Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Call Of The Wyld: Live Review Of The Year - 2009

The Farrs - Band Of The Year

As ever it has been a busy year. Many gigs attended, many strange sights seen. Most of it has been documented on this site, but incredibly, some of it hasn’t, such as a breathtaking show by The Decemberists at the Forum.

The band played their ‘Hazards of Love’ album in full, with guest vocalists, a version of ‘The Rakes’ Song battered out on five drumkits, and even the door men guarding the entrance turning round and clapping. The band also managed a trick often employed by Nathaniel Fregoso of The Blood Arm, where they get the whole audience to sit down – some mean feat in a venue this size and with pools of Christ Knows What on the floor.

Other goodies this year have been the Applicants playing a blinding set at the late-lamented Metro off Tottenham Court Road. This was one of my favourite venues – small, noisy, sometimes packed to the gunnels but often almost entirely empty apart from a no-nonsense sound lady and a resigned and weary looking barman.

The year started with epic shows from related Manchester bands. Buzzcocks played both their debut albums and made me all happy and silly, then Magazine reformed and were slow and majestic and proud and magnificent.

I had a lovely night in the wilds of West London with a brace of UK-based Japanese bands. It was my first exposure to the awesome Bo Ningen, whose name I didn't even catch at the time. Their set involved full frontal nudity and guitars being passed amongst the crowd. This was just a taste of what was to come later in the year. That night also saw me introduced to the wonderful No Cars, as delightful and funny an act as you are going to see anywhere.

One of the strangest nights of the year was an attempt to see Death Cigarettes at the Haverstock Arms, only to find the band fuming outside because the venue’s idea of a suitable performance area was a small shelf just inside the door, underneath an enormous telly showing a football match. Band and fans then tramped around Camden trying to find a location that would let them play. This ultimately proved futile so I diverted to an excellent show by the Kabeedies at Proud.

I loved Death Cigarettes and saw them more than any other act this year. They have of course now changed their name to the more media-friendly Cold In Berlin. So fingers crossed for that. Best Cigs moments included a couple of riotous shows at Mother in Shoreditch and a well received performance at the Offset Festival.

Death Cigarettes also indirectly introduced me to two new favourite bands – Breakneck Static, who virtually obliterated Tommy Flynn’s in Camden and The Farrs, who I have now seen twice and award the accolade of Call of The Wyld Band Of The Year for their blend of top tunes and aggravated audience and venue molestation. When The Farrs play, no-one is immune from an invitation to dance, be it members of other acts or bar staff goggling at their antics. And lovely people too.

This year saw excellent sets from more established artists. David Byrne used his collaboration with Brian Eno as a basis for a triumphant celebration of the best of Talking Heads, complete with dancers and a very bashful Eno himself.

Also back and barking (literally) was P J Harvey, whose new album with John Parish gets better with each play.

I’m not one for music festivals, but I always make exceptions for the Camden Crawl and Offset.

Perhaps not a vintage Crawl, not least because the event has become so commercial that it is little more than an adjunct to a single big show at the Roundhouse for well-established acts. However, it did introduce me to The Constitution, a Camden pub that I now frequent regularly.

The Crawl was also where I first got to see The XX, a band whose stratospheric success I find somewhat baffling. I’ve got the album, I’ve seen them twice – I’ve TRIED. And I still can’t deal with them for more than five minutes without checking my watch and wanting to be somewhere more interesting.

Offset was back for a second year and was wonderful. Ignoring the performances on the main stage, the real action was in the smaller tents. There were great performances by local bands, but the real finds were those from abroad, particularly Berlin Brides from Greece and Panico from Chile. If money and time and airlines allowed, I’d go and see those two again in a shot.

However, the best performance of Offset and one of the most extraordinary that I have ever seen was that of Bo Ningen, the four Japanese overlords of guitar based psychedelic mayhem. They were heavy like Black Sabbath and as full of violent slapstick as a Mack Sennett comedy. The packed crowd were awestruck, fearful and convulsed with laughter all at the same time. The band were treated like gods for the rest of the weekend, and rightly so.

Bo Ningen Destroy Offset

The Japanese march to a different drum to most acts and props this year also go to Baguette Bardot, the dancing dolly-bird with bread sticks for arms who supported a delightful Shonen Knife at a heaving and humid Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes. Shonen Knife also provided my favourite T shirt of the year- all I’ve got to do now is lose more weight so that I can properly get into it. Afrirampo also rule, as I’m sure you know.

The most unusual gig of the year was seeing LA weirdos We Are The World provide the accompaniment to a fashion show held in the Victoria Miro art gallery. After a trip around an exhibition of strange knitted sculptures, we were lavishly fed and watered and then bombarded by the twin percussion attack of WATW, who paraded around in a succession of impossibly bizarre and shape-altering costumes. Followed by more hospitality by the side of the canal.

Kudos this year also to Kap Bambino for their high energy set at Cargo and Dengue Fever for their surprisingly loud and upbeat show at the Scala. Also great fun were Bang Bang Eche and the seriously strange Duchess Says at Madame Jo Jos.

It’s also been a fine year for what I would term ‘proper’ pop music. Music Go Music’s appropriation of Seventies disco made for a memorable evening at the ICA and The Asteroids Galaxy Tour’s recent brass-injected extravaganza at Bush Hall will also live long in the mind.

Random moments of greatness:
– Amanda Palmer swinging from the balcony of the Union Chapel, strumming a ukulele;
-lying on plush red beds in a boudoir beneath the Café De Paris with Rakell Sa;
- Bearsuit dressed as chickens at Offset;
-Innerpartysystem at the Constitution, spraying beer everywhere so that it dripped from the ceiling throughout their set.
- Mark E Smith skittering around the stage in his wheelchair like a Dalek;
-hiding from the rain and thunder with a pile of bedraggled Goths, their hair and make-up in disarray after a show by The Birthday Massacre;
-Doing a pas de deux with The Farrs at Camden Rock;
-The Horrors fizzling out like a spent firework at Offset as I sit down with a coffee.

Things I could do without:

- Soko at Dingwalls. A performance that was indistinguishable from a mental breakdown. Not good to watch, it was less a question of whether to clap as whether to call the emergency services.
- Pens at Cargo. If you’re going to play, then play. If you are not, then not. Don’t just stand there and simper.
- Telepathe at ULU. Maybe try turning your equipment on?

Finally, this year also saw me finally catching up with a band who I have admired for years and who played their first UK and European dates. Phantogram were everything I could have hoped for and more. Let’s hope for more from them and all other Call Of The Wyld favourites in 2010.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Afrirampo, Pens, Fair Ohs at Cargo - December 10th 2009


It’s the week before ATP and all manner of bands are in town for warm up gigs. This has led to tonight’s venue being less full than I expected, apparently due to Lightning Bolt playing elsewhere. I’m sure the ‘Bolt were great, but the real fun is right here.

We start off with the elephantine dance funk of Fair Ohs (it was Egyptian Hip Hop on Monday – is this a trend?). These three guys jig up and down and are as subtle as a sledgehammer, but are having such a good time that the party is well and truly started. Repeatedly self-referencing Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’, most of their choruses involve yelling and whooping. It’s too early to whoop back, but a good vibe is engendered…

…Until Pens show up. This band completely divides the audience (and my own party) and for once I find myself on the side of the nay-sayers. As seasoned readers will know, I don’t give a damn about technical ability, but I do expect to be entertained.

