Thursday 18 December 2008

The Call Of The Wyld Review of the Year.

Band Of The Year - Death Cigarettes

There have been many great gigs this year and I can’t really mention them all.

Death Cigarettes at the George Tavern was pretty much my idea of heaven – astonishing levels of energy, deafeningly loud and astoundingly good. The performance of the year. The same band were also devastating at Proud Gallery, especially with singer Maya railing against the injustice of having to contend with a crowd barrier. Seriously, if you go to just one gig in 2009, don’t waste your time with Blur or Oasis playing in some giant shed – find out where Death Cigarettes are playing, get down the front and let your teeth rattle.

The whole Offset festival was a pleasure – a nice small site with dozens of great bands and minimal set clashes. And the rain held off, mostly. SCUM played in a tent full of smoke, Glam Chops fell apart in a tent full of people and Rachel from Kasms wrestled a girl to the floor and squashed her ice cream. Also in a tent.

The most crowded gig of the year was Telepathe at Catch. Theirs was the only set during which I never actually touched the floor.

The biggest crowd of the year was that at Gallhammer’s Water Rats show. Metal fans are HUGE. It was like being wedged in a forest of double wardrobes. The band were great too, occasionally appearing out of clouds of dry ice, gurning ferociously. This was also the loudest gig of the year and the most painful – I still have the broken drumstick that flew out of the mist and impaled my neck.

The funniest sight of the year was the drunken girl who totally usurped Shitty Limits at the Old Blue Last. She had more energy and was more chaotic than a molecule in the Large Hadron Collider.

Mass audience participation at the last ever performance of Be Your Own PET, the band eventually being crushed out of existence by a pile of well wishers.

In terms of stamina, it is a toss up between the non-stop bouncing aerobics of You Love Her Coz She’s Dead at Offset, or Mark Stewart & The Maffia playing two sets at the Royal Festival Hall, the second of these in the foyer and still going on some three months later. Probably.

And did I mention Death Cigarettes playing during the Camden Crawl and weirding out an entire bus of pensioners who pulled up outside the pub just as the band were leaping on tables?

I spent half of Vampire Weekend’s gig at ULU in the cold outside, after some bright spark set off the fire alarm. Later in the year, at the same venue, I found Pink Eyes of Fucked Up daintily moving through a crowd of small girls, being the gentleman and not crushing them, much to their disappointment.

Also having difficulties were Ladytron, who had to retire half way through their gig due to synthesiser-knack.

The apparently dead girl being carried past us by her mates at Mindless Self Indulgence’s marvellously pyrotechnic Roundhouse show

…and the singer from Hearts Revolution being unable to continue her show because of an earlier concussion.

The Fighting Cocks freezing their parts off in a tent in the middle of Trafalgar Square in January. To the complete bafflement of passing tourists.

The worst gig of the year was Alex and Stephen, Dirty Projectors, Six Organs of Admittance and Frog Eyes on an endless, stultifyingly boring night at the Forum. This was what I imagine being in cryogenic suspension must be like.

Hissy fit of the year came from The Tamborines, whose guitarist threw down his instrument and stumped off, only to have to return moments later to reclaim it and clear the stage for the next act.

Venue of the year was St Leonard’s Church, where SCUM, Kasms and An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump put on a dazzling son-et-lumiere amidst the pews. Shame about the drug dealer touting his wares by the font.

And of course the two gigs in Japan, which were utterly delightful and deeply bizarre.

Aside from those mentioned above, there were great sets this year from Cobra Dukes, Client, Esser, Oh No! Oh My!, Battlekat, The Bookhouse Boys, O Children, Fleet Foxes, Sparks, Gang of Four, The Favours, Mindless Self Indulgence, Rochelle, The Duloks, Wire, Trademark, Maria & The Mirrors, Shit and Shine, Rolo Tomassi and Bodies of Water. And others I’ve temporarily forgotten. Like Yeborobo.

Another cracking year. Roll on 2009.

Monday 15 December 2008

Kasms, JAR at The Lexington - 12 December 2008

JAR pic copyright Neil Anderson at

It’s only their second ever gig, but I’m already mesmerised.

