Sunday, 2 December 2012

Tangled Talk Records

Tangled Talk Final

Aside from such legendary imprints as Sub-Pop, Def Jam and Discord, few labels can lay claim to being one of the homes of a musical movement. However, as one of the originating hotbeds of the burgeoning #UKSwell scene, Brighton’s Tangled Talk could possibly have a stake in such a hall of fame.

Not denoting a genre as such, the hashtag started as a joke in reference to the US ‘Wave’ of bands such as Defeater and Touché Amoré (and for some involved, it still is), but soon came to stand for a shared ethos of bands looking to foster a spirit of camaraderie within the UK’s heavy music scene. In practice, the term denotes a collective wanting to play heavy music that is free of pretence and macho stigma.

Founded back in 2008, Tangled Talk, along with Holy Roar, have played a key part in the unearthing of the intelligent heavy music acts that have gone on to form this strong grassroots community and have continually put out absolute stormers of modern hardcore. The label soon became home to some of Swell’s core bands such as The Long Haul and Pariso, and jointly released the sadly defunct Kerouac’s records along with their Holy Roar brethren.

It’s not all about the screamy stuff however. The label has diversified this year with releases from party punks Gnarwolves and alt-folk act Mothbites, and has previously handled UK distribution for spoken word supremos Listener.

Label founder Andrej can pride himself not only on the talent of the bands on his roster, but also the loving craft of the physical products developed for them, with their emphasis on unique vinyl pressings. These range from the resplendent (see Vales white ‘snow-drops’ number) to the bizarre (Gnarwolves’ ‘sneezing wolf’ 12” complete with ‘snot-splatter’ effect) and recently, Pariso opted for a format that is both personalised postcard from the band and playable record in one!

Tangled Talk releases begging to be checked out:

The Long Haul – Debtors
South coast hardcore with blues sensibilities buried amongst breakneck time changes and unreserved fury. Expect big things from a debut full length.

Vales – Clarity
Released in January under the moniker Veils until a pesky threat of legal action, the original pressing of this debut EP may be rendered a future rarity. Vital, angular modern screamo from deepest, darkest Cornwall.

Kerouac – Cold and Distant, Not Loving
Everything the contemporary hardcore record should be, showcasing their ability to create haunting beauty out of disparate elements and chaotic noise. If only we could have had another before they called it a day.

Gnarwolves – CRU
Breathing life into pop punk with their total lack of pretence, uplifting zest for life and rousing sing-a-longs. This is party rock at its finest.

Pick up all these releases and more in some lush formats over at

Illustration by @DeanSmithers

Article originally published at

Friday, 23 November 2012

A Carefully Planned Festival #2

Just as we started lamenting the onset of bitter winds that herald the beginning of Winter, and dreaming back to the heady days of Summer festivals, up springs the second coming of the glorious Carefully Planned Festival in Manchester’s Northern Quarter to chase away those blues…
Offering ludicrous value for money (over 100 acts for £10?!) and the chance to catch some of the best of the UK’s rising talent, whilst soaking in the atmosphere of the hipster capital of the North West, this was to be one of the best weekends in recent memory.


Upon stepping into the Soup Kitchen on Saturday afternoon we are greeted by what would turn out to be one of the weekend’s most conspicuous characters, a hippy Gandalf-alike, proclaiming ‘THIS IS THE PLACE TO BE ON LSD!’. And it really was hard to disagree with him as we were treated to the instrumental workouts of PLANK! and Day for Airstrikes, who provided all the psychadelia we needed without the substances. The former prove a tour de force of prog experimentalism, theirBattles meets Yes by way of Garth Marenghi bombast helps clearly explain the roomful of people gathered by 4 O’Clock. Their cohorts showcase a more conventional post-rock sound, albeit executed with a great amount of shimmer, spine tingle and crush in equal measure.
Next up is the emo-tinged math of Arcs and Trauma, who are frighteningly talented for their age. Their set drags a little in parts, and they clearly still seek a definitive sound, but show a huge amount of promise. We can certainly expect to hear a lot more from them in future, having recently had a turnaround on their decision to make this their final performance, and it will be interesting to see how they mature. You never know, they could grow into a band of Quadrilles’ calibre, next to be checked out over at the delightfully minimal Kraak Gallery. Their performance is well-honed, and their brand ofKinsella twinkles meets British quirks wins hearts.
As a break from all things post-/math-, we took a little time out with the twee indie-pop of Just Handshakes (We’re British). They prove a charmingly incongruous warm-up for the all-conquering force of Brontide, whose performance tonight is earth-shattering. Oftentimes monolithically heavy, otherwise beautifully serene, and always razor-sharp – it’s inconceivable that this band could put a foot wrong, such is their ice-cool self-assurance. Faces are melted, expletives are bellowed in disbelieving approval at their unbridled musicality.
Probably a few too many beers consumed by the time &U&I take to the stage over at Gullivers, but what through the haze, these are the memories: a) they broke the bass drum skin and b) they were pretty good regardless (or at least seemed that way, I’m told I had a big smile throughout). By now though, it’s time to rest up for another day of awesomeness and so we set off for the night bus, both satisfied and eagerly expectant.


