THE JULIE RUIN – Electric Ballroom, Camden, London, May 26th 2015 – Oh I don’t know, oh come on, It probably wasn’t quite the right time and not quite the right place for The Julie Ruin last night, some of us had been waiting for this for ages, tickets for this gig actually went on sale back in late 2013, at that point the venue for the London date (of what turned out to be the cancelled 2014 tour) was to be a much smaller one. Back when the original date was announced the impressively infectious debut album was still fresh, the band was new and there was real buzz of anticipation. Tickets for that original cancelled gig were still valid last night, some people had had those gig tickets for almost a year and a half, hard to hold on to that buzz of anticipation for something like eighteen months. Oh come on, this should be exciting, let’s get ourselves over to grubby old Camden and all the dirt and the tat and the dubious sellers of whatever they try and sell you on that bridge, what are we going to do with a skunk? Of course it wasn’t the band’s fault that they took so long to get here, we should be thankful they actually managed to finally make it, Kathleen Hanna’s battles with serious illness had some people wondering if we’d ever see her here with the energy to be on a stage fronting a band again, brilliant to see her bouncing around, and she does like to bounce with her bouncy band (check out the film about her if you need the background, the highly recommended documentary film The Punk Singer will fill you in Kathleen and her history if you don’t know already). I guess the packed crowd more than vindicated that decision to upgrade the sold out venue, instead of the more intimate scuzz of the Boston Arms over in Tufnel Park, tonight the rescheduled gig is in the big black soul-sucking hole that is the Electric Ballroom.
The cavernous Ballroom is not the greatest venue in the world and The Julie Ruin are surely not a band for big venues like this? Keeping the crowd waiting while roadies wonder around doing what appears to be not very much and then when they finally do get on stage, and when they do finally come on, having the rest of the band mess around for an age before your singer finally (eventually) joins everyone and get things going, no! Stunts like that might be okay for some rock monster Van Halen Axl Rose type band but this is Kathleen Hanna, she out of Bikini Kill and such, surely we don’t need this big rock gig bulshit, it doesn’t need to be like this, even in a venue like this it surely doesn’t have to be like this? Things are not quite right here tonight, this is not quite the right time and not quite the right place. Things are falling between two stools, the glorious lo-fi punk rock messiness of Julie Ruin should be a positive, the attitude should be oozing but this isn;t quite feeling right. The on stage banter should be a good thing, it isn’t like we’re in an actual stadium, but what should be a positive mess is jarring with that bulshit entrance and we don’t need these big lights and the rockist attitudes that are contradicting the sometimes very fine loose feel and the screech of the vocals and the words that we can hardly make out. We’re trying to connect with the driving soul of the music and the in-between song sentiment from Kathleen Hanna. There she is in the middle of it all name-checking Blood Sausage and Huggy Bear and there’s keyboard player Kenny Mellman with all his kooky playing and deliberately out of tune and bringing his comedy cabaret act with him, and it might work in small places and it might have worked in here if they hadn’t already kind of set out their stall out and set the tone with that damn rock star entrance. And he really does get seriously annoying when he does his kooky keyboard thing in the actual songs (there’s lo-fi creativity and then there’s just playing the wrong chords in the wrong key in the wrong order and oh come on, this is not quite right). Kenny Mellman’s act might have worked in a more intimate space, (they surely could have made it more intimate in here?), tonight it just comes over as being awkward and all at odds with that intro and big stage and the big rock gig attitude. Yes, Hanna and Mellman are firing off each other, they almost seem to want to do a comedy duo thing themselves (that is Kenny Mellman’s background apparently) , the two of them clearly have a chemistry, they clearly enjoy being up there with each other, but that chemistry is at odds with the environment and the event tonight. The Julie Ruin don’t quite seem to know who they are or maybe they don’t quite know who or what they quite want to be? Do they want to be a big stadium rock band? A lo-fi riot girl punk rock band? A comedy performance act? The front rows are lapping it up, but they’re not quite pulling off being all three things at the same time in here tonight.
I guess Kathleen is almost a riot grrl icon now, almost the last one standing from back there – good, she’s needed, she clearly inspires, she’s a positive force, a voice much needed – this seems a long way from those Huggy Bear gigs of the mid 90’s though, or indeed those Bikini Kill visits back there. And where are the zines and the flyers tonight? Back in the day when Riot grrrl really was something, you couldn’t move at a gig for flyers, zines, tapes, info stalls, activists, exchanges, communication. Didn’t anyone think to invite the, oh I don’t know, the Focus E15 Mothers? Where were the DIY stalls? The punk zines, maybe the Minesweeper collective hand printing shirts? Surely bands like this and gigs like this should be where the feeding of information happens? The cross pollination? The seeds of inspiration? Surely this is a little more than just going to see another rock band and buying another shirt? There’s all the talk on stage, lots and lots of talk, Kathleen does like to talk between songs, from tales of George Michael coming out, to Ireland’s recent marriage referendum, abortion issues, drought, and when they do hook it all up and that bounce they have extends to the audience and all the slightly angular guitar clatter and the hints of soul and Kathi Willcox’s bouncing basslines that make you want to dance and oh come on!
Why can’t we get in to this? Really wanted this to be good, really respect Kathleen Hanna, really like The Julie Ruin, this should have been so good tonight.. So it wasn’t quite right and this a dreadful place to see such a potentially important band like this, and they didn’t seem to quite know how to handle it and it didn’t quite work and they don’t quite seem to know who or what they want to be, but you have to love Kathleen Hanna and her oddball band and you have to admire (most) of what they’re doing and saying (and you can almost forgive the messing around of Mr Mellman), but this was not quite the tight time and place. And not a single zine or flyer as we leave, back in the day we’d have sold bag loads of handmade zines outside a gig like this, we’d have come home with bag full of other people’s zines and publications and flyers and new connections made and oh come on! Really really like The Julie Ruin, really really loved Bikini kill, but this wasn’t quite the right time and place tonight… (SW)
Maybe at the next Woolfe gig then? Support band Woolf were great tonight, raw as hell, a little lost on that big stage, must go to the next Woolf gig, Woolf are part of the legacy, this is why Kathleen Hanna is an icon (a far too over used word), Woolf the Kathleen Hanna inspired positive of the night, looking forward to seeing them in the right place, they’ve got a new album out any moment, here’s their previous one from 2012
Further Woolf reading
Sorry Feature, we missed your set, London three piece Feature were first on at the Ballroom last night –
And oh come on, how good is this slice of pop rock goodness…
More tomorrow…. maybe….