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.