For some unknown reason, Britain’s Margate is becoming an unlikely hub of culture. Once famed for its Victorian pier, commodious bathing rooms and Dreamland amusement complex, Margate made for an ideal seaside getaway for middle-class Londoners. Usually, you can read between the lines and translate this to ‘small English coastal town decimated by the introduction of low-cost airlines and package holidays’. But that is not the case. Instead, Margate is one of very few English seaside resorts that has had been regenerated and actually cohabits in the 21st century. The Turner Contemporary Gallery can be found here, as can chic eateries, an annual soul festival and, if you listen closely enough, one of the country’s grunge flag carriers, Gang.
Despite the unlikely backdrop for a genre typified by introspective angst, heavy feedback and sludgy distortion, the three piece have become one of Britain’s most now-and-wow bands. Hot off the heels of touring with US psych outfit Wand and releasing a spattering of well-received singles, Gang headed into their home built studio to record their debut album on their own label, M8s Records.
What emerged from this most DIY of methods is the primal and raw 925 ‘TIL I DIE. The title is not an unlikely reference to Dolly Parton, but instead a dystopian future set in 2942 (925 years from now), in which remaining occupants of Earth are “headlice”, who receive a weekly plant ration which keeps individuals subdued and prevents an uprising. Pretty chilling, until you realise it sounds similar to the plot of the tiresome sci-fi flick Equilibrium. Nevertheless, to further complicate the album, it’s been split down the middle into two sides; LIFE and DEATH.
Explanations for the divide are hard to come by and don’t jump out immediately. Tracks such as ‘Messiah’ and ‘Time’ slinker along, uncurling sludgy mid-tempo riffs that snarl and scratch away, whilst ‘Breath Before Death’ spirals downwards into a psychedelic-grunge melee, full of dropped tunings and wailed vocals. Drummer Jimi Tormey is often at the fore of the album, offering much needed texture over drawn out bridges, splashing brilliance across the record with endless fills and frills. Deliberate deterioration is an overused template on the album, with almost each track containing a harmless 60’s tinged clean riff a la King Crimson being lurched westward into Stateside stoner noise. Album closer ‘Dead’ bucks this trend, and in doing so sees Gang at their best, delivering dark lyrics over distorted crunching guitar; “I don’t want to feel better, I want to better feel” is a chilling closing lyric that signals the failed grip of the tyrannical leaders of 2942.
There are certainly all the ingredients of a great grunge album here, but overall it’s the use of tenderness, clean guitar tone and tight rhythms that leaves the lingering impression that one of music’s remaining underbellies is scooping out its belly-button fluff with a cotton bud, tweezing the snail trail and, heck, maybe even popping a belly-bar in. It’s lucid, twisted and dark, but overridden by its pretty mid-tempo harmonies, making the capitalised 925 ‘TIL I DIE title seem like a desperate bin kick to remind us that they are indeed angry about something or another. In contrasting the light with the dark, Gang may just have opened up a new subgenre, which I hereby suggest a title: Margrunge. Dominic Edge