ĠENN at Paper Dress Vintage 23 Nov 2022

LOUD WOMEN has been in ĠENN’s corner since ¾ of the current line up – then known as Cryptic Street – arrived in Blighty from their native Malta in 2019. They have played our regular gig nights and festivals, and we’ve loved them every time. From their Brighton base, the quartet make regular forays into all parts of the UK and their appearances in London are becoming less frequent as a result. It was therefore good to be able to catch them a few nights ago in the confines of the small but perfectly formed room above Hackney’s Paper Dress Vintage shop – the perfect venue for any band whose audience is steadily growing with every gig, but that has not yet reached its full crowd potential.

This was only my second ĠENN gig of 2022, the first coming way back in March at Brighton’s Hope And Ruin. Since then, and possibly even before then, ĠENN’s musical direction has evolved enormously. The full tilt punky disco adrenaline rush of early songs like ‘Let’s Go Suki’, ‘Du Da Dance’ and ‘Damaged’ has all but disappeared from their set, to be replaced by an audio experience coming from a land where freeform jazz meets full on psychedelia.

The three instrumental components of ĠENN declare their intentions from the start of the set with the long and always impressive instrumental ‘Island Blues’ that has been opening their set for some time, before the incessantly energetic dynamo that is frontwoman Leona comes on and they segue seamlessly what is now the oldest song in the set, ‘Like You’ – but don’t for a minute allow yourself to think that you are going to be subjected to the same old ĠENN song and dance, because from here you are in a world of continually moving and shifting musical landscapes, driven by Janelle’s merciless punishment of her guitars, and anchored by the broad and fearless percussive skills of drummer Sofia and thunderous bass of Leanne – collectively one hell of a rhythm section. All three ĠENN instrumentalists get plenty of opportunity to impress as they riff behind Leona’s feral wailing across an 11 song set that climaxes in fine style with their latest single ‘Rohmerasse’ – the launch of which was the primary reason for this well attended Wednesday night gig.

The set moved seamlessly from one piece of music to another, the ever changing lighting at PDV and an overactive smoke machine adding to the psychedelic experience that the audio was providing in tandem with Leona’s onstage hyperactivity. The woman is frankly a non-stop frenzy of activity, small in stature but huge in voice and with total command of her part of the stage (which frankly is all of it…) Leona is a focal point of ĠENN, with her jumps, kicks and persistent prowling, but not so much that the work of her bandmates is easy to overlook. For ĠENN is most definitely a band where every member relies on each other’s strengths, and one that has continued to make great strides forward as a unit. In the past three years they have overcome the early theft of a lot of their equipment and more recent serious illness and injury within their ranks, all the while sticking together, surviving the global pandemic and emerging stronger for each setback.

For those who are looking for comparisons, ĠENN is one of the few groups that I can think of offhand that has not a single one that readily comes to mind. The only active band who I can think of who are vaguely in the same sort of musical orbit are veteran art rock trio Blurt. That the women of ĠENN are not afraid to push their particular envelope was demonstrated by bringing on stage saxophonist Oli Genn (his real name, but pronounced Genn with a hard G as opposed to the group’s Genn with a soft one…) whose free-form blowing across three numbers midway through the set was of a kind that owed a lot more to Blurt’s septuagenarian sax man Ted Milton than to X Ray Spex’ Lora Logic. Genn, the man, returned to augment ĠENN, the band, as they moved into the closing stages of the set with ‘Day And Night’ and ‘Be A Man’, two of the now older songs in their setlist. One of the two Johns from Brighton duo John (I can never remember which is which) also came on to help Leona out with some backing vocals on ‘Merchant’, pleasantly reversing the more traditional scenario of “male frontsperson with female backing vocals…”

Nearly an hour after it began in a haze of smoke and lights, ĠENN’s provocative and exhilarating set ended the same way as the four core members came off stage to engage, as they always like to do, with their fans on the floor. Having been watching them since the days when at times I felt like I was pretty much their audience on my own, I could not be more pleased that these smashing people are making the kind of headway now where they can command the kind of crowds that will continue to grow in the coming year.  

At the time of writing ĠENN’s live activity has more or less finished in the UK for 2022, but they are returning to Malta this side of Christmas for only their second gig there since Janelle, Leanne and Leona moved to Brighton and I am sure that they are already planning further splendid UK shows like this one for the start of next year.

il-Milied u s-Sena t-Tajba, ĠENN …