Sunday, 6 December 2009

Gallows @ Foundry 06/12/09

It was a bit of a shock when Gallows signed a £1million contract with Warners back in 2007. An audacious move for both parties, the former sacrificing their credentials in a scene that places such pride in DIY ethics and the latter putting an enormous amount of faith in a band that, despite its devoted following, is never going to truly trouble the mainstream.
Perhaps then, the greatest shock of their Foundry gig was learning that they had been dropped and now they ‘don’t have to pay their money back’ according to Frank Carter, denouncing any allegiance to those who ‘paid for [his] house’. So, this begs the question, have Gallows been all the more punk for taking the major’s money and not compromising to pressures?
The crowd’s unfortunate inertia prevalent throughout the support slots is quashed from the very second Gallows take to the stage, Carter swaggering on in typical fashion, hood up, glaring out over the throng. Within the first riff of opener ‘Leeches’, the tone is set, the floor becomes a maelstrom of bouncing two-steps and flailing limbs. It’s quite clear that this is set to be the most raucous show the union has seen this year, if not ever
The band give a comprehensive lesson in crowd participation, calling for all sorts of heroic manoeuvres, including but not limited to, a wall of death, a human pyramid and getting ‘everyone on someone else’s shoulders’. What is commendable is their alarming ability to act as ringmaster to the circus before them while still keeping their performance watertight and managing to maintain their own adrenaline levels throughout.
Highlights of the set include an appearance by ‘hometown hero’ Eva Spence of Rolo Tomassi for a rendition of Black Heart Queen which (almost) makes up for her band pulling out of their support slot, the unfeasibly large circle pit that opens up for the minute-long thrash of ‘Gold Dust’ and the howl-along of closer ‘Orchestra of Wolves’. By this stage the levels of crowd surfing and stage invasions more than answers the call to make security ‘earn their money’. They may not have proved major label material, but we love them all the more for it.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Portugal. The Man @ The Shakespeare 30/10/09

When a band stick a full-stop in the middle of their name you can perhaps expect a little pretence. Which is why Portugal. The Man are such a compelling act, given their understated sound that takes in elements of funk, soul and blues and manages to feel nostalgic, yet fresh and altogether rather likeable. However, it seems that in a live setting, the same part of their collective soul that chose the moniker takes over.

With the microphone facing stage right, front man John Gourley doesn’t make eye contact with the assembled crowd once throughout the entire show, and for the most part keeps his hat on and hood up so that his face is obscured. It’s clear that he’d rather his band’s music did the talking. And the talking they want to do is evidently of the ambling storytelling variety, in a set that is full of improvised jams, extended passages and even takes in short, apparently almost incidental covers.

Ordinarily, this deviation from the sound of a band’s recorded output would be encouraged, but the pomp on display just doesn’t seem to suit the humble confines of the Shakespeare’s upstairs function room, and much of the crowd seem subdued. The problem lies in our expectations. Having heard the band master the three minute pop song on latest album The Satanic Satanist it seems a shame when they choose to play anything but live. Even ‘People Say’ from that album is given a great deal of embellishment which all but doubles its length.

This really isn’t to say that they put in a bad performance by any means, they are incredibly polished, and they certainly impress in their understanding of one another to deliver such creative flourishes. But despite the intimacy of the setting, the show never feels truly intimate due to their lack of connection with the realm beyond the stage.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Mimas / Shapes @ The Red House 13/10/09

A free gig. Awesome. Particularly when the bands playing are of the calibre of Danish ‘death indie’ peddlers Mimas and Birmingham spazzcore trio Shapes. And there are free pastries provided in honour of our Scandinavian visitors. Even better no?

Opening the night however, we are first treated to a set by Halifax four-piece Wot Gorilla? who seamlessly mix the unashamed technical flare of Fall of Troy with the accessible math (honestly, not an oxymoron) of Minus the Bear. Considering that this was apparently their first show, their tight performance is very impressive indeed. Ones to watch.

As Mimas take to the stage overheard is a discussion of exactly what to expect ‘They sound very Danish’ is the verdict of one punter, and its hard to deny the truth of the statement. There is a certain foreign nature to their lush sounds rich in texture, serene brass interludes and bizarre lyrics (is he saying ‘Armpits‘? Wha…?!). Yet despite their otherness, one can certainly appreciate their beauty and passion in a live setting. They fill the now-packed venue with waves of sound that cause all heads in the room to bob, caught in the current. Microphone issues halfway in leave them unphased, opting to share for their harmonies and joyous gang yells and it is a great shame to see them leave the stage, having enthralled and charmed throughout.

