Live reviews

Clown Core (Louis Cole and Sam Gendel) at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam

Clown Core

(Bimhuis, Amsterdam. 3 March 2023, 2nd night of 3. Live review by AJ Dehany)

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Clown Core. Phone Snap AJ Dehany

Any Dutch music festival is just one pumpkin away from a brain-melting musical aneurysm. At Rewire The Hague last year it was The Bug’s late set demolishing buildings with unbelievable bass; at the Complexity metal festival earlier this week it was Belgian duo KLAKMATRAK, whose write-up piqued my curiosity in describing it was “yoga for the brains.” It was not yoga for the brains; it was the opposite of yoga for the brains. It was like serious brain damage; moments arbitrarily crashing styles and feelings against one another with the only regard that the clash must be extreme and bruising. Power ballads collide with the nastiest grindcore, abruptly crashing through metal, chip core, glitch, folk music, cheese and howling feedback. The elegant carriage of finely honed music turns into the pumpkin of sonic battery and mental and bodily harm. This always happens in the Netherlands.

All of the above by way of attempting to reason how Clown Core, the grindcorejazzelectronicaavant-garde US duo of drummer Louis Cole of the indietronica/jazzfunk band Knower, and multi instrumentalist and ‘saxofone’ player Sam Gendel have progressed from being a YouTube video curiosity to selling out three nights at Amsterdam’s hallowed jazz hub the Bimhuis. The irony of Clown Core setting up there should be the unholiest of insults to everything the music stands for, and yet there we were. Someone on the Cardiacs FB group posted clips from their show a few nights before in Paris and said “Clown Core were the best live act I’ve seen since Cardiacs.” I mean wow, bit harsh on the Cardiacs there. As music it’s okay, as performance art it’s okay. In their videos, and in their live circus, the duo appears disguised and anonymous in clown masks. Coulrophobiacs should stay as far away as possible, then keeping moving further away. Run. Run, run away.

Clown Core. Phone snap by AJ Dehany

The nightmarish daytime TV cheese of “infinite realm of incomprehensible suffering” is arguably more horrific than the grinding electronic metal of “Flat earth”. Pummeling noise gives way to comedy clown horn toots and cheesy sax, arbitrarily switching between pseudo-melodic and metal energy. Toot toot. It’s a massive piss-take and ragbag of styles, which, as with KLAKMATRAK obeys a primary logic of maximum jarringness, skipping into 8-bit chip music in Two, then the mock Badamentian grandeur and happy hardcore of Three… These are staples from their albums “Clown Core” (2010), “Van” (2018) and Toilet (2020). It’s designed to excite contrarians and the sorts of people who love contrarian bands like the Cardiacs, and it’s okay. The theatricality of the clown outfits – tonight pristine white suits, bowties (of course) and red-haired clown masks are immediate coulrophobia fuel. Toot.

As I say, as music it’s okay, as performance art it’s okay. The music plays second fiddle to the experience. This is why brevity is key. Nothing’s really that great; it doesn’t have the gravity of the Bug or the destructive intensity of Klaakmatrak, and it certainly doesn’t have anything on the undanceably complex genius of Cardiacs. It’s mostly an assemblage of bits and bobs; sometimes there is some decent grind core but as with those ten-minute albums, nothing is sustained very long. The show readily skewers musical tropes as parody rather than pastiche. It’s whether you think you’re in on the joke and don’t realise you’re actually the butt of the joke. It’s possible Louis is satirising Sam and Sam doesn’t realise, or possible Louis is satirising himself but doesn’t realise. It’s possible to be in on the joke and to be the joke as well. Just look at Boris Johnson. Toot toot.

That’s to say, Clown Core exists in a toxic state of post-digimodern irony and symptomatic of the complete meltdown of culture and civilisation. This is what they are about, and it’s possible that for all that their bricolage agitprop absurdist schtick is a leering fuck you to their audience, those hipsters baying and braying at the yankee duo’s lame jokes because they’re so grateful and smug to have won a golden ticket to one of the golden sold out shows at Amsterdam’s prestigious Bimhuis— it’s possible the zany yanks are cleverer than they realise. Their music is on the nose, a little too on the nose, but the nose is one of those funny clown noses! And who doesn’t love a clown? Toot toot toot. 

AJ Dehany writes about music, art and stuff.

Clown Core are on Spotify and YouTube

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