Ever tried to have a conversation with someone when they are wearing a mask? I don’t mean a fancy dress mask, Halloween mask, cat and whiskers, or a masquerade ball mask. I mean a full on, industrial metal welder’s mask.
It’s harder than you may think. That’s why, a few Sundays ago I found myself in a dirty bathroom in Brixton. In front of me stood two men. Dressed all in black, sweat dripping off their forearms, they were peering at me from behind some sinister looking masks, heads cocked to the side. “Where are you from?” I ask them, trying to make this situation feel more normal. “The future” they tell me. I nod as if I know what that means; as if that’s the answer I was seeking.
At least I can hear them a little more now we’ve relocated to this grim room full of urinals. I suspect that “the future” actually means Italy. In their home country, these guys are fondly known as “Cyborg One and Cyborg Zero”. Together they make The Cyborgs
. I can’t work out which is which, but I introduce myself with sign language, in case they can’t hear me through their masks. “I’m Burgers and Bruce”. I wave my hands around, miming a burger and Bruce Springsteen. Cringe. That’s not my name. I also don’t know where to look when I’m speaking. All I can see is my distorted reflection in the little glass screen of their masks. I drop my eyes down, to speak to the grill just below their mouths, where the sound is coming from. Yes that seems better.
Of course this story starts with Springsteen
. Fellow fans will know that Bruce rarely has a band perform before him when he’s touring. The exceptions of this are his festival appearances, for example Hard Rock Calling in London in 2012, when Tom Morello
stamped his feet and sung/shouted at us with a low, gravelly tone. Apart from that one occasion, I’ve always been keen on conserving my energy before Springsteen comes on stage. That often means sitting down, in my spot in the pit, after queuing for hours in the heat and rain. I need this time rest and reflect, and prepare for what I will experience later.
I look up at the Italians standing around me. The late evening sun is bouncing off their glasses. For a second I wonder why so many Italians wear glasses. Is it fashion or do they all have bad eye sight? They are squinting in the light but they are all smiling. I scramble up to see what I’m missing.
On the stage I see two men, one long and thin with a guitar, one shorter and rounder, sat behind a budget drum kit. The sun is also bouncing off the tiny little square of glass on their masks.
And so for one hour we are entertained by this dynamic, infectious, addictive duo. Cyborg Zero’s legs are bending all over the place. Cyborg One comes round to the front of the huge stage, and starts to play the ‘drums’ on Cyborg One’s mask. The stage is too big for this two man band but they hold their own.
I never thought I was a blues metal fan. But like many teens of the 90s I’ve had my time. I learnt (or at least tried to) every Rage Against The Machine song on the bass guitar. I’ve been thrown around mosh pits at, forgive me, Placebo and Papa Roach concerts. But here I am in my twenties, developing a new love for blues metal rock.
Fast forward a few weeks after that evening in Rome and I’m back in London, in Brixton. I’m in a place called The Hootananny, a large pub with live music. It’s a Sunday night and it’s empty. It couldn’t be further from that field in Rome full of thousands of passionate Italians. I look really out of place, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person that isn’t off my face on something or other.
I’m here for The Cyborgs of course.
The Cyborgs are now on stage, a stage a fraction of the size of that stage in Rome. They are performing to a room of 15 people max. A young boy, 19 or so, appears from the beer garden and walks across the ‘pit’ towards the loo. He looks at the stage and stops suddenly, double taking at the two men playing instruments in welders’ masks. He stands in the middle of the pit, the only person in the empty space, and watches them, mouth hanging open. This time the strobe lights reflect on his glasses. A smile forms on his face and I know why. Because I was there a few weeks ago. He has discovered “the future”.
I abandon my pint and crisps to join him, and people slowly start to trickle forward. My suspicions are confirmed, I am definitely the only sober person here. Around me there’s anyone ranging from a granny in a rain coat jabbing her fists to the ‘Cyborg Boogie’ whilst another woman is dancing with a short cream fluffy figure. Yes there’s a dog on the dance floor. And he seems to be enjoying it too.
So The Cyborgs appeal to a whole manner of people, from a Springsteen fan like myself to Brixton’s most street granny. After the concert in Rome I know all the songs, I’m singing along. It’s impossible to not dance like an idiot to The Cyborgs, I’m bending all over the place. It’s really quite liberating.
90 minutes later the set ends to a full room, a crowd full of happy faces energised from their unexpected Sunday night work out. As soon as the music stops everyone wanders off to their own little planet again. I don’t know where they are going but it looks like fun. I take the chance to speak to The Cyborgs, this band who in such a short amount of time I’ve grown to adore. I just want to help them, I want them to do well. I want more people to discover the brilliantness of The Cyborgs.
So that’s how I find myself in that graffiti scrawled tiled room full of urinals. The combination of welder masks and thick Italian accents means I can’t hear or understand what they are saying anywhere else in the pub. It is a bit strange, I admit.
I exchange cash for a CD costing a very reasonable £10. The setting makes it feel like a dodgy deal, but this is much more innocent. Cyborg Zero (or is it Cyborg One?) thrusts something into my hand. “A gift” he tells me, gas mask bobbing eagerly. I look down to a furry little black piece of fabric and put it in my pocket.
“Thanks I say. That means a lot”. I nod seriously.
I bid them farewell and wish them luck on their tour. I feel a little sad walking out the door, hoping I’ll see them live again. It might mean going back to Italy, which I suppose would be no bad thing.
On the bus home I pull the furry black thing out of my pocket. “What on earth is this??” I ask my friend. “Is it a sponge?” he replies.
We ponder over it a while and I decide it can sit on the window sill at home.
It turns out it’s a Cyborg magnet, and it now has pride of place on my fridge.
A little reminder every day, of the brilliant band from the future called The Cyborgs.
Please, go listen.
You can find out more about The Cyborgs on their website.
And this is The Cyborgs Boogie: