Sunday, May 14, 2006

Electrifying Underground pt.2

Napoleon IIIrd / Seven Inches
Electric Underground @ Royal Park Cellars
Walking through a glittery, half destroyed curtain, two colourful wall hangings are obscured by a boy in bright blue boots and a cloak. The boy is leaping around at the front of the stage, seemingly enraptured by the clattering amalgamation of odd noises emitting forth from the motley crew who play upon it. As films flicker to either side of us, our eyes eventually adjust to the comparatively vast number of stimuli (upstairs, we just have the football, and some, quite frankly, embarrassing half-joking half erotic [or at least we can assume that is what effect they are meant to create] photos). Down here, we get films, music and one of the daftest bands to have ever walked (with childish glee, smelling the flowers, giggling at squirrels, feasting upon their ice creams) through our city.

Seven Inches are a delight of a band. That jumping boy (the epitome of dancing like no-one’s watching) is their front man. A man with no shame, with, apparently, no desire in life to be considered cool, or normal. Just with one priority, to enjoy himself. Just like the rest of his band, really. They battle against their own meagre abilities (some of Ian’s attempts at vocals are nothing short of laughable, but in a strangely superb way) to blast out noisy, brassy, keys-heavy pop music that manages to reference not only the early, sketchy (and overtly earnest) work of Belle & Sebastian, but also contains a lyrical daftness and fondness for keys that recalls The Fiery Furnaces.
Seven Inches are a wonder to behold. They have no interest in being famous, care not for bandwagons. A lot of bands say that they’re individuals. Very few can be believed. Seven Inches don’t even need to suggest that this is the case for them. They’re just having such a damn good time (even when the keyboardist dashes off to the toilet), playing with the kind of joy that few other bands manage to simulate. Seven Inches are not acting. Not at all. They’re genuinely there for a good time, to sing us their gloriously shambolic songs, to dance in front of the stage, and act like the bunch of bizarre fops that they are.

Napoleon IIIrd can be neatly shoved into a similar category. Musically, he and the Seven Inches are leagues apart. But both acts are there for escapism. Just try his new single, that proudly proclaims, “This is not my life / It’s just my day-job / The way I pay my rent” or ‘The Conformist Takes It All’’s rallying call of “Average is not the best you can do”. Napoleon IIIrd is the work of a normal bloke called James Mabbett. But Napoleon IIIrd is not James Mabbett. Napoleon IIIrd is James Mabbett’s escape from being James Mabbett. When James Mabbett becomes Napoleon IIIrd, he has a plethora of noises to play amongst. He can spend hours toying with trumpets, looped beats and intricately arranged backing vocals, get his backing tracks perfectly in place, then unleash them live, with the aid of yet more of his voice, his keys, his synth and his guitar.
Napoleon IIIrd is a true maverick performer. Shunning the traditional live set-up. Relying heavily on pre-recorded material. This is good. So many bands have skills too substandard to allow them to translate what they do on record into something they can do live. They are fallible.
The only thing Napoleon IIIrd has to rely on is himself and his (admittedly increasingly accident-prone) reel-to-reel tape player. So he can easily hammer out the bouncing, playful ‘Guys In Band’ or the mournful ‘The Casual Terrorist vs. The International Board of Wishing’ (“You don’t get no more / You don’t get anymore / You’re greedy…/ Be careful what you wish / Don’t dream so hard that it kills you”). We don’t have to worry about where to focus. We look at him. We enjoy his performance, we appreciate the ever improving power of his voice, the gentle, slight changes he makes every single set.
Most importantly though, beneath Napoleon IIIrd’s intricate sounds, is a ever-growing rally against the doldrums of meaningless, soulless office jobs, feeling the need to get an early night so you can work well in the morning, accepting the tiresome life that we are faced with as consumers. He’s looking at the bleakness of our day-to-day lives. He can’t make us feel that we can get around it (this man is still playing to a very thin audience on Tuesday nights in the cellar of a student boozer, after all), but he’s living proof that there are still things we can enjoy. We all need that.

(photo of Napoleon IIIrd, at another venue, at another gig, by me, EA. I rule.)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Electrifying Underground

