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I saw a lot of great things at Krakow's Unsound Festival in 2007, but nothing came close to what happened in a tiny, crowded, cavelike space (with an entrance for which the term "bottleneck" seems too generous; had there been a stampede, those brick walls would be wearing me like the sidewalk wears Hudsucker) where a band called Fuckhead performed. Now, New Yorkers get the chance to see the band for themselves, and presumably without risk of being ground into the foundations of a medieval Polish city. Fuckhead will be playing in New York on Thursday, April 16 under the auspices of the Austrian Cultural Forum, and I highly suggest you go. (Also on the bill are Koko Dozo, Christopher Just, and Reade Truth, who has an excellent and slinkily bizarre new EP on Planet E.)

I didn't know much about Fuckhead then, and in terms of their discography, I still don't now. They're a Viennese group with a complicated website that recalls many a net.art project of a decade ago; they recorded at least one record for Vienna's awesome and unpredictable Mego imprint, home to the likes of Pita, Farmers Manual and the comparatively sedate Fennesz. But having seen a Fuckhead show, I've really had no desire to go in search of their records. They may be doing it all wrong: gigs are supposed to be promotional affairs that inspire fans to purchase CDs and "merch." But with Fuckhead, the show is total.


What is a Fuckhead show like, then? Like Henry Rollins, if he were signed to Mego, maybe: loud, tattooed, angry, unhinged in a remarkably controlled way, macho in a kinda-sorta-questioning way. Like Rollins (or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose Flea could easily pass for one of Fuckhead's members), Fuckhead take the idea of heavy, punishing rock catharsis to an absurd, if one suspects not terribly ironic, extreme.


This is what I wrote about them for Earplug, at the time:

"[T]hey brought to life their unusual mission statement ("performing the songs and the dances of this tiny sentimental nation of crashing folkloristic bores in an advanced way") before a jaw-dropped audience packed into a tiny, cavern-like basement space. Nearly naked but for athletic shorts and tattoos, the quartet elevated what initially looked like your standard ironic-metal show, complete with upside-down cross duct-taped to one member's chest, to the level of the sublime with a succession of increasingly absurd stage antics involving soap bubbles, feathers, glowing orbs, and other lo-fi props.


At times, it felt like the band was exploring layers of symbolism that had shifted out of joint: a cardboard box was fitted over a bandmember's head and then broken open, from which hands extracted fistfuls of straw. One sweaty, shirtless member ran through the audience, gingerly stuffing cotton balls in listeners' ears. When two Fuckheads stood on opposite edges of the floor-level stage, connected by a 10-foot-long red cord with one end inserted in each of their posteriors, it might have been mere adolescent shock tactics, but there was something else to it as well, a sense that the act had some significance that lay just outside your grasp. The show's climax found the four performers creating a human pyramid, covered in sweat, soap, and feathers, with one clutching an illuminated globe and another wearing rubber yellow gloves. Their poses suggested a kind of male bonding that was perhaps all the more subversive for its lack of explicit sexual content; their expressions recalled the agonized faces of Japanese Butoh."


Fuckhead are hard to photograph, as these snapshots from their November, 2007 show at Krakow's Unsound festival may attest. Many of them, if I recall, were taken without flash; I simply opened the shutter and waited for another flash to light the scene. The fact that many of those photos came out as double or even triple images is a testament to the sheer amount of wattage being blown at any given point in a Fuckhead show. The explosion of fan photography at rock shows is a much-lamented phenomenon, and rightly so, but somehow a Fuckhead performance wouldn't feel right without a phalanx of digital cameras at the ready to record its every spasm and shudder. The whole thing is organic, that is, it functions like a collection of organs: cameras and kidneys and theatrics and spleen, all sucking off the same foutain, all gushing the same fluid.

It's Dada, Brecht, Butoh, Fluxus, and a lot of other stuff I don't understand, plugged into a laptop and turned up to 11. Fuckhead are easily one of the greatest and most exhausting performances I've ever seen in my life. Click on for more photos after the jump.








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