Pens have got the audience/band relationship ass-backwards. Their entire schtick is “Hey, we’re just girls who haven’t rehearsed, isn’t it crazy and amusing how crap we are?” All that they do is beg for the indulgence of the crowd. It’s cynical and infantile. Watching other people’s kids being irritating is never amusing; no matter how much their loving parents may dote upon them.

I last saw Pens about a year ago and assumed that they were just starting out and cut them some slack. No slack for them now.

In addition to the existing four horsemen of the Apocalypse – Death, Famine, Pestilence, War – we can now add a fifth. Afrirampo. The last are two fearsomely manic Japanese girls, clothed in red and smeared in war paint. They are louder and scarier (and more fun!) than the first four put together.

They start by being carried shoulder high through the crowd, their faces covered by masks, throwing CDs, sweets and other goodies among the throng. They then scramble on stage, Pikachu behind her drum kit and Oni to her guitar. The noise that they then make would get a medium–sized airport shut down.

Oni puts her foot on the monitor and thrashes her instrument. Pikachu bashes and squeals. They shriek back and forth, call and response. The really impressive thing is that this is clearly not random, it’s practiced and structured, even if improvised.

After about ten minutes Oni grabs a member of the audience and drags him onstage by the hood of his parka. He is given a guitar and he immediately begins to play, while the two girls climb atop their drum kit and chatter. This seems suspiciously pre-planned, but it works.

Later on, the two bring another fellow onstage, perch him precariously on a chair and encourage him to make bird sounds while they blow flutes at him. He seems suitably nonplussed.

And so it goes on. Pikachu and Oni alternate between deafening riffage and barmy percussion. Occasionally something approaching a tune breaks out. They chatter away in Japanese, although their English seems to improve remarkably if they need the sound or lighting altered. It is wonderful, silly fun.

As the audience file out, they charge back onstage for a mostly unexpected encore. Oni runs straight off the stage wielding her guitar and crashes into the crowd. It’s insane. As the mayhem subsides, the girls declare themselves to be off to Lightning Bolt’s hotel.

It’s probably no longer standing...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Ellie Goulding, Egyptian Hip Hop - Upstairs At The Garage, 07 December 2009

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

We are gathered in the relatively confined space that is Upstairs at The Garage to see three acts that have been flagged up as having the potential to break out of such small arenas and dominate much bigger venues.

First up we get Egyptian Hip-Hop, a very young bunch of Mancunian lads who touch on any number of musical trends, without really seeming particularly at home in any of them. Many of their songs display a love of the punk funk that Vampire Weekend employ, but also contain a series of protracted instrumental wig outs which must be fun to play, even if the trick is repeated too often.

The problem that I have with them is that it is in their moments when they are being most earnest and prog-rockish that they seem the most amateur and ham-fisted. Otherwise they lay down a series of good, danceable grooves and that singer Alexander’s voice is mostly inaudible doesn’t particularly matter.

This lot could go in either direction- they could become humourless musos or they could become a highly infectious dance/rock act. Fingers crossed.

Ellie Goulding is pretty much at the top of every list that predicts who is going to be huge in 2010. On tonight’s performance, such confidence is cynical in the extreme.

Accompanied only by a guy on acoustic guitar and occasional keyboards, Ellie starts off with her best known song to date, ‘Under The Sheets’. It is pretty good in an unremarkable way, i.e. nothing that would surprise you at a decent acoustic night.

Ellie is not an effortless singer. Her face contorts as she strains for the high notes, making a strange gnawing motion with her mouth which is rather unsettling and makes me feel like a tree must feel when a beaver comes towards it.

It is also the case that by three songs into her set, she has almost entirely lost the attention of this small audience, and the buzz of private conversations is so loud that she can barely be heard. As she finishes, her face is flushed with temper. Never mind, she won’t be exposed to an indifferent crowd again.

That Ellie Goulding will be a star has already been decreed by the music industry. However, on this evidence, she’s going to need a lot of polishing and carefully managed gigs to justify the money that is being put behind her.

In the six months or so since I last saw them, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have taken off big style. Tomorrow night they are headlining the Scala, so it is a bit of a coup to catch them in these small surroundings.

They have also evolved musically. In the early days they wore their influences as conspicuously as Ed Gein flapping around in the skins of his victims, but now they have a fierce confidence that makes this a real thrill ride of a performance.

They are led by the preppy charms of singer/guitarist Kip Berman, who is a young Paul McCartney, right down to the mop top hair and the cardigan. The band fairly fizzes along. If they used to be called twee, they now ally their simple catchy pop with a power that sees them take on Ash on their own territory and win.

The crowd go berserk. There are girls jumping up and down, crying and screaming and calling out. It’s genuine Bermania. I’ve not seen anything like it directed at a band like this for years. TPOBPAH are brilliant tonight, not just stars in the making but supernova right now. The future is theirs.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, Giana Factory at Bush Hall 26 November 2009

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour

I love the Bush Hall. I love its faded glamour and dinky chandeliers. Its ridiculously cramped bar/merchandise/toilet area. That a grand piano is tucked absently in a far corner. That no matter how sold out it purportedly is, it always seems only around half full. That the room with the stage in it looks like a barn designed by Liberace.

I’m here for an evening of top Danish fun. I’m not to be disappointed.

We start off with the slightly sinister pop of Giana Factory, three girls who perch at the front of the stage, one with bass, one with guitar and singer Louise Foo triggering all manner of percussive samples from a podule that she beats with what might possibly be a pair of unicorn horns.

Their songs are interesting, often starting out in breezy fashion before being overtaken by an almost Kraftwerk-like machine rigour. Best of all is ‘Heart Thief’, which goes on for a good five minutes and has me twitching from foot to foot. It can be found on their ‘Bloody Game’ EP, which I heartily recommend.

So I’m in a good mood before the main band come on. I’m delirious after.

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour are awkwardly named but absolute masters at the art of getting a crowd to have a great time. They play an infectious, brass-driven pop that soon has everyone lurching back and forth and grinning so much it hurts.

All eyes are on the extraordinary figure of Mette Lindberg, who is tightly constricted by a spangly black mini-dress that may have been sprayed on. She has long blonde hair falling all over her face and panda eyed makeup. Lady Gaga may have a lot to answer for.

Lindberg’s voice is very distinctive, a sexy Eartha Kitt style quack that is simultaneously petulant and pleasing. She jiggles around, banging a tambourine and flirting outrageously with the saxophone player Sven Meinilidz, who looks as though he would love to show her his horn afterwards.

Although they are plugging their debut album ‘Fruit’, the band find time for a wealth of new material, all of which sounds just as good as existing crowd favourites ‘Around The Bend’, Push The Envelope’ and ‘Satellite’. In fact it’s pretty much hits all the way. They even throw in a version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’ for good measure.

For a breathless encore they unleash a brand new, Motown-inflected stomper that if anything tops the songs before it. It comes in at about ten on the pop Richter scale.

All good things have to come to an end, and sated, I boogie off into the night. The Asteroids Galaxy Tour have already snagged themselves an Ipod commercial, and their future looks stellar.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Plastiscines, Eight Legs at Camden Barfly, 17 November 2009


Tonight we’re off to cherchez les femmes. Dans Le Barfly in Camden.

However before we get to see the hotly-tipped Gallic gals who are headlining, we are invited to shake ourselves to Eight Legs.