The Somatics / Mz Sojourn / Nir Graham
Electric Underground @ The Royal Park, Leeds
Here at EA, we (by that I mean I) like to pretend that were at the cutting edge of all the new and exciting things going on in Leeds. So when I accidentally (sorry, I mean carefully planned to) came down to the Royal Park Cellars on a cold, miserable Tuesday night, I was rather excited to see odd hippy-like drapes being hung, a projector all primed a ready to go and Youre Gonna Miss Me by Thirteenth Floor Elevators (what a song) playing over the PA. It turns out that Im at the first Electric Underground (as, of course, I had meticulously planned to be). This is a fortunate mistake. This is the first of (I hope) many nights intent on showcasing the psychedelic, the odd and the generally interesting stuff going on in Leeds.
Things dont start quite as well as I couldve helped, when Nir Graham proves that having some pretty decent songs isnt quite enough for an acoustic act. Still, he often reminds me of Pavement. Thats a good thing. Of course it is. Also, I remain pretty convinced that if he played these slouching, slacker songs with a full band, theyd actually sound rather good. So please, if youre a lead guitarist, bassist or drummer in the Leeds area, get in touch with Nir Graham. He might thank me for this, or he might hate me for it. I hope its the former. I do mean well.
Lets move from one legendary American indie band to another. This time to Sonic Youth. For once Mz Sojourn stop playing violins and doing rather odd covers of The Stooges I Wanna Be Your Dog, they do a rather fine line is slow, noisy, ear bashing rock. They dont deal in the short or the catchy. Instead they test of us with the droning, the gradual and the verging on unlistenable. Thats not all, their vocalist recalls PJ Harvey. Which cant ever be a bad thing.
And then, we get three stupidly talented musicians who trade under the name The Somatics. I really need to try and go see some new bands, lest I run out of words to write about those that move me, but how can one resist the lure of The Somatics? Be it the sweet harmonies that the three members share, Richards mastery of his guitar (and his numerous effects, speaker cabs and heads that come with), Bruces showman-like drumming, or Stephs basslines, catchy, sturdy and reliable as a necessity while the boys around her do their best to show off their skills, theyre just a pleasure to behold and to listen to. They manage to mix the catchiest almost Beatles-esque melodies and ideas with a mind-bending psychedelic twist that revolves around Richards huge riffs and wailing guitar lines.
I managed to stumble upon Electric Underground by mistake, perhaps I should find myself short of things to do on weekday evenings more often?

We Are Not Amused

We Are Scientists / Forward, Russia!

@ Leeds Met
As an editor, I fucking HATE Forward, Russia!. Seriously writers, how tough is it to put a and a comma in the right place? My god. Sorry, anyway, as a music fan I fucking LOVE Forward, Russia!. And tonight, they are on fine form. Previewing tracks off their superb forthcoming album, Give Me A Wall, they manage to get the crowd going in the way most support bands cant. Which is hardly surprising when one considers the hype surrounding this Leeds four-piece. They deserve it though. Their devilishly complex and inappropriately loud pop music (or their disgracefully melodic math rock, if you want to look at it than way instead) is superb, and played with such an energy that its hardly any shock at all that the crowd starts moving when Whiskas tells them to move. They must be feeding off the energy that frontman Tom exudes in his wild gesticulations and incoherent yelps.
From the intriguing to the downright predictable. Somewhere along the line, it has become acceptable to lay into Fall Out Boy, and brand them worthless emo kids. Somehow, We Are Scientists have escaped this stereotype. They get to be counted as an indie band, or an alternative rock band, or some other pointlessly vague tag. Apparently because they dress slightly nerdily and dont wear big shorts and have silly fringes, theyre ok. But their opening song tonight is a big power-pop number about drinking oneself to blackout. Really theres not that huge a gap between them and Fall Out Boy, is there? Oh, and I like them, both.
We Are Scientists do have some cracking tunes, and a good line in undirected angst (which somehow Im not quite too old for. Woe is me etc.). But as fun as WAS manage to be for a little while, their set is scraping over the hour mark. A long time for a band with one album. Like so many fun things (booze, for example) extended exposure can be bad for you. By the thirty minute mark, Im aching for the inevitable closer that is The Great Escape (oh how Ive become a product of the short attention span MTV generation - and I dont even have MTV). But even that pleasure is held back by the penultimate song, a cover of Be My Baby which, although clearly meant in jest, is actually rather diabolical. The swathes of heavily delayed guitar (which seems somewhat too prominent in almost every song) and the plodding, moping pace make it drag horribly. So when The Great Escape comes its greeted rapturously, beer is flung, bodies are hurled around. Most people are expressing pleasure, for me, it feels more like relief.

Bad Names ; Good Bands

The Pigeon Detectives / The Hair
@ The Cockpit, Leeds
Something’s happening in Leeds at the moment. Relatively new bands, with their debut single still pending (just, this is the launch for a single due out in three days’ time) are selling out The Cockpit. That’s the power of Dance To The Radio for you. The Hair might not be associated with this label, but that doesn’t stop them being good. Neither does their quite frankly diabolical name. They whip out that kind of beat-heavy indie that can’t help but provoke all and sundry into swathes of foot tapping, head nodding and general merriment.
The Hair act as a perfect precursor to this evening’s stars, The Pigeon Detectives. They’re still quite a fledgling band, but they’re greeted as heroes by the audience. This kind of adulation, and their obviously heavy debt to a number of bands that emerged out of New York four or five years hence is instantly going to provoke doubters to scoff and turn their backs. They’re fools to do so.
To put it very simply, The Pigeon Detectives are a thrilling band. They are five young men venting the kind of frustrations that young men feel keenly, be it sex (“You know I love you / Take off your clothes / It’s alright”. Classy), or just pure angst (‘I’m Not Sorry’ and ‘I’m Always Right’). Even for one who should, by all rights, be getting a little old for this (or so I’d like to think) it’s startlingly exhilarating.
It’s not just the lyrical content that grabs us though. Musically it’s raw, it’s punchy. It’s a burst of garage pop and British punk. The songs are strong, they’re almost (but not quite) irritatingly catchy. ‘I’m Always Right’ showcases what this band do well. The twin guitars play subtle rhythms while singer Matt shouts out his vocals, and as soon as the vocals stop, the guitars erupt into messy riffs. Add to that a permanently swaying, drunken solo, and backing vocals that the Buzzcocks would be proud of, and you’ve got a class act.
It would be impossible to argue that The Pigeon Detectives are treading new ground, but we don’t always long for something new. There’s a comfort in the familiar, and there’s pleasure to be taken from the sheer youthful vigour of this band.
A sure sign that this single (‘I’m Not Sorry’) is going to do well (apart from the fact that pre-orders are almost outstripping the supply) is that when it gets played at the end of the set, the floor shakes in time to the beat as the crowd leaps around. Need I say more?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Somethings Are Quite Good In Leeds

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife, and that everything is brilliant in Leeds. Hmm.