The hangover was thankfully appeased by the most appropriate start to the day, lounging in Nexus Art Café with a coffee, some homemade carrot cake, and barbershop quartet These Men, with their sweet harmonies and quaint ditties on topics including Sheikh Mansour’s purchase of Man City.
From no instruments, to the finest of instrumentalists – next up was This Town Needs Guns over at 2022NQ. Brought in almost immediately upon Stuart Smith’s departure, there’s not a hint of any setback with the arrival of Henry Tremain, who may well be the most polite man in music. In fact – whisper it – their new material sounds even better than their best material from Animals when played side by side this afternoon. Future release ‘I’ll Take the Minute Snake’ proves a set highlight, pointing towards a third full-length that combines the technical prowess of their second with the thrilling passion of their debut.
A rather different spectacle is that of multi-instrumentalist Juffage, who brings his chaotic, mad scientist approach music to Soup Kitchen.  The Leeds-based Chicagoan has no need for a band, playing each instrument himself as if following recipes to gradually build lush looping soundscapes. The beauty of his live show rests on a seemingly natural spontaneity, yet everything is executed with aplomb. His set may well have been the most ‘far out’ of the weekend, were he not followed by Ex-Easter Island Head over at Kraak. They tellingly introduce their set as a ‘piece of music’ before launching into half an hour of the least conventional ‘guitar playing’ ever conceived of – using magnets and beaters to tease out their brand of avant-garde drone. Not once is a string plucked or strummed. Bizarre, but hypnotically enthralling.
By contrast, they make Dad Rocks! look somewhat normal, which is quite the feat. After all, this is the guy who openly writes of ‘not feeling fit to be raising a kid who gets to suck on all the tits’ (‘Pants’). His set is undeniably engaging however, feeling truly fleshed out and fully formed with a 4 piece backing band.  Not even the rather noisier band practicing upstairs, nor all-round bouts of man-flu, could put them off their stride.
Shapes, over at Gullivers, are a little disappointing this evening. Their set worryingly drags on despite the festival length, suffering from the material all being a little too similar. However, they do throw themselves into the performance as ever, and the oppressive heat and volume admittedly does them no favours. On the other hand though, Glaswegians We Are The Physics are an absolute riot – their anarchic party punk on subjects such as 2001 Wimbledon champ Goran Ivanisevic provides one of the most fun spectacles of the weekend. Just as with Brontide the previous evening, the dissimilarity between The Physics and tonight’s Soup Kitchen headliners, Tall Ships, somehow lends to our enjoyment of both bands. By the set’s end the crowd are whipped into a frenzy as frontman Michael M hands bass duties to a punter, allowing him to have his own slice of the party down at the front.
And so, we come to the end of the weekend, and a certain Falmouth-formed 3-piece are the perfect bang to go out on. There is a true celebratory feel to Tall Ships’ set this evening, this being one of two festival appearances in support of Everything Touching’s release and you can feel the love in the room from both the crowd and their various Big Scary Monsters comrades, who are seen exchanging hugs with the band mid-set. It doesn’t matter in the slightest that ‘Chemistry’ is a little sloppy, the band seem sincerely chuffed at the reaction they receive, and the set is otherwise flawless, from rousing opener ‘T=0’, through to the mass singalong at the end of ‘Vessels’, and finally to sublime album closer ‘Murmurations’. The sense as we spill into the bitter night is that this may well be one of the last times we get to see this band in a room so small – and that makes it truly special.
So, with plenty of MM favourites, some fantastic new discoveries, and genuinely warm vibes all round,  this was the mother of all DIY parties.  Props to the organisers, who very carefully planned, and more importantly, very successfully pulled everything off. In short, this was probably the best tenner we ever spent. And we can’t wait to do it all again the next time around.

