the drummer. The Mongrel LEDs are pointed at the corrugated ceiling to exploit the texture and left to do their thing (by this point it’s clear they’re not actually following any beat the bands play unless they’re hearing something we can’t…) and the Pars on the stand are either re-focussed or quietly unplugged. Finally, Lampy’s latest secret weapons are deployed… Two battery powered “Varytec Bat-Lites”. These genius devices are just like a normal LED Par Can except that they run off the same kind of battery you’d run your power drill off. They appear to last for hours and as they have no leads, are dead easy to reposition if the band ends up somewhere unexpected on the stage.
By the time Porridge Radio play, the BBQ is up and running and Lampy has more or less got the lights the way she wanted them and has begun to play with uplighting to cast shadows on to the corrugated ceiling. I’ve also programmed a couple of white balance settings to balance out some of the colour casts thrown out by Lampy’s ad hoc rig and I am beginning to get the hang of where I need to be for a good shot. The mini-fest starts to find its rhythm. The crowd instinctively knows the difference between sound-checking and the real performance and piles in from outside as soon as they hear the first bar of the first track. The temperature rises to blast furnace levels as the band plays to the packed crowd. So as soon as the set is done the crowd heads for the exit in search of actual air, grabbing a drink from the bar in the hallway on their way past. As the band packs down and the sound engineer and Lampy turn off anything that could ever be accused of even thinking of producing heat to try and get the temperature down to something bearable. Meanwhile, the next band is rounded up and dragged inside to acclimatise to the heat as they set up. Lights are rearranged and focussed and the first bars of a new set blast out calling the faithful back from the relative calm and cool outside. The only thing that the venue is missing is quality ventilation, the kind that’s as effective as a pipeline sucking frozen glacial air from the top of the Greenland Ice-sheet. If you could harness the heat generated by Custard Thruster you could keep the lights on in Bow for weeks at a time!
The bands are good, each brings something different to the stage and the venue is packed out for each performance despite the lure of the cool breeze (and semi-professionally cooked burgers…) outside. For me there were several stand out acts. Canterbury-based Mass Lines really tore the place up with their wonderfully energetic, loud and gloriously meaty garage-punk and took the venue temperature to a whole new high. A burger and an invigorating beverage were required after this set so I managed to miss Chest Pains completely. Sorry guys! Sunlight Services Group brought splendid prog-infused madness, shockingly bad jokes and a flute to the stage with the lead singer and guitarist, Will, wrapping a CND t-shirt around his head part way through the set – after all, who needs a hat?
Dingus Khan filled the stage with boiler-suit and nightdress clad musicians to deliver their particular band of rollicking mayhem, slamming beats, and rolling riffs and hooks. This being the first Custard Thruster, lead singer and guitarist, Mick, decided to well and truly christen the event by finding out whether it is possible to down a pot of custard whilst crowd surfing… The results were a good test of the durability and dessert-repelling properties of Lampy’s new Bat-Lites and of course there was Ocular Custard! Then there were Xaviers. Made up of Bo Ningen’s Yuki Tsujii on guitar and Akihide ‘Mon-Chan’ Mona everybody’s favourite barefoot drummer and visual artist Kenichi Iwasa on synth/percussion (and occasionally trumpet!) this trio bring jazz-style improvisation kicking and screaming in to the world of rock with fast-paced pounding drums, screeching guitar and wailing synth wizardry creating a wall of entrancing and mind-numbing sound. It’s music that commands total attention from the crowd. Some try to sway to underlying rhythms, but most stand awestruck in Xaviers blast zone.
For Lampy and I, Xaviers was a cracking way to round of a long but very enjoyable days music and not long after their set finished we escaped into the muggy London night hauling our suitcase of lighting goodies behind us. It’s hard to argue with the smiles that result from good, diverse music played in a really nice little venue with a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. No doubt the physical mechanics of Custard Thruster will evolve, moving the bar so people can get in and out more easily and providing cover if the weather’s not quite so spectacular, or more seating outside, but these are all tweaks to something that already feels good – the bar is set high.
But one last piece of advice… If you ever find yourself towing a suitcase of lighting kit in addition to your camera bag from one side of London to the other I recommend that you choose the route with the least number of stairs to climb and the least number of changes of bus and tube. Unless of course you don’t mind bits of you not working properly the next day!
The Engine Rooms, Bow – 13/08/2016
Sunlight Services Group: