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An excerpt from'Critical Responses To My Last Relationship'

I.

“Their short set held the kind of punk energy I thought had died with the hydra.”

Dead Rails at the Astoria, October 2004, The Stool Pigeon.

On stage, she sat on a bar stool, a single-octave toy Casio on her knee, a microphone duct taped to its tinny internal speaker. She played just two notes that – from where I was standing at the side of the stage – I could see had been labelled with sticky back plastic. The first, a D, read: Who’s that over there? The second, a G, was labelled: It’s nobody.

She had a skin tone so smooth that, when she was looking straight at you, you had to concentrate to see her nose.

After the show, I watched their singer methodically packing away the gear. His T-shirt read: MY NAME IS MOOKY. He wrapped up the mic lead in loops around his thumb and elbow. He removed the rectangular batteries from his effects pedals. His eyes, which had seemed psychotic while he was doing roly-polys along the top of the bar, had now regained a clearness and – although he was wearing tennis shorts – he had an officiousness about him.

He yelled at her across the bar.

“Indu, give me a hand.”

Then I knew her name. She disappeared through the fire exit, walking backwards, carrying one end of a school desk.

II.

Their next gig was in a chapel, at a cross-disciplinary arts night called Compulsory Bingo. The pews were full and some people leant against the pillars. It cost a quid to get in and for the same again you could buy one of the ancient board games stacked up on a tea cart near the entrance: Careers, Equality, Squatter.

At the start of their set, Dead Rails came down the aisle. Mooky in a suit, the two girls wearing battered wedding dresses. Their first song, a six-second a cappella number, was called: We do.

After that, Indu sat on a high stool and played the tiny keyboard. The stool was hidden beneath layers of gauze. At that time, I was trying to get in to music journalism. Watching the gig, I tested out similes in my ring-bound notepad.

Dead Rails sound like a gas leak at a children’s party.

Indu played a three-note arpeggio while the laptop gurned and stuttered.

Their other band member was Anna. She was a buyer for a retro clothes warehouse. She had crew-cut red hair, no make-up, no jewellery. She stood with her legs wide apart, spraying Mooky with American mustard.

Their sound is somewhere between the ice cream van’s jingle and the firebombing of Dresden.

Most people stayed seated in the pews. At one point, the music cut out half-way through the Q-and-A chorus of their song Important TV Quiz.

What’s a Shubunkin?

It’s a…

We never found out.

Mooky knelt on the stone flagging in front of the laptop. His wives watched him. A yellow slash ran across his neck. We waited for it to reboot.

In my early years as I writer, I believed it was more important to be emphatic than accurate. As far as I knew how to review them, bands were either the best or the worst.

“Dead Rails, Union Chapel, 23.4.04. By Krang.

Dead Rails are the worst.

Beginning the show in wedding gowns, they proceeded to live out a short, unhappy marriage of mangled trash-electro and tum-te-tum arpeggio’d synths. At one point their female version of Bez was down to her underwear, writhing in mustard on the steps of the pulpit. Their final song, Together for the kids, started well, with a Black and Decker guitar riff, and frontman Mooky deigning to sing, but it quickly descended into practiced chaos. The show ended as they sprayed each other in blood. Another regret: the blood was fake. 2/10”

Here’s what Indu said to me after the show.

“I saw you making notes. Who do you write for?”

“I was just jotting down some thoughts.”

“That was a really bad show,” she said. “The laptop.”

She looked beautiful in a gore-soaked gown.

“I’m just having some ideas,” I said.

She seemed embarrassed, her hands tugging at her corsage.

I said: “it was a very different show to last time.”

“We try not to repeat ourselves.”

Mooky was packing up. Anna was in the transept putting her normal clothes back on.

Beneath my online review – where I hid behind my pseudonym, Krang – there was a reply from Mooky:

“It was a difficult gig for us. We had the laptop mess up and it wasn’t our usual crowd. I felt this review was cowardly and unnecessarily cruel. If Krang wants to talk to me about my band then I would be happy to speak with him. (Him, right?)

We try and make every show different and, for that, we are going to have some more successful than others. Yours, as always, Mooky”

A little bit about Joe Dunthorne

Joe Dunthorne

Joe Dunthorne is a Welsh novelist, poet and journalist, who first made his name with his novel, Submarine (2008), which was made into the film, Submarine, in 2010. His second novel, Wild Abandon (2011), won the Society of Authors’ Encore award. A collection of his poems was published in 2010 in the Faber New Poets series.


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