In contrast, Shapes offer up an altogether more unapologetically raucous experience, with their twisting and turning guitar parts, unfathomable time signatures and duel yelped vocals that continually sound like a slanging match. The beauty lies in the juxtaposition of this noisy attack, swinging from the angular to the psychedelic and back again, with the two previous bands. Despite the clash of sounds, they somehow complement each other. The crowd has no issues getting their heads round the abrupt shift and there are smiles all round at the banter based around their exposed small frames (a ‘Mr Puniverse contest’) and Mimas’ return to the land of ‘Carlsberg, bacon and Peter Schmeichel’.

Beyond the usual dedications to one another their seems to be a genuine camaraderie between the bands on the bill that lends a truly warm atmosphere to the evening, a sense that this could be one of the best free parties you’ve been invited to in a while.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More

“Oh man is a giddy thing” pronounces Marcus Mumford on the opening title track of this, his hotly tipped band’s first full length, and indeed his wistful remark sets the tone for the entire release. His vocal delivery, often frail, sometimes fierce, ever-emotive, steers their ship through the maelstrom of a young man’s anxieties and hopes in an album that moves from stark ‘urban folk‘ to bluegrass and even blues rock territory in its musical mood swings.

Mumford truly wears his heart on his sleeve through the likes of ‘White Blank Page’, begging questions of himself, “Can you lie next to her and give her your heart, as well as your body? / Can you lie next to her and confess your love, as well as your folly?’”, taking the tone of one made wise beyond his years by the torment of his romantic soul. Their appeal lies in the coupling of this apparent world-weariness, and the accomplished musicianship of elder statesmen, with an energy and confusion that never allows us to forget their youth. The latter element perhaps most evident in the inarticulate angst of the ‘I really fucked things up this time’ refrain of lead single, ‘Little Lion Man’.

It is with relish that their apparent frustration is unleashed on ‘Dustbowl Dance’ where Mumford genuinely sounds angry, and the band hit full bluster behind him, creating a period of noise that is unexpected, and yet a gleeful release from the melancholy that threatens to prevail.

“Love will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free” is another line from that opening track, and yet it seems Mumford and Sons are able to create beauty despite having only experienced that which leaves them exhausted and sore. It will be interesting to see how they will enchant us if ever they do find true bliss.

4 out of 5

Friday, 4 September 2009

Incoming Cerebral Overdrive - Controverso

My word. That name. You’re probably reading this and judging instantly, even if you force yourself to try otherwise. Straight out of the meathead metal name generator. Let’s face it, it is just plain terrible.

But hey, let’s go beyond this, after all, ICO are Italian, English is not their first language, we can cut them some slack right? Their debut album had Converge’s Kurt Ballou at the production desk, which pulls back more than a little kudos for them. And besides, given their penchant for not letting any one riff last for more than 15 seconds, perhaps it is actually quite fitting, in a super literal kind of way.

Yep, for the most part, this is true ADHDcore, where nothing remains stationary. Vocals ping-pong between a gruff bark and a black metal influenced rasp, tempo and time changes are abound and from the opening staccato of ‘Reflections’, the adjectives of choice to describe the prevalent sounds are ‘mental’ and ‘brutal’. The issue however, is that it’s nothing we haven’t heard before from US and UK counterparts such as The Red Chord and Architects.

The blistering likes of ‘Oxygen’ and ‘Science’ will have seasoned ’core kids throwing themselves around their rooms like they’re trying to swat 10 wasps at once. But, as is the case for their two aforementioned contemporaries on record-when you pack so many ideas into one song, and then continue to do so for nearly every song in the set, it becomes so very hard for each individual track to forge an identity. As a result, it is the slower tracks, ‘Magic’ and ‘There’, the ones that rein in the insanity in favour of lurching dischords, harrowing synths and riffs that repeat for more than a few bars, that actually begin to set the album apart from the crowd.

So in all, Incoming Cerebral Overdrive have created an album that is worth checking out for a brief lesson in what hardcore influenced metal has tended towards in the last 5 years. And fair play to them, they are much better than your first impression would have suggested. But for a more rewarding experience a newcomer to the genre should check out the innovations of their former mentor’s band.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 25 June 2009

We Insist ! - The Babel Inside Was Terrible

French 5-piece We Insist ! merge genres seamlessly in order to create a sound all of their own, and yet referencing a variety of influences. At times their stop-start post-hardcore dynamics recall At the Drive-In, at their most pulsing and hypnotic, one could cite Queens of the Stone Age as soundalikes, and at their most detached, they evoke a more unassuming Tool. Yet none of these puzzle pieces quite fit to make a clear picture of the We Insist ! experience.

