Reheat Waves

Canada Choate on This Is Not This Heat at Pioneer Works

This Is Not This Heat. Performance view. Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk.

THERE IS NOTHING I LOVE MORE than seeing bands of older white men reunify—off the top of my head, I can say that I’ve seen Faust, Television, the Patti Smith Group, Sonic Arts Union, and the Beach Boys all within the last four years. It’s an unholy hobby, but a hobby nonetheless. I missed the Fall, which will always be a disappointment to me, but I wasn’t going to sleep on a chance to see what remains of This Heat, the Camberwellians known for their two studio albums, This Heat (1979) and Deceit (1981), as well as their lone 12-inch, Health and Efficiency (1980). And so I forsook The Bachelorette and found my way to Red Hook on a torrid Monday night in July for a performance by This is Not This Heat, This Heat’s twenty-first century incarnation. The band’s modified name has the welcome effect of lowering one’s expectations. They’re not who they once were, as vocalist and bassist Gareth Williams passed in 2001, but at least they aren’t pretending. The usual pact between Discogs rats and aged rock stars—that the latter will recreate the sound of their glory years and the former will worship them accordingly—breaks down quickly once negated right there in the name, creating a bit of breathing space.

Expecting a crowd, Pioneer Works tore down its interior walls, rendering the space extra cavernous and, dare I say, totally epic. It quickly dawned on me that this is going to be one of those concerts where the line for the men’s room is at least four times longer than for the women’s. On with the show!

Charles Bullen, the group’s founding guitarist, recently stated in a BOMB interview that “It’s very hard to say why This is Not This Heat is This is Not This Heat and not This Heat. But it just is … or isn’t.” I disagree. From the first moments of strobe light and guitar clang, the band struck out in a musical direction unavailable to them in the late seventies precisely because their records, alongside those from the likes of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, helped clear the way for such a new kind of noise. Writing in the Quietus in 2011, John Calvert categorized their “serrated muscularity” as outside of the conventional Thatcher/Reagan-era taxonomy of genre, claiming that This Heat had “a certain kind of force the post-punk bands were unable to adequately control without falling foul of rawk excess, and which the punk bands—albeit blitzing and rowdy—were too basic in form to build.” This Is Not This Heat’s 2018 sound suggests that they are more than aware of This Heat’s influence on a whole generation of industrial musicians and post-rockers. Additionally, in place of the three-man-plus-a-tape-player lineup that defined their arrangements in the This Heat era, This is Not This Heat has expanded to comprise six players (and no tapes at all), resulting in a much fuller, less angular sound that’s more Sean Scully than “Mondrian,” as Charles Hayward, the band’s original drummer, once put it. The four additional musicians, all men, included members of Sunn O))) and the Thurston Moore Band. Can the anxiety of influence be overcome by simply playing with your idols? To me, this felt a bit like when Trey Anastasio of Phish filled in for Jerry Garcia for the Grateful Dead’s 2015 “Fare Thee Well” tour. To my chagrin, I missed out on these shows. My mom was there, but my dad refused to go, saying that it wouldn’t be the same as when they followed them around the country in the late 1980s. Time folds in on itself.

Charles Bullen of This Is Not This Heat. Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk.

For the first twenty minutes or so, while the band ripped through “Testcard,” “Horizontal Hold,” and “Not Waving,” I feared that all of the post-punk space between instruments, all of the grooviness, had been wiped away by forty years, the existence of Nine Inch Nails, and the onstage presence of a bunch of overeager fanboys now tasked with recreating their favorite records. When asked what has shifted in the last forty years, Hayward told BOMB that “people are making music having made more music in between,” which “automatically changes everything.” With the loss of Williams, the group also lost their sole member who had no musical training prior to two weeks before the first This Heat show in 1976—Hayward and Bullen were trained in jazz and prog rock. The beginning of This is Not This Heat’s set was painfully tight, like a skirt from high school that you keep in your closet for when you want to try and prove to yourself that your body hasn’t yet changed beyond recognition.

As the show progressed, however, something clicked: Hayward’s drumming came to the front of the mix and the audience began to groove. As the summer heat rose to a sweltering, punishing level, the band pushed forward through “The Fall of Saigon” into “Independence,” a recitation of the Declaration of Independence and, notably, the first song of the night not taken from their self-titled debut. The strobes gave way to a cool, atmospheric green light as the band transitioned into the set’s second half, largely drawn from Deceit. A man in the front row wearing a top hat entered an ecstatic bliss. After playing “Cenotaph,” a song about nuclear warfare, Hayward implored the crowd to “stay positive.” Nukes are relevant again, in case you hadn’t heard! “Makeshift Swahili,” which takes on colonial occupation of Native lands and builds to a rousing chorus of “rhubarb rhubarb, rhubarb rhubarb,” had the whole crowd dancing.

By the time they reached the eighteenth and last song of their set, “Health and Efficiency,” I began to feel that I had entered one of the Roadhouse musical interludes from Twin Peaks: The Return. Pioneer Works took on all of the qualities of a liminal zone—the combination of the ever-increasing heat and This is Not This Heat transported me to somewhere between 1976 and 2018 where time is a closed circle, language fails to signify, men are terrifying, and the atom bomb is the source of all sin. Quoting “Cenotaph” back in 2016, Hayward opined that This Heat is germane to the twenty-first century because “we’re back in the same situation as we were back then, forty years ago. ‘History repeats itself.’” This is Not This Heat didn’t sound like the future, but then again, no one asked them to.

This Is Not This Heat performed at Pioneer Works on July 23.