Chaos Theory Festival: Celebrating 10 years of underground sounds

Jo Quail plays live
(Image credit: Simon Kallas)

Chaos Theory gigs were always meant to be places for DIY artists making non-commercial, "unpopular" music to find a space to play on lineups that compliment each other, as opposed to being variety shows. 

Of course, if we get the lineups right, it shows that these scenes are actually very popular, and experimental gigs are a great space to find yourself in a room with other people who are just like you; seekers of the obscure, stimulating and uncompromising. It's been an amazing and inspiring journey, as we've met so many musicians and creatives that have totally changed our perception of what's possible.

Over the last ten years, we've grown alongside some impressive artists who smash preconceptions of genres and sounds. One of our earliest gigs in 2010 was with cellist Jo Quail, in a tiny room in Notting Hill. She quickly started working with us on more upscale church events to launch her albums, and it was through her and her cohort Alan Pride that we ended up working with Jarboe for the first time in 2013. 

Our first gig with Jarboe was at Shoreditch Church, the same venue as Jo Quail's first album launch in 2011. We're now planning our fourth event with Jarboe, a fierce and creatively uncompromising cult figure we never dreamed that we'd be working with even once. 

Another band who have inspired us to do more for the DIY music scene is Vodun, who have pushed themselves to an internationally renowned level with serious graft and serious talent, which forced us to step up our game for both of their album launches. In later years, we ended up working with Author & Punisher, an artist who executes his vision and message in a powerful and visceral way, both sonically and visually. Working twice with him has inspired us to push the boat out with new event and gig concepts. 

The Chaos Theory Festival on February 29 is a celebration of so many of the artists, scenes and sounds that have sustained us and kept us sane in an insane world. Not even just at our own gigs, as the Towards Collapse Takeover is the first time we've asked another respected promotion team to curate an afterparty for us. It's been 10 Years Of Chaos and we can't wait to see what kind of artists we're going to meet over the next decade.

Below, 10 performances which sum up what Chaos Theory has achieved over the last decade, and a playlist which celebrates some of the musicians we've been lucky enough to work with since 2010 – including the ones you can expect to see at The Dome and Boston Music Room in London on the leap year.

2010 - Georges Kaplan Presents...

This very talented, very DIY duo create atmospheric noir with their stage presence. Pianist Stephan Barrett and saxophonist Dan Strange played at some of the earliest Chaos Theory jazz and acoustic nights. They were so supportive of the idea of what I was trying to do with the events, that they kept buying tickets and showing up to all gigs, bringing crowds of friends and just doing their best to get it going. There was someone from Live Nation who used to come to our nights to look for interesting artists, and GKP were one of the acts picked up by them to perform at an event in Clarence House. It was when going to see their performance there that I met photographer Naresh Kaushal, who convinced me that I should make an effort to make sure that bands got photographed at our gigs so that they and I had some memories from each night, as well as some pics to promote bands I worked with again in future. Incidentally, cellist Jo Quail was also scouted at a CT night for the Clarence House event, which was where her cohort Alan Pride first met her.

2011 - Jo Quail

Jo and I had already worked together on some small classical/acoustic nights in 2010, but this year was a big one for us, as she asked me to help manage and to promote her first album launch at Shoreditch Church. It was a huge affair, with special guest performers flying in from all over the world, 600 seats to fill – all free entry but a huge endeavour. The entire thing was run on favours and we both hit a lot of learning curves, but the result was a full house and an extraordinary event experience. There's a DVD knocking about of it somewhere called From The Sea To The Desert. This was an important one for me, because Jo is one of those musicians who never let me stop being ambitious about the quality of my events. She always demands more from herself and always tries to keep me involved, which has required me to step up to the task for all of her album launches since. Definitely one of the artists who's stopped me from becoming lazy or comfortable; the best kind of influence anyone can have.

2012 - Lost In The Riots

I had a monthly night called The Facemelter, initially at The Miller in London Bridge, which is where I met a lot of amazing bands. Lost In The Riots are a band who've been through lots over the years, but through it all they've kept themselves going, kept producing better and better albums, and I feel that they opened me up to a lot of great UK math rock bands. They're super upbeat and have always been positive and encouraging about what I was trying to do with Chaos Theory, which on at least one occasion made me decide not to quit the whole thing.

2013 - Jarboe

By now, Jo Quail was working with Alan Pride, who assisted her in managerial duties and had entered discussions about her supporting founding Swans member Jarboe. They then got me involved with the London show, introducing me to her agent. I was trying not to quiver with excitement when meeting the agent, as Jarboe is a cult legend whose work I'd enjoyed for years, but was someone I'd never even slightly imagined working with. We also put the show on in Shoreditch Church, and it was a huge evening, musically and energy-wise. This was another big step up for Chaos Theory, with it no longer just being me. We had a huge team of amazing people who made the whole thing run swimmingly. This was another milestone event that showed us how much we still had to learn, but also what we're capable of. We've since worked with Jarboe for our 5 Years Of Chaos events, in a collaboration with Father Murphy and have a fourth double-night event coming up with her. She has a particular vision for her events, which can be challenging to pull off in London, but has always kept us thinking about where we can take underground events.