There is no denying that these avant-rockers are fine musicians indeed. Some of their riffs are truly killer and their effortless mingling of lead guitars with synths and sax sets them apart. But on this, their fifth album, there seems to be a curious struggle at play.

Throughout the record, their refusal to be pinned down to a particular genre or sound seems to pose an identity crisis even for the band themselves, never knowing whether to cut loose and head into a full scale freakout or tentatively brood at mid-tempo. As a result, the album feels kind of cut and paste, with no real logical flow. Songs are either gloriously mental, such as opener ‘Déja Vu’, with its blasts of brass and jarring time signatures, or melancholically slow burning (see ‘In a Maze’ and ‘Biting Tongues’).

It is almost as if they toy with letting their experimental sides truly flourish but then have second thoughts and reign it all in. This is deeply frustrating as one feels that they could have a recipe for something great, particularly in the first half of the album.

Essentially, however, the biggest issue I have with We Insist ! lies in vocalist/drummer Etienne Gaillochet. He’s not a very good singer. And I‘ll accept that a lot of bands don’t really need great singers. But, even on record, it tells that they lack a real front man. This band is crying out for a mouthpiece with some real charisma. Particularly when they take their foot off the gas, Gaillochet’s distinct lack of both range and passion is grating.

An intriguing enough release, one that reels you in all bombastic Gallic flair, but at its core, lacks that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that would inspire many repeat plays.


Friday, 19 June 2009

Faux Hoax- Your Friends Will Carry You Home

Not a great deal is known about Faux Hoax. We are informed by various sources that the name is to be pronounced ‘Folks’. We do know that they are made up of members of Gang of Four, Tracker and Menomena. So they are a ‘super group‘ of sorts, a term that can usually be construed as one that doesn‘t live up to heavy hype generation, never equals the sum of its parts and burns out quickly. Perhaps then, in the information age, Faux Hoax do well to keep things at a whisper.

This makes further sense on listening to debut release ‘Your Friends Will Carry You Home’, essentially a vinyl only single, albeit one with a couple of digital bonus tracks thrown into the bargain, which finds its true character in understated intricacies. This is true of both the lyrical content of the title track, an observational spoken word ramble about the nuances of a true friendship, and indeed, in the charming minimalist blips and guitar swells, underpinned by fuzzy basslines that drive proceedings along.

Vocals are interestingly varied across the four tracks. Ranging from the fragile, urgent monologue of the title track, offering such prophesies as ‘Your friends will call you, unshaven and scared shitless, from Texas, asking for bail money’ to the juxtaposition of one mumbling, drowsy figure and an upbeat twang on ‘Foxworthy’. This variety ensures that each track is a entity unto itself within the body of the record.

The latter is possibly the weakest of the bunch. Initially sounding like two quite worthy refrains competing with one another for the listener’s memory, the track goes nowhere in its repetition until its final third where we are treated to one and a half minutes of math experimentation. While we are to appreciate this change, one can’t help but wish they had taken this route much earlier. Thankfully, this Battles-esque vibe is maintained for closer ‘Underwood (a Type of ReMix)’ which further foregrounds the electronic elements of their sound, and even introduces brass to its ambling psychedelia.

By no means a groundbreaking release, which is perhaps not the aim, one feels this could remain a studio project, there is some potential shown. What remains to be seen however, is where they go from here, if anywhere. Their own label’s website speculatively questions whether these four will prove to be the only songs the band write. We can but hope this interesting trio get the chance to blossom rather than suffer the archetypal fate.


Sunday, 24 May 2009

Sheffield Festivus @ The Stockroom 24/05/09

Officially a celebration of the birthday of Alec Leach, guitarist with The Gold Coast, tonight is as much a chance to revel in the talent and raw potential of Sheffield’s current heavy music scene as it is for him to get merry with his mates. The humble confines of The Stockroom, shapes up as a melting pot of metal, hardcore and post-rock.

Firstly, as a product of the ‘my night, my rules’ atmosphere, we are treated to the unconventional opening of two acoustic sets. Yet, with the perfect day that was this sunny Sunday in Sheffield, daylight still pouring into the room and many iced ciders being ordered at the bar, this was far more fitting than it appears on paper. Both the fragile, introspective Kid Conventional and the gutsy Thomas the Brave charm in their ‘one man and his guitar’ warm ups.