Keep up with the Carefully Planned dudes and find news on any future events at

Article originally published @

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Great Pagans - Great Pagans EP

‘We’re teenage silhouettes/We’re all strung out on sunsets/Then we’re gone. Yeah, we’re long gone’ goes the refrain of the opener on Great Pagans’ new self-titled EP, perfectly summing up the tone of the whole record…
The Brighton 4-piece capture the tenuous sense of occasion that youth endows the most transient of moments; that all-encompassing fear that comes with new experiences, only to evaporate by the time the next party begins.
The opening track embodies this sentiment perfectly in form as well as lyrical content, beginning all broody, pulsing bass, twinkling guitars and sighed vocals before gathering pace and building to buzzing, riotous indie-pop guitars, and eventually settling back into a reprise of the former. It’s like being alone with one’s thoughts on a long summer’s day, when suddenly your friends rush you off to an awesome house party – which you wake up from only to remember something regretful from the night before. If I were making my own super style-over-substance teen drama, this would undoubtedly make my soundtrack.
The lyrical theme is continued by ‘Not Been Myself Lately’, with its equally succinct refrain ‘Not been myself lately/ Just not sure who’s replaced me’, again crafting a portrait of the distantly familiar shape-shifting teenage mind.  However, this time it’s played out over a thoroughbred guitar pop ditty – all funky bass and jangling guitars. ‘Living in Sin’ and ‘We Dance Alone’ bring in new wave influences, both capturing a summer evening vibe with their warm grooves and prominent synth parts interspersed with indie-disco choruses.
The record is anchored in its centre by ‘Slow Crash’, a dreamy number that just errs on the right side of schmaltzy, despite their use of easy listening brass. Thankfully, the band manage to pull us in with psychedelic swirling movements rather than simply taking us from A to B with a straight-up ballad. It will be interesting to see if Great Pagans can continue to remember how it feels to be young or whether they’ll grow old and cynical. As long as they avoid developing false sentiments, they will surely be ones to watch.

Friday, 12 October 2012

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead @ Manchester Club Academy, 11/10/12

Trail of Dead appeared at Club Academy in support of new LP 'Lost Songs'. Photo: alamosbasement @ Flickr
Trail of Dead appeared at Club Academy in support of new LP 'Lost Songs'. Photo: alamosbasement @ Flickr

Few bands inspire quite the same sort of devotion that Texas’ genre-bending stalwarts …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. Theirs is a turbulent story; rising to prominence in the late nineties and releasing their magnum opus, Source Tags and Codes, in 2001 to a rapturous critical and commercial reception, only to be subsequently written off and largely ignored on both fronts in the eleven years since. And yet to those that kept the faith, their power has never really waned, as demonstrated at Club Academy this evening.
Given the Trail’s formidable live reputation, most supports would be quaking at the prospect of having to open for them. But Maybeshewill are perhaps the perfect choice given their ability to create emotive instrumental soundscapes that appeal without demanding familiarity. Their performance is astonishingly tight, showcasing their trademark dynamic of sweeping piano-led uplift followed by monolithic crush and steadily drawing in punters from the venue’s margins.
Trail of Dead’s performance, in typical style, is much more chaotic. This is the dynamic they have built their reputation upon, and while their performance this evening is full of their well-established bluster, thankfully there’s no evidence of the former cracks that would lead to full-blown fights onstage. Instead their energy is perfectly channelled into rousing and infectious singalongs interspersed with stretched-out psychedelic jams which feed off the crowd rather than becoming self-indulgent.
Material from the forthcoming Lost Songs sits well amongst classics such as ‘Caterwaul’, which has the room bouncing in unison and proves to be the catalyst for a heightened level of kinetic energy for the remainder of the set. The most gleeful of moshpits opens up in appreciation, and by the time the band’s signature track, ‘Another Morning Stoner’, rings out as the evening’s closer, the latest in a long line of Manchester appearances for Trail of Dead has served only to further enhance their live credentials.

