Electric Octopus + guests | Review
Voodoo, Belfast • Friday 21 July ’17
By Sebastian Braddock
For a self-described “new musical cabal” whose album covers come replete with Lovecraftian imagery, Electric Octopus radiate distinctly laid-back vibes. The extended nature of their jams, more amorphous than ominous, as well as their prodigious work rate (8 albums/EPs and one live album out since June 2016’s debut This Is Our Culture, all released on pay-what-you-want via Bandcamp) mark them out as Belfast’s answer to fellow prolific long-form psych excursion specialists in King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard, Acid Mother’s Temple, as well as their obvious antecedents in the Grateful Dead. If the common source of their respective inspirations was not obvious enough, the band’s bassist, guitarist, and drummer are described by the band’s page thus: as the “low frequency man”, “medium to high frequency man”, and the “time, very low and very high frequency man” respectively.
Expectations were therefore high for their most recent venture at Belfast’s Voodoo club, the latest in a series of sold out collaborations with Kraken Spiced Rum on the books. (For those inclined to criticise Electric Octopus’ choice of sponsors on whatever tired accusations of “selling out” one may, I’d hardly expect anyone to begrudge a band whose music could be found entirely for free online an alternative way of getting by). And Electric Octopus didn’t disappoint. Live, the sound washes over the listener far more; the experience, whilst more immersive, given that the ubiquitous bursts of feedback which occupy channel left on wax now occupy most of the room in the live iteration, nonetheless remains broadly faithful in spirit to the studio version. Tracks from this May’s Driving Under the Influence of Jams showcase the group’s ability to stretch out whilst keeping the underlying grooves in constant movement; that album’s title marks an acknowledgement on the band’s part of the fact that it is hardly any accident their music has been described as perfect for putting on in the car. Indeed, their musical journeys can be likened to a road trip in that though they find themselves constantly shifting grooves, keys, and yes, gears, there remains a sense of stasis and permanence, much as how the view from one highway looks very much like another after several hours without a coffee break.
If this makes Electric Octopus sound dull, the truth is far from it, as their technical abilities shine brightly enough to make any sense of boredom redundant. Though they are from lacking in the individual sense, not least in how the “medium to high frequencies” often take centre stage with a combination of the requisite meandering Jerry Garcia licks and Hendrix feedback wizardry, where they shine most is in the collective interplay of the trio as a whole, bass and guitar intertwining very much in Lesh/Garcia mould whilst percussionist Guy Hetherington at times underpins, at times threatens whatever semblance of traditional structure remains with outbursts of tribal ferocity, all the while seeming to be a good few measures ahead of the band and the crowd, signposting and signalling where the trio will take us next. The notorious inconsistencies of the jam band form, therefore, are by and large absent, where the looseness of structure is retained without sacrificing the tightness of the playing, intentionally meandering though it may seem. The gig, therefore, marked something of a triumphant return to the Voodoo for the cabal, attended by a crowd of dedicated or in-the-know fans appreciative of the band’s artistic niche.