Following them, proceedings instantly shift from the quaint to the expansive with the instrumental rock of Bleaklow. Featuring the talents of ex-Architects bassist Tim Lucas and fittingly named after an area of the Peaks, their soundscapes are elevated by plentiful tapped guitars and thundered out to hypnotic effect.

It's a trend continued with the heavier Naisian, whose brand of post-metal draws direct comparisons with genre forerunners Isis, in its swells and lulls, with occasional barked vocals buried beneath waves of sound. The band’s sheer stamina is commendable as their half hour set is comprised of just two songs and yet they manage to sustain the attention of an appreciatively nodding audience.

An altogether more immediate, punishing attack is brought in the mathcore of birthday boy Alec’s band, delivered with the sort of exuberance that fits the occasion. Frontman Luke informs us on more than one occasion that ‘things are going a lot better than last night in Leeds’ where ‘everything that could have gone wrong did’, and on the basis of their performance, our Yorkshire neighbours have been quite unfortunate.
Despite this not being the end of the evening by any means, Mancunian crew Cadences, the only travelling band this evening, are unfortunately destined to play to a thinned out crowd by this point. They seem visibly disappointed by this, and as a result their set of Misery Signals-esque multi-layer hardcore is promising, but falls a little flat on this occasion.

Various lineup changes had occurred throughout the day, with Doncaster’s While She Sleeps pulling out, to be replaced by And So Their Eyes Were Bloodshot, also scheduled to perform at Leadmill’s Battle of the Bands next door to compete for a slot at this year’s Download festival.

However, following the arrest of one of their band members, this wasn’t to happen and instead the vacant slot is taken up by two piece comedy grindcore act Six Foot Squirrels, who give us a brief lesson in hyper fast riffing and blastbeat drums. Throw in a few well aimed quips about their peers' run-in with the law and the result is one that doesn’t disappoint.

The Humble Hoax make an impact that is anything but humble, vocalist Mark instantly mixing with those gathered, injecting a tension into this intimate affair as one was wary of becoming the next target of his attention.

He's the perfect antidote for the fatigue beginning to prevail by this time; he grinds one punter, nicks another’s hat and rightfully chastises those at the back for remaining seated. However, his presence never fully distracts from the power of the band. Shimmering and graceful one minute, crushing the next, his shriek simply adds to their emotive core rather than becoming the focal point.

Their performance rounds off a very happy birthday evening indeed, with the lucky stragglers who got this far dispersing slowly, safe in the knowledge that metal is alive and well in the City of Steel.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Depeche Mode-Sounds of The Universe

This, Depeche Mode’s twelfth studio album, begins as you would hope for it to go on. Opening with a combination of feedback and the popping of electrons tuning up to a high pitch, a great humming crescendo is built up. This drops off abruptly and leaves us with a subdued synth ambience as backing to the ethereal baritone of David Gahan on ‘In Chains’. The result is really quite arresting.

Thankfully, for the six songs that follow, form is more or less kept up. The band manage to use age old Moogs and other archaic machines to reference their early work, while creating something that is current sounding. Notably, the introduction to ‘Hole to Feed’ sounds strikingly similar to that of ‘The Bears are Coming’ by Late of the Pier, and serves as a perfect reminder of the innovative force this band once were, setting in motion trends that would eventually lead to the current wave of young electro-poppers.

However, for all the merits of the first half of the album, the second posits a great deal of filler. Songs like ’Peace’, ‘Come Back’ and ‘Miles Away/The Truth Is’ sound formulaic, peddling the same old pulsing drive and darkly soulful musing we have come to expect. It is at this point that one realises just how much they have stuck to this template throughout, with varying degrees of success. There is a sense that Depeche Mode are simply being Depeche Mode, at their most blandly competent on these tracks, while the groove of cuts like ‘In Sympathy’ evoke their former glory.

And perhaps we should thank them for this as, aside from the aforementioned opener, when they do stray a little, in the ‘electro-lounge’ of ‘Jezebel‘, which is as tiresome as it sounds, they widely miss the mark.


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Twisted Wheel @ Leadmill 13/05/09

Lad-rock: A celebration of working class culture and values? An outlet that serves to unify and give voice to the everyman? Or just a term devoted to bands whose arsenal is comprised of the same old four chord tales of inner-city woe, which should have died out since its 90s heyday? Twisted Wheel would hope to persuade us that their take on a familiar form of dissidence is still well worth a listen.

First up tonight however, The Answering Machine deliver a set of agreeable, upbeat guitar pop to a fairly empty, disinterested room. While this comes as no surprise, they are surely misplaced on this bill, it is a real shame as they are denied the clap-along moments their breezy numbers deserve.