Review originally published by The Mancunion, and can be found online @

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Touché Amoré and The Casket Lottery - Split EP

Not so long ago, the mainstream music press would have had you believe that the label emo was merely short-hand for the sorts of bands it’s only okay for black-clad 15 year old girls to like…
However, the genre banner is having something of a renaissance lately with the emergence of the so-called ‘Wave’ of intelligent aggressive bands in America, their UK Swell counterparts and the roster of invariably exciting bands being put out on labels such as Topshelf. Testament to this shift is the new split between post-hardcore heroes old and new, The Casket Lottery and Touché Amoré, displaying two ends of the current spectrum from melodic ethereal emo to credible rapid-fire metalcore.
Split records, in their nature, are often very subjective, featuring only one or two tracks each and appealing only to completists or as mere appetite whetters for future releases. What sets this one apart however, is that a)  it’s the first recorded output by the reformed Casket Lottery in nine years and  b) it’s Touché Amoré, a band at the forefront of the burgeoning ‘Wave’ and picking up where they left off on the excellent Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me.
Starting with the latter, they open the record with the blistering ‘Whale Belly’, which showcases their trademark ability to produce resonant harmony out of discordant parts; thrashed guitar and impassioned yelps combine with machine-gun drums to create two minutes of incisive emotive power. A real warning shot to pretenders and an invitation for their peers to step up.
The Casket Lottery’s original offering, ‘White Lies’, highlights their influence on the current influx of metal-tinged emo bands such as Balance and Composure. Its deep groove interlocks with synth parts and syncopated beats and is balanced by a big, driving refrain.
The covers,  offered up serve as more than mere curios also, really highlighting the liberal scope of the two bands. Touché Amoré take on The Replacements’ classic anthem ‘Unsatisfied’ – a seemingly odd choice given their usual dynamism. The song revels in its lack of direction, but its cathartic rendering of aimless disaffection suits Jeremy Bolm’s tortured howl down to a tee. Their counterparts, on the other hand, choose an adaptation of a contemporary classic (and one well outside their usual sphere of influence) with their unique take on the dream-pop of ‘The Myth’ by Beach House, stripping back on the crunch to highlight their glimmering melodic nuance.
Despite it’s short running time, the quality and diversity of these four tracks garners repeat spins for fans of either band anticipating lengthier releases. 
Check out Touché Amoré HERE & The Casket Lottery HERE

Monday, 24 September 2012

Pub Crawl - The Harley, Sheffield


Very few venues have that quality of being a place you can feel at ease within at any hour of the day or night, but Sheffield’s Harley doubtlessly has just that, functioning equally well for the residents of Steel City as main evening destination, Sunday hangover hideaway and legendary venue, regularly staying open until 5am.
The main attraction of The Harley, it goes without saying, is it’s ever busy gig calendar. The place is booked up (along with it’s larger sister venue, Queens Social Club) by it’s in-house promo team Harley Live, as well as a variety of independent promoters, and manages to pull in a plethora of local and touring bands. Highlights from the past few years have included This Town Needs GunsMaybeshewillA Place to Bury StrangersTubelordThree Trapped Tigers and Ghostpoet to name but a few. As well as live shows, there are all manner of great nights regularly laid on, ranging from dubstep to hip-hop, from indie to swing.
However, bands and DJs alone do not make for the perfect all-round venue. By day, The pub becomes theTwisted Burger Kitchen, offering its own take on the burgeoning gourmet burger trend. Not for the faint-hearted, the menu rather reads as a dreamscript for those held in the throes of hangover hunger. Undoubtedly the most doctor-bothering of these is the Once Bitten Twice Fried: a battered and deep fried beef patty, topped with bacon,cheese and onion strings. Other beautifully named creations include the Piggy Smalls (AKA The Notorious P.I.G), which offers triple pig product action, sausage topped with both bacon and bbq pulled pork. Fear not, there are also great veggie options with huge bean and lentil behemoths.
With the bringing together of routinely great line-ups, a good drinks range and a unique food menu, coupled with laidback, friendly staff and its urban art meets vintage shop interior, The Harley will undoubtedly be a second home to Steel City’s student crowd for years to come. To top it all off, it is afully functioning hotel, with upstairs rooms available at a reasonable price, allowing non-residents the chance to stay the night after a show!