There is a t-shirt. It is chocolate brown in colour. Upon it, there is an outline of the county of West Yorkshire. Emblazoned across this t-shirt is the legend EVERYTHING IS BRILLIANT IN LEEDS. What must have begun as a sudden flash of inspiration from a now very smug person involved in merchandising has become so much more. Suddenly, the t-shirt is accompanying ripped jeans and silly haircuts across the country. Even more worrying for the editor of a local music magazine, is that just about every other review I get submitted to me closes with the damn phrase. As if it is some kind of pithy statement.

As a Leodensian, Im not convinced that everything is quite so brilliant round here. Thats not to say that Leeds is equivalent of Netto when in comes to musical cities. Neither is it a denial that there are some excellent bands in Leeds. Its just that Leeds isnt quite as special as some would have you think. What makes us think that Leeds is like a long dormant volcano, quiet for so long, and then suddenly erupting and spurting out a relentless stream of wonderful bands? When did Leeds die, and when did it rise again? Well Ill tell you what, honey, Leeds never died, and never returned. All it is, is that people are taking notice again, thanks to Leeds lads done good, Kaiser Chiefs.

Some may belittle them, brand them a novelty act, a brit-pop throwback, but Id guess that tChiefs (as we all call them in Yorkshire, with our quaintly rough accents) dont really care too much. Theyre a roaring success. And good on em. They did it, and Im happy for them. However, here in Leeds, we have to be just a little concerned about what this means for us lot that have been left behind.

Leeds is hot apparently. The NME and The Guardian have both told us that we are a city crawling with talent, with passion and with ambition. Apparently, musically were the most exciting city that there is. Its all a scam. What we have in Leeds is a wealth of very very good bands, very few of whom sound like Kaiser Chiefs or Forward, Russia!. Very few of whom have been involved with Dance To The Radio. Very few of whom anyone outside of Leeds is going to pay any notice to. We dont have some kind of all-loving cohesive scene, where all the bands share records and ideas, and are all delighted whenever one of their number gets propelled Icarus-style to bigger, and not necessarily better things.

What we have in Leeds is probably the same thing that they have in every other city. We have a number of independent record labels, functioning with varying levels of success and with varying ambitions. We have many, many bands. Some of whom are marvellous. Some of whom are all of a sudden getting national attention. Some of whom are friends with each other, and do their best to help each other. Some of whom will say, with a look of quiet joy upon their faces, yes there is a Leeds Scene. Some of whom will say, with a look of bitter disappointment grown out of what they perceive as years of deliberate alienation, if there is, no-one ever asked me to be part of it, hmph.

The danger is that we have here will get blown out of all proportion. Bands that are still trying to find their feet and their sound will get plucked out of Leeds, ferried off around the country and end up recording career-deciding singles and albums long before they are ready for it. Bands that dont get spotted by the national press may find a decrease in gig-goers at their shows, as they all head off to see whoever is the next big thing to come from Leeds.

Equally chilling is the worry that someone will try to fashion a Leeds sound. Since our two biggest exports are currently the Kaiser Chiefs and Duels (notice, by the way, how The Music and The Gliteratti are no-longer getting a mention as being part of the Leeds scene. Good.) is Leeds going to become The City Where Brit-Pop Never Died? The place where Damon Albarn is still a captivating genius, writing brilliant pop songs about the state of the nation, and not just a cartoon. The place where Jarvis never started dressing up as a skeleton and getting involved in bizarre electro-pop. The place where the Gallaghers are still writing pub rock and fuelling their rampant egos (OK, so the last part applies to the rest of the world as well). God help us. Brit-pop was a rather wonderful phenomenon, which (rightly or wrongly) covered such great and wide-ranging bands as Elastica, Pulp and Blur. Some records from that period are still absolute classics. But the repercussions of Leeds being known as a one sound city would be nigh-on disastrous. Excellent bands such as This Et Al and iLiKETRAiNS, would have to be ignored, wiped out of existence for playing explosive noise rock and epic, murderous post-rock, respectively. The whole canon of the glorious Wrath (pronounced like Froth, but with a W, not that it really matters) would have to be swept under a huge metaphorical carpet and left to rock to no-one but themselves. Only those with the right sound would creep through. The people would get bored, very quickly, and wed be left trying to relive past glories, but getting nowhere.

All this sounds like the words of miserable bastard whos been left behind by the party doesnt it? Well thats not true. As a music obsessive, someone who, money allowing, would go to gigs almost every night of the week, living in Leeds is genuinely a delight. We do have a lot of great bands, and a handful of great labels. Together that makes for a lot of good music. Now would be a fitting place to tell you in great detail of all the bands that I like in Leeds. But nah. Id forget someone important, or worse still bore you with my earnest fannishness. Or more likely, discover that Ive reviewed the bands so many times in the past that I can no-longer think of anything new to say.