It is said that some comedians have ‘funny bones’- that innate instinctive ability to make an audience laugh without apparently any effort at all. JAR have the musical equivalent, a built-in grasp of what sounds right and what works.

When they first wander onto the stage, they seem a bit uneasy. Linval, bravely accoutred in a West Ham shirt, looks at his drums as though unsure which part to hit. But once the band start up, he does splendidly in a ragged manner reminiscent of the first, faltering efforts of a kid who has just taken the stabilisers off their bike.

However, it is the guitar work of Joe and Lucy that really startles. Songs that initially sound simple soon develop unprecedented levels of complexity and fierceness. The musicians may look as though butter wouldn’t melt, but their instruments positively growl with malice.

On their website, the band invite comparisons with Sonic Youth and P J Harvey. A bold claim, but one that stands up, as those were the two names I had written down before reading about it later. However, those influences are mere echoes – JAR have a chemistry of their own.

It is very early days, but there is already a real assurance in this band, a tangible confidence in the strength of their material. I am bowled over by them, and they are now a new favourite.


...Rachel from Kasms has dyed her hair a bright red and is decked out in a slinky black leotardish dress combo. She eyes the room, spoiling for mischief. Sadly, she doesn’t find much.

Tonight, Rachel and the band seem slightly off their game, possibly because although their followers are enthusiastic (and dressed to kill), there are really very few people here and it is difficult for her to work herself up into the usual frenzy when confronted with so much empty space in front of the stage.

This subdued performance also has the effect of focussing the mind on the band’s music. Sure, ‘Siren Sister’ still sounds very good, and new single ‘Bone You’ is shaping up nicely, but many of the rest of their songs tonight seem rather formless and disjointed, a problem masked by the attention grabbing squeals and gymnastics of the singer.

However this is all relative, as Kasms are thoroughly entertaining even on a bit of an off day. Indeed, things end very well, as Rachel leaps from the stage, whirls a delighted girl around in circles and finishes the set sprawled within the drum kit. That’s much more like it.

A decent evening out and in JAR, a real new discovery. You’ll be hearing more of this lot.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Poni Hoax, Adam Kesher at Hoxton Bar & Kitchen - 4 December 2008

Poni Hoax pic by Gabriel Green

There are four bands due to play tonight, which even at an early stage makes me fearful about whether or not I’ll be able to catch the headliners.

We start off with Kaiko, who are one syllable away from the greatest band that ever existed. Sadly they bear no resemblance to the former pride of Norwich. Good news for them then, that they do rather resemble Coldplay.

They may dress their sound up with occasional noisy guitar interludes and be prone to songs that stretch to five or more minutes in length, but the high pitched tones of singer James Tyler put them firmly in radio friendly melodic rock territory. Kaiko are not my cup of tea, but if the wind blows in their direction they could fill stadiums.

And while we are talking of bands that sound like someone more famous, if I mention The Killers in the same breath as the next act (We Are) Performance, I would very much doubt that I am the first to do so.

Interestingly, the template they follow is that of the epic sounding ‘Sam’s Town’ rather than the Las Vegan’s debut. Giant singer Joe Stretch marches on the spot, his gestures getting ever more expansive (aside from a worrying tendency to pull at the flies of his jeans). The banks of keyboards that flank him are pulverised by Laura and Hilary Marsden.

Now, while I do not doubt for one second that (We Are) Performance and the Killers are a case of parallel evolution rather than one being descended from the other, it is also true that like VHS and Betamax, there is likely to only be one winner. Which is a shame, because (WA)P are very entertaining and have some decent songs. Just unfortunate timing.

The next act is billed as Adam Kesher, but tonight at least, he is accompanied by five other musicians. This lot are genuinely intriguing.

Kesher has one of those non-voices that work well in the right setting. He bellows like a bull in pain, but so catchy are the stripped down dance rhythms that the band produce, that he provides a welcome counter point to what might otherwise seem a mechanical exercise.

Sporadic dancing breaks out in the audience. It isn’t couth, but this combination of Happy Mondays –style yob funk coupled with a more modern, DFA sensibility really works. I shall certainly keep tabs on this lot.