Check out The Harley @
And make sure you get down to a show real soon!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Crusades - Golden Throats

Glasgow’s Crusades are on a mission to slay all non-believers in the holy power of the riff, and this, their debut EP Golden Throats is the first wave of their post-hardcore onslaught, tearing out of your speakers like a hot broadsword through butter. With a set that is both complex yet direct, angular yet groovy, the band announce themselves in the most bombastic of fashions.

The Scots hit the ground running with ‘Pseudo Andro’, with its arresting intermittent rifle fire guitars and high-register barks opening up a catalogue of awesome twists and turns.  Previously released as a single, there’s more solid riffs in its 5 minutes than most bands manage over entire albums, and the track has earned the band a great deal of buzz in the blogosphere as well as Radio One airplay.  It’s easy to see why – the band fizzle with a palpable vitality that can often be lacking in heavy music that is so technically proficient.  This is the sound of a very able band having fun with little regard for muso posturing. Indeed, the band are well-rooted in punk despite their math persuasions, much akin to a British answer to the Dillinger Escape Plan or a more tech reincarnation of the sadly defunct Ghost of a Thousand.

There’s no fear of them having exhausted their ideas within this first track thankfully, keeping at it full pelt with intricate, spidery intertwining guitars and ping-pong yelps on ‘Hipster Surgery’ and ‘Harlequin’. The latter features a superb change of pace mid-way through with the band finding their way into a groove where lesser peers would have settled for a beatdown. This showcases their uncanny ability to create coherence out of the unexpected. They ease off the gas further on ‘I Hear They Cured Cancer’, with its hypnotic tapping and slow, brooding menace – thankfully they are able to retain their intensity and the track not only serves to break up the EP, but stands out for its quality and not just its difference.

By the time the EP comes to a close our appetites are fully whetted for more than its 17 minutes, and even more so to catch the band in the flesh. These songs demand to be felt rather than merely listened to, and no doubt they are ridiculously fun to play. A brilliantly accomplished first record – Crusades certainly are righteous. 

Friday, 24 August 2012

Wot Gorilla? - Kebnekaise

Wot Gorilla? are unashamed of their love for prog. Their name is itself derived from an instrumental track on Genesis' seminal Wind and Wuthering album, and on this, their debut full length they embrace the genre's ideal of constant change. Very few sections are repeated, instrumentation is complex and lyrics are cryptic. However, they carry it all off with a pop sensibility and post-hardcore emotiveness. This results in an album that is both expansive and full of surprises, yet at times also direct and accessible, either by way of a short-lived vocal hook, jittery guitar line, or punishing break-down.
On the sonic map, Wot Gorilla? occupy a space equidistant from the current crop of UK math-rock/pop acts and the similarly prog-enthused US post-hardcore of Coheed and Cambria and The Fall of Troy, and head out to explore this territory in all directions. Opening instrumental 'I Beat Up the Bathroom. I'm Sorry.' introduces their penchant for syncopated rhythms and intricate Kinsella-inspired guitar work and sets up expectations for first song proper 'Melted Welly', which continues in a similar vein albeit with Mat Haigh's distinctively high tenor entering the fold. This element of their sound particularly invites comparison to Coheed, particularly given his fondness for switching from singing to falsetto lullaby tones, and indeed as the record goes on, it often-times sounds like an extension of The Second Stage Turbine Blade, sharing not only sonic similarities but also the palpable frisson of a young band having fun whilst experimenting with their capabilities.
They do avoid the pitfalls of prog wankery however, thankfully there's no overblown concept, and the musical complexity does truly 'make progress' rather than treading water in a way that only guitarists will appreciate. Of course, this constant 'journeying' aspect can have one detrimental effect in that when certain 'moments' resonate beyond the listening experience it can prove difficult to recall the songs from which they hail. The almost-chorus refrain of "Holy B'Jesus!," where Haigh belts out over a driving chordal riff, does have you thinking they should perhaps go in for that sort of thing more often.
On the whole though, where the focus may be slightly off at times,Kebnekaise is an extremely promising debut by a band able to invert the stereotypes of a much-maligned musical tradition and create something fresh. Closing with single 'Snow White', with its schizophrenic alternation between bouncing dance-rock riffery and brutal, rasping hardcore, part of us doesn't ever want them to settle if it means losing out on such fun.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 30 July 2012