Despite my regular attendance at gigs across this fair city, Im convinced that there is a multitude of bands that I havent seen yet, but would blow me away. There are also a vast number of bands that I know are ace, and you probably havent heard of yet. But thats going to be true of almost every city youve heard of. Leeds isnt hot, but the spotlight upon us is. Look around you, I promise that every local music scene will have some superstars just waiting to be seen. Almost every band that you love has played to a half-empty pub at some point in their past. So go on, make your local venue one person less empty.

Television - Marquee Moon

Monday, March 06, 2006

Pure Rock'N'Roll Resolutions

Pure Reason Revolution / Far From The Dance / These Monsters / Alyra
Cough Syrup @ Woodhouse Liberal Club

Alyra. Perhaps Alyra suffer from a little lack of charisma, but then a band this bleak and angry can’t really bound onstage and yell “Heellllloooooo Leeds”, can they? Doubts immediately surface when Alyra start playing their droning, slow burning rock, especially when it becomes evident that the singer is having some problems sticking to keys. But just you wait. It’s about to, oh yes, here it comes “Bllllllaaaaarggghhh raaaaargggggghhhhh!!!” It all goes crunchy in a flurry of hardcore riffs and screaming. What a shock, but remember, shock ain’t necessarily a bad thing.
Compared to the raw power of Alyra, These Monsters sound positively classy. Rather than vocals, we have a saxophone to fill the gaps. The guitars are heavily delayed, the mastery of dynamics is exceptional, and what could well, at a quiet volume, sound cheesy sounds great when it’s turned up so loud.
Before the night goes on, I need a question answering: what the fuck are these ‘special balloons’? Why is everyone inhaling them? And why hasn’t anyone given me one? Continue.
Perhaps the influence of a ‘special balloon’ might have made the experience of seeing Far From The Dance (or, the-artists-formerly-known-as-Serotonin) slightly more thrilling. Surrounded by the other bands on this bill, Far From The Dance sound positively pop. Sure they may be a little epic, but no more so than many mainstream bands of the ilk of Coldplay. They do manage to surprise with their closing number however, when it breaks into a trance keyboard riff and all goes a little disco.
And then, there was Pure Reason Revolution. Grand. Incredible. It’s a mixture of the divine and the really quite nastily loud. The tunes are all cleverly concealed beneath masses of reverb and very long songs (this is a band whose debut one-track single clocked in at over twelve minutes. Pretentious, us?). When you manage to dig them there tunes out, you realise it’s been worth the effort. Really, to call this post-rock is missing the point. This is really ballsy rock’n’roll, just stretched out almost to breaking point. It’s done with brains, and three way harmonies. Even the moody (read nonexistent) stage banter can be forgiven when you realise just how adeptly this band master both the serene and the explosive.

(photo Pure Reason Revolution by ME, ME, ME, I'm ace, me)


Be Your Own Pet
@ The Cockpit

I’ve been living a lie. For most of my mature life, I’ve considered myself to be a strong believer in indie pop, and romance. Now I have four (pseudo?) trailer trash garage rock’n’roll fiends making me throw myself around with reckless abandon. As the gorgeous blonde singer yells “I’m here to take your money!… And I’m here to steal your virginity!”, I don’t find myself thinking “oh, how crass”, I look to see where I can sign up for this offer.
What’s happened to me?
More importantly what’s possessed the youth who, during the aforementioned song (‘Bunk Trunk Skunk’ FYI), stage-dived nose first into the floor, only to immediately rejoin the fray? This is some strange power that Jemina (for that is the name of tonight’s punk rock siren) and her band of noise making bastard brothers hold. It is causing us to act in such a foolish manner, making us simply forget that some bitch in heels is pogo-ing on our toes. We’ll remember that when the dull pain comes back in the morning.
We’ve been won over by the rock’n’roll.
That is the key. Infatuations aside, the strength that Be Your Own Pet possess is pure raw primal energy. This is rock’n’roll in its full thrills and spills and sex and violence and fire (only the last of those is solely invoked lyrically) glory. It’s the sound of The Ramones finding their feminine side. It’s very messy, always dangerously close to grinding to a shambolic halt; the buzz comes from watching them narrowly avoid disaster every time.
You really feel like they mean it as well. Set closer ‘Damn Damn Leash’ gets interrupted when Jemina stops the song and starts ranting: “Do you know what, we fucked that up. Do you know why? The guys at the back aren’t dancing. What the fuck is wrong with you? Why aren’t you having fun and living your life?”. And then ‘Damn Damn Leash’ starts again. The room surges, and you realise that she’s helped you. Sure, we can enjoy ourselves while keeping a respectable distance, but a band like this need you to, quite literally, throw yourself into the songs. And after that vicious line of questioning, how can we say no?