Many more gather for hotly tipped blues revivalists, Detroit Social Club, whose pounding rhythm section and layered textures hold far more people’s attention. The sextet, who utilise one of their members as either third guitarist or second keyboardist are in danger of becoming a dirgy affair at times, but are compelling when they dip their toes into psychedelic waters.

The greatest flaw in their set however, is that many of their songs seem to lack memorable choruses, save for closer and highlight ‘Sunshine People’, which is powerful and anthemic, a true showcase of their potential.

When Twisted Wheel take to the stage, the dormant room is finally brought to life in chants of ‘Whee-oh! Wheeee-oh!’, and they appear surprisingly humbled.

What follows is a set that may not be at all original, but is at least delivered with considerable passion and refreshingly, for their genre, a distinct lack of egotism. ‘Rock and roll!‘ goes an anonymous cry between songs , to which front man Jonny Brown’s responds, ‘Rock and dole more like, I’m fucking skint mate’.

Rather, the machismo seems more prevalent amongst their fan base, which is, regrettably, large enough to have recently gained them a major record deal.

The band shine when they deviate from the mid-tempo and head into more Buzzcocks-influenced territory as on ‘You Stole The Sun’, which is a decent rockabilly riot. They would be well-advised to pursue this avenue more frequently if they are to rise above the banal.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Gallows @ Leadmill 05/05/09

“We’re at the beginning of the end of humanity”, Gallows lead singer Frank Carter recently stated to a Guardian journalist. Well, if he is right about our imminent apocalypse, then his band’s sophomore outing Grey Britain is to be its soundtrack, and a Gallows show is perhaps the perfect party to bow out on.

Opening tonight are fresh faced punks Blackhole, featuring the vocal talents of one Richard Carter, younger brother of Gallows’ Frank and Steph. Much like a formative version of his siblings’ band, in both sound and delivery, one is left wondering about the troubles their poor mother must have been through.

Following them are New York hardcore favourites Every Time I Die. Keith Buckley leads his band mates onstage rocking the geek chic look, conspicuously bespectacled.

This doesn’t last long however, as they rush head on into their arsenal of whiskey-drenched rock ‘n’ roll and he is forced to remove them. “I can’t see shit…nerds don’t headbang!” he proclaims. The lack of single ‘Kill The Music’ is notable in a set that gets adrenaline pumping, even if it’s a little monotonous.

Gallows are all about defiance, swagger and sheer white-hot fury. While many bands push this image in a manner that may appear contrived, Gallows always seem sincere. Carter is undoubtedly a ‘true punk’; arrogant and bitter to the very core and consistently unpredictable.

Tonight, as with any of their shows, belongs to him. Whether he’s spitting indiscriminately, telling the crowd their circle pit frankly isn’t big enough, or jumping out and mixing in with them, he blazes with charisma and passion.

And so for all the sound bites like that above which may cause you to roll your eyes, you can’t help but be transfixed by his every word and action.

And why not, when it’s so much fun? Even with much of the set plucked from an album released just the day before, the room is a constant two-stepping, limbs-flailing tempest, perhaps peaking at the ode to sex minus love, ‘Orchestra of Wolves’.

“Normally that’s the end…” Frank informs us, but instead we are treated to the final resounding shot of Grey Britain - ‘Crucifucks’ - with its closing lines, “Great Britain is fucking dead / So cut our throats, end our lives / Let’s fucking start again” howled over his bandmates’ marching snares. Excessive negativity never felt this good.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Funeral for a Friend @ Foundry 30/03/09

They sold out. Lost their passion. Traded post-hardcore for stadium rock. They forgot about their fans. All accusations thrown at Funeral for a Friend in recent years. All refuted with latest release Memory and Humanity, a return to their earlier dynamics, and further reinforced in a live setting, as they reconcile any complaints through action.

First tonight however, fellow Welshmen People in Planes get the chance to entertain the crowd, which is at this early stage in the evening (drinking time), laced with 14 year old girls. Their lack of asymmetrical haircuts does little to appease this demographic, but their choruses get everyone nodding in recognition as they are driven home with arena-filling power.

Following this, the young female contingent is far more pleased with the arrival of We Are The Ocean, who’s best Alexisonfire impression is commendable, if their delivery is a little pretentious. They aren’t headlining, and many people aren’t moving. Over the course of their set they learn to stop telling them to do so, and start making them.

FFAF encounter no such problems. All darkens, brilliant white spotlights sweep the room, and the Terminator theme blares out. The crowd are prepared for an Arnie-style onslaught, and as soon as the opening drum beat of ‘All The Rage’ is sounded, it is delivered. The floor opens up and bodies fly.