Tramlines Festival 2012

Perhaps the best things in life really are free. Or so you may think after Tramlines weekend in Sheffield. Now well established as the jewel in the city's musical calendar by its fourth year, the festival attracts established acts from far and wide and has every band in the city honing their set and looking to secure the best possible slots to showcase themselves to huge crowds of non-paying punters.


This year, the place to see in the festival was The Forum, where at six we are treated to Guardian-championed neo-folksters Low Duo. The percussionless twosome may not have kickstarted proceedings so much as ushered the occasion in gracefully with their haunting vocals and effective, sparse atmospherics, but they prove uncannily entrancing to those few able to resist a feverish chat over their first pint of the weekend.
Having had my taste for intimacy piqued, I decided to go check outJuffage over at the Cathedral. His stripped down 'one man and his guitar' performance was as charming as his sincere appreciation at being allowed the opportunity to grace the venue, even stopping to take his own snaps of the pew-bound crowd as memento.
By this point, it was time for something completely different in the form of Essex Jazz-Math instrumentalists, Suffer Like G Did, over at Dada. Playing on a lineup put together by Small Ideas, Sheffield Uni's alternative music society, they possibly benefit from a crowd of musos and musicians who can more openly (and open-mouthedly) appreciate the twists and turns and 'how did they time that?!' elements to their loosely structured pieces. However, ludicrous name aside, they retain enough appreciation for melody to deflect any suggestion of inaccessibility and prove likeably humble and unpretentious.
Continuing in a math-rock vein, they're followed onstage by the far more direct NGOD, whose set of emo-tinged alt-rock is played with intensity and passion. Vocalist Sam Augustine deserves particular praise for managing to nonchalantly shrug off falling on his arse during their climactic crescendo. It's not all about the fun of the performance however; the songs are there too, with new single 'Better Man' being a particular highlight. By now the party has arrived at Tramlines 2012, and we're left looking forward to day two as we drift homeward.


After a nice lie-in in preparation for the first full day of the festival, with the blazing light forcing its way through the cracks in the curtains, Weston Park seemed the place to be just as on any other sunny day in Steel City, particularly as local indie-pop favouritesScreaming Maldini were to grace the bandstand. While it's difficult for them to be as captivating as usual in the outdoor setting, their catchy melodies and brass were surely made to soundtrack the gathering of friends upon grass.
In contrast to the chilled atmosphere of the park, I then decided to battle my way down to Devonshire Green's main stage, for what would turn out to be the only time all weekend, to catch Clock Opera. Kudos to whoever booked these guys as they prove to be the perfect festival warm-up act, blending the electronica of their recorded output with a more guitar-led live set-up and plenty of hooky whoa-oh moments to get those down at the front dancing at 3pm, and those further back noting the name as they nod along.
Now there may be a bit of a conspicuous gap in the diary at this point as I rushed off to make preparations for, and play, a set with Likes Lions down at Beg, Borrow, Steal. Despite our rustiness, it was a fun set and great to play material from our upcoming EP for faces both new and familiar.
There was no way I was going to miss the vitriolic display of Future of the Left however, whose rousing anthems allow great opportunity to spend some pent-up energy. The band follow suit, throwing their all into every minute and with Andy Falkous on form, one minute sharply berating an audience member for the 'classiness' of throwing white cider stageward, the next musing upon how he'd like to bring Andre the Giant back from the dead. Their set spans their recorded catalogue as well as a McClusky cut, breaking up their "shouting over guitars," as Falkous neatly coins it, with a synth-heavy middle section. By the close, they've reached fever-pitch, with Jimmy Watkins handing his guitar to a crew member so he can fling himself into the crowd, while Falkous and bassist Julia Rusicka take to dismantling the drum kit as it's being struck and gradually reassembling it at the front of the stage. Raucous.
Later that night, the place to be is Yellow Arch, by trade a practice studio, but kitted out for the day (and night) as Signals, a festival-within-a-festival celebrating the electronic music heritage of Sheffield. Part-funded by Arts Council England, the event features four rooms that cover all sorts of bases, from the minimalist to the bombastic, and earlier in the day, a series of panel talks on digital music culture. Any other day of the year, it would be prudent to spend the whole day, but with so much to see and do elsewhere, it more than serves its purpose of providing a one-of-a-kind night out to end the day.