(photo of Be Your Own Pet, by me)


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Noisy Buggers

Noisettes - Iwe (Transgressive Records)
There are rumours flying round magazines, internet forums and venues that the Noisettes are the new exciting force in rock’n’roll. Pah! Tell me something I haven’t known since I first clapped eyes on them back in the halycon days of November 2004 when I confidently declared that the Noisettes were “the fucking MESSIAHS of soul, on acid”. Me, a trendsetter? But of course. Then we got The Three Moods of The Noisettes EP. That turned out to be ace. Then it all went quiet for a bit. Then, they turned up at The Vine in Leeds, I missed them, but, by all accounts, they were stunning. Then this.
The good people at Transgressive Records (who brought us such wonders as The Young Knives and Rumble Strips) decided to put out probably one of the best rock’n’roll tracks to have ever graced by ears. It deserves this credit for its sheer exuberance, its unhinged noise and the air of disaster which hangs around upon it’s completion.
Each time the heavily distorted guitar fires up, with each tortured, blood drenched cry that Shingai lets loose from her lips, with every primal thumping of the drums, this record just oozes adrenaline. What the fuck does “iwe” mean? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure it ain’t particularly nice. Certainly, the thundering noise that accompanies its cry suggests that it isn’t something to be embraced.
Rock’n’roll with an abundance of soul, inventiveness, sass and an obscene amount of energy is quite difficult to stumble across these days. So we really do need to embrace this mismatched bunch. They’ve mastered vitriolic rock, they also do a good line in loungey funk with an underlying discordance. Perhaps if the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were more than the just the pretty faces they turned out to be, then they could have made the Noisettes redundant. But no, the Noisettes have taken a now rather tired punk-funk blueprint and made it sound vital, vicious and vehement.
Really the Noisettes (and especially front punk vixen Shingai) really should be stars. They have the skills, the sheer raw power and the diversity to make this writer sit mesmerized through an obscene number of listens. Now, I must go sort out the numerous things I should have been doing while leaving this record on repeat.

Top Banana

The Scarlet Tuesday - ‘A Perfect Quarter’ / Balor Knights - ‘Just Cos Keenan Says So’
(Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation)

A move down the M1 seemed so tempting a few months back. It became, sadly, no longer viable. Now, slipping this brand new record onto my deck, I begin to long for the grey, miserable streets of Sheffield yet again. Really, in Leeds we just don’t produce bands like this. We may like to think that our clubs, pubs and terrace houses are just rammed full of interesting, quirky individuals, but these records just rip these perceptions to shreds. In Leeds we have good songwriters, and very good bands, but Sheffield is a step ahead of us. In Sheffield their bands (well their best bands, at least) are taking pop blue prints and skewing them around, playing with it, breaking it into small pieces then haphazardly gluing it back together and saying to teacher “will this do?”.
Well allow me to be teacher, and say this: “Yes Sheffield, it’s delightful, you may have broken it, but the strange manner in which you have attempted to repair it has just made it even better. I love you”. After this last utterance, my job as a teacher would, more than likely, be no more, but as long as I could take this slab of vinyl as a parting gift, I would leave a rich man.

Recorder solos. Wonderful. Twirling, swirling, twinkling keyboard noises. Great shared male/female vocals. A wonderfully simple guitar solo. Jerking guitar lines. My God, I love ‘A Perfect Quarter’. So much so, infact that I am yet to experience the flip-side. I have, actually just spent the last twenty minutes revelling in the childish beauty of The Scarlet Tuesday (I must be tempting repetitive strain injury. As wonderful as vinyl is, I wish there was a ‘repeat button’. Still, perhaps that delightful hiss and click when the needle just finds the groove is worth the constantly getting up and starting over again. Plus, how many CDs are Banana Yellow?). Had a children’s choir and The Television Personalities attempted to cover The Ronettes, it would probably have ended up sounding like this record. The recorder solo really is a delight, tooting away, naively, innocently accompanying the evil sounds of rock’n’roll. The juxtaposition of the sweet-as-pie vocals and recorder in contrast to the occasional loud bursts of guitar and cyclones of drums is just intoxicating. And then it ends in the two rising notes of the recorder, and suddenly I wish I hadn’t given it up for the clarinet (which in turn I then gave up for the guitar, no regrets there, I am a rock’n’roll beast now, after all).

And now at last, I feel I must flip the record over. It better be good…

Oh, and look, it is. A bouncy bassline gives way to a choppy guitar riffs and some girly vocals which go “a-do-do-do-doo” and “wo-ah wo-oh wo-oh”, always a good sign. It’s more deranged than The Scarlet Tuesday, seems slightly more likely to grind to a messy halt, not that it ever does. It’s rawer, punchier and as such lacks the wonderful tweeness of The Scarlet Tuesday. But then it’s old horses for courses thing, isn’t it. Some will find the recorder of ‘A Perfect Quarter’ despicable, and be looking for something harder, faster, ballsier. And that’s where Balor Knights step in. Well, except they don’t step in. They launch themselves forward with a sharpened stiletto heel and flailing drum sticks, demanding that we listen. Who are we to turn our backs on such a riotously messy pop song?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I’m So Bored With The M.O.R.

