All the gigs of my life: Gig 106 – Kula Shaker, Wednesday, May 17, 2006, Scala

Revisiting one of my 90s faves in the 21st century.

To avoid any disappointment, I’ll just start by relaying in full my in-depth review of this gig from my 2006 diary:

‘And, in other mystical news: I’ve just been to see Kula Shaker.’

Sorry. In truth, 2006 was turning out to be a very tumultuous year in my personal life, with the fallout from my relationship with Crush Boy of the previous year still bombarding me at every turn. I’ll talk about a bit more about that in my next gig post, but the upshot was that my mental health was taking a pounding, and my diary had become totally pre-occupied with dissecting every possible nuance of the situation.

The ‘mystical’ reference in my diary entry is due to the fact that I was in the middle of my phase of being interested in witchy things as detailed in my Mediaeval Baebes review, and the above line appeared after I’d detailed a tarot reading I’d just carried out in order to try and shed some light into my troubled mind. It’s safe to say, I was even more brooding and introspective than usual in this period of my life.

In such a case it’s something of a miracle that I made it out to see Kula Shaker at all, but I’d greatly enjoyed their recent Revenge of the King EP – so much so that it became my very first iTunes purchase! But just what was it like to be a Kula Shaker fan in the mid-2000s? There can be few bands who have weathered a harsher reception from the music press than Kula Shaker during their late 90s heyday. When they reformed after a five year hiatus to tour with a new album “Strangefolk” in 2006, the NME had this to say:

“For younger readers, Kula Shaker were eminently punchable mid-’90s toffs with an irritating line in Indian spirituality-obsessed psychedelia, and, in Crispian Mills, the most instantly hateworthy frontman who ever lived.”

NME

What was it that made Kula Shaker so reviled? There was the fact that Crispian Mills came from a famous family, and had an upbringing that was a far cry from many of the indie bands of the day, for whom their working class background was worn like a badge of honour. We didn’t speak in terms of ‘privilege’ in the 90s as much as we do today, but it seems like this was exactly what the anti-Kula league were reacting to. But this to me is missing the point: while it’s definitely important to create opportunities in the arts for those who don’t have economic advantages, this is not going to be achieved by hurling abuse at those who do.

Then, there is Kula Shaker’s fixation on Indian mysticism – what today would be called ‘cultural appropriation’. But for me, having grown up in a variety of different countries and spent a large chunk of my childhood in a culture that I wasn’t born into, I have little time for the notion that we are all only allowed to create art or express ourselves according to the cultural norms of our direct ancestors.

However in 2006, none of this really mattered. The music press which had held so much sway in the 90s had become just one more whisper among many hundreds of voices online talking about music. Kula Shaker were on an independent label, and with their established fanbase, they could now make their living touring and releasing records regardless of press coverage.

And so we come to this gig. I’ve no doubt that this night at the Scala was a great one, but I’m also pretty sure that I didn’t throw myself into it with the complete sense of wild abandon that I had for earlier gigs such as the one at the Kentish Town forum in March 1999. Indeed, my one abiding memory from this gig was that I stood quite far back, leaning at some railings next to the stairs down to the standing area.

It would be a whole decade before I would see Kula Shaker again, for two marvelous gigs in 2016 – and rest assured, diligent reader, that I have full and detailed accounts in my diary to go on for those! But despite my scanty memories, I feel a little bit proud of myself for venturing out to see Kula Shaker this Spring evening in 2006. Because regardless of my troubled mind and dwindling obsession for music in 2006, I still made the effort to go out and see one of the greatest rock bands of the era.

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