What follows is a set that introduces material from the aforementioned latest release and pays homage to the band’s early career, with an almost total disregard for the album that left a sour taste for many, ‘Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’.

‘Anyone remember 2003?’ asks frontman Matt Davies-Kreye, and it’s clear that, the now relatively few teeny boppers aside, much of the gathered crowd have grown up with FFAF. Testament to the quality and passion of their debut, people still connect so strongly with it over 5 years on. Whether it be thrashing in the pit like it’s their first time for ‘You Drove Me To Daytime Television’, belting out the poignant refrain of ‘Juneau’, or lolling exhaustedly to the final riffs of perennial closer, ‘Escape Artists Never Die’, those there the first time around channel their never-to-be-forgotten youth.

As shown by an impromptu response to fans with a Journey singalong mid-set (the hallmark of a Sheffield student crowd, surely?), FFAF by no means forget them. They are their lifeblood. They may never truly speak out to them quite as resonantly as they once did on record, but their live show is stronger than ever, and the energy when these original fans come together is off the scale. They will undoubtedly continue to come back for more.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Smugglers Run @ O2 Academy 13/03/09

Having sold out Academy 2, it was at first underwhelming when Smugglers Run took to the stage. Amidst random strumming, frontman Liam Bardell greets us with the question ‘Ever done it…up the Smuggler’s Run?’. Vague innuendos aside, what follows is a lot of chaotic, feedback strewn noise, which is perhaps the intent for this introduction. But it surely isn’t meant to go past this and into the first few songs of their set.

Beyond this, things definitely improve for the Sheffield Hallam student foursome, with them showcasing new material that shows some potential, and introduces some more interesting song structures to their arsenal. It is when they slow down that everything becomes much tighter. Although this is not what is demanded by the crowd, a great deal of which is quite apparently made up of band members’ friends, who heckle and share in-jokes with them throughout. It is quite clear they are here for a party, and the stripped down numbers do little for them compared to the thumping rockers. Amidst all the commotion, Liam treads a fine line of playing anchor to the band, at times in danger of losing control on themselves and the audience, and playing the rock star himself. This is at times a little overplayed given the status of the show.

The highlight of the set is ‘Black’, which the band have inexplicably not played ‘for the last six months’. Shame on them, it shows a direction that they would be wise to explore, evoking The Cure at their most brooding. The last two numbers are favourites of the crowd, and by this point the band are finally found in their element, ‘Please Die Carefully’ in particular, with charming lines such as ‘we hired a caravan in Clacton, where nothing really happened/so we went into a town, where the beer was watered down’ showcases the quirky side of their songwriting. At the end, Liam exclaims ‘I want to do this every night for the rest of my life’, and you can only hope that they can network well and continue to channel their exuberance for their upcoming tour, even though that dream seems a fair way out of reach at this stage.

Smugglers Run Interview

When I first saw the listing I have to admit I was a little taken aback, ‘O2 Academy Sheffield-SOLD OUT’. Of course, it meant to say Academy 2, but at the same time, to play to a full upstairs crowd of a few hundred people is big news indeed for Hallam lads, Smugglers Run. ‘We are very excited,’ frontman Liam Bardell proclaims, ‘all the hard work is starting to pay off. Nothing has just fallen into place, we have worked for this…hours and hours of practising, hours and hours spent forcing people into coming to our first shows!’

Tonight’s turnout is a milestone for the band, having formed at the city’s other university just a year ago. ‘Hang on, you’re from Sheffield Uni aren’t you? That’s it, [glances with a cheeky grin at Alex, the manager], end this now!’. Of course they’re just playing, ‘We’re all Sheffield students, anyone speaking our name is great for us!’.

When asked what sets them apart from other bands on the Sheffield scene, Dave cites their energy as their key strength. ‘Too many bands just stand there onstage, without any interest in the music they’re playing, we like to throw ourselves around a bit.’ Following this, Liam suggests that ‘Sheffield has a particular scene associated with it nowadays. We see ourselves as being an alternative to the Arctic Monkeys.’ Indeed, the band look to offer something punchy, Dave bestowing upon their music the tongue-in-cheek moniker, ‘Pussy punk’ to his bandmates’ apparent delight . ‘We didn’t try to be different, we’ve just always found ourselves to be a little bit heavier. We like it raw. We’ve even talked about going down to Drop D tuning’, Liam states.
It’s at this point that drummer, Robbie Hesketh, breaks his silence ‘We won’t.’
A point of conflict here?
‘It’s just not something I’m really up for.’