Finally, far too late in the evening, Poni Hoax arrive with a tongue-in-cheek Gallic snarl of “We are Poni hoax and we suck massive hairy cocks!” and launch into a set of full on dementia.

On record, singer Nicolas Ker is aristocratic and suavely smooth. In the flesh he is a sweating and harassed dynamo with his thinning bedraggled hair and his suit apparently at least one size too small for him. He looks like a businessman who has been assaulted on a crowded tube train and is seething with rage about it.

Tonight Poni Hoax are a force of nature, with even gentler songs such as ‘She’s On The Radio’ fizzing with electric energy. When they blast through an up tempo number like ‘Pretty Tall Girls’, they almost take the roof off- by the end of the song the drummer is standing on top of his kit smashing the hell out of the lighting gantry above him.

The band is still in full fury when I have to leave to catch the train. It’s been a fascinating evening, two very good acts, two pretty ok acts. A very decent ratio. I just wish that it had started in time for me to catch it all.

Monday 8 December 2008

Vivian Girls, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Old Blue Last 3 December 2008

The signs are that it is going to be a very busy night. The headliners are this week’s hot new darlings from New York and the hype surrounding them has started to spill over from fan boy websites into the mainstream media. Let’s be honest, it’s why I’m here too.

The first act on are Graffiti Island, two bespectacled, tattooed and very intense young men and a girl drummer (of whom more later). While one guy thrashes a guitar, the other declaims in a semi spoken rap. Dark tales and sharp looks ensue. A good start.

By now the venue is heaving and when the provocatively named The Shitty Limits take to the stage there is a commotion down the front. The set starts off conventionally enough – or conventionally enough for an old school punk band whose singer spends the majority of the time in amongst the audience, bent double and screaming. But, marvellously, these confrontational warriors are completely upstaged by the antics of an incredibly drunken girl who clambers onto the stage and cannot be budged.

It’s like watching a car crash. She falls over a lot, she unplugs the instruments, she grabs at microphones and guitars and bawls incoherently. The band continue with their performance amidst this chaos, exhorting her to leave and even physically knocking her off the stage, but this does not deter her one bit – she is indestructible and completely oblivious to everything. The whole spectacle is both deeply sordid and one of the funniest things that I have ever seen at a gig.

Various Vivian Girls are stood on seats behind me, looking both fascinated and horrified. Particularly as a full beer glass is hurled from near the front and whizzes over our heads.

The band finishes and their unwanted guest is later seen crawling around on her hands and knees, before being carted off unconscious. Remember kids – alcohol is your friend, but not a trustworthy one.

We are now entertained by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, an endearingly ramshackle pop band featuring Peggy, the girl who was earlier drumming for Graffiti Island, here on vocals and keys. She is accompanied by bassist Alex and other vocalist Kip, who knows the value of a jangly guitar.

While very affable and generally enjoyable, it is painfully clear why this band have been chosen as principal support on the forthcoming tour by veterans The Wedding Present. They may be American, but their sound is pure 1986 guitar pop – and is just as good or limited as that genre was, depending on your viewpoint. I’m a fan, but to be brutally honest, there are dozens of UK bands who sound like this and they are playing to empty rooms.

Anyway, right here, right now, POBPAH are just what is needed, and calm things down after the tumult of the previous act.

And finally, the room gives it up for Vivian Girls, the three piece from Brooklyn who have become darlings of the hour. At least for this week.

And they are pretty great. Their songs and harmonies also echo back to places such as the Bull and Gate in the mid Eighties, but as the set progresses and they become more relaxed, Cassie Ramone’s guitar work becomes ever faster and more abrasive, until we are in hardcore heaven.

There is nothing mind blowing here, but they generate a warmth of feeling that will carry them a long way. They are very likeable and resultantly, the crowd really takes to them. Kickball Katy shakes her abundant red hair and smiles a lot, Cassie plays like a fury. They are delightful and I’m glad to have seen them, although, as with the last band, there is a slight nagging thought that the greater part of their appeal lies in where their passports were issued.

The girls’ mini album gets a solid airing, together with several new songs that imply that they should be good for at least another twelve months. Let’s enjoy them for the moment.

