It was a Monday night but I thought, “what the heck” and drove into Cambridge from semi-rural Suffolk with an artist friend in tow. The Portland is one of the better venues which Cambridge has to offer, but it’s small. To all intents and purposes it is a normal pub, but once inside you wend your way into a recently-refurbished space which apparently has a capacity of 200. I’m glad it wasn’t full, as it would have felt very claustrophobic, having said that the turn out was pitiful, Monday night or not.
Once at the venue Mr Harry Sword arrived and the three of us, momentarily distracted by the Villa v West Brom game on the telly, went from the bar to the “space”. We’d been told that the “live music” would start at 9, but at 9:15 nothing had happened, and there were only 14 or 15 of us, the majority of which seemed to be Bad Timing's mates, and at various points in the proceedings, seemed more interested in tweeting and texting. This didn’t seem to deter Nochexxx though, as he began to DJ a set exclusively composed of his own dubplates. His set covered a myriad of bases but mostly struck an idiosyncratic note which blended electro with techno to deft, original effect. His music is built on shifting sands and was ably accompanied by visuals of a high standard, having been made by Plastic Horse initially, I think, to accompany ‘Charro’ which was released a couple of years ago. They couldn’t save him from an errant fire alarm though, which completely screwed up his flow in one fell swoop, in addition he had mixer problems, apparently relating to a freak confrontation with the reverse cross fader. Whatever the case, during his short, interrupted set I heard enough to convince myself that I’d like second helpings. Maybe a DJ set of other people’s material next time but still ploughing the same groggy furrow.
Things were running late at this point and due to noise regulations, everything had to stop at 11pm. This gave Container barely 30 minutes to entertain us with his brand of thrash-inflected techno. There’s a peculiarly acoustic sound to his live output which initially feels coherent but is apt to go off on occasional tangents. In any case, it was an interesting contrast to the wandering riddims of Nochexxx, and was anything but predictable. He’s a tall chap is Container, and the sight of him hunched over a table, Quasimodo-like, with a TR909 on it was quite amusing, particularly once he got into his rhythm and started skanking behind his hardware, occasionally coming up for air to have the odd swig of beer. This never distracted from the music though which was excellent, a massive racket erupting from a minimum of hardware which had an organic cohesion but embraced chaos.
The one negative about the night, apart from Nochexxx’s technical difficulties, was the general organisation. I found it a little dispiriting to say the least that, on a night celebrating the 12th anniversary of a collective known for putting on alternative music events in and around Cambridge, only about 25 - 30 people showed up. How serious Bad Timing are regarding promoting their soirees I don’t know, but a night of this stature, Monday or not, should have been much better attended. “That’s Cambridge for you” said my erstwhile companion Mr Sword, and unfortunately he’s right. A city in which the main university’s students make very little real attempt to integrate themselves with the general population, and have their own entertainment on site really needs to start taking a few more risks and arrest its complacency. Reversing centuries of tradition isn’t going to happen, but the staidness effects everyone to a degree. Compared with Brighton, a town at the polar opposite side of London, it’s in the dark ages. Brighton may be bigger, but if Cambridge’s majority student population mingled better, then size wouldn’t matter.