No matter what, Liam has a view of how he sees the current musical climate, and hints that there is some vague strategy to the band’s choices. ‘The mainstream is getting heavier and we’ve got our minds on that. When you start a band you’ve got to look not just at what is popular now, but what will be, in say, three years time.’

The band cite a wide range of influences. When asked who have made a considerable impact, among others they list The Libertines, The Doors, Rage Against the Machine and even, perhaps ironically, local metalcore outfit Bring Me The Horizon. With another knowing glance at the manager, ‘I like to scream every now and then, but I get told off and to look after my voice!’.

However they slot into the local scene, the band stress that they don’t see themselves as a Sheffield band as such, all hailing from elsewhere, but acknowledge its place on the UK’s musical map. Liam asserts that he ‘came to Sheffield because of the music, it just seemed to be a place where there was so much going on musically.’ But it wasn‘t originally all he had hoped for, ‘Not to insult the city, it’s not as cutting edge as say, London. In a way I like that, because as a band, it’s easier to stand out. Not to sound like we’re selling out, but would you rather play in a town where there’s another 10 bands just like you, or one where you’re something different.’
Manager Alex steps in again at this point, ‘If anything, I suppose that knowledge Sheffield’s past success, means we know that we can access the industry from here.’

The first step towards really breaking into the industry is recording, and the band plan to do this ‘when [they] can afford it’, or rather when they can afford to put into practice the session they have planned in theory. ‘We are going to record with Tim, the singer from Bromhead’s Jacket, as soon as we can’. Do they have an idea of how they want it to sound? Dave answers, ‘Like a punch in the face!’, which is clarified by Alex as rather ‘capturing the live experience’ on record.

Before this can come together, the band have planned a fairly extensive tour in order to build a fan base, in which they’re playing each of their hometowns and ‘as many places as they can fit in between.’ Liam has one date in particular he is looking forward to, ‘Colchester’ he says in a distinctly matter of fact tone, ‘’cos my brother-in-law lives there and he’s a copper. He’s promising to bring the whole force, so I’m thinking, they’ve got a bit of money, we might be able to bump up the ticket price a little bit!’.

The band have a distinct strategy in marketing themselves, ‘We’ll use Myspace, we’ll exploit people, we’ll do anything we can to get people down the front really! In the run up to the gig tonight, we used Myspace to get the word out as much as possible, and this has spread to other cities, and so we realised its power [for touring bands]. The way I see it, if you’re playing to more than ten people, then it was worth going’ says Liam, before politely excusing himself to answer a call.

Are you worried you might drive each other mad on the road? The answer, from guitarist Nathan Croot, ‘If anyone is going to drive us mad it will be him [all point over towards Liam, then Nathan mockingly] ‘Oh my God, I’m a superstar!’’.
I reveal this verdict upon his return, he refutes the claim, ‘I think if our manager is around, he will be the one that drives us mad, like ‘everyone get on the bus now we need to leave!’etc’.
‘It’s you who does that.’ (Drummer, Robbie)
‘Would we be playing here tonight if I wasn’t like that, eh?! Do you want to play tonight? We’ve got [a friend] coming who knows the songs! [a brief pause] We’re only playing…’
I do hope so, I don’t want to be the cause of the break-up tonight!

Liam is quick to defend the band’s solidarity however, ‘We’re just looking forward to the tour. We aren’t looking to make money from it, we just want to cover it’s cost. We’re students, we don’t expect to make money, we just want to make some fans and then maybe we can do the same tour in say a year, then they’ll bring their friends.’

Friday, 6 March 2009

Protest the Hero @ Corporation 06/03/09

When I recently mentioned Protest the Hero to a friend, he responded ‘oh yeah, that band that’s all ill-advised beards and twiddley guitars’. Tonight at Corp they showed how they are much more than that.

Having released debut album, Kezia, when they were still in their late teens, much has been said of the potential of the band. From the moment they take to the stage tonight, it is clear that it is coming to fruition. They dominate the room with their sweeping and tapping dual guitar attack and razor sharp drumming, anchored by the soaring vocals of front man Rody Miller. He is particularly on form this evening, hitting the notes you would expect him to struggle with in the flesh and totally commanding his audience during and between songs.