This four piece have a great deal going for them. They have a succession of decent, catchy songs and a lively stage presence. They have a preening guitarist who tosses his hair and makes the girls squeal. They have a singer who cannot sing.

If front man Sam Jolly has the best set of pipes in the band, I’d surely hate to hear the others. Almost every song is robbed of about half its greatness by being barked out in a stone flat Billy Bragg honk. That this doesn’t stop Eight Legs being a damn fine band is testament to the talent that they possess, but sheesh, talk about fog horns.

And now here come the girls. Not as a drunken hen party accessorised with cheap cosmetics but as the proficient garage rock of the deliciously French Plastiscines.

The crowd go ape. In fact a small section of the audience are so rowdy and pain in the arse that it is hard to concentrate on the band, because of the possibility of having to wade in and settle their hash. However, eventually they calm down to within tolerable levels and equilibrium is reached.

The band rattles their way through a set that leans heavily on their new album ‘About Love’. Like many all-girl bands of a mock-combative nature they have a song about a ‘Bitch’. All their material is of a good standard, but none of it completely stands out. To be honest, if they weren’t drop dead gorgeous (singer Katty Besnard is going to be on the front cover of every magazine that writes about them), I doubt that they would garner more than minimal interest.

But they are fun and they make the right kind of noise and I’m not going to be churlish about them. Particularly after an encore in which they drag every girl in the place onstage for one final tumultuous pile-up of ‘Bitch’.

Vive le France. Vive le Difference!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Sunday Driver, J-Marie Cooper, Gabriella Ellis - Cafe De Paris 13 November 2009

Sunday Driver

Back to the Café De Paris for a Friday of random pop acts. As usual, things are weighted more towards the X-Factor/ night club range of the spectrum, and there are some excellent performances tonight.

First off we get the leather jacket and spandex leggings of J-Marie Cooper, pouting and vamping through a series of fast tempo rock songs of the type that Pink would give her hefty tattooed forearm for. Long of leg and with a snarl on her lips, J-Marie is a formidable front woman, possessed of a piercingly powerful voice. Much better on the faster material, she also indulges in a couple of weepy ballads that are technically very good, but a bit icky for my tastes. Her only misstep is to finish with a slowed down and sanitised version of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ – when the audience recognise the song there is a momentarily visible cringe and recoil. This is just a minor misjudgement – she is a terrific performer.

Next up comes Gabriella Ellis. She is accompanied by the Dark Diamonds - a bad-girl troupe of four dancers and together they raunch their way through a short set of steamy electro pop that reminds me of Britney Spears better stuff (i.e. the barmy Britney of 'Blackout').

Gabriella and the Diamonds writhe and preen and ripple with power, moving off the stage and among the audience. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of them.

Next up come Total Movement, who are the first band of the night. They are technically proficient in a non-threatening easy listening kind of way, but the vocals are autotuned to such a ridiculous extent that it is hard to get any feel for them. They are young and good looking, but they are either aiming at tweenagers or grandmothers. Which of course is the most lucrative market there is. It just doesn’t include me.

And then an act who are largely uncategorisable. Sunday Driver are dressed in Victorian garb (including some excellent stove pipe hats) and play a part Western, part Hindi type of rock on guitars, sitars and tablas. They are led by the very engaging Chandrika, who chats cheerfully and sings in a traditional Indian style. The combination of instruments is mesmerising and they go down hugely well. At times they almost sound like an Eastern Spiritualised. I purchase their album and although I experience a small degree of buyers’ remorse the following day, it is certainly a fine souvenir of a unique act.

The next act also flirts with the days of Empire. Lucid Jake and his band are dressed in cavalry jackets and blouson shirts. They start and finish their set with their front man centre stage, blindfolded and, to a military drum roll, feigning being executed by firing squad. As an attention grabber it’s…different.

Once the theatricals are out the way the band settle down to a series of keyboard heavy pop tunes, all of which are very easy on the ear, none of which entirely stick in the memory. LJ smiles and tosses his hair and looks as though he would eat himself if he were made out of chocolate. Still, you’ve got to admire his confidence.

Train difficulties mean that I have to cut short my appraisal of the final act, V Double E. From what I see, this is possibly for the best, as she appears to be an extremely basic rapper whom the likes of Goldielocks would eviscerate.

I always enjoy Friday nights down the Café De Paris. A great time is guaranteed and the whole evening is often as mad as a box of frogs. Recommended for anyone who wants to see the intersection of the music business and show business. For me, the stars tonight were J-Marie Cooper, who could give any TV variety contestant a good shellacking and Sunday Driver, who could entertain almost any type of crowd.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Yearner Babies, Narration, Kaputt, Sketches - Upstairs at Garage, 5 November 2009

This is a guest review from Clive, one of the Call Of the Wyld regulars. The views expressed are his own, but ones that I am happy to endorse.

"I’m off to see Kaputt, as apart from them being one of my favourite bands over the last few years I bumped into lead singer Silke at the weekend and promised to see her at their next gig. This is the third time at other gigs this has happened so I imagine that in her mind she is thinking, in German of course, “Yeah right, sure you will”. ("Yeah nach rechts, selbstverständlich werden Sie"- helpful Wyldman)

But this time there are no other clashes and I’m as good as my word. I’m expecting to clear off early tonight as Kaputt are on early and from what I know about the other bands that are on, Kaputt are the only likely candidates for producing sparks this bonfire night.

I pitch up at what is now known as the Relentless Upstairs Garage, I think Relentless relates to some sort of energy drink. Everybody is selling naming rights these days. Sketches are in full flow, they have a good little crowd of fans and for me they are ok as the opening band to warm things up and the guys are affable enough but this is not really my thing.

The Sketches fan club departs rapidly as they finish their set and we are left with about 25 people sparsely scattered across the room. This is as crowded as it gets for the rest of the night. I think everybody is out at pyrotechnic displays. Kaputt arrive on stage and after a slow start we are into some stomping old faves and I love Kaputt all over again. At the end, there is what I think is a new song, which is a special treat as I close my eyes and hear a sound so similar to the very much missed mighty KaitO. I chat with Silke after and share my latest gig list, she agrees to come along to some and I once again promise to see more of Kaputt, and I will.

Narration are up next and for me another ok proficient band, but not too my taste.

So it has just gone 10pm and I give the final band a chance, which means they have to hook me within the first three songs. Members of Yearner Babies have been in the crowd all night, some resplendent in military style jackets. I’m not expecting any fireworks from this lot and first song meets my low expectations and it looks like it will be an early finish, but bang whoosh scream in an instant that all changes, the tempo goes through the ceiling I’m listening to the Bookhouse Boys spliced with the Melys, fronted by a gorgeous Hilary Swank look-a-like, who goes by the name of Gee, who is throwing shapes and engaging gloriously with both crowd and band.

I want a bigger crowd and then we would all be dancing and singing along with complete uninhibited abandon. Works of art are scattered across the front of the stage and each piece relates to songs such as Pablo, Neville, Icarus and Mary. Also, there is a guy on stage dressed as a seagull. Obviously.

We are encouraged to sign up to their mailing list mid performance and I panic because the pen doesn’t work. They finish, its late, I run round them like a puppy begging for a CD and wanting to tell them in my slightly inebriated condition how great they are. They are saved from my further attentions by the insistence of staff that it is time to leave. My new favourite band next play in London on 16 December at Bar Music Hall."

