I arrive inside Hector’s - a pub on Brighton’s sodium-lit London Strip. It is a straightforward hollow cuboid in the conventional style. You will find it to be about 17 paces wide, with the stage offset and balanced positionally with the door which is located in the same wall. Mounted speakers pour the sound of recorded electric guitars into the room, filling it slowly like a bath.
While the void fills I am at the bar catching both eyes of the barman intermittently for several minutes. We swap glances; I think he thinks I am trying to mate with him but I just want some beer. I point at the beer, he blushes and pours me a pint. He must do this a lot as there are several other men with furrowed brows (and no drinks) standing around the bar. Maybe they will learn from me.
There are about forty humans here now, of both sexes. Groups of various sizes and made up of varying ratios of male and female speak with each other. Some laugh uproariously with their tongues hanging out and others clench their jaws and twitch their necks. They are all expressing the same thing. I cannot help but notice that some of the girls are drinking fluorescent purple cocktails and I wonder where they bought these. Only the girls have them, but both boys and girls hold shining silver cigarettes in their mouths, like white-hot thermometers. The glowing drinks and the luminescent cigarettes make for a distracting light-show as they cast shadows of laughing jaws and waving hands onto the walls and the ceiling.
The stage area hosts some activity as last minute preparations are concluded. Three humanoids in black overalls and welding masks are hunched over a fountain of blue sparks. I stand on tiptoes so see what they are up to and it becomes clear that they are tuning the bass guitar. On another part of the stage I see the strings of the non-bass guitar still throbbing red hot from their own tuning routine.
At the back of the stage, mechanical arms drop from a gap in the ceiling and assemble the drum-kit. The drums are prepared by machines in the upstairs chamber so as to avoid excessive discomfort for the audience while the components are tensioned and buffed. I could watch the machines assembling and disassembling the drumkit all night long and indeed, for many, this is the only reason they come.
The robot arms place the last two cymbals on their stands and retreat silently into their compartment. A few guys without drinks leave the room.
I didn’t notice the welders leaving the stage. The recorded music is turned up and the footlights are ignited, sending thick acrid smoke into the eyes of the most eager fans, who gag and collapse, coughing up bile; their faces pressed against the floor.
Conversations stop as a lady in a blue and black striped robe walks toward the stage. Her hood is pulled over her face. Her hands are each tucked into the other’s sleeve. The recorded music takes on a funeral-march aspect, playing out on a hundred lamenting guitars. A visible chill follows her, conjuring a freezing fog into the air she passes through it. Frost settles onto the wooden floor in her wake and it sparkles in the silver and purple lights of the audience’s refreshments.
The hooded lady steps up to the main microphone. From the shadows of her hidden face, red lips appear, and split like a mouth. White teeth, still closed, approach the microphone. A wave of quiet washes through the room, snatching breath from the throats and muting the speakers. At the centre of a frozen silence, her teeth barely part and a hiss slithers out of them. The hiss is held for a few seconds; we hear it through the sound system. An amplified beam of white sound - as delicate and as hard as glass shards - is slowly lanced into the soft inner ears of those who thought themselves strong enough to forgo ear protection. As the hiss fades, we see the foolhardy fall to their knees, clutching their dead ears as blood seeps from their clenched eyelids. Five bodies slump to the floor and are concealed by the unsympathetic crowd.
“One.” The sound lady speaks. The air reverberates in thickening pulses. “Two.” the ‘tuh’ of the word slaps our faces; the ‘ooo’ stirs our loins. “One...one...two two two, one.” A few more people collapse, convulsing as the rest of us focus on each other’s faces to avoid losing our balance. The hidden eyes of the sound lady sweep back and forth once. Seemingly satisfied, she floats off stage to her booth of sound. A murmur of expectant conversation trickles back into the room, though the recorded guitars are now absent. It is nearly time. I return to the bar.
The barman sees me straight away and leaves to collect glasses. I follow closely behind him. We get back to the bar and I grasp his elbow. “You know what I want” I whisper to him. He can’t look me in the eye but nods and fetches a bottle of the beer. People look at us and talk behind their hands. I take up a position behind everybody and watch the band take the stage.