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Live review: Henge @ Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 25/11/18

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Henge, a multi-species collective made up of a cyborg, a Venusian, an amphibious humanoid and a time-displaced synthesiser guru from the 1960s, have descended on planet Earth to promote disarmament, cosmopolitanism, space exploration and a unique cross of acid rave, spaghetti western and psychedelia.

Image courtesy of Henge via Sonic PR

Their leader climbs onstage wearing a magnificent headdress topped with a plasma globe and carrying a lantern staff from which exudes a purple glow. The Venusian joins him behind a stack of bass synthesisers, the amphibian mounts a drum stool and the hippy positions hovers his fingers over the flamboyantly bedecked organ.

But before all of that we have Egebamyasi, whose acid techno with an abrasive digital edge is more eccentric than it is evocative. Unfortunately, while although sensorially overwhelming, there seems little substance behind the cacophony of sound and imagery, and his incorporation of pop music vocal samples is particularly unartful.

Henge, by contrast, relegate their visuals to a tasteful complement. However, the crude CGI work sometimes fails to capture the complexity of some of the songs’ messages, particularly the faux flames in the global warming apocalypse number.

It seems Gallifrey too has a North as the cyborg addresses the gathered crowd under the glint of the Voodoo Rooms’ glitterball and praises humanity on its progress. The band then launches into a ‘Knights of Cydonia’-esque jam with a lot of tremolo bar action and quivering organ tones.

Despite having only one album to their name – Attention Earth! (released in October), Henge can deliver a satisfying set that is as much about the overarching narrative as it is the individual songs. Their extra-terrestrial perspective allows them to transcend cynicism and see the bigger picture, to facilitate euphoria, wonder, inspiration and sheer puzzlement in equal measure.

The bizarre is certainly a defining characteristic with one tune, the staff-wielding leader proclaims, having been composed by his onboard computer, which is able to connect his host body to the consciousness stored in the plasma globe. In this song, he uses a Roland voice changer to pitch his vocals up and down octaves creating a surreal effect.

There is something of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard in the band’s commitment to the concept, but also in the psychedelic elements of their sound. It’s not difficult to pinpoint where they’ve drawn inspiration from in songs like ‘Mushroom One’, for example, performed to the backdrop of perpetually sprouting fungi.

The silliness can also be to the detriment of emotional impact, however, especially in the potentially poignant story of the Venusian whose planet was made uninhabitable by atmospheric pollution and climate catastrophe. It will always be difficult to generate empathy with a guy in a fixed-expression rubber alien mask, but there was something to be teased out of that allegory which merited more than a rocking end-of-days jam, although the irony of cheering mass extinction was acknowledged by the singer.

‘In Praise of Water’ is perhaps the craziest song on the setlist. It’s introduced by the cyborg who prefaces the tune with the question, “Do you like substances?” What follows is truly unhinged acid techno that really gets the crowd mixed up. 

Henge closes with the song that all of the month-long fans have been waiting for. ‘Demilitarise’ is the perfect note to end the gig on with its inspirational call to end the arms race and get behind space technology. The repetitive chant is taken up by every single person in the room until it becomes solely acapella, and the collective will is solidified. It’s difficult to leave without the sense that a powerful call-to-action has been enacted.

Henge play Leicester tonight (30th November), Liverpool on Saturday 1st December, Hebden Bridge on 7th December and Manchester on 8th December.

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