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Phantom Band / Sir Yes Sir at The Borderline - 4th November 2009

Phantom Band

New York socialite Dorothy Parker once said of Katharine Hepburn that “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B”. Miaow! I feel the same watching jovial guitar janglers Sir Yes Sir.

Somewhere I have a recording of the Wedding Present playing ‘Box Elder’ by Pavement. So, I would wager, have SYS. Not that there is anything wrong with that, to quote Jerry Seinfeld.

The Wedding Present - Box Elder Mo
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Sir Yes Sir ape their heroes right down to the check plaid shirts and yelped vocals. The guitars rattle along in a hundred mile an hour chime. There’s nothing deep, nothing difficult, just good clean fun.

The Phantom Band are a strange beast. Taking the stage, two of the band are shrouded in Chromehoof-style golden monk’s cowls. The rest look like they’ve just stepped off a fishing smack.

The single most impressive thing about them is how musically developed and confident they are. As far as I am aware they only have one (very good) album ‘Checkmate Savage’ behind them, yet their set is varied and strong, as though they have culled the finest bits from years of material. It already sounds like an oft-played Greatest Hits.

There is a strong Krautrock thread running through the best of their songs, powered by the cowled keyboard player and a battery of guitars. This driving groove is kept under tight rein, and never allowed to degenerate into any kind of freeform wig-out. Discipline is the key.

The variety of their sound is reflected in the use of unorthodox percussive instruments, many of which seem to have been hand fashioned from odd bits of metal or wood. At one stage, two of the band are playing melodicas, which when the tube disappears beneath a cowl makes the musician in question look like one of Doctor Who’s Ood.

Presiding over everything as master of ceremonies is singer Rick Anthony, flushed of face and squinty of eye, a jocular dead spit of Captain Haddock. Some of his gurning and mugging is a little ripe for my tastes, but he can certainly sing, often in a beautiful falsetto.

Everything is going swimmingly until we reach ‘Island’. This is a slow, long lachrymose dirge of a ballad that sucks all the momentum out of the gig. It is immaculately performed and the crowd go absolutely nuts for it, - it is clearly the Phantom Band’s signature tune, their ‘Stairway To Heaven’. And I just hate it. Which is a problem, because it is infuriatingly memorable.

It kills the rest of the set for me. I just can’t get back into them, even though it is followed by ‘The Howling’, which for me is the highpoint of their album.

So I finish the evening somewhat torn. That The Phantom Band are a formidable outfit is not in question. I like/love a good eighty percent of what they do. But that other twenty percent causes me big problems. I think that in future I’ll stick with their records.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Molotovs, Koko Von Napoo, Pop Martyr, ARCs at The Fly, 23 October 2009

Koko Von Napoo by Marco

I’m here at The Fly, which is always a confusing venue. The downstairs area where the bands play is bigger than the upstairs bit which is on open view to passers by at street level. This means that on evenings when the place is operating at less than full capacity that a casual observer would be forgiven for thinking that the whole place is completely empty and socially lifeless, when in fact there is vibrant activity down below. They can’t get much casual custom on such occasions.

Down below ARCS are in full cry. They play a loud, dynamic, fairly tuneful brand of rock and their fans are lapping it up. They look to be experienced musicians and are pretty enjoyable. I find them rather hit and miss, but several of my friends really like them and make noises about wanting to see them again.

Next up come Pop Martyr, who are rather akin to a jolly mariachi band. Trumpets are much to the fore. I respect their musicianship, but they do nothing at all for me and I temporarily retreat upstairs.

Following on come the band we are here to see, the exotically named Koko Von Napoo from France (via Brighton). The focus is the delightfully deadpan singer Toupie, who sings and scowls, having fun but careful not to appear too uncool.

The band plays a catchy brand of electro pop which goes down well with the crowd without ever quite reaching “hands in the air like you just don’t care” levels of excitement. There is some banter amongst the band when Toupie accidentally introduces the third song of the evening as being their last, with the drummer jokingly wondering if they are about to split up.

Koko Von Napoo are very endearing but don’t quite have that je ne sais quois, as they almost certainly don’t say in France.

The venue is pretty full now for The Molotovs, who have spent the year gathering fans like a snowball rolling down hill. They are starting to have the air of real contenders for mainstream recognition.

It helps that they sound like a jumble of any number of successful acts while incorporating their own unique elements. So while singer Will’s voice evokes bands such as Starsailor or Keane, the furious violin and trumpet work of Ed Jenkins propel things along at a much faster pace than those balladeers. Indeed, it is this surging confidence and attack which is the main difference between The Molotovs of a year ago and the new improved model.

I’ve had a long day, and I’m feeling a bit ropey, so I have to cut the band short to head off home.

If The Molotovs continue on their current trajectory, they’ll be on the radio when I get there.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Phantogram / Quad Throw Salchow / Grasscut at The Fly -25 October 2009

I have been looking forward to tonight for around three years.

It was back in late 2006, early 2007 (I think) that I first came across a band called Charlie Everywhere. I think that it may have been the result of a random add request on Myspace. It was an awful band name. But I fell in love with Joshua Carter and Sarah Barthel and I fell hard.
Since then I have kept tabs on the duo from Saratoga Springs, New York, downloading their tracks as they became available, buying their T shirt and keeping the flame alive in my heart. When they changed their name to the only marginally less awful ‘Phantogram’, I was relieved, bought the merchandise again and wondered if they would ever tour over here…

So I am here on a Sunday night in an under-populated venue called The Fly located in New Oxford Street. I have cajoled a number of my more forbearing friends to come along too. I have fingers crossed and hope for the best.

There are three acts tonight and we start with the fascinating if rather unfocussed retro-futurism of Grasscut. These are two guys (Andrew and Marcus) who wear matching suits and glasses and who entertain us with electronic glitches and skronks, samples of church bells and a rocking electric double bass. There are occasional Hot Chip –y moments, and perhaps an affinity with similar English electronic eccentrics Flotation Toy Warning or Hallmark. It’s the sound of the future engineered to mimic post war austerity. It’s an ambitious aim, and the duo can’t quite carry it off – they don’t have the songs as yet and there are moments when the technology seems to be playing the band rather than the other way around. Interesting stuff nonetheless.
Next up we have the trancey motorik beats of Quad Throw Salchow. A mysterious three piece, they create room for themselves to perform, with JG hunched behind a workbench laden with electronic gear to one side, bassist K pounding out rhythms in prime Peter Hook mode on the other. Centre stage is singer O, who croons in parallel with the music rather than following the tunes. Her eyes are closed and she twists from side to side, her arms outstretched in a pose of crucifixion.

These songs are persistent, nagging washes of sound, propelled by the bass and the electric tics of the machinery. They work through repetition and epic span. This band know a good groove when they hit one and extend themselves to heroic length – the final track must last at least fifteen to twenty minutes. As with all such music, whether they succeed or fail depends upon whether they can entice the audience to come along for the ride. I enjoy them a lot, but a quick poll amongst my mates afterwards indicates no more than a fifty percent hit rate.

And finally I am in a room watching Phantogram. And they are more wonderful than I had dared to hope.

Sarah is standing behind a selection of electronic equipment that appears to be half state of the art and half something cobbled together out of an old VCR. Joshua is feeding his guitar through a vast array of effects pedals. They start with “As Far As I Can See” with its sampled brass section and they don’t look back.

