There’s a seemingly endless supply of fascinating nooks and crannies in Summerhall, a former veterinary school turned arts centre with a lingering scent of antiseptic, but not a hint of sterility. Band The Neutrinos and artist Sal Pittman have set up rambunctious shop together in the fertile territory of the venue’s Small Animal Hospital for a genre-hopping, site-specific musical performance that blasts the cobwebs from their venue and audience members alike.
First, you have to find it. The tone is set by a lift journey accompanied by a dour monochrome Neutrino, then a stumble down through a dark corridor towards the sound of pure drumkit mayhem. The band’s instruments are supplemented by clanging from inside the heavy cages that line the room – strong enough to restrain gorillas, not domestic pets, their vibraphone-thick metal bars are hammered in an animal cacophony fit for dinner time at the zoo.
Luckily, this intensity isn’t sustained. Instead, the audience follow their ears through an underground sequence of rooms, surrounded by a constantly shifting, tempting aural landscape. The rooms are kept sepulchrally dark, and the tone is more Pet Sematary than Animal Hospital courtesy of Sal Pittman’s cut-up animal projections and black metal-scratched encouragements to “Make Noise”! But this is a tongue-in-cheek kind of darkness, as her garlands of bloodied white rabbits suggest.
The Neutrinos have spent enough research and development time in Germany to have thoroughly assimilated the Berlin art-rock aesthetic. Black and white panelled shirts, Kraftwerk style, severe hair-dos and plenty of keyboard blips courtesy of Jon Baker give them serious experimental electronica credentials. But their music is scattered with lovable pastiches of a huge range of genres to create a constantly shifting tone with a not insignificant streak of silliness and fun.The Neutrinos can be Portishead-ethereal, with surreally poetic Mallarmé cooings of “shave an egg for me”. Or they can unleash a euphoric falsetto glam-rock duet, or they can turn dark and bluesy – chanting “Reel ‘em in, roll ‘em out” as they entice dazed audience members away to the next excitement.
There’s an illustrious history of bands stepping off stage to create theatrical, immersive experiences. For every commercial musician who gets trapped, Spinal Tap style, exiting a fibreglass alien pod onstage, there are plenty of moments of pure visual and physical exhilaration. Boredoms’ Boadrum shows used anything between nine and 77 drumkits in euphoric surround sound, static or carried through the audience on a vast litter. And Throbbing Gristle’s fearsome portfolio of experimental live music ventures ranged from gigs in supermarkets to vast, explorable contemporary installations like A=P=P=A=R=I=T=I=O=N. But to see immersive live music in a daytime slot at the Edinburgh Fringe feels even more exciting than seeing it in a gallery. The limited time-slot and pliant audience make for an hour of pure joyous catharsis, gently rounded off with a soothing acoustic lullaby for small animals past.
Detaching themselves from a sweat-drenched audience, the Neutrinos disappear up a red ladder into the ceiling like uncannily musical aliens returning to the mothership. They’re having so much fun that it’s tempting to join them.