Just Mustard are part of a Dundalk scene including Future West, Jinx Lennon, David Keenan and The Mary Wallopers which defies categorisation and is a fertile ground for new and innovative musical creations. Carmel Walsh dives into their Brighton gig.
Who: Just Mustard and White Flowers
Where: Patterns, Brighton
When: September 17
As the sun set on Brighton Pier a queue of eye-lined gig goers snaked around the block of Patterns underground club. While some people on sat on the raised deck sipping beer amongst the potted palms, watching the blazing symphony in the sky, we were queuing to get into the dark basement to submerge ourselves in a dark symphony of a different kind.
That is the thing about sunset; the meeting of night and day, light and dark that seems to echo the music of the band that we are all buzzing to see; Just Mustard, with their cacophony of dark soundscapes woven with glimmers of light. This dark basement is their music’s natural habitat and is full of tattooed goths, hipsters and musos of all ages. The contrast with the glimmering seafront makes its depths all the more intense.
Tonight is their largest headline venue in Brighton to date and it is completely sold out. It is little wonder - their latest record Heart Under has proven to be one of the most celebrated albums of 2022, reaching the number one spot in the Independent Album chart in Ireland and number four in the Metacritic Best Albums of 2022.
Support came from Preston’s finest dream pop/alt rock group White Flowers. They were the perfect complement to Just Mustard. A harmonic, shoegaze, fuzz laden first cousin to Just Mustard’s darkness, delivering a swooning 21st Century update of the dream pop and post punk of their Northern roots. As they played, the darkness in the basement was cradled by rippling fluorescent strips along the stage wall. The sparse set up kept the focus on the music alone. The reverbed riffs wove beneath the Elizabeth Frazer-like, breathy vocals of the lead singer and keyboard player, Katie Drew with definite echoes of Cocteau Twins.
The crowd loved them and the queue around them to chat at the merch desk at the end of the night were testament to how many new fans they had made including me and the staff of our local record shop. White Flowers were the perfect mood setters.
The venue was plunged into intense blue darkness before Just Mustard’s entrance. The sapphire rippling lights behind the stage created the perfect deep water setting for this show. It felt like we were in were in a submarine immersed in Just Mustard’s dark metallic waters. Speaking of the latest album, lead singer Katie Ball, had previously said “The imagery was very blue to me so we let that inform the instrumentation and the flow of the songs. We would imagine rivers and bodies of water.”
What an entrance they made. They came on stage like a new band, the real deal right from the start; tight, professional, confident, dark and gothic. Swimming in the blue lights of the stage, they looked like a band about to hatch fully formed onto the international stage; a band on the precipice of huge success. I saw them in May 2022, for the Heart Under album show and signing, and previously upstairs in a pub called the Prince Albert. Tonight, they were not only different in appearance, with their polished gothic ambience, but different in demeanour and stage presence too.
Katie’s ethereal voice has been mixed to be at the same level as the drums and guitar, no longer always in the shoegazy distance. Her voice danced confidently over the metallic industrial riffs while David Noonan, Rob Clark and Mete Kalyoncuoglu proficiently wove the reverb into dark magical shapes. Drummer Shane Macguire gave the accompanying trip hop drum machine a run for its money in tracks like Black Chalk, intensely playing the rims as much as the skins.
All the great things about the band have been magnified. Just Mustard’s sound is now reaching out and enveloping the audience in its dark arms rather than drawing them quietly towards them. They have stepped things up a notch or ten. The shoegaze stillness on stage in the past often meant that audience had to work to get the reward. I really loved that about them; the lack of motion drew you in. Now they are creating a powerful liquid mesh of sound, a sonic wall that thickens the atoms in the air which reaches out and envelops the audience. The sound is coming to us. This new incarnation will appeal to a much wider audience. They are ready for world domination.
They were quietly powerful without needing to rely on stage banter, but the thanks that they gave the audience and support band was warm and heartfelt. Heavier surreal undercurrents roared and reverbed like Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music. Guitarists David Noonan and Mete Kalyoncuoglu made their six strings wail, bringing a sense of terror to tracks like Still, giving way to a spectrum of emotions, while Rob Clarke’s nodding bass added gothic shadows to tracks like I Am You.
Mete has previously said of his guitar, “This is just a piece of wood with some metal strings attached; you can do whatever you want with it.” Sonic Youth had a similar philosophy when they inserted drumsticks and screwdrivers under the guitar frets, redefining the genre. Experimental attitudes like this are where the most exciting music comes from. There is a synchronicity between the guitarists with Noonan as open to the same empirical techniques as Mete. I have seen him use a cash register in a record shop to amplify the plate reverb on his guitar before. Maguire, the drummer had the same attitude when belting a metal staircase to create his futuristic sounds in Attica Studios, Donegal where the album was recorded.
You can imagine some of these tracks sound tracking Stranger Things or a Nordic Noir film. Katie Ball’s liquid voice danced and swelled over the mourning harmonic drones and intense rhythms, building to a ferocious beast, juxtaposing heavy searing riffs with the lightness of the vocals. Her voice was filled with passion and drive at some points and light like floating leaves at others; a natural juxtaposition to the metallic undercurrent. Blue Chalk felt like an avante garde performance art piece; the intense discord of the drums making the audience feel on edge, but that was all part of the journey. There was that constant sense of tension and release, but Katie’s ethereal voice was like a lighthouse or a siren in a vicious storm, guiding your way. Like My Bloody Valentine‘s Loveless, the voice was the anchor. The band took us all on a ‘lose yourself’ journey.
It was awe inspiring watching them guide their reverb at will, chiselling out the sound. I heard people at the back comment on the band’s stillness, but I think they were missing out on the magic that was happening on that stage. They are in a musical trance while they play, creating a type of Celtic ‘draíocht’ or musical magic in a 21st Century industrial world.
Tracks like Mirrors showed a different more playful side with Noonan joining Ball on vocals, the male/female harmonies paralleling the mirrors in the lyrics. While tracks like Deaf, where Noonan leads in some vocal duties had Pixies vibes with roaring intensity and chugging bass. This grungy edge gave another dimension and was the perfect antithesis to Ball’s honey glazed vocals. There was that constant sense of friction and freedom within the songs and that is why at the end of the gig you feel like you have been on a huge sonic journey and are left with a great sense of catharsis.
In Brighton, Just Mustard mesmerised the audience for seventy mins, playing fourteen tracks; eight from the latest album, Heart Under and six from their material since 2018 and it was enthralling. They stretched boundaries, pushing instruments to their limits, creating a cavernous underwater vibe, befitting the seafront basement. We were in their bubble - enthralled.
A Just Mustard gig is much more than a gig. It is an intense multi-sensory experience with the reverb going right through your bones. They are on tour across the UK, Europe and the USA now. Catch them while you can. They are ones to watch, ones to inspire and ones to fear. We can’t wait to see what they do next!
All Just Mustard tour dates are on their website
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