They are much more hard edged and dynamic than their recorded works would indicate, Sarah jolting as though shot through with an electric current, her eyes closed and her head thrown back in a delightful smile that highlights the wonders of American dentistry. Josh appears frozen by a frantic white strobe light, occasionally whirling his instrument in stabs of sonic violence.

The buzzing hum of ‘Running From The Cops’, with its peculiar effect that makes Josh’s voice sound as though he is drowning makes way for long time favourite ‘Mouthful Of Diamonds’ which is as sweet as a summer evening . This music is just fantastic. I could say that this is the sound that School Of Seven Bells promised, and ultimately failed to deliver, but such comparisons sell Phantogram short.

The set draws heavily from debut album/compilation Eyelid Movies, which I commend to you all.

This is the first night of a whistle-stop European tour and they are going to make friends wherever they go. Hurry back guys.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Doll and The Kicks - Camden Barfly 9 October 2009

Doll & The Kicks by Indigo Burns

It’s a routine trip out to the Barfly. However, as usual, there are unexpected treats to be found if you look about.

The first band onstage are the difficult-to-Google ‘Ray’. They have a laconic and cheery front man (let’s call him ‘Jack Kansas’) and they play basic, guitar-heavy rock. They aren’t revolutionary, but they ain’t bad either and I’m happy to spend time in their company. Jack is wearing a Damn Vandals’ T-shirt and I’m pretty sure that he and they may be related.

The next band on are already playing stadiums in their heads and whether they get to do this for real will depend on the British public’s hunger for yet another bunch of lads who have taken Kasabian/Oasis epic pomp pop as a rigid template. Sound Of Guns are big and brash and spend a lot of time blinding us with white lights. They are very good at what they do, which does not make them in any way likeable.

It is a huge, empty sound, devoid of anything other than fake emotion and shouty sincerity. They are dispiriting, and will probably be massive. It’s the equivalent of a television the size of a house that is just used to screen the Jeremy Kyle Show.

Headliners are Doll & The Kicks and their name says it all. This is an act that is all about singer er...Doll, batting her huge black eyelashes and bouncing around under a big pink bow in her hair. The rest of the band is utterly anonymous, both in terms of appearance and music.

As a showcase for their singer, tonight’s show is exemplary. We get snarly naughty-but-nice rock, the occasional lapse into reggae rhythms, and cheesy mainstream pop. Doll’s eyes are hypnotic (she has GREAT eyes) and you can’t tear yourself away from her. This is both the blessing and curse – I’m glad to have seen her in action, but can’t remember a single song or riff that the band played. It’s all very enjoyable and pleasant, but I expect more from the bands that I see. ‘Doll’ would be a charming performer whatever she was doing, but I get the feeling that she doesn’t need to be in this band to achieve this.

In many respects Doll & The Kicks remind me of past Call Of The Wyld faves Battlekat (who I think may have split up, but would be delighted if they haven’t) -a charismatic front person with a penchant for performance, but no real sense of direction or purpose. You might watch the DVD, but you wouldn’t play the MP3.

Dressing up is fun, but never quite as much fun for other people as it is for you.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Monkeyrush, The Farrs, Waiting For A Superhero at Camden Rock 02 October 2009

Farrs by Fragiled Photography

The Stones were shit at Altamont.

Sure, they had thousands of fans and drugs and free love and Hells Angels knifing some poor sod to death. Gimme shelter? Gimme a break.

You want ‘memorable’? You want Henry V? –“If you ain’t here you can hold your manhood cheap, motherfuckers.”[i] We got ‘memorable’ here tonight. I’ve just seen The Farrs play a set of such steaming greatness that I will tell my hypothetical son that his life is OVER, he can’t compete, Dad wins, sorry Bub, but it’s down to the hypothetical grandkids now.

It’s been an odd night. Even finding the venue is a battle because the Internet only belatedly identifies ‘Camden Rock’ as the building formerly known as ‘The Mint Cafe’ or ‘WKD’ or ‘that shithole across the road from the Underworld.’

When we finally get here, the Farrs are sound checking. This involves shouting at the sound guy, checking how far the mike lead will stretch and helping drummer Helen nailing a skittish kit down. They sound terrific, but once they leave the stage another band takes over.

Their sound check is a bit rubbish because the heavily, impressively tattooed drummer keeps knocking his kit off the stage. It is only when they carry on regardless that we realise that Waiting For A Superhero are not practicing, but actually playing.

Everyone has to start somewhere and they are in the early stages of their career here tonight. They are incredibly raw, but there is a germ of goodness in there. I wish them luck.

The Farrs (often known as “Fucking hell, did you see The Farrs?”) not only blow the bloody doors off but detonate every single one of your senses. Bang! Your eyes are gone as singer Harley bounces onto and then along the bar, playing with the light fittings. Bang! Your ears pack up with the sheer sonic overload of the extended noise box thrashout of ‘Pest Go Easy’, Harley hugging passing bar staff, rapping with the crowd (such as it is) and engaging your correspondent in a knees-up joust across the room.

Other senses? The Farrs taste as salty and fresh as a tsunami round the chops – or more accurately the taste of the fountains of beer that the singer throws over himself and the photographers present. Touch – there isn’t a person in the room that has not been mauled, cajoled, boogied with or mock-molested by the time this is over. Smells good to me.

This is an epochal performance, and certainly the three men and a dog who are the actual paying audience appreciate it.

It is to the immense credit of the next band, Monkeyrush, that they can follow that. Led by bubbly Fil Planet, this Bromley contingent lay down some infectious ska/skank grooves that we can all get behind. She has a great voice and because she and her band are seasoned performers it is no wonder that they are pretty damn good at what they do. We jump up and down as much as is reasonable.

I leave with my mind blown.

Go and see The Farrs

Go and see The Farrs

Go and see The Farrs

You won’t be sorry.

Postscript: This piece was bashed out in less time than it has taken you to read it. It was fuelled by adrenaline, Stella Artois and an empty table on the Thameslink. I could have taken the time to tidy it up, but that wouldn’t be in the spirit of the evening.

[i] And gentlemen in England, now a-bedShall think themselves accursed they were not here,And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaksThat fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

teenagersintokyo / Still Corners at Water Rats 30 September 2009


It may have been the usual mild/wet/disappointing summer, but on the Gray’s Inn Road conditions have obviously been more tropical. Tonight I’m in the Water Rats and it is as hot as the jungles of Borneo in here.

This leads to a bizarre beginning to the evening in which the slightly cooler bar of the venue is full of people while the doors to the performance area are wide open and there is not a living soul inside. Eventually a band comes on stage and finds themselves confronted with a completely empty room. However, once they start playing, the audience files in.

The band in question is Still Corners and they are rather wonderful. They are fronted by the striking Olivia, who stares straight ahead, gently swaying to the slow syncopation of the rest of the band. Her wispy, echoing vocals sigh like a summer breeze, almost indistinct but enough to raise the hairs on your neck.

The obvious comparison would be with the off-kilter and creepy nightclub music of David Lynch collaborator Julee Cruise. There is a sense of theatre, of mystery, of lush decadence.

The other band members are mostly undemonstrative, but work themselves into a quiet storm on the closing numbers. The hot-house atmosphere works in their favour, as they seem icily cool even as everything around them melts.

As Still Corners finish the room empties again, with the crowd dispersing in search of oxygen. I take the opportunity to purchase the band’s mini-album ‘Forget Pepper’.

