Vienna’s New Underground Rock
On the Gürtel, two up-and coming bands demonstrate that rock still embodies ‘good times’ with an edge
An underground rock scene needs two components to truly thrive: First, it needs a couple of good locations, and secondly, a collection of bands with artistically and philosophically inspired people who help each other out and stick together. Which is just what happened in late March under the Skywalk, a space-age pedestrian bridge at Spittelau between the U6 and the neighbouring street, when these two ingredients were stirred up together into one Viennese classic Rock Screwdriver.
The first ingredient was Local, the ultimate venue situated in what is known as the Stadtbahnbögen, the curving arches under the fin-de-siècle elevated railway lines that are now the U6. Unlike more famous nearby clubs like B72 or the Chelsea, Local is built into a higher arc - around eight metres, which is exactly what makes it interesting in terms of acoustics and audience space.
The second ingredient – good underground rock bands – is relatively new to Vienna, but has begun to blossom in the past decade. Before, it was either the dark arts of the Sepultura-style metal, or The Libertines-style indie. Blues-rock such as it was seemed to be reserved for musicians and crowds above 50. Somehow, music had become preformed and packaged, sterilized, all elements separated: a vodka shot and juice chaser, rather than the tempting screwdriver on the rocks.
On that March evening, though, two bands took all that is heart-felt and honest in 1960s and 1970s rock and injected it into this cave under the neon lights of a 2012 Viennese neighborhood. "Austrian Drive" – that’s what they called it.
The first band to take the stage was Odyssey 2012; with their Kubrick-inspired name, I knew exactly what kind of sound to expect: They warmed up with a Pink Floyd-Jimi Hendrix-inspired bluesy psychedelic rock sound, a rarity these days. After making a medley out of the first couple of tracks, they climaxed in an upbeat, bass-heavy, intense, danceable piece, just to lose themselves again in the sulky pouting of "good ol’ blues". I wondered if they were actually feeling all that pathos.
"Yes, since there is a lot to be sad about these days," said frontman Erwin Glatz. It was a rich and polished performance. I would never have guessed that their current band constellation had only been in place for a couple of weeks. Respect!
After everybody’s second or third drink, some suave guys unpacked their guitars as if they were having an underground, late-night electric picnic. The band, aptly named Rude But Sexy, began a two-hour gig, dabbling in a variety of genres, starting with "Rigged Dice", that seemed more like indie-rock. But I almost choked on an ice cube from my gin and tonic when they bashed their guitars into their grinding second song, "I Want You". A couple of girls instantly started to dance and so did my feet – it was hard to keep my torso at the bar to keep on taking notes.
Rude But Sexy is made up of two brothers, Phillip "Phil" (guitar/lead vocals) and Stephan "Fuz" (pronounced Foo-tz) Ocvirk (lead guitar/vocals) and back-up Hermann "Handsome Hermie" Geppert (bass), and Lukas Krec (drums). All in all, they keep it simple and honest, settling between rockabilly and melodic indie, classic hard rock and progressive alternative – something like an American Indian hippie with combed hair and a leather jacket. It’s laid-back, danceable music that is an uncomplicated good time.
"Music is supposed to be fun!" said Phil, the charismatic lead singer of the pack, after the show. Their songs "always carry a bit of irony in them," he said. But instead of bemoaning the problems of society, "we try to take serious and troublesome facts and look at it from a different perspective that allows us to have a good time nonetheless." Just like a good cocktail: hefty alcohol clothed in juicy sweetness.
Their next title, "Lonesome Lovesong", was full of irony. The only real pop track in their set list, it was comparatively hollow and didn’t really seem to fit in with the others – until the real reason became clear, as Phil started in on a string of variations, using eight (!) similar pop songs, like Men at Work’s "Land Down Under", A-ha’s "Take On Me", The Calling’s "If I Could", etc. Of course then the song became hilarious, and showed how simple, and similar, most famous pop songs are.
After what was a very impressive gig, we shared a 12-year-old Glenfi ddich. Phil confided that their song, "Prison", was based on a true story: When he and some friends had been arrested one night for running a red light on bicycles, they were fined €70. Instead of paying it, Phil decided to serve 24 hours in prison – and seemed none the worse for wear: "A free bed, half an hour walking a day."
He and Handsome Hermie (a quite fitting name, but who am I to judge?), ho writes their lyrics, are mostly inspired by real-life and crazy experiences, like a gig in a women’s sauna, and dreams, of finally being able to afford a Gibson Les Paul guitar.
It all added up to a great evening, both the Local and the bands Rude but Sexy and Odyssey 2012. In rock music it can be hard to judge professionalism per se. It’s the style, the spirit, the energy that counts just as much – and this wild bunch of leather jackets were on a roll!