Wussy review – ‘ploughing their own dreamy, noisy furrow’

Bank Holiday Sunday saw the return of Damnably’s annual Punk, Post-Punk, Rock & Folk Festival Walpurgis Nacht Festival to the Windmill, headlined by US indie-rockers Wussy. Contributor James Selby was there to review.

Photo by James Selby.
Wussy at Windmill Brixton. Photo by James Selby.

Walpurgis Nacht in Germanic folklore means Witches’ Night, and this explained the bizarre sprinkling of berobed sorcerers amongst the typically diverse Brixton audience watching the succession of bands from midday. The early summer sun (and Fabio & Grooverider playing on Clapham Common at the liveliest ‘Family Fun Day’ I’ve ever been to…) meant our arrival was in time to catch Former Utopia, playing two slots before the headliners. Sharp and edgy guitars playing a lo-fi sound that brought to mind at times Fugazi.

Photo by James Selby.
Photo by James Selby.

Next up were all-girl Japanese band Otoboke Beaver, a punk-rock garage quartet from Kyoto, Japan, delivering a furious, frantic set at breakneck speed. All the girls sing and their set was an assault to the senses; lead guitarist Yoyoyoshie alternating between shredding her guitar overhead and staring out on the audience with eyes as frenzied as her riffing. Good fun and high energy stuff.

Headlining were Cincinnati indie-rock band Wussy; the reason I was at the event after Gideon Coe introduced me to the band on his BBC 6 Music show three weeks ago via ‘Dropping Houses’ – lead single from their acclaimed sixth album Forever Sounds. The distorted, scuzzy sound of the track chimed with the soundtrack of my youth growing up on American grunge and alt-rock bands from the 90s – but it turns out Wussy are considerably more than that.

The five-piece are led by lead singer-songwriters Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker, whose vocal harmonies are the icing on a big, huge cake of sound created by their guitars adding to John Erhardt’s third, layered over drummer Joe Klug and bassist Mark Messerly’s wholesome, delicious rhythm. Cleaver, big grey beard and check short sleeves rolled up past his tattooed forearms, is joined at the centre of the compact stage by Walker, maybe 20 years his junior but similarly inked and as powerful a presence.

Wussy are difficult to categorise, the grunge sound my ears immediately tuned into on the radio a few weeks prior certainly does not prevail. Neither are they college-rock; their sound is far more mature and rooted somewhere deeper and darker than that. There are nods to their midwestern home, and country leanings in some of their guitar parts, in the manner of R.E.M. There’s also some of the whimsical majesty of a Modest Mouse, amidst some of the Sonic Youth type fuzz. But amongst these reference points, there is no doubt Wussy are ploughing their own dreamy, noisy furrow.

Watching Wussy at the intimate, charmingly ramshackle Windmill, there was something almost surreal. Maybe it was too much sun or too many beers taking effect. Or maybe it’s the character bursting out of their look and music, their big American sound seeming out of place in this small backwater on an English estate. High points of their set include aforementioned Dropping Houses and Hello I’m a Ghost, both off the new album. The only low point came as the lights came on after the final encore.