The main act of the night is Teenagersintokyo, an Australian outfit last seen by me a just over a year ago. They are now temporarily resident in London, recording and touring.

Since last time I saw them the band have evolved and smoothed out many of the rough edges from their early performances. In particular, singer Samantha Lim is glamoured up in an off the shoulder sheath and eyelashes that are several inches long. She looks sultry and stunning, and knows it.

The rest of the band have taken the opportunity to dress up too, in a variety of Eighties-style themes that range from Olivia Newton John ‘Let’s Get Physical’ gym wear to Sheena Easton geometric haircuts. The lone guy in the band, drummer Rudy, wears a head band but is otherwise content to leave the girls to draw the eye.

It takes a long time for the band to make much of an impression. Many of their songs are routine dance/club numbers which you can tell are going to be much better on record once they have been tweaked and remixed. As it is they are good but fall short of being great. That said, new single 'Isabella' is just peachy.

It doesn’t help that there are a sizeable number of wankers in the crowd who seem to be only here to jabber and shout to each other all the way through the band. From the accents you get the impression that they are hangers on who don’t actually give a damn about the performance.

It is said that men sweat but women glow. Before the end Lim is glowing like a 100 Watt light bulb. She grabs a drumstick for the final number and leads the whole band in a percussive work out. Guitars and keyboards are abandoned as everyone grabs a stick and beats on bells and bottles. This is when teenagersintokyo come into their own and properly loosen up. It’s a great finish but I could have done with more of this spontaneity and a little less of the rather anodyne disco tracks that preceded it.

However, this is a relatively minor quibble. A band with an approval rating of say, seven out of ten, is well worth going to see. Kudos too for Still Corners, who I shall certainly endeavour to seek out again.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Music Go Music at Institute of Contemporary Arts, 22 September 2009

Music Go Music (Image with kind permission of The Music Fix)

When you think of Saturday night television back in the Seventies, it is usual to reminisce about Morecombe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, Mike Yarwood and the rest. You remember the sketches with nostalgia. But there was another facet of these shows – that moment when the hosts went for a lie down or a bottle of whisky and the special guests came on. These tended to be ‘middle of the road’ acts such as Clodagh Rodgers or The New Seekers and they often played the same slot every week. It was an innocent time of big hair, brilliant smiles and songs about kittens.

...Meanwhile, in 2009, Meredith and David Metcalf from ace Californian outfit Bodies of Water have had an idea…

…There is a wash of dry ice across the ICA stage. There is a backdrop of twinkling stars. There are indeterminate shapes on the stage that are revealed to be an enormous harlequin mask and a giant hourglass with ‘Time’ written upon it.

The band come onto the stage and it is as though we are back watching a soft-focus video of that golden age of light entertainment. The guys all have hair that is so long and bouffant that they are practically treading on it, the girls are all blonde and feather-cut like Farrah Fawcett-Majors. This is Music Go Music and this is an evening of retro-magic.

They are fronted by the beaming, nervous figure of ‘Gala Bell’, who has one of the strongest and clearest voices in all pop music. The power that she generates is quite something, particularly as it seems to be mostly effortless, the notes never wavering no matter how loud she sings. From certain angles she looks a bit like Meredith Metcalf...

The set closely matches the running order of the new album ‘Expressions’ and starts with the Pink Floyd ‘Great Gig In The Sky’ wails of “I Stand Alone”. The sound in the venue is initially all over the place, probably because the engineer is flummoxed by a seven piece band, most of whom seem to be singing at full belt like this was the closing number of a West End musical.

However, things soon get properly on track with ‘Light Of Love’, merely the first of a number of songs that don’t just reference ABBA but which are so good that somewhere Meryl Streep is climbing into her dungarees in order to sing them in a musical.

The usual ICA audience is as fashion conscious and circumspect as hell, but faced with this onslaught (and MGM genuinely ROCK) they wave, clap and stamp along. These songs are utterly preposterous, so over the top that there can be no resistance. The sheer gleeful euphoria is overwhelming. ‘Gala’ is enjoying herself so much that most of the time between songs is spent in fits of giggles.

There isn’t a weak song in the set, nor any moment when the illusion slips. During the chorus of ‘Explorers of the Heart’ I find that tears of joy are misting my glasses up.

It’s not all ABBA though. The epic ten-minute single ‘Warm In The Shadows’ is a pure Studio 54 disco stomper that is built upon the bass line throb of Blondie’s ‘Atomic’. The only thing missing is a glitterball.

The show ends with The Carpenters-esque ballad “Goodbye Everybody”. Like everything else tonight, it is perfectly judged.

I absolutely loved this show. This makes the Seventies look so good, that you wonder why we got rid of them.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Farrs, Hindley, Death Cigarettes at Mother 333 12th September 2009

The Farrs

Do you believe in love at first sight?

It was promising to be a pleasant but routine gig at Mother/333 (what IS this venue called?) on Saturday, and as is my habit, I got there in good time for the support acts.

First up were The Farrs, who had travelled down from Leeds for the evening. And in a small room in front of no more than a couple of handfuls of people, I witnessed one of the most devastatingly powerful sets of the year.

At first glance, they seem a regulation band – guitar, bass, drums and a singer – and when they start off at full pelt it augers good things.

Half an hour later I am deaf as a post and in tatters. The Farrs start explosively and just keep motoring, faster and denser throughout the set. They do not let up for a second. It’s like being run over.

Singer Harley is a revelation, never static for a second as he charges about the venue like a mad man, tearing at his clothing, grabbing at girls in the crowd to dance with, spinning them around until they are left dizzy and bewildered, as he moves from one to the next.

Each song is more breakneck than the last, and the band (Ross, Ads and drummer Helen) do well to hold themselves together as Harley bashes into them, his T shirt by now hanging in rags from his body. The energy that the band puts out is astonishing.

In a great piece of theatre, the microphone is tossed to an acquaintance in the crowd, who delivers a tremendously shouty speed-rap into the mix. Harley finishes rolling over and over across the floor of the room.

When The Farrs finally come to a screeching halt we all whoop and applaud. Compared to what we have just seen, it seems an inadequate response. The Farrs describe themselves as “an average band from Leeds”. This is disingenuous – on this evidence, they are one of the best bands in the country.

It speaks volumes for the next act that they can even follow that. But they more than acquit themselves admirably.

Hindley (and there’s a name that will attract headlines should stardom ever beckon) consist of singer/guitarist Red, Gemma and Nixie resplendent in silver lame on guitar and bass and drummer Matt.

The band plays an intelligent, shoegazey pop that builds into an atmospheric performance. Red has a distinctive vocal that suits this sound and the guitars interact agreeably with each other. Nixie and Gemma seem in a world of their own, nodding and bouncing, without ever really acknowledging their front man at all. They have a song called ‘The Violent Hour’, it seems rather appropriate.

I like these guys a lot and will see them again.

The headliners are Death Cigarettes about whom I have written sufficiently to say only that a) they were great as always but b) there were signs of tension - not least when singer Maya introduced them as “the band formerly known as Death Cigarettes”. Whether this presages a name change or something more dramatic will be revealed in the coming weeks.

A terrific night’s entertainment. I saw some favourites do their stuff (and their show at Offset seemed to have swelled the Death Cigarettes audience), but the story of the evening is the discovery of The Farrs, who may be unknown now, but they’ll scorch the wallpaper off any room they find themselves in.

