The Invisible Wind Factory’s lights are at half-mast. Three smooth and faceless figures have convened on an altar of two drum kits and a rack of synths, one of which has already begun burbling like bubbles racing past your rapid descent to the abyss. The two drummers each raise an arm, and nobody is the wiser as to whether they are saluting each other, adjusting to their physical forms, or inviting down power from some lofty source above. This drumstick semaphore comes to an abrupt end as they begin their battery and we leave the world behind.
They are – this is – BARBEROS, and they are unveiling their new album. Six tracks of otherworldly prog noise and twin drum assault – ranging from the doomy chanting of Obladen to Concerto (Reprise)’s klezmer of the damned – are played in full here tonight, with an ensemble boosted at various times by acolytes and musicians who have given their bodies to the morph-suited cause. Over 45 minutes, though it could have been longer, the closest we get to an intelligible lyric is an older, English voice: “Yes. I think it’s started. It’s started moving”. During the interstellar washes of sound that follow, the only other plausibly oral noises emitted by the larval cerebrum present are moist and chattering clicks.
Confronted by rows of spandex golems, by the time signatures in π/4 and raging oscillators of their music, I can see the separation of mind and body in everyone around me – hearts are racing, but brains might as well be in jars, with time going past slower as pulses race. At the end all goes dark, and the final silhouette of Barberos is a chimera with mallets raised and faces (do they have faces?) turned to look (do they have eyes?) at the orgiastic consequences of their set.
One week on from the close encounter at IWF, I yearned to know more. One glimpse at Barberos was addictive and I longed to look on Barberos once more. After many hours’ exhaustive dowsing, there was spandex before me, spandex behind me, spandex on every side of me, and we communed. Live, there were three of them, sometimes more. It’s hard to say how many there were now, but their first statement rang out like grinding stones.
“We are Barberos, not individuals. We are omni, we are one.”
But you had many more onstage with you at the album launch, and some of them were clearly All We Are, because they played right before you, I countered.
“For the launch, we had our friends from Stealing Sheep, All We Are, Zombina and the Skeletones…” I get the picture. The church of Barberos has many worshippers. But the voice continued, “…a.P.A.t.T, The Aleph, and Ex-Easter Island Head perform with us.” This band has penetrated further than first seemed. One more utterance came forth: “And others. None of them are on the album.”
If they’re a multiplicitous entity, that might explain how the album sounds so vast with only three playing on it. Discovering that Barberos have friends was disarming, and slowly, tentatively, a conversation emerged. Track three, Hoyl, begins with the awestruck voiceover mentioned above. I asked if it was a sample or one of the three talking.
“That’s Charles Hayward.”
Of This Heat? Wow.
“And of This is Not This Heat, Camberwell Now, and a million more amazing bands. He’s our mate.”
They don’t just have friends, they have mates. The record checks out, and Barberos did tour with Hayward in 2012. They seem to pop up in the real world in distant climes, with no proof of their travelling between them. They’ve been heard in Salford, Rheims and Caen, but they seem to favour appearing in Eastern Europe: Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all have reported sightings. Rumours that the new shield covering the reactor at Chernobyl was originally to be made of spandex cannot be confirmed. As informally as I could, I asked Barberos for their best live reception and, for contrast, a show where the audience just didn’t get them. I expected there would be a few tales to tell, but one answer came forth.
“Veliky Novgorod. A kind of cocktail bar. Everyone was sitting down, just filming us on their phones. I think they were confused by us. But then we DJed afterwards and they danced.” Evidently, this band do have the human touch, assuming the crowd danced of their own volition. The new album art, photographed by Justė Urbonavičiūtė, displays them standing before a mysterious erection. Hoping to bond over the beauty of concrete, I asked for more information.
“It’s a mad old Soviet concert hall in Vilnius.”
Did you play inside it?
“It’s a mad old Soviet concert hall in Vilnius,” they repeated, “and there are a few other brutalist buildings we really liked so we got spandexed in front of them”. ‘Getting spandexed’, as far as I can tell, is how Barberos assume their physical form. “It was about minus 10 degrees in November. We took those pictures… as quickly as possible.” Medieval theologians agonised over the question of whether the first man, having never been born, had a navel. It is not possible to tell, from the album’s cover, whether the band have nipples.
How does something as transient as BARBEROS even get recorded without the aid of the supernatural?
“We worked with Snorre Bergerud at Ymir Audio in Vilnius. He has a studio in the national television building that was used for orchestras to practice and record in. It is massive. He’s a genius engineer and producer, but the room he has sounds so good. You can hear a lot of that in the recording.”
Indeed, this album has been almost two years in the making. Pressing is reported to have taken a long time, possibly complicated by cursed machinery and the dwindling number of suitable plants in places conducive to manifestations of Barberos.
“We recorded the songs almost two years ago. We have been touring pretty much the same set for a few years now. The songs have naturally moved, and realigned somewhat.” I drew a comparison to the sailing stones of Death Valley, but it was met with silence. Perhaps such questions shouldn’t be asked. As if the two might be related. After a while, they continued. “We’ve become more comfortable and freer with them.” It is unclear if Barberos were referring to the songs or the stones by this point.
Trying to categorise their sound is impossible. Any descriptor carries so many caveats and palaeographical footnotes as to rob the genre named of any convenient brevity. To comprehend the sound of Barberos, one must stop trying to comprehend Barberos at all. This approach prompted their longest pronouncement yet.
“I think our sound has changed and evolved through many different things… life, bands we play with, bands we love, food, dreams, and all things. We find we are often billed with very different bands. But it seems to work. All manner of metal, jazz, noise, electro, techno, super-experimental sound art, and weird pop. The lot. Always alternative.”
I was surprised to hear the word ‘love’ in their answer. Barberos then turned 45º three times in succession, each time emitting band names on a supersonic frequency.
“Tangerine Dream. Ruins. This Heat.”
Anyone who watched Stewart Lee’s last Comedy Vehicle will have seen the post-stand up get grilled by Chris Morris about irony, his onstage persona, audience complicity, and the suspension of disbelief. Eventually Morris brings him to tears, until he’s left gibbering weakly, “This is this… this is this”. Likewise, as with the Delphic oracle or the Vestal virgins, you cannot ask mundane questions of Barberos and get mere answers in return. The new album opens with The Return Of The Ladius And The Ladius, 15 minutes and a crucial four seconds of variously-shaped sine waves, vibrating metal, glowing portals and (invisibly) rushing wind. What is the Ladius? I had to know. After a few minutes, Barberos lit up and responded. The answer was cuboid and the faces read thus:
“It is a thing. A state of mind. A feeling. An emotion. A secret. Yes.”
I suppose that will be one for the listeners to figure out for themselves, I thought. There was a popping sound and the answer had gained a seventh side:
Who was I to ask inane questions, even in thought alone? Crouching, in tears, I mumbled in realisation. Barberos is Barberos.
BARBEROS is out now on Dream Machine Records.