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Monday 13 November 2023

A View From The Big Top: Clown Core (Live Review By Charlie Rogers)

Clown Core, O2 Kentish Town, London, 07.11.23

Clown Core are one of those musical acts that sound completely made up when you describe them to people - 2 blokes dressed as halloween clowns, 1 wielding an alto saxophone, the other sat behind a basic drumkit, both with access to a vocal mic, a bicycle horn, and a synthesiser. The music consists of intense jazz beats, wailing sax lines, synth pads, and of course honking. 

Over the past few years, they’ve gained a notable level of online success due to the captivating combination of the truly odd music and their even more bizarre videos that accompany. So, in seeing that they were actually playing live, and London not being practically impossible to get to, we had to jump on this show.

Rocking up for doors at 7pm, we were greeted by a growing crowd clustered inside the O2. Stage set with a large white curtain obscuring view, and the sound of crashing waves gently emanating from the PA system. Little changed in the next hour and a half, except our patience depleting, as the auditorium filled to capacity and the house lights lowered. A single folding chair had been placed on stage, with a small table holding a laptop, and then from stage right comes a large man dressed in a jumpsuit and a balaclava. 

Those familiar with Clown Core’s videos from the Van album will recognise this character as the driver of said van. Silently, he sat on the chair, and stared at the audience. The waves now replaced by soft jazz, he slowly started to accept items passed to him from the front members of the audience - a pint, a hoodie, several cameraphones on which he took expressionless selfies, and even a bottle of Buckfast. This surreal activity dragged on for over half an hour, before he finally tapped the spacebar on the laptop, stopping the jazz, and left. The house lights came on, the table and chair removed. We stood there in stunned silence realising that was the support act for the evening.

After another agonising 30minutes of soft waves, the time finally came for the long anticipated show. The white curtain dropped, revealing a tent-portaloo stood in front of a screen. Intro music screamed to life as scenes from across the solar system were projected onto the screen, taking us on a journey through space. Zooming in, we reach Earth, then america, then california, then a building site, and as the background noise fades away the clowns begin to play. Witch Pussy is about as daft as the name suggests, with kick, horn, sax, horn, repeating for the entire 2 minute song. The crowd, obviously, sing along - this being a sign of things to come, as the cult-like following the JazzGrind absurdists have garnered are clearly very familiar with the material. 

The walls of the portaloo fall away, and we see them now in their, uh, glory? Playing tunes from across their 4 releases, set to either overhead cameras from within the frame of the tent, or to psychedelic AI generated video depicting gore, pornography, and meat iceburgs, the show lasts a little over 40minutes. From exhilarating rave-like tracks such as Hell, to sombre, reflective melodies like Google Your Own Death, Clown Core’s music is varied and skillfully crafted despite it’s sometimes random first appearances. Of course, the crass humour in the subtitled lyrics and visual imagery may put off those of a weaker disposition, so (despite me probably not needing to state something this obvious I will anyway), this isn’t for everyone. (Understatement of the year - Ed)

From a technical angle, micing up an alto-sax stood so close to a drumkit is one hell of a task, so it was no wonder the sound wasn’t the best and didn’t hold up as well as the recordings. Likewise the drums felt neutered, most likely so Drummer Clown wouldn’t just obliterate Saxa Clown. Vocal mics were far enough away that they caused no problems, and the synths and samples were just dandy, but really you’re here for the bonkers drumming and the terrific sax playing, which was squandered. Extra tip of the bonnet to Saxa Clown during Toilet for the part where he uses his penis to press down the synth keys while ripping a mad solo with the sax. For narrative and immersion purposes, we all assume it was his real penis. Ending with the show with the words “Thank you for your money. Please leave.” displayed across the screen is my new favourite way to close a gig.

Recommending this show to someone else is a hard sell, as you’re going to have to either tactically show up 2 and a bit hours after doors to skip the bullshit that goes before the show, or accept that you’ll need something to entertain yourself with on your feet while you wait. Shame the staff at the O2 didn’t look like they’d let you in with a set of juggling pins. But if you enjoy the music these insane people have put out there, it’s a bucket list show you should absolutely do once.

:clown emoji:/10

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