Of all the people I know, I’m the most easily pissed off at gigs. The one most likely to get distracted. The one whose head is most likely to be drifting off elsewhere when it should be focused on the bands playing. It’s not because I’m not interested. Oh no. It’s because I care too much. Honest.
See, I often moan about Shit Bands (I use this as a generic term, a genre, if you will). People nod along, and say, “yeah it’s so annoying when you turn up to a gig and the band can’t play very well and have to play covers to bulk out their sets”.
STOP!” I say to these people (and stop they will, the fools), “for this is not the kind of band of which I speak. The truly shit bands aren’t those that can’t play, that can’t fill half an hour with original compositions, I don’t mind them too much (Sometimes, it’s nice that they’re trying, inspite off all the genetic malfunctions which make them incapable of producing anything boarding upon talent. Infact, sometimes I like them more for their ineptitude. It’s endearing, isn’t it? And sometimes, the least talented make the best rackets. It’s an odd theory but true. Those with no music training, no real understanding can sometimes make the best noise. They’re untutored in the way of forming chords or producing melodies. Occasionally [and this really is truly seldom] they come up with this bizarre primal noise which manages to be moving and exhilarating almost by accident).
No, the bands that bother me, the bands that I’ll happily lumber with the tag Shit Bands, are the truly, horribly mediocre. You know who you are.
The bands that set my teeth on edge, get my body creating all sorts of strange, evil bile, make my brain wish it could somehow turn my ears off, are those that can play well, know how to write a song but don’t take advantage of it. The dull, the uninventive, the absolutely uncreative. The ones that know how to create a catchy melody through a clever chord change, but don’t know how to change a catchy tune into a moving one (this is not something you can learn, or teach, some people just have the ability, most don’t). The ones that write ten songs, and then go around playing the same set for years, making no advances, doing nothing that could even be considered just a little daring.
It is these bands that are the true scourge of the earth. Unfortunately, it is also these bands that promoters will book over and over, who will be able to drag a load of (presumably) hearing impaired mates down to their gig. Mates who are too cruel (if you have to be cruel to be kind, then not being cruel must be cruel, yes?) to tell the band how mind-numbingly, brain-rottingly dull their band is, mates who use the gig as an excuse to get pissed and perhaps try and get off with some bird that hangs around the band. These bands get the gigs, they play them all the time, and they put the casual punter off.
No-one dares take their chances and pop their head into a gig featuring four unknown bands anymore. Why? Because it will inevitably be full of the bands that I, and any right thinking human being, detest. It will be dull. Call me a bad journalist, a bad scenester, call me what you will, but normally if no-one but mates have heard of a band, it is for very good reason, and it should probably remain that way.
Infact, no, it shouldn’t remain this way. The very worst offenders - those who have convinced themselves that they’re in the best band since the Stone Roses, and wear shades to all their gigs, with sports wear, naturally - should be gathered together. Once in one room, they should be punished by having to listen to each other sets. Repeatedly. I’m not a harsh man, so eventually their punishment shall be ceased, and their, by now, slush of brains shall be removed and put on display above the stage at every venue. Then perhaps some bands will think twice before taking the stage again.”

By this point, whoever I’m speaking to has edged away from me slowly, I’m rocking back and forth, and perhaps cackling a little as a huge space on the floor forms around me. “People just aren’t ready for my truth I’m afraid. One day, they will learn, and they will apologise for doubting me, and doubting my convictions. One day. One glorious day when all bands will be great, when I will run all the venues and all the music press. Oh how I long for that day.”

Oh, am I speaking out loud again? I am sorry.

The Smiths - Meat Is Murder

Broken Social Scene - You Forget It In People
(yes, still)

(I didn't have a picture of me yawning, so this pinched one of a dull looking lady will do)

Hard To Love Easy To Play

So, what do you love about music?
What a question. What a minefield. What a tricky little bastard of an interviewer to ask me that (oh ok, so I’m interviewer and interviewee, apparently. Well then I’m a bastard. Ace. I’ve always wanted someone to call me a bastard and really mean it. I don’t think I really am a bastard, not once I step away from my keyboard of fury, so this may be the closest I ever get). So, parenthesises behind, this is such a tricky question. I could make a not-at-all-clever off the cuff response and give you a list of bands or songs (of the top of me head: Broken Social Scene, Dylan (naturally), The Stooges (ditto), Why?, Arcade Fire, Pulp, ‘Teenage Kicks’, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. You know the bag, the obvious, the somewhat less obvious, the obscure, just to make me look cool), or I could try and actually articulate what it is that makes me want a job in music, makes me want to spend my life spreading the word about assorted bands and singers, sharing the love, trying to make famous those who I feel deserve it, revelling in my obsessions.
I suppose I should do that really, otherwise, this would be a list, and nowt else. And that would be what boring music magazines do to try and fill pages when their inspiration has run out. If this blogspot ever runs out of imagination, I want it to die, preferably implode, on the spot, quickly and painfully.

Anyway. Hi. What do I love about music?

1) I love that it can appeal to my moods. Feeling pissed off? Well then stick on The Stooges, shout along with Iggy. In a good mood? Then jump around your room while yelling the words to ‘Hey Scenesters!’ by The Cribs. There is always, always a song to suit your mood.