On any other weekend of the year, the Sunday after the night before may have been written off as a duvet day, but with the prospect of an even stronger day of live bands and even stronger sunshine beating down over the decimated city, it would have taken resolve not to get up.
The most interesting and varied line-up of the day was that curated by Rolo Tomassi down at the New Music Stage outside City Hall, so I ambled my way down there for the first act of the day. Unfortunately unaware that Vales had been forced to pull out of the event due to transport issues, instead of being violently shaken awake by their angular hardcore, I get to bask in the sunshine and quietly acclimatise myself to being awake and hungover before art-popsters Kappa Gamma take to the stage. Recent signings to Rolo's Destination Moon label, the shockingly youthful four (sometimes five) piece captivate the audience with their complex, yet hooky, sometimes frail, sometimes huge dynamics and prove their place on this lineup as ones to watch.
Later in the afternoon, Let's Buy Happinessprove a little underwhelming on the same stage. Perhaps more suited to an indoor venue, while their melancholic indie-pop is charming enough, it never reaches out to the mostly seated audience, rather floating above them on the breeze.
Meanwhile, over at The Bowery, a considerable crowd are gathering for the debut of local outfit Dens, four very smartly turned out young men who play a set of driving anthemic rock, inspired by early 80s radio-Americana. Astonishingly accomplished for a first performance, particularly as they apparently formed just two weeks ago, they please the huge numbers of friends in attendance and the casual drop-ins alike.
Numbers had swelled dramatically down by City Hall in time for today's hosts Rolo Tomassi. It is testament to the city's appreciation that such a challenging band can draw such a huge and diverse group who receive them so very well on home turf. Eva Spence emerges to a cheer in a sparkly little black number, and is a wonder as ever as she races between shrieking and howling and lullaby sweetness. The sound isn't really on the band's side for the opening songs, with vocals in particular getting lost amid the guitars on the wind, at times leaving Eva and brother James appearing to have a silent, yet violent fit, but these issues were soon smoothed out in time to really give the kids something to jump around to. The pit upon cold concrete was both ambitious and hilariously dangerous, and was no doubt appreciated by their onstage ringmasters.
By the time Rolo step down and make way for fellow hometown heroes65daysofstatic, the feeling is that this could (and in an ideal world perhaps should) be a main stage. The entirety of the fenced off arena is filled and there is a palpable sense of expectation. Thankfully, 65days more than live up to this vibe, opening with all four members engaging in a percussion workout, building up to a high-intensity run through of the first few numbers with absolutely no let up to the unmistakeable glitch-dance/post-rock they've made their name with. They clearly ride the wave of excitement and revel in their position atop the bill, with 'frontman' guitarist Joe Shrewsbury in particular displaying an uncommon level of showmanship for an instrumental band, clowning around, joking about the ubiquitous Nando's sponsorship and even organising mass jump-arounds and Mexican waves. They also do poignant as well as ever; 'Dance Dance Dance' and closing duo 'Radio Protector' and 'Tiger Girl' prove contrasting highlights, the former putting the bounce in the crowd, while the latter have arms invariably around shoulders if not aloft. After having to call off their appearance two years ago at the expense of a pesky fire alarm, this year the weekend belongs to them.
Ever keen for more, there was still time to catch a couple of late performances. First up was Toy, who packed out The Harley as a result of being featured in the official programme, but prove an anticlimax considering what has just gone down. It's easy to see the allure of their kraut-rock psychedelia in instrumental passages, but they often seem distant and lacking in feeling. Over at The Green Room however, local act Elephant prove rewarding to those further putting off the onset of Monday morning, with a set of soulful, danceable alt-rock.
And so unfortunately that's it for another year. Minor gripes about queue times aside, it has been gloriously uplifting to experience a festival like no other yet again, where all venue doors are left wide open and attract people of all ages and backgrounds besides more typical live music punters. There's just enough time to grab fish and chips from Betty's round the corner and take one last wistful look at Sheffield in all-embracing urban music utopia mode before the swift return to normality by morning.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Long Haul - Debtors