Well, actually, at times the audience does attempt to command him. ‘I am not going to chug it! I did not smoke marijuana at high school and I will not bow to your peer pressure now!’, Miller’s response to the crowd’s chants upon spying him swigging from a bottle of gin. This playful heckling is the product of the party atmosphere the band bring to the stage. There’s no cold rushing through of songs, rather they interact with fans throughout and this helps ensure the reception their songs deserve. When the complex ‘Sequoia Throne’, with it’s time changes aplenty, is seemingly breezed through, the room goes utterly mental. The hairy metalheads air guitar away, the hardcore kids bounce with rare smiles on their faces, the young’uns flail erratically and every last fist and voice is raised for the singalong of the refrain. This trend continues for the duration of the set, perhaps only gathering enthusiasm up to the rampant closer ‘Bloodmeat’.

There’s something inherently likeable about a band that put out a sophomore album that is essentially one long guitar flourish, with a dense lyrical concept about goddess worship, and yet not come across as entirely pretentious and devoid of fun. Protest the Hero extend that feel to the live experience, in a way that is refreshing in a scene that often takes itself all too seriously.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Small Ideas @ Raynor Lounge 28/02/09

Small Ideas, the University’s ‘alt alt music’ society caters for anyone that finds themselves enthralled by genres labelled with either ‘post-’ or ‘math-’ as a prefix, ‘-core’ as a suffix, or any given a combination of the three. On Saturday evening, they showcased these tastes to the public, with a night the posters promised would bring ‘what needs listening to, not what the NME tells you to.’

First up are Worcestershire upstarts, Riding Giants, who, if you close your eyes, could easily be mistaken for Foals playing a set entirely comprised of new material. Considering how they probably match them in both technical ability and catchy tunes, this is by no means a bad thing. Highly recommended.

Following them are Wasp Display, whose garage punk doesn’t quite fulfil in their wake, despite the exuberance of their frontman. He climbs just about anything climbable, swings his mic with total abandon and occasionally batters his kettle drum. But the crowd tonight aren’t particularly impressed, perhaps the set is too early in terms of drinking time, as he has to ask them to ‘move forward, and make this feel like a gig’.

Next onstage are Northern Ireland alt rockers LaFaro, who have joined fellow countrymen And So I Watch You From Afar for their stretch across the UK. Their set is tight and delivered with a sense of humour you’d expect for the final night on tour, the band filling time between songs by playfully baiting the English.

Three-piece Great Eskimo Hoax are the closest the math rocker has to breezy summery pop. Their downbeat melodies, accompanied by gentle synths and clean guitars, fill the room with their melancholic lulls. This is all well and good, but perhaps not the best preparation for headliners, ASIWYFA, who put the rock into ‘post-rock’.

Far from being mere Explosions in the Sky clones, these guys replace some of the sombre slow-burn of the genre with an ounce or two of aggression, and this truly sets them apart tonight. Of course, the crucial atmosphere that is part and parcel of being a modern instrumental rock band is present, but there’s also sheer white-hot energy. This, by design, pleases punters no end. New single ‘Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate’ is a juggernaut of spidery rhythms, distortion and gang backing vocals and the perfect recommendation of their forthcoming full-length.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Golden Silvers @ Foundry 12/02/09

There’s no doubting that The Golden Silvers are cool kids. As part of the chic Hoxton set, they are known for running their monthly party, the somewhat cheesily monikered ‘Bronze Club’, whereby they invite their equally cool mates’ bands to play for the fashionable throng. Tonight they take to the Foundry stage all crushed velvet, big hair and excruciatingly slim fitting trousers.

However, we must let the music do the talking, and having won a place at Glastonbury last year via the organisers’ New Talent competition, expectations for the threesome run pretty high.

It is actually quite surprising to note that while they may be in with the hip crowd, their sound is less that of ‘the now’ and more of a homage to those of the past, most strongly evoking the psychedelia of 60s pop but also incorporating 80s and 90s influences in their particular brand of indie-disco. Think less MGMT, more Beach Boys’ harmonies meet Prince meets Blur’s charm. This mix is perhaps best characterised by the softly bouncing melody of ‘Please Venus’, perhaps the highlight of the set tonight.

This is the second time this academic year that the band have played Fuzz, requesting a return after enjoying it so much the first time round at the height of Freshers’ Week hysteria. It is clear that the band like to take the time to get out of their East London bubble. From behind a broad grin that emerges between each song, ‘This is the third time we’ve been to Sheffield…and every time it’s great’ gushes frontman Gwilym Gold.

And everyone seems suitably entertained. Small pockets break out into bouts of activity while most others contentedly nod in time. But alas, while the set was enjoyable, the floating love songs soon seemed to melt into one and wash over the crowd at times, not quite doing enough to keep it on its toes. So unfortunately, as charming as they were tonight, The Golden Silvers’ solid performance simply lacked that crucial sparkle to turn an alright show into a great one.