2) Not only can music be used to mould seamlessly, joyously and loudly around our mood, it can effect our moods. It really can. Listen to ‘Most of the Time’ by Dylan. I bet that you feel a little upset and a little pissed-off. Listen to anything by The Stooges, and you just know that Iggy’s aimless, directionless, but oh sure pure anger is going to end up coursing through your veins. You will yell, tunelessly, along, whether you wish to or not. The all-encompassing misery of Low will get to you. Always.
Who needs mind altering drugs when we have music? No, I’m not kidding. If I want to spew up a steaming mound of bile and hatred, then I can listen to ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ by My Chemical Romance (probably one of the least cool songs I can admit to enjoying, but it moves me, genuinely. Despite all its fake posturing and synthesised angst, I can relate with it. In some really odd, embarrassing, sub-teen angst way. I would apologise, but I don’t really care) and it will bring this up for me. Whether previously I was feeling all lovey-dovey or not.

3) It can really, really hurt your brain. Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, I consider to be an utter mind-fuck. The multi-layered noise. The jolting sounds. The lack of respect for the holy power of the tune. It hurts me, and I love it. What can a boy do but remain lost somewhere between desire and loathing? Ditto for White Light / White Heat. There are tracks on there that go on for over ten minutes, ten minutes of something verging on white noise. It’s a delight. As long as your head isn’t full of hangover. Then it really does cause pain.

4) It has inspired some of the great writing of our time. Lester Bangs. Charles Shaar Murray, Johnny Cigarettes, Steven Wells. And locally (this man would be embarrassed, and perhaps lightly, jokingly, but viciously, slap me around the head for this, but fuck it, he deserves it) Johnny Ersatz-Culture, Sandman Leeds writer extraordinaire (and bassist in Leeds’ very own indie-chancers Unexploded Shells, to those of you out of the loop). Ok, so they ain’t no Austens, Brontes, Greenes, McEwans. But these writers have the ability to convey popular culture to the masses. They can express what I am struggling to express here, their love, or their hatred. There’s little (or no) money involved in music journalism (unless I’m getting seriously cheated here), yet they write out of passion, they want to tell us which bands they loathe and which they cherish.

5) Harmonies. Harmonies are brilliant. Many of the best songs have ‘em. Something about a great vocal harmony somehow sends these waves of delight from your ear, all the way through your body. It will make you fall in love with records that, otherwise, you would consider sentimental cheesy shit. A genuinely great harmony (we’re talking Pet Sounds Beach Boys here, not McFly [although they are pretty great, but only in a naff, poppy way, they don’t move me like Brian Wilson can]) can transform a song. Hell, it can transform me. The same goes for a great guitar or bass riff, a stunning lyric. Even a good drum part can do this. I can’t explain why, it’s surely got something to do with the bones in our ears and electrons in our bones. It’s impossible to identify what turns you on musically. Just as, when your eyes rest upon a girl that you adore, you could never adequately define or describe quite what it is that stirs you so, a great moment in a great song is tough to place your finger upon. The record comes on in a club, “this record, is ace” you may slur to the unsuspecting drunkard next to you, “and this bit this bit [queue a little sing-along] is A-mazing”. You will actually say a-mazing. It’s a fucking dreadful semi-pun on a word, but you will use it. There’s no other word to define that musical phrase that you adore so.

6) Getting records. There’s something so very very lovely about records. Be it CDs, or vinyl (obviously vinyl looks nicer and sounds better, but, like the magpie, I appreciate the shiny charms of the CD). Also, a music collection, a serious one, is a work of beauty. Racks upon boxes upon racks upon shelves of music is a wonder to behold. One must take a journey through every new collection that one sees, draw conclusions from it, appreciate it, perhaps even criticise it. That is the power that the recorded medium of music can hold over us.

7) Gigs. Unbridled showers of masculinity (all gigs seem to be attended by a predominantly male audience. Maybe I should go to more pop concerts? Perhaps this can explain the abject failure of my ‘love’ life), a place for great musicians to show off (tastefully, otherwise the experience would be akin to watching someone masturbate, I’d imagine), a place for the shit to be put to shame, a place for the true emotion behind a song to be expressed. There is no wall between the performer and the fan. On record, our enjoyment can be tempered by the production, the quality of our stereo and how damaged the record/CD is. Live, yes, we may still have to deal with PAs and soundmen, but we can see the artist. We can understand. Or at least try to.

8) Discovering who you can trust. How great is it when you find a record label that you love? When you can rely on their output, buy everything they release, form a collection of records. Just wait til you find Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation. Wait til you get vinyl by The Long Blondes, Chuck, Champion Kickboxer and Smokers Die Younger. Look at the stuff that Dance To The Radio releases. Most of what Rough Trade sends to us, or Domino. There’s so much great stuff, and when you know where to look for it, that’s when the magic starts.

So yeah, I love music. It moves me. It has, previously, moved me to tears (FYI, the last record that did this to me was Antony & The Johnsons I Am A Bird Now, one miserable summer evening, curled up in bed, my headphones on and my head a mess, aren’t I emo?), it can also whip a great big grin across my face. It can occasionally make me furious (there really is some unmitigated shit out there), but more often, it makes me happy, or at least happier. And anything that can cheer me up, well, that must be a good thing. Something to cherish, and something to try and hold onto for the rest of your life. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go be a complete sap elsewhere.

Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
Bromheads Jacket - various recordings I have collated
Smokers Die Younger - ‘It’s Coming Straight For Us’ / ‘Kermit Song’ / ‘Five-0’

(photo of a hand, that isn't mine, gripping a sexy looking seven inch EP by me. I was actually trying to get the band behind the hand, but liked the picture anyway. Even if it ain't got much to do with this piece)

Indie? Moi?

