Music review: SUMS, George Square, Glasgow

Barry Burns of Mogwai and French experimental techno producer David Letellier
Barry Burns of Mogwai and French experimental techno producer David Letellier
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Saturday night in George Square isn’t the most obvious location for a punishing assault of instrumental post-rock, but I must say I enjoyed the amusing incongruity of watching SUMS perform in the centre of Glasgow to a crowd flecked with families and pensioners (it was a free event).

SUMS, George Square, Glasgow ***

SUMS are a collaboration between Barry Burns from Mogwai and French experimental techno producer David Letellier, aka Kangding Ray.

The only reassuring thing about them is that they sound exactly as you would imagine a collaboration between two such men to sound. That is, they create vast, rumbling swathes of noise driven by hard-core techno beats and Burns’ hypnotic analogue synth arpeggios.

Accompanied on stage by drummer Merlin Ettore – his whimsical woollen jumper provided another note of pleasing incongruity – they’re a powerfully intense live experience.

This performance was practically a continuous suite of ribcage-rattling music forged from the heaviest of metals and the darkest electronic textures.

If Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells album became possessed by Satan and required the services of an actual exorcist, it would sound like SUMS. If imperial phase Black Sabbath fell under the unlikely influence of Giorgio Moroder’s soundtrack for Midnight Express, they would sound like SUMS. If all of these people got together to score a particularly unsettling early 1980s public information film, they would sound like SUMS. There were moments during this performance that conjured nightmarish images of 50-foot Visigoths marauding through an urban wasteland.

This is all intended as a compliment, incidentally.

The remarkable thing about SUMS is that, in spite of everything I’ve said about them, their music isn’t ugly. On the contrary, it’s actually weirdly moving at times.

Neil Diamond probably wasn’t thinking of thunderous instrumental motorik when he wrote the song Beautiful Noise, but the term applies neatly to SUMS.

Aside from bringing very loud experimental music to the good people of Glasgow, this event actually carried a socio-political message. Part of Festival 2018, which is the cultural arm of the Glasgow/Berlin European Championships, it was organised by Burns as a symbol of cross-channel relations.

Placed in that context, SUMS come across as a harrowing howl of anti-Brexit rage. Whether anyone in the audience picked up on that – and I must admit, it only occurred to me afterwards – is neither here nor there. SUMS made their mark tonight. -