Shoreditch's irresistible influence reaches a little further into Dalston than it did last time I was round here but not, tonight, as far as Barden's Boudoir - a below-street bunker about the size of the 100 Club. It's an ace little venue. It's completely empty.
Nine o'clock on a Wednesday night and the artist not always now known as Z. Mindwarp, accompanied by sonic esotericist, Killing Joker (and, courtesy of his Fireman project, the first man since Lennon to make McCartney look interesting) Youth, are scheduled to do something unspecified. I am the full extent of the audience. Those sharp-looking kids skulking in the shadows turn out to be support band What Would Jesus Drive?, and the answer to that question is an enormous, buzzing bass which they've had specially transported here from 1984. They're good. They finish. About nine more people arrive. One of them is Zodiac. Another one is Youth. The rest are the rest of Zodiac Youth. That means there are now about 15 of us in the house.
I've been quietly obsessed with Killing Joke for years, in ways and for reasons I can't quite explain. Youth was there at the start, left and then later returned, but his solo stuff, his productions, the Zep-does-PiL-style of new(ish) band Transmission, his excursions into dub and trance, his mysterious Society For The Reformation Of Ancient Enchantment – they're all parts of a private conversation I've been having with this band for as long as I can remember - a conversation which constantly veers off into strange new places. (Let's not even get into the force of nature that is the Joke's shamanic frontman Jaz Coleman. Or guitarist Geordie, whose detuned wall of sound no one has successfully scaled.)
Zodiac I first encountered at a free festival in Oxford in 1986. I was supposed to be at school. 'Psychoactive' still gets the odd spin round here, after a cup of sugary tea. In his writing ('Bad Wisdom' with Bill Drummond, 'Get Your Cock Out' and 'Fucked By Rock') he's created this strange zone of his own where sordid fantasy runs up against sore confession. Somehow he perpetuated his own myth by attempting to take it apart. In my own odd little world, seeing the pair of 'em here is like stumbling across Dylan and Neil Young unpacking their guitars in your local. But anyway, we came – all 12 of us here tonight – to rock. To be fucked, in fact, by rock. Zodiac Youth are going to help.
Zodiac himself, grey but lean and limber, still walks a fabulous line between outright parody and for-real rock piggery, despite wearing enormous librarian's glasses and what looks like a dirty dressing gown. (He subsequently insists it's a smoking jacket.) They do this sleazy, sax-y, bluesy, speedy thing. It's like Dr Feelgood fronted by Captain Beefheart. The pair of them are entirely oblivious to the fact that 15, or possibly by now 17 people are present. It's genuinely bizarre. It's genuinely brilliant. Afterwards, Youth and Zodiac are at the bar out front. I kind of shuffle past, smiling appreciatively, since the sense is of this entire undertaking having been staged solely for my personal benefit. But the moment passes and I don't really speak to them, just drift back out onto the street. I know and respect rock lore. Never meet your heroes.
For reasons which I insist on referring to as research, I have been wandering through the corridors of last.fm, youtube and the rest in search of old goth bands: Specimen, Skeletal Family, Play Dead, Sex Gang Children. I was too young to catch this stuff first time round. These were bands active in the early 1980s, post post-punk, pre-hairslide indie and operating in a self-contained netherworld all their own. On the great goth spectrum, which runs from pitch on the one hand all the way to jet on the other, I was only ever a suburban shade of grey, but in 1990 there was nothing about the Sisters or the Neph I didn't know. (By then it had morphed into a more conventional strain of trad rock 'n' roll with its own monochrome uniform and hair care rules, but when you're a kid that's part of the point: somewhere where you can a part and apart. Long after London had abandoned the darkness, you'd see goths haunting the empty platforms of small-town stations, or drifting wraith-like down by the canal. I know. I was there.) Anyway, today – and indeed then - it was positive punk that I was interested in – Death Cult, 1919, early New Model Army. Those martial, groove-free rhythms, the bass lines that sounded like they were being projected out of submarines, the sense of tribal identity, the melodrama of it all - it was a sub-culture both submerged and, ah, cultural. Proof that it definitely meant something, even if no one's sure what, comes in this TV doc from 1983 presented, unexpectedly, by novelist Michael Moorcock, who in the early 1970s collaborated with Hawkwind. ("Nothing less than a moral attitude," he says of positive punk. Demand nothing less from rock 'n' roll!) I'd love to see Iain Sinclair on donk, though I reckon dubstep's probably more his thing.
The Mutoid Waste Company have been taking the future to bits and re-assembling it without looking at the instructions for years. Glastonbury is still probably their spiritual home, but here are some pics from Mutate Britain, MWC's short winter residency at Acklam Rd, under the Westway, Ladbroke Grove, London W11.