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Playing Up—The V.Cs”

One thing I’m always moaning about (aside from people driving SUVs and the lack of televised rugby in the USA) is the mundane nature of bands today. As good as a lot of them are, I want to see and hear a band whose very concept will blow my brain right out of my skull. Something like Slipknot, Devo, the Magnetic Fields, or giant suit-era Talking Heads, who’ll burn the rulebook and leave me scratching my head desperately searching for some sort of explanation.

Enter the V.Cs, Britain’s best unsigned band and very possibly the strangest bunch of individuals every assembled with the aim of making music.

“I think at the start we knew what we wanted to do,” reckons singer, guitarist and chief songwriter Vocoder Joe as all four V.Cs huddle round the Dictaphone in the basement of an unimposing South London venue. “We knew pretty much what the sound was going to be and how we wanted to appear. We met up, got together and started the V.Cs. It isn’t just a case of testing to see what works. We know what we’re doing.”

But there’s a fine line between a great concept and total lunacy. Sure, the music—a brain-melting blend of surf guitar, Stereolab bass lines, and freaked out synthesizer and theremin blasts—is so far out that any possible criticism is rendered irrelevant, but you know something truly out of the ordinary is happening when the entire band changes their names by deed poll.

Vocoder Joe got off lightly (although at a pencil-thin six foot five, he does look a bit different, especially when he’s wearing ski goggles on stage), but he’s joined by a tiny bassist in a PVC nurse’s uniform called FemBot-S4FF, a drummer with a half-shaved head known as Specimen-11010 and, oddest of all, a synth and theremin artist wearing a lab coat and a blank expression going under the name Keyop-503.

“My understanding of the V.Cs,” explains Specimen-11010, “is that we are a concept band. I like to think of us as a vision of the future from the 1960s. We are embracing current things, like electro and drum’n'bass, but in essence it’s Space 1999 in music form.”

Except that Space 1999 is badly dressed sci-fi cheese and the V.Cs are intense, confrontational, rock and roll outlaws. There are no bands even remotely like them right now, so the chances of them getting lumped in with whatever scene is on its way seem about as likely as Ricky Martin returning with an album of Black Flag cover tunes.

“We’re from Wigan, the back end of beyond,” explains Vocoder Joe. “But we can see what’s going on and we don’t give it much merit really. It’s more of a fashion thing and it’s people jumping on bandwagons, and I don’t see the point of that. We don’t see the point in being a band that gets lumped together in some scene.”

“I don’t even have an opinion,” shrugs Specimen-11010. “I don’t even know what the scene is. I listen to Weather Report, Herbie Hancock and fat, dirty jungle.”

The flaw in the V.Cs’ plan is that with a growing legion of fans, some legendary shows in the bank, and incredible tunes like “Ray Harryhausen Creates His Perfect Twelve Inch Woman” already recorded, it’s only a matter of time before the mainstream comes begging for a taste of Wigan’s finest. Not that the band are bothered by trivialities like career paths.

“We all enjoy what we’re doing, but we enjoyed it at the first practice,” insists Vocoder Joe. “I don’t think it’s changed too much for us. We’ve learnt more, but the reason behind it hasn’t changed. We play better together now and understand how things work as a band—how four people can get on and do this together and really involve an audience. It’s about having confidence in an idea. That’s what people are going to see.”

“It’s the idea of us having the vision of what we want to look like and what we want to sound like and having the characters,” clarifies Specimen-11010. “When you’re on stage you assume the character. I’m a test subject who’s not quite right, which gives me license to stare at people aggressively, pull stupid faces, and act like a maniac. You can blame it on your alter ego.”

“The characters do fit us,” confirms Vocoder Joe. “It was just a case of refining old memories.”

“Going back to when I actually was a test subject in the Cold War,” sighs Specimen-11010.

Throughout our interview the strangest and most hypnotic member of The V.Cs, Keyop-503, has remained eerily silent. So at this point I decided to ask him a simple question directly. Is it possible to play the theremin without histrionics?

“Brrrrrrrooooooeeeeee-oooo-eeeee-er. No,” he smiles.

The V.Cs have arrived. Explanation is impossible.

(An earlier version of this feature appeared in the March 2005 edition of UK magazine Play Music)

[band website]

Robert Collins is a freelance journalist based in London. Since 2000 he's been Features Editor of Playmusic magazine, edited the musicians' sections of NME and Melody Maker, and has contributed to The Sunday Times, Globe&Mail;, The Toronto Star, thelondonpaper, Ryanair Magazine, FourFourTwo, Sleaze Nation and many others. He earned his degree in American Studies at the University of Manchester, where he developed his exacting standards for chicken kebabs, and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he learnt the finer points of the pick and roll. Robert writes about global sports culture in his column, Sticky Wickets. Before you ask, his favourite sports moment of all time is the Second Test between The British & Irish Lions and South Africa in 1997. He cannot dunk and has never even come close.

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