Underground Railroad At Queen Of Hoxton

“Blimey” says my companion, looking nervously at his watch, “When are they coming on?”.
It’s eleven fifteen and French post-punk outfit Underground Railroad are still un-amped and absent from the stage. In fairness this is hardly their Axl Rose moment; a late start to the bill has meant a late finish for them.

It’s a shame that some of the crowd have clearly done as my gig going fellow has, deciding that presentation first thing is going to be too much of a mindfuck if they stay out any longer drinking any more ever-so-slightly flat lager. A diminished crowd remains at the Queen Of Hoxton, but those that stay are rewarded.

Named after the route of safe houses in America that enabled black slaves to flee their bondage and find freedom over the border, Underground Railroad take to the stage in a humble and matter-of-fact manner.

Immediately evident is the secret to their ever-burgeoning reputation, The drumming of the extraordinary Raphael Mura. He is the marquee performer of this troupe, the driving force par excellence; smashing away like an epileptic octopus and evoking echoes of Battle’s John Stanier.

On top of this, Mura takes care of the lion’s share of Underground Railroad’s vocal duties too and he’s even got a few words for the lazy musical xenophobia of one of the revellers.

“Play Sexy Boy!”

Now my French is barely serviceable, but after a flurry of francais I’m pretty sure I made out “putain de merde”. The mono-linguists in the crowd are quickly catered for though, as the french trio’s drummer follows this up with a simple “fuck you man”.

Flitting between the forceful rhythms of their brilliant single Russian Doll and the tortured pain of Seagull Attack, which elicits something altogether more sinister than its moniker suggests as its sinking musical feeling stirs memories of some past horror, Underground Railroad are strangulating, claustrophobic and mesmerising all at once.

But it’s the hefty dollops of balls-out energy, driven by the ferocity and intensity of Mura that sets this band from the rest of the post-punk pack.

8 Millimetres witnesses guitarist Marion Andrau sharing vocal duties with Mura and tonight feels spiked by a creeping sense of sexual menace, with the Parisian axe-woman’s guitar playing reminiscent of The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog.

If there’s one down note it’s that Underground Railroad’s delayed arrival only leaves enough time for a thirty minute set, but at least my friend won’t be falling asleep during his presentation tomorrow.

Which probably won’t be the case for his audience.

Ed Spencer

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February 2012
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