But there's a 20 piece drum circle set up in the middle of the Coronet, with some dead-eyed hippie witch moaning in a microphone and yes, fuck me, but I *want* to hate them. The girl starts to shake, starts to stalk around the circle, her low guttural moaning turning to wailing as the drumming grows more intense, her whole body shaking with the sounds rising up from deep inside of her, as if she's channelling something older and more powerful and immensely more in pain than her tiny hipster frame suggests. It's spine-tingling and soul-rending, like the voice of Diamanda Galas emanating from a child. Who the fuck is this girl? The drum circle hang on her every word - she's not dancing to them, she CONTROLS them, with a flick her stick-like arms, a stare from her devil-eyes. Suddenly the drum circle stops being a cliche, and I realise the power of unaccompanied drums en masse - war drums, drums for dancing - oh. Not wardrums. Peacedrums. It's Wildbirds and Peacedrums. Just drums and voice, and it's shaking the building to its foundations - the crowd pull out their own percussion - housekeys being the instrument of choice, and it's like a weird invocation to the god of keys, something primitive and primal.
(And my dream of learning to play drums, abandoned in the lack of a rehearsal space, swells to life again.)
Chrome Hoof - christ, they take a long time to go on. I'm old and my back hurts and I can't stand for that long any more. Are they applying their spacesuits with airbrushes and waiting for them to dry. But as the silver costumes start to glint at the back of the stage, annoyance turns to anticipation. In their presence, I revert instantly to childlike wonder. How else can you respond to a 13-piece alien space orchestra in holographic robes and silver jumpsuits, with terrifying chrome fembot dancers? The music makes me insane, makes me leap about, punch the air, scream my head off, disbelief not just suspended but shredded, abandoned, as totally unnecessary.
Where to even start beginning to describe their music? Disco, heavy metal, funk, glam rock, prog, psychedelic-space-soul - oh, I give up. Equal parts Funkadalic and Metallica at their most classical wig-out with a good helping of Hawkwind and maybe even the glamdrogynous amazonia of Grace Jones? No, I fucking give up. Forget all those mawkish tube ads about "diversity" - this is London at its mixed-up mashed-up crazy best. They're not black or white, they're SILVER. They're not male or female, they're some kind of robot alien hybrid of priest and empress-queen-goddess.
The disco throb of Tonyte. The big, hulking, bad smelling doom metal of Death Is Certain. The swinging Carnival brass-stabbing scronk of Circus 9000 broken by swooping orchestral flourishes of violin, as a woman in an Egyptian cat headdress and a silver jumpsuit begs "Open, let me cut you!"
It's showy, it's shiny, it's ridiculous and pretentious and awe-inspiring all in equal measures. A circus atmosphere prevails, heightened when a man dressed as a pantomime white horse appears in the centre of the stage to spout bad poetry. This, however, is the only misstep of the night, performance artist Marcus Coates. Mostly he rolls around on the floor making guttural noises that seem to have more in common with the scary tramp at the top of Brixton Hill who shouts at busses than some kind of shamanistic ritual. Come on, this is Chrome Hoof. Try to "out-WEIRD" Chrome Hoof and you will only end up looking like a TWAT. I want the alien space queen in the shiny silver jumpsuit to come back out and EAT HIS SOUL.
So of course she does! And we're back to the happy madness. The metal Chrome Hoof monster makes a momentary appearance, as if he's stumbled into the wrong robot monster convention and then backs out, leaving his worshipers crying after him. They tease us and come back to play encore after encore, extended heavy drum and bass solos (and I mean the instruments, though I've no doubt they could swallow, digest and regurgitate the musical genre whole in their own inimitable style, should they choose to.)
And out we spill into the night, there's even a 333 waiting at my bus stop, and the driver lets me on early to get out of the rain. Did the Elephant and Castle need this ritual? Thank you, South London doesn't need anyone's patronisation or attempts at revival, it is its own thing, it moves to its own rhythms. It's a patchwork and a mess, it's always been unfashionable and slightly out of step, like the ugly stillborn twin of the City - as long ago as the Dark Ages, the South Bank was the province of thieves and actors, free from the legislation of the City. Do I see my city differently as my bus rumbles the familiar road from the Elephant to Brixton and home to Streatham? No. I've *always* seen my South London as different.