Richter City Rebels

Friday 8 Dec, Common Room, Hastings

It’s a stinking hot December night and, like lifting the lid on a pressure cooker, the Richter City Rebels have come to let off some steam. On stage they cut an impressive jib, seven brass instruments gleaming in the glow of the curtain of stars at their backs, their insignia inscribed in the sousaphone. That’s essentially a tuba, but made for walking, just like the origins of the New Orleans Second Line genre into which they have bravely immersed themselves. It’s marching band music, but not as we know it. Unlike the formal, contrived Main Line Mardi Gras parade, where the boundaries between performers and audience are prescribed and static, the Second Line band is but the catalyst to ignite a riotous celebration of community, whose cultural roots are drawn from Afro-Caribbean and Native American tradition.

From the first, the Rebels elicit an expectation of participation – dance, clap, scream, it’s all welcome here. The robust roar of horns prompts a rush indoors from the garden and the floor is full of bodies moving like they were born to. Trumpets, trombones and saxophones, syncopated and synchronised, provide the melody, underpinned by the sonorous baritone of the sousaphone – a big brass sound, scribbled all over by the erratic beats of the bass and snare drums. Here percussion is anyone’s game – on stage, cow bells, shakers, tambourines and more are tossed around; while down in the sweat box hands are clapped, fingers drummed, feet stomped and chests slapped to produce a joyous, dynamic tintamarre. There’s vocal riffing too, from rap to chants to call and response that draws on both gospel and hype man styles.

Their numbers seem to work on the principle of starting simple and then funking it up. It’s an exploration in freedom to take a musical theme or beat and run with it. Though a few members take a more notable lead, it’s a remarkably egalitarian performance process building up a picture of a fluid creative relationship between humans. The vibe is one of rehearsed extemporization. There’s polish in the complexity of how the performers relate to one another both musically and in their coordinated movements, yet they retain a spanking freshness that piques the excitement of limitless possibilities.

The content is a blend of whimsically reworked covers and tracks from their energetic, hot off the press, fourth album, Hard Work, Hard Money. Their original tracks are technically constructed, almost as an electronic artist might thoughtfully build up layers of sound as a base for improvisational flair that showcases each of their talents. Their covers pay homage to a wide spread of artists; from the granddaddy of funk, James Brown, to Ini Kamoze; Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn, to Rihanna; to finish with our own Ché Fu’s Fade Away, all rendered in their signature style with just enough of the original elements to elicit gasps of recognition from the delighted crowd.

Spirits and body temperatures elevated in the dense jungle fug of the dance floor, reprieved by our esteemed host, Gerard Barron’s ingenious employment of the double spray bottles of mercy. It was an experience both cathartic and ecstatic that wrung the fortunate participants to the edges of their beings, willing followers of the rebellion.


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