Even the most experienced Sŵn Festival goer, desperately trying to catch as many of the hundred and thirty or so upcoming bands playing in ten venues across the capital in a single, senses scrambling weekend, can sometimes find themselves flummoxed and disoriented by the overwhelming choice of music on offer. Having witnessed fine sets by Monico Blonde (Houdini Dax with a fourth member and a quiver of superior new songs) and The Sandinistas at the Horizons/Gorwellion showcase in O’Neills bar earlier in the day, I was making my way toward Silent Forum’s set in the Big Top when I was waylaid by the crisp jangle of guitars bleeding out from Tigana’s gig in the Undertone basement next door. Sadly, their set was plagued by sound trouble, but full marks to the vocalist for filling the long, awkward silence as the soundman was earning his corn, firstly by exchanging pleasantries with the audience and, then, for keeping a straight face when jokingly introducing the next song as “Idle Chat”.
Before I knew it I was running late, or at least, I thought I was. Arriving, in what appeared to be the middle of a song, (in my defence, the intense singer was really ripping into it), I very nearly burst into rapturous applause as the band completed its sound check!
I’d only heard the one Silent Forum song before their weekend gig, but its pitch-black undercurrent of Interpolesque indie-rock was intriguing enough to catch the ear of this age-old Joy Division devotee. The blurb in the official Sŵn Guide mysteriously referred to ‘frantic and unpredictable performances’. For one strange moment, I caught sight of the ghost of Ian Curtis “dancing” his heart out in pop’s rear-view mirror.
There have been false positives before; both Interpol and Editors (bands too easily dismissed in their day as Joy Division clones), failed to match the excellence of their doom-laden debuts, while even at their peak, singers Paul Banks and Tom Smith couldn’t muster much in the way of stage presence between them. For a while, Tel Aviv’s Minimal Compact, on a series of releases for Brussels Crammed Discs, managed to sound like Joy Division, New Order and A Certain Ratio all rolled into one, before fading from view in the late eighties. Since then there has only been radio silence.
Prior to Silent Forum launching into the first song of a heated, hypnotic set, the singer (I’ve committed the cardinal sin of starting to write this review before doing basic research), gathered his group together into what can only be described as an American Football style huddle. The “team-talk”, which I can’t recall ever seeing any other band indulge in before (although I wouldn’t bet against Kevin Rowland having staged something similar in Dexy’s heyday), went on for a minute or so before the group got down to serious business
Twenty-four hours after the performance, I’m trying to deconstruct this gig, trying to come to terms with what I saw, or, perhaps, what I thought I saw in the shadowplay that unfolded. I’ve decided not to re-listen to their songs, (there’s an E.P, out there on Spotify which can wait until the review is filed), decided not to search out the identity of ‘the singer’, not to second guess myself, burden the review with distracting biographical detail.
This review will, then, of necessity, be sketchy. The five-piece band gouged out nine or ten songs, most of which could be classified as Indie-Noir. “Limbo”, although I can’t recall the exact structure of the song, was immense. There were other numbers, not honoured on the day with explanatory titles,that also towered above the conventional pop song. “Shame” may have been one.
The songs are, though, of lesser importance. This band will go on to write better versions of them, but for now, the singer walks the tightrope alone. Neither the cramped stage, the afternoon slot, the small crowd, a hundred and one other psychological factors we can’t possibly know of exorcised his spirit. For some, the singer’s statik “dancing” will be uncomfortable to watch, may seem staged, even bordering on the theatrical. These people may well crack a nervous smile and reach for U2’s Greatest Hits as a comfort blanket, while others, receptive to Silent Forum’s shock treatment, will be rooting out those Minimal Compact records for the first time in a decade or two.