My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 40-year-old man who dreams of owning his own robes.
In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, ‘menk’ is Scouse/ Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal."
MENK 35: GOOD, GOOD, GOOD, GOOD VIBRATIONS
I’m going to see my favourite metal band tonight. It will be about the 18th time I’ve seen them live and I have no reason to believe that they won’t blow my balls clean off because they have on every other occasion.
I first witnessed their terrifying majesty by accident. It was at Camber Sands Pontins, near Rye Harbour in 2003 and they were playing as part of the magnificent Autechre curated ATP festival. What a weekend that was. Public Enemy were astounding, as was Kool Keith. I saw all of the S1Ws and Flavor Flav playing crazy golf the next day. I shouted: “Look out for the windmill, silly rabbit!” at them because I am a dickhead. Luckily they didn’t hear. The mighty Fall were playing. Their set included "Behind The Counter", "Telephone Thing", "Mr Pharmacist" and "I Am Damo Suzuki". It was practically a greatest hits show. The next day I was walking unsteadily up the steps to the psychedelic grotto of confusion that passed for the main stage which was flanked by bizarre, cough syrup coloured paintings of Mulder and Scully drinking pints of Stella and David Thewlis drinking a bottle of WKD. The space was a terrifyingly haunted ballroom where it was permanently the darkest most drugged day of 1995. The next day, Mark E Smith passed me on the stairs and put his hand on my arm saying, “I wouldn’t go up there son, the music’s shite.” It was such a momentous occasion for me I came rushing back up on the night before’s E and had to sit straight down with my head between my knees for a few minutes.
Aphex Twin was there with his DJ hat on – and as much rule breaking fun as it can be watching him make noise with power tools, sandpaper discs and decks, Richard James has always been in a league of his own when it comes to mixing hardcore rave. The BPMs start high and then crawl upwards inexorably towards noise overload over the course of three hours. No need for horror show visuals or post-industrial gimmicks here. Every time he DJs there is always someone who looks exactly like him walking round the crowd leaving a trail of terror-eyed gibbering pill heads in carnage visors in his wake, looking in fear at the DJ on stage and back at the Richard James stood next to them and back at the DJ on stage and back at the Richard James stood next to them…
It was because of Aphex Twin in 2003 that I first saw SunnO))).
Because at various times I have suffered from sub-par mental health and even worse memory, I have often not been able to tell the difference between what I know is fact and what I’ve just dreamt up on the spot. And that weekend was one of those times.
“Yes, I know who SunnO))) is,” I said to my friend Stu. “He’s a techno DJ from Detroit. Very minimal. Let’s take two more pills each, watch him, and then by the time we’re fizzing, Aphex Twin will be on.”
I don’t remember much about their set other than it was punishing, exhilarating, terrifying and psychedelic in equal measures. And I certainly wasn’t the only person rolling around on the floor screaming at the spectacle, like an idiot feeling homesick for his village. It seemed as if four figures dressed as mediaeval monks were standing in front of the sun – the actual fucking sun, perfect in every detail but only three metres in diameter and at the back of the stage – and they were using guitar drones and howling incantations to keep it from going supernova. They were bent over double, cowls protecting their faces as solar flares rushed out from the golden orb into the crowd.
We didn’t indulge in any dancing to the Aphex Twin that night.
It turned out they were a doom drone act from Seattle based around a core of two guys from the city’s post-grunge underground metal scene, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, who had ties to everyone from Earth to Mayhem to Julian Cope. I went out and bought their then current album White One and something not dissimilar to an obsession began to take hold. That said, I’m not sure I even liked them at first, it was too radically different to what I knew about to cause anything other than confusion but after a few more shows I became an evangelical convert going to see them whenever and wherever I could.
Through working for several music titles like Metal Hammer, Stool Pigeon, Drowned In Sound, Playlouder, Plan B and others I ended up reviewing and interviewing the band more times than I care to remember. I was always in danger of trying to outdo the last bit of writing. Ridiculous towers of hyperbole were always teetering above me, threatening to come toppling down and crush my credibility with every fresh, outlandish claim I made about their sound. However, as much as it’s interesting to think about the role of vibration and ritual in music and sound in general, I’m pretty sure I like them so much simply because dressing like a monk, arranging your amps like Stonehenge and playing drop tuned Melvins riffs at 3BPM and at pancreas bursting volume, while your Hungarian mate who is dressed as a tree sings like an evil, giant dying horse, is a fucking totally awesome thing to do.
So because of this professional and personal interest, I’d run into the band relatively often, even though at first it was sometimes more awkward than pleasant. Once before a show, I was sitting in a pub having a plate of chips and a pint. In came Stephen from the group and bunch of metalheads who were obviously old friends of his. I tried to keep my head down but I could hear some of them discussing loudly whether I was wearing a bootleg SunnO))) T-shirt or not. As they were all staring at me I thought I’d better go over and say hello. Striding over to Stephen, I realised that my top actually had him on it. I went to make a joke of it and say, “Hello Stephen, how are you? I feel like a stalker.” However what I actually said was, “Hello Stephen, how are you? I feel like a rapist.”
The whole bunch went quiet. A man with spikes coming out of his chin and cheeks turned his back on me and another man with tattoos of scorpions on his neck said, “Rapist?” The disgust and shock audible was in his whisper.
I started trying to explain what I meant but just stammered wildly and ended up turning round and jogging out of the pub.
Every time I had any dealings with them for the following three years there would always be some kind of misunderstanding – whether it was to do with the SunnO))) dolls, or the time I had to hide in the toilets from Attila Csihar (their some time/ most of the time vocalist, member of Mayhem and aforementioned Hungarian arboreal imitator) because I thought he was a Cenobyte or “the email of doom”…
I can’t wait for tomorrow night. It’s Maria and I's first night out together since Little John was born over 13 months ago. I was thinking of trying to sneak him in but I’ve had to abandon the idea. You can’t make a toddler watch SunnO))) live – no matter how much you love him. It was bad enough when I took him to see Orthodox, and they’re kind of light (conceptually and musically) by comparison. You should have seen his face. What was I thinking making a six-month-old listen to that? No, I’ll take him to the park the next day. After all, I have to save something by for his fifth birthday.
(NB: Just in case any Uni Lad subscribers are reading and are feeling slightly confused, let me explain something, just so as we understand one another – the story about the T-shirt isn’t a rape joke. I always put my foot in my mouth when I’m nervous and blurt out very inappropriate things that I would never consciously choose to say. As always, I’m supposed to be the butt of the joke. I’m of the opinion that jokes which find humour in the subject of rape are the last refuge of the scandalously dull-witted, irony or no irony. And it’s a shame I have to piss all over my own column this week by spelling this out but there are a lot of fucking stupid people out there and I wouldn’t want any of them to think they have anything in common with me or have anything other than my undying disdain and ill-will.)
Previously: Menk, by John Doran - Blinded by the Light
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