I’m in love – yet again.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Amanda Palmer - Union Chapel 11th September 2009

Amanda Palmer by Martyn Foster
It’s sometimes hard to time your entrance into a venue, particularly if you have not been there for a while.

I have not been to the Union Chapel for probably more than a decade, so when I arrive at around 7.45 and am ushered upstairs I do not think anything of it. As it turns out I am among what at this point are only a handful of folk who have the entire run of the balcony and am able to sit more or less over directly over the stage and get a great view of events below.

The pews below are filled to capacity. In fact some of them appear to be over-filled, with more than one person occupying the same space. A closer look reveals that quite a few of the early audience have brought puppets with them and that some of these are very large and elaborate. A fair number of the audience appear to be in fancy dress too. Such is the nature of fandom.

We are here tonight to see a performance by Amanda Palmer, punk pianist extraordinaire, who is playing a few London shows apparently just for the hell of it, as her solo album came out last year and her other band The Dresden Dolls (hence the puppets) are between projects at the moment.

However, before Miss Palmer, we have Miss Polly Scattergood to entertain us.

Teetering around the stage in bright pink boots and with an enormous plume of feathers sprouting from her shoulder, it would be easy to dismiss Polly as one of those delicate and eccentric young women who have taken Kate Bush to their hearts to an almost unhealthy degree (see also Natasha Khan or Alison Goldfrapp ).

It is also tempting to say that her surname is a firm signifier of her talent, because the standard of her singing and material varies quite drastically between one song and the next. She is never less than interesting, but her breathy voice is so weak that it can barely sustain a note. The acoustics in this venue does her no favours, as much of what she sings is lost somewhere in the void over the audience.

She is received warmly though, and when she is joined by her band, she seems happier and less exposed.

Amanda Palmer is what used to be called a Damned Good Act, in that there seems very little that she cannot turn her hand to. This evening she starts with a couple of tunes played on the chapel organ, invisible to most of the crowd, but not from my lofty, lucky position.

Running centre stage, she sits down at her keyboard and starts banging out a set of mixed Dresden Dolls and solo material. She admits to being out of practice because she is not in the middle of a tour, and that she has had to familiarise herself with her back catalogue by listening to the CDs beforehand.

Indeed, almost her first act is to rip up her provisional set list and just proceed as the mood takes her. Nerves are soon put behind her, as she takes requests from the audience - if you want your song sung it helps to have a puppet.

This flying-by-the-seat-of-her pants approach is really charming, and it is to her credit that she can pull it off. She talks of her boyfriend, the author Neil Gaiman, and even sings a song that he has written, called “I Googled You” – it is the only time of the evening when the ick-factor gets ramped up.

Having stopped to announce that she is going to play two long ballads, Amanda is struck by the realisation that she is playing in a church on September 11th, and instead plays a quiet tune about New York City.

Later, she tests out a piece of classical music that she has learned, for no other reason than to prove to herself that she can play ‘proper’ music.

Polly Scattergood makes a guest appearance up on a balcony, singing a husky, torch song version of ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ which brings out the full despair and horror of the song that has traumatised children for years.

Somehow, Palmer gets through her set and has played all her hits – ‘Ampersand’ ‘Runs in the Family’ and ‘Backstabber’ are particularly good.

For an encore it is Amanda’s turn on the balcony, her leg swinging precariously over the edge as she strums a ukulele and croons a languid version of ‘Makin’ Whoopee’, before charging back down and blasting through ‘Oasis’ with the assistance of Polly Scattergood and her band.

It has been an enchanting evening, with the ever charming Amanda Palmer an excellent hostess. In her hands, tonight we are all puppets.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Offset Festival - Sunday 6 September 2009

Bo Ningen


Arriving full of vim and vigour for day two of Offset, we first happen across Jessica Larrabee aka She Keeps Bees. Judging by the persistent effing and blinding, she is not a happy camper. This may be something to do with her equipment, but she is too angry to make this clear. What she does play seems ok in a sub-PJ Harvey kind of way and we look on with happy bemusement.

Stepping into the next tent we find that proceedings are running at least half an hour late. This enables us to enjoy the majority of a set from Brontosaurus Chorus, who are a kind of mini-Earlies, incorporating trumpet, cello and string section. And they are really good, being absolutely spot on for a sunny Sunday afternoon. I have seen them before and rather dismissed them, but today they are perfect for the time and place.

Meanwhile, on the main stage, S.C.U.M. are performing at the hottest and sunniest time of the day. Contrary to expectations, they do not wither or burst into flames when exposed to sunlight, but instead put in a fine performance that is part Sisters of Mercy, part Echo and the Bunnymen and wholly about looking so damn cool that lesser mortals should just go away and kill themselves. Much the best that I have seen them, and it shows that they do have something going for them other than distortion and dry ice.

Stage timings in the tents have gone awry (something to do with the generator that powers the site), so I happily stumble across Artefacts For Space Travel some time after I would have expected to have missed them. Main man Joe Walsh and chums wow a packed tent with a blistering punk set. They annoy the organisers by overstaying their welcome, milking the crowd for support, but they are the only band over the two days who I see doing this.

Next up come Death Cigarettes, whom even casual readers of this blog will realise I have more than a soft spot for. As a fan, I really want them to do well and they do not disappoint. Once they get going, the tent is soon filled and enjoying itself. Singer Maya is a bit apprehensive and unusually restrained, staying on the stage throughout. However, to compensate, she screams herself breathless, finishing the set with a face as purple as a plum. New song ‘Horses’ sounds excellent and final number ‘What Went Wrong?’ is an absolute stormer. I feel as proud as a parent.

The next act is so completely off the hook that for the rest of the day you can hear people around the site discussing it- it is the “Were you there?” moment of the day. I have seen Bo Ningen before in a show that was relatively sedate (audience nudity, guitars passed through the crowd) but today they are like the Apocalypse. To a heaving tent they start with the all-vanquishing whoosh of a space shuttle taking off, seemingly screaming off in all directions. Their set is simply astonishing, because it is so perfect – each member of the band is the coolest guy you ever saw, the space-Jap-metal rock din they make indescribable. The sheer momentum and violence- both sonic and physical - is astounding. Settling on a humungous dirty riff that would make Black Sabbath soil themselves, the band end with a guitarist kicked face first through the crash barrier (the security guard in front of me actually cringed and covered his mouth) and drummer Mon-Chan hanging upside down from the main pole holding the tent up. I am wet with terror and glee at the same time. Genuinely one of the most amazing performances I have ever seen.

An impossible act to follow, but in the next tent I am consoled by the twin drummer assault of Methodist Centre, who are a meat and two veg Oi Oi Saveloy very basic punk act of the type that you don’t see much these days. They are as two-dimensional as a cartoon, but they are fun and a bit of an antidote to some of the more precious acts around.

I’m glad to catch Bearsuit, who are dressed in feathers and beaks and who play a delightful set that showcases their position as if not quite the godfathers, but certainly the older siblings of the twee-core movement. You don’t underestimate the power of a punch from a foxy boxer, as their song has it.

The XX have become the darlings of the age, and their tent is so packed that I can only loiter under the flaps, listening to their quiet intensity. I have problems with their album and I have problems with them live – they have an interesting sound, but they have no actual songs that you can cling to- getting a grasp of them is like nailing jelly to a wall.

I have a similar lack of empathy with Dananananaykroyd on the main stage. They have a fanatical support who worship them, but to me they just seem to be as silly and superficial as a shouty Goldie Looking Chain. One for the kids, I guess.

