Revolutionary Arts Ensemble: Kung Fu Jazz

20 July 2017, Common Room

Adrian Thornton has crazy, good ideas, and Anton Wuts is the music wizard who makes stuff happen… so… take 1960s free jazz, a massive dose of the avant-garde saxophonist, Albert Ayler, and speed it all up, give it a punk rock spin, two drum-kits, keys, guitars, enough brass, and you have Hastings’ East-block-brewed Kung Fu Jazz.

Basically, it’s Reclaim the Streets on a Thursday night in the funkiest locale in town – the best (convoluted) way I can describe it – and if you missed this gig, you seriously missed out. The revolution will not be televised but playfully, exuberantly co-created in small community-inspired public spaces like Common Room.


The seven-piece Revolutionary Arts Ensemble has wheeled in their gear from a few doors down on Adrian’s Chinese freight bike. They’ve upended the stage. Created an eclectic lamp-lit den of curiosities that blends beautifully with the CR surrounds, and simultaneously turned the ‘lounge’ into a rumpus room for sound. One of Max’s drums is strapped up high, while Joe’s cymbals balance precariously on the shelf between a curated collection of garage sale treasures: knitted golliwogs, a round dial telephone, a model T-Rex. A teddy bear is propped up next to Rosie’s trombone on an old school primer chair; atop the organ there’s a pink and grey leather dachshund rotating on a tin.

The whole jostling ensemble is held in the intense, anarchic gaze of two towering carnival creatures: a dancing white walker, a black limby alien. The music is infectious, raucous; the ambience is shiny-eyed. We shouldn’t just be listening, though, “We’re a dancing band,” they cry.

The second set begins with a slow tune-in, moving from exploratory resonance to aural recalcitrance, it’s almost too much, an overload of sound, vibration, but the discordant jumble suddenly breaks free into fast, quirky upbeat tunes, each musician enthralled to  their own groove before converging in an irresistible layering of rhythm, sound, moving feet, each other.

They play on our emotions, moving between high-energy, dance-able fun and stranger, subversive soundscapes. In a slow, eery piece, ‘Mysterioso’, I feel fixed by the fierce red eyes of that black bloc puppet, and feel myself sliding vaguely into thoughts of climate change, doom, corporate fascism … Adrian draws a bow across his bass guitar – it’s the closest the evening comes to an almost maudlin moment. And then I’m buoyed back up by “a kind of Pink Panther riff”, I jot down, “reminds me of the Blues Brothers” – smooth, funky, then increasingly silly, building to an exhilarating crescendo and a ‘we’ve got this, we’re changing the world!’ feel-good street party vibe.

By the third set, it’s like a wedding party at 3am when most of the guests have gone home, and those remaining have settled comfortably into the liminal zone. Rosie has kicked off her Ugg boots, a few of the musicians are wearing winking coloured fairy lights. There’s a lone committed dancer who’s had a few too many drinks. We’re drifting into the experimental hour. Rosie ‘plays’ a milk frother, Anton pulls out a fist full of recorders, and at one time five of the ensemble are messing about on the drums.

Ultimately, the musicians’ playful, creative absorption takes down the borders between the entertainment and the entertained. In terms of revolution, it’s definitely the most inspired fun I’ve had this election year.


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