Sometime in 2011, the hashtag #ukswell began to surface on Twitter, Tumblr and Bandcamp in relation to a number of UK artists, predominantly those on the Tangled Talk or Holy Roar roster. What it actually alludes to is somewhat baffling. It seems to denote neither a genre nor a particular sound as such. Rather as it has always been prefixed with a #, it is simply a hashtag – used to mark out a certain trend, grouping together a group of artists who want to acknowledge a mutual appreciation for each others’ work.
It’s mostly about a scene forming an alliance and uniting over a shared belief that heavy music need say something intelligent, be played with the utmost passion in order to be credible and be inclusive rather than elitist. Such values have helped to break down boundaries and smash prejudices held by and against established ‘heavy’ scenes, leading to the bands in question joining diverse lineups up and down the country, with bills brought together based on a shared ethos and mutual admiration rather than a cross-reference in terms of genre.
Southampton’s The Long Haul have found themselves emerging as part of the so called ‘core’ of this syndicate of bands, those that most openly pray at the altar of their forefathers in ‘progressive hardcore’, Converge, Poison the Well and The Dillinger Escape Plan. The others that Holy Roar Records co-founder Alex Fitzpatrick places amongst them being his own band Pariso, Bastions and Kerouac – the latter of whom joined The Long Haul in a ferocious and well received split. This record went on to find itself on many a blogger’s best of 2011 list and has helped construct an aura of expectancy ahead of their individual debut. Thankfully, Debtors does not disappoint as the band’s definitive opening statement, proving to be a 16 minute tour de force of vital emotiveness.
As is evident from the title of the release, The Long Haul have something to say about the UK’s economic climate, and while much of the lyrical content may wash over you on first listen to the record, there is no escaping the bile which you can positively feel from beginning to end. The general atmosphere of impending doom is crafted from the instrumental opener ‘Lenders’ onward, with its sleazy, loose chords reverberating chillingly, evoking the murky morality of a big business banker. Taking his place, we are gently led down a dark alley before the onslaught of first track proper ‘Holes in the Ground, Bliss in the Sky’ which introduces Harry Fanshawe’s emotive guttural screams from the very first bar and batters the listener at breakneck speeds with little let up throughout.
This track serves as something of a release – the band break out of the blocks and spend some of their pent up frustrations in one big blowout before a sense of reservation is allowed to creep back in for the remainder of the record. That’s not to say that the tracks that follow are any less angry, but it is when the band toy with the dynamics that they are at their most poignant. In particular, when ‘Blank Canvas’ builds up slowly through feedback drenched guitars accompanying the vocal, the hopeless despair of lines such as "I’ve used all the words I have to describe what is real" is allowed to linger on the consciousness and the more widely dispersed bludgeonings appear all the more densely monolithic.
As the title track brings the record to a close with its satisfyingly repetitive sludgy progression, there is a palpable sense of foreboding; that this is just the beginning of what these angry young men have to say for themselves. While it may be argued that this burgeoning scene is yet to match the likes of Defeater and La Dispute, who are riding the crest of the current US ‘intelligent hardcore’ wave, The Long Haul have helped set the standard for the UK crop to follow with an accomplished and coherent first body of work. With the buzz of creative camaraderie surrounding this little group of bands, it will be exciting to see how they will be inspired to better it.

Rating: 7/10