2014 - Poly-Math

This was a great time for the UK math rock and post-rock scene. ArcTanGent Festival had just started the year before and I'd discovered this amazing band over there (admittedly by accident, I was planning to see someone else and went to the wrong stage). Poly-Math absolutely encompass that magic balance between catchy accessibility and complex, thought-provoking musicianship. They played at our second ever Facemelter after it had moved to The Black Heart in Camden, with Lost In The Riots and Black Peaks (then known as Shrine) and it was heaving. That was hands down, one of the best nights we've had, just 200 people going absolutely mad for it. Despite their meteoric rise in the European scene and their increasingly professional output, Poly-Math always have made time to push and support Chaos Theory gigs, and have always tried to share any opportunities with us. Mad love for those boys.

2015 - Father Murphy

In 2013, I heard Pain Is On Our Side Now, an EP that shook me to the core in its terrific brilliance and uncompromising defiance. Shortly after, I met Jarboe's tour manager, a super sweet guy called Freddie, who was very easy to work with. I later found out that he was the main composer in Father Murphy, so frantically messaged him with my approval, which he definitely didn't need. I followed this band ever since through their rituals and very carefully crafted journey, jumping at any opportunity to put them on. This year was the first time we worked with them, the last time being when they performed their split EP with Jarboe in St Pancras Old Church. Since then, Freddie has become a booking agent, responsible for some of the more out-there artists we've booked, including Muscle & Marrow and IIVII.

2016 - Vodun

I'd been a huge fan of Vodun for years, following them around DIY gigs around London. They came in last minute to help out with a cancellation at The Facemelter in December 2015, so were already in my good books when they asked me to promote their first album launch in 2016. It featured Limb and Casual Nun and exceeded everyone's expectations. They had label New Heavy Sounds behind them and, despite still managing pretty much everything themselves, had pushed for new heights, with a lot of press coverage and bigger shows than ever before. This album launch sold out and was a huge success, due to the sheer hard work of this band and the people they carefully choose to work with. They are another group of people who have pushed us to do better, with singer Chan having high standards and being a total pro, and guitarist Linz spending time with me to give me advice on little things we could do as event producers to tweak the artist experience. After a second album launch with the and their continuous support, it means a lot that they've agreed to perform at 10 Years Of Chaos.

2017 - Yowie

This USA band are exceptional. Seb Tull, who used to do our box office before he eloped with Wren to be their drummer, pointed out to me that they had a few dates in their European tour, so we got in touch. They were reluctant to come back because of all the costly visa issues, but we decided to go for it and what came after was the most convoluted scheme, involving many calls to customs, lots of research into little-known US and UK visa laws and dozens of transatlantic calls in the middle of the night. Yowie pulled out all the stops and made it over, joined by MNHM and VASA, and it was one of the most epic nights of our lives. The commitment they showed in making that happen leaves me unsurprised about how they can write such insane music. They still stay in touch and maybe one day, we can do it again...

2018 - Author & Punisher

Another visionary artist who pushes the limit of creativity, with a strong message to boot. This was another pie-in-the-sky artist who we'd never thought we'd end up working with. Tristan Shone is an engineer and sculptor, who's built his own unique machines to make music on and uses them to create industrial songs about the state of decline of humanity, and how we could use technology to save ourselves if we wanted. It was extremely exciting to promote a show with him, Trepaneringsritualen and Vera Bremerton, as it was deeply stimulating and awe-inspiring lineup. Working on this gig sparked off a lot of ideas abut where our events could go eventually, so we were over the moon to work with him again in 2019 with Lingua Ignota and Riotmiloo.

2019 - Lingua Ignota

This is a true artist. Someone who's used deeply harrowing personal experiences to create hair-raising, harrowing music, writing and visual art. Speaking with her briefly during the Author & Punisher show about her journey, showed me a true commitment to pushing back against a world that has taken so much, to finding and owning your voice and empowering others to do the same. This is an artist who reminds me why it's ok to deviate and force your own path if you must. We ended up working with her a second time last year in a joint promotion with Old Empire, a promotion with serious chops, that's also always pushed us and helped us out in equal measure over the years. The show was sold out, with support from Grave Lines and Bruxa Maria, and was basically a celebration of not taking any crap from anyone, in a very tiny nutshell.

Chaos Theory Festival: 10 Years Of Chaos will take place on February 29 at The Dome and Boston Music Room, London. See full line up below.

Chaos Theory gig poster

(Image credit: Chaos Theory)