Wild Beasts are much more ‘adult’ in their appeal and initially at least they are seductive, with a blend of guitar and keyboard that is kind of dance-y but also a perfect backdrop for their falsetto vocals. However as they go on, I find them less appealing and more annoying – not because they are bad but because they are utterly one dimensional – you get the same feeling from one song as you do from the next. Rather like The XX, I get the impression that they make the type of music that is played in the background to a dinner party, where you only notice it when it stops.

Wandering around the site, I hear a promising sound and chance across the Santiago based band Panico, who absolutely rock our socks off. Singer Edu is a brawny, sweaty, macho guy who lasciviously pays court to every woman in the audience. The band twitch and judder in a febrile, synth based groove that is propelled by two percussionists. More dancing ensues, and we are lost in the rhythm. A tremendous performance that culminates in the singer licking the front of a T-shirt before swirling it into the crowd. I love them to bits. Like the Berlin Brides of the day before, it is left to the bands from overseas to provide sex rather than style.

We finish the festival stood behind members of Panico as we watch The Horrors on the main stage. They have their moments but the sound, which is never good, doesn’t allow those on the fringes of the crowd to engage. During the ‘final’ song Sea Within A Sea the keyboards break down completely, and what starts as an instrumental passage becomes first a desperate exercise in filling in and eventually a complete collapse. The band storm tersely off stage and Offset (for me) is over.

It’s been a terrific couple of days and plaudits go to all involved. Sure, the security could have been a little less heavy handed and the site would have benefited from some litter collectors (by the end it was like a rubbish heap from District 9) but I’m sure that the crowd and the bands by and large had a whale of a time. I saw some stand out performances and also ticked off a number of acts that I had not previously seen. All at a reasonable price in an accessible location. Top marks all round.

Offset Festival- Saturday 5 September 2009

Berlin Brides

After the great success of last year’s event, I am delighted to attend this year’s Offset Festival, two days in Hainault showcasing the best new (and old) bands around. It’s a complete antidote to normal festival fare in that experimentation and boundary-pushing are positively encouraged.

Over the course of the weekend I saw around forty acts, so I can’t mention them all here. Let’s just go for the highlights…

In a strange piece of synchronicity, the first act I see on my arrival is the first that I saw last year. An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump are on the main stage, and in fine fettle, taking it in turns to sing, bang the hell out of a simple drum kit and blast along on a bass guitar. Having previously only seen them in gloomy churches or darkened rooms, it is surprising how well they go over on a big stage in broad daylight. A good start.

A swift detour into a tent finds LR Rockets enjoying themselves, bounding over the barrier that separates them from the crowd. The singer nearly trips over a small child who is sat directly in front of him. He smiles and waves at her and she smiles and waves back. It’s all very good natured.

Outside, various lads from Cementemental are titting about with effects pedals, screaming into loudhailers and generally being boisterous. At an event like this, such scenes are treated with the benign feeling that you might experience passing a ‘Guess The Weight of the Cake’ stall at a village fete.

KASMs are on the main stage, looking a bit lost and desperate. This becomes a theme over the weekend – I think that only relatively few of the acts who are playing in the open air quite have the chops to really put themselves across.

Inside again we are treated to a superb performance from Berlin Brides, who actually hail from Athens, Greece. This predominantly female band specialise in an upbeat electronic punk-funk that has everyone dancing along in no time. These women are genuinely earthy and sexy, in a way that the prim gals from say, Ipso Facto, are not. The songs are often concerned with bedroom matters too, notably signature tune ‘Failure To Wank’ and the tale of the bi-sexual ‘Scooter Boy’. Tremendous, smutty fun.

http://vimeo.com/6460446 from Sitcom Serf on Vimeo.

On the main stage The Chapman Family are deconstructing their songs to such a degree that they are almost unrecognisable. There is much guitar mangling and tying themselves up with microphone leads. At one point front man Kingsley slings a bottle of beer into the crowd, who throw it back at him.

Inside once more, The Duloks are entertaining a packed tent and getting everybody to pretend to be octopuses. The Duloks barely really play at all, instead they just have everyone crying with laughter as singer Mira discusses the need to have proper roadies who are old and grizzled as opposed to the catalogue model waifs who are performing these chores at Offset. There is also a prolonged riff on the ethnic make up of the audience, culminating with the observation that “This tent is fully integrated – We’ve got a black and a cripple!”

Later, I stand in a largely deserted tent, watching the very odd Tulipomania, who make a sound that is not unlike the music that bands played before punk came along and blew all that ‘serious’ nonsense out of the water. In a weekend where many bands are out to shock or offend, it is interesting that a sure way to make folk walk away is to have a thirty-plus year old man play guitar solos at them.

Future Of The Left are on the main stage and seem to be going through the motions. Ok, you’re angry, we get it. What else do you do?

The Slits will be headlining later, but until then, Wet Dog make a very acceptable substitute, being women of a certain age playing a mildly enjoyable post- funk. Being an oldster myself I can remember when Wet Dog were still so raw that the drummer had to stop a set because her arms were sore – it’s good to see them still going and having fun.

A real highlight is the performance of Drum Eyes, the occasional band led by DJ Scotch Egg and pals from Trencher and The Boredoms. Today they have two drummers and play a long, loping drawn out dubby space rock. This kind of stuff only really works in the live setting and it is great this evening. Even better, Damo Suzuki wanders on and starts intoning, eyes screwed up, in a world of his own. Wonderful stuff.

At this point our group separates, with one member opting to stay for Suzuki’s own set, while the rest head off to catch a show from R O M A N C E. And yes, the capitals and spacing are apparently important. This group are allies of fellow Shoreditch denizens S.C.U.M. (capitals, spacing etc) and like them, are as keen on presentation as music. A certain suspension of disbelief is required as while they have the foxiest bassist of the weekend, and a guitarist who has cheek bones that could slice you open, they are fronted by a singer who is as camp in looks and appearance as Matt Lucas from Little Britain and who sings in a foghorn shout that falls some way short of Kirk Brandon of Theatre of Hate/Spear of Destiny. So they teeter on the edge of absurdity, but like tightrope walkers, they are safe provided that they don’t let their guard down. On these terms they are greatly enjoyable, and I haven’t seen such a fine Flock of Seagulls haircut in a long while.

On the main stage I am unexpectedly stirred by The Futureheads, a band that I had sort of written off some while ago. Tonight they look to be in their element and actually get some decent interaction with the crowd. They finish off with Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’ and everyone has a good time.

Inside once more for Factory Floor, I meet up with my friend who stayed for Damo Suzuki. His mind is so blown by the majesty of what he has just seen that it is impossible to get him to focus or get anything coherent from him. He liked it, a lot.

Factory Floor are now a three piece, the newest member being the mighty Nikki Colk, the ex-leader of Kaito, who are still my all time favourite band. So it is good to see her in action again. Factory Floor are absolutely brutal tonight, a deafening, repetitive machine noise accompanied by relentless strobe lighting effects. They start to a packed tent which gradually empties as folk run for cover. They are impressively bloody-minded in what they do, but the experience is much like banging your head against a wall, in that it feels better when they stop.

Senses reeling, we relax with a cup of coffee and The Slits, who are capering around on the main stage, pursued by various members of the crowd and security personnel. They are ropey, ragged, silly and fun.

I’m exhausted, and this is only the end of the first day…