Scottish machine-folk prophets The Phantom Band are set to corrupt the panto season.
While theatres across the land abound with day-glo fairytales, the robotic-pop sextet will helm a vaudevillian "Phantomime" in Glasgow. Their multi disciplinary yuletide bacchanalia will channel the spirit of Christmas past, abetted by ambient thrillers the 85A Collective and some of our finest rock dissenters, including RM Hubbert, Muscles of Joy, Tut Vu Vu, Take a Worm for a Walk Week and the Phantoms themselves.
The Phantom Band's mythology has long blurred truth with fantasy – in the past week alone, they've threatened to join the circus and to replace their vocalist with aerobics icon Mr Motivator – and this old-time festive romp chimes well with their chimerical muse. The event will mark "the coming birthday of the unconquered sun, yule and saturnalic merryments" (sic) and will boast DJ sets from Franz Ferdinand's Paul Thomson and Numbers' Bobby Cleaver plus karaoke, dancing, visual artists, "top-notch Phantom-on-ice skillz" and BBC Radio's Vic Galloway as a (possibly) Fagin-esque arch-compere.
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"It won't be an actual pantomime though – the last thing we'd ever want it to seem like is amateur dramatics," clarifies Phantom synth-warlock Andy Wake. "We called it a Phantomime because it's a good pun, and because there'll be a kind of narrative with a few characters, like a really dark twist on A Christmas Carol.
"The music is the main part though," he continues. "We just wanted to try and present it in a way that's slightly more interesting and memorable for a gig. But we've got this all-star line-up and we'd never invite bands to perform and then do things that'd obstruct their ability to play their set, or express themselves. So when the bands are actually playing, that's the only thing that'll be going on. And that'll be amazing."
In addition to nylon-string heartbreaker RM Hubbert, folk-punk vocalists Muscles of Joy, blues-racketeers Holy Mountain and more, The Phantom Band will discharge their unprecedented arsenal of kraut-folk and alt-rock across the two-day Phantomime. "We'll play full sets both nights, and we'll hopefully work in some new stuff too," says Wake. "We're also thinking of playing a really pared-back thing to open, maybe just a few acoustic songs. I had this idea that it'd be nice to be playing in the background, just improvising or something, when people come in to the venue." Like a house band? "Yeah," he laughs. "I'm not really sure what we'll do yet to be honest, but I'm sure we'll work something out. We're quite creative people."
The Phantom Band are one of our most acclaimed and creative outfits of recent years. Both of their albums – 2009's Checkmate Savage and last year's The Wants (both Chemikal Underground) – were met with widespread reverence. They also operate as DJs and visual artists and their psychedelic palette embraces decades of artistic, musical and cinematic counter-culture. Indeed, the recent death of celluloid livewire Ken Russell prompted the band to post a tribute and series of clips on their Facebook page. "Yeah, some of the stuff that we've used for posters or live video loops in the past has been taken from [Russell's films] Altered States and Devils," says Wake. "He's quite an influential character on our general aesthetic."
For a sense of the Phantomime aura, Wake nods to Crispin Glover's burlesque take on the syrupy rat-ballad, Ben. "The video's dark, and it's weird – it's slightly uncanny," he offers. "It's got all these rats, in a kind of Victorian proscenium theatre. But we've not got any live rats and we're not going to be suspended from the ceiling or anything," Wake adds reassuringly. "Well, not this year anyway."
Glasgow sound, art and performance mob the 85A Collective are on hand to bedeck the venue accordingly. "The first thing I ever saw them do was The Orzel," Wake says of 85A's 2009 adaptation of a rare Polish film about an escaped Second World War submarine. "It was in The Old Hairdresser's, and they did the whole place up like a submarine. You walked in and you were met by 'officials' in boiler suits. They do these amazing decorative backdrops, almost like stage or film sets, and the way they projected the film was ingenious – you felt like you were being torpedoed. It was like a poor man's Universal studios," he laughs. "There was even a live band doing sound effects – it was all just really, really good. That experience made me think about them for this."
There will be additional "visual stimulus" from new media artist Rachel Maclean (who directed the video for The Phantom Band's brilliant 2011 single, Everybody Knows It's True), while multi-platform artist Torsten Lauschmann "will also do something," smiles Wake.
"I'm very aware of how busy he is – he's got this big show at the DCA that's totally amazing, it's the best thing I've seen in ages. So I said, 'you can do anything – you can show a film, or you can install something, or DJ, or VJ', so you never know," he says. "It'll be a surprise.
"Hopefully we'll pull it all off," concludes Wake of their first-ever Phestive Phantomime. "But if all the décor falls down and nothing works, it'll still be a really good gig. Anyway, we're a band, we're not a circus." He pauses for thought. "Actually, after this, maybe The Phantom Band should join the circus. There might be more money in that."
The Phantom Band: A Phestive Phantomine – Stereo, Glasgow, December 16 & 17. Visit www.phantomime.co.uk.