Herman Düne
@ Brudenell Social Club

You’d be hard-pressed to find two frontmen as different as Andre and David from Herman Düne. At the one extreme, we have Andre; nonchalant, barely speaking to us, almost lethargic. Hardly, it appears, bothered to play or sing at all. Then we have David. His two feet never touching the floor at the same time, turning up his amp so he can play what should be (but somehow aren’t) ill-fitting guitar solos, and occasionally choosing to sing-along with the guitar or trumpet solos. Despite their drastic differences, both are excellent performers. Andre relies on the simple, plain emotion of his voice, whereas David plays around as the slightly unhinged, troubled singer.
The combination works wonderfully here. Not because you are captivated by either band member, but because between them, they write wonderfully simple, unadorned folk music. David and Andre switch between providing lead vocals, or gorgeously understated harmonies, and also between playing bass, electric or acoustic guitar. Behind them their dual percussionists (and occasional trumpeters) provide the constant beat through the varied mediums of a basic drum kit, sleigh bells, bongos, a triangle and various other instruments that I haven’t seen since junior school.
Somehow, much of the audience at the Brudenell doesn’t seem overly keen. This is quiet music, relying on its lyrical subtleties, clever use of percussion and wonderful chord changes. How this can be fully appreciated while one noisily chats away, pint in hand, is incomprehensible, but then they’re the ones who miss out.
Those of us with the common decency to listen can revel in the simple, clever tales of relationships, unrequited love and the like (you know what I’m talking about here - the same themes that everyone indulges in - but Herman Düne do these themes so very well), and be gleefully suckered in by their simple folk melodies. Much of the set appears to be new songs - and from the evidence on display we must really look forward to the next album - which carry themselves care-free (and rightly so) alongside the more well known material from Not On Top.
Of course, for a band that make such good use of the contrasting male and female voices and enjoy dissecting a relationship from both voices, the lack of any female vocals does detract from proceedings occasionally, as does the infrequent need for, perhaps, one extra guitar. But then touring away from your own country is a costly affair, and you can hardly begrudge them for a little bit of thriftiness.
Really, when songs are of such a high quality of ‘Not On Top’ or ‘You Could Be A Model, Goodbye’, any simplicity in their performance can be instantly forgiven when we open ourselves up to the tunes and the earnest vocals.

(photo of Herman Düne stolen from a website, sorry, it just looked so nice, y'know, and it's not like anyone reads this, is it?)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Promoting Happy Hours

I am, or at least I would like to consider myself, a promoter. Not of the having to run an entire venue every night of the week sort, oh no, that would be no fun. I put on gigs on a monthly basis, occasionally two a month if something special chances to cross my path (which it rarely does).
Now why on earth would I want to be a promoter? For starters, it’s hard work, and I don’t allow myself to make anything even close to a tidy profit. Secondly, I become a little less anonymous when I’m the one making sure that bands soundcheck on (something vaguely resembling) time, or try and tell them they only have one song left before they must be off the stage (and no, it can’t be a fifteen minute epic). They begin to notice my existence, and from then on they can point me out to others. Through this I have met some lovely people, but I’ve also had to deal with those who haven’t fully appreciated the words I have written about them in the past. Hopefully my charm will be such that no attempts on my life will be paid.
Since, I’ve kind of started interviewing myself elsewhere on this ‘ere blog, I might as well do it again:

So, why did you feel you wanted to be a promoter?
Disillusionment. That’s the primary motivation. There are a lot of promoters in this city. Some of them are rubbish. Some of them put on a stream of poorly attended gigs, and yet more sign up to do it all the time.
Do we really need gigs on every single night at about seven or eight venues?
Are there enough good (I mean really, genuinely good, I’d buy a record by them, go see them again, recommend them to a friend, good) bands in this city to play all these venues?
Oops sorry, you’re meant to be asking the questions, not me. Carry on.

Surely though, by putting on a night yourself, you’re adding to this flurry of promoters?
Well yes, and no. See, I am another promoter, running another gig. But I only do this once a month. I can make this gig an event. I can only pick bands that genuinely excite me. Bands that I have loved, bands that I am convinced I will love, bands that I am currently in love with. Who needs a really big crowd puller? Putting on a gig is cheap, as long as I can cover costs and give the bands a little something for their time, I’m happy.
I want people to come to my gigs because my gigs have a pedigree. I want them to know that if they come to my night, the bands will be good. I want them to trust my opinions, to know that I’m not booking bands because I have three spaces to fill on a Monday night, and really, I’ll settle for anyone, but because I believe in the bands.
Gigs should be an event. They should attract people down because it’s their mates band, and they feel obliged, but because there is a indisputably thrilling line-up, one that’s been thought through, and one that will be entertaining from the off. Gigs should not, I repeat, not, become background noise for socialising.

So in short, I’m a promoter (of sorts) because I believe in music. I believe in trying to make people hear bands that, in my not-so-humble opinion, are ace. I want gigs to be special events. I think that’s a very good motivation, is it not?

Lightning Bolt - Hypermagic Mountain
Hefner - assorted b-sides

(photo of an exciting moment from an exciting gig that i promoted, by me)