The Heads, Mugstar, The Deaf Institute, Manchester 30/11/2018

Two legendary names in psychedelia team up to take over the iconic venue The Deaf Institute, remoulding it in their image. The Heads have been able to build up a reputation for their bombastic live shows and highly sought-after limited edition runs of albums- often less than 100 copies created and sold, all the while garnering critical praise and an international fanbase. The Bristolian quartet have brought another cult act along for the ride- Mugstar, a set of Liverpool space-rockers who, like The Heads, have cemented their legacy as one of the UK psych scene’s most exciting groups.


Mugstar, famously acting as a backing band for (and releasing an album with) Damo Suzuki, play tight, focused jams incorporating Eastern musical scales, all the while underpinned by looping tribal-style drum motifs. The deceptively simple patterns grow in intensity, building up into a tidal wave of white-hot bass-heavy noise, thrusting out of the speakers on a full-scale aural assault. “Songs” (in the loosest sense of the word) bleed into one another as guitar and bass riffs- the low end provided by Marc Glaysher creating snarling bursts that Joe Hirons and Neil Murphy‘s guitars work around, wailing and brutalising but never losing their melodic value. The contemplative mysticism eventually gives way to driving, Krautrock-inspired passages, an indication of their relationship with the former Can frontman.

Opening with a caterwaul of squalling guitar feedback, The Heads begin their journey with a crushingly heavy rendition of “Jellystoned Park“. Backed by a screen of kaleidoscopic acid-trip imagery, these bursts of noise gradually fall in step with Wayne Maskell‘s mechanically-precise drum work: This Is The Way, Step Inside. Molasses-thick sludgy basslines anchoring everything else in place as the twin guitar onslaught churns out monolithic patterns Black Sabbath would have been proud to write. Unlike the more freeform nature of Mugstar, The Heads play closer to the searing Detroit garage rock of Stooges and the MC5 and proto-metallers Blue Cheer and Hawkwind, a white-noise armageddon belying the band’s casual demeanour which makes their work appear to be effortless. There is a chaotic element to the sound created by the foursome which seems to be constantly on the brink of disintegrating entirely into piercing drones, pushed on purely by churning rhythm keeping the quartet alive.


Tempos lurch forward and back, giving the quartet an auditory equivalent of molten metal, flowing wherever they dictate- fluid and formless yet powerful and unyielding but still retaining a sense of songcrafting, meaning that the music never quite ventures fully into unhinged Metal Machine Music territory- the watertight grooves in “Legavan” and “Widow” acting as a much-needed ballast to the frenzied duelling guitars, locking everything down and allowing the otherwise abstract sonic attack to achieve a linear pathway of musical enlightenment.

However, perhaps due to the unusually early curfew in place by The Deaf Institute, rather than a conscious decision made by the band, The Heads‘ set finished far earlier than expected- almost a feeling of time dilation brought upon by the combination of trippy visuals and spacey, bludgeoning acid rock- it felt like almost no time at all had passed after they shuffled onto the stage, but the disheartening reality was that it was less than an hour. A shame, as it was clear that the group could have played on all night, and the crowd would have adored it. However, as things were, there was a full cyclic effect in place as The Heads left the stage the way they entered it, with a wall of shuddering feedback, beautiful in its ugliness.

Photography and words by Liam Moody.

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