Thursday 27 November 2008

I'm From Barcelona / Soko at Scala 25 Nov 2009

I'm From Barcelona sing - Soko plays pic by Crazybobbles at Flickr

There are two girls on stage having a hysterical fit of the giggles. This is tiny but exuberant singer Soko and her accompanist. The first song ‘I Think I’m Pregnant’ is thus a hoot, interrupted by constant corpsing. “I’m not drunk…I’ve eaten too much food!” yelps the French girl.

Soko is serious but zany in much the same way that Bjork is – there are moments of great beauty and simplicity in her set, but also a runaway sense of anarchy and mischief making. She roams across the stage set up for the headliners and bashes about on the drums. At one stage she stops the show to plead with ‘Bob’ to come up and do a pre-arranged number with her. When the crowd disgorges someone, Soko is nonplussed – it’s the Wrong Bob. Wrong Bob seems fairly alarmed too.

Some of the songs are so twee that they could rot your teeth. At one point Soko invites most of I’m From Barcelona onstage to improvise meowing noises through a jingle called ‘Baby Cat’. It’s all great fun but it depends rather on your tolerance for winsome French cutesiness. Watching Soko in action is like watching ‘Amelie- The Musical’.

Soko is having such a great time bouncing and bawling along that she spends most of the rest of the evening onstage lending her charms to the multitudinous Swedes that comprise I’m From Barcelona.

This ensemble have around a dozen members tonight, including a brass section, a cluster of guitars, drums and keyboards and multiple singers. They are led by the dishevelled and rakish Emmaneul, looking for all the world like Roy Wood, or for our younger readers, Russell Brand.

This evening the band are plugging their new album “Who Killed Harry Houdini?” and the beginning of the set is culled from this work. Which is kind of a pity because although the songs definitely work live –with a band this size going full pelt almost anything is going to sound impressive – they lack the sheer abandoned joi de vivre of their earlier tunes.

Around half way through set a girl who is having her birthday today is invited to join the band onstage. They make an unanswered plea for Wrong Bob to make himself known again. This is the prelude for a medley of songs (starting with 'Treehouse') and the unleashing of a swirling barrage of huge red balloons and confetti that engulfs the band and audience for the rest of the night. It’s quite a spectacle and makes the venue look like a cartoon representation of the human blood stream.

The next ten minutes is a non-stop party, with balloons and streamers flying in all directions. I’m From Barcelona eventually bring matters to a head with a grand sing-along of their eponymous signature tune.

The only problem being that, as it is impossible to top this moment, it just becomes more and more extended as the set continues. Everything is still enormously entertaining, but they’ve peaked too early.

Emmanuel and Soko do a duet and the evening ends as it began with their song ‘Rufus’.

It’s been a strange evening in which the support act has managed to make it appear as if the headliners are an adjunct to her own crazy antics. That this works so well is a testament to Soko’s powers of beguilement. Vive la France!

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Telepathe,Chew Lips, Pens - Catch 26 Nov 2008

Telepathe photo by Nicole Blommers

There are omens that this is going to a good night. Having a quiet drink before the gig I spend quite some time watching two Portuguese bar staff inveigle a customer to help them attach two life size fake magpies to the light fittings. As you do.

Heading into the venue I am lucky to catch a short and chaotic set from Pens, three girls (Amelia, Helen & Stef) who mix and match themselves between a guitar, a stand-up drum kit and a tiny keyboard. It is the absolute golden rule of enthusiastic new girl bands that there should be as much swapping of instruments and sharing of the vocals as possible. They are the most democratic institutions on earth.

The girls are having a ball and are not that bothered that they have difficulty keeping time or that their set is basically a shambles. And nor should they. The fun on stage communicates itself to the growing crowd and we are off to a good start.

Due to the hipper than hip nature of the headliners, this tiny venue is soon rammed with people. Only one person is missing, the dainty Tigs, singer with the next act. After a slight delay, she finds her way to the front and the band kicks off.

I have followed Tigs’ progress for a few years now and was always disappointed that she did not get more attention for her terrific solo album ‘Cut With Fire’ (This seems to have disappeared, but you can hear tracks on her old Myspace page here). Now she is back with two guys in tow as Chew Lips and it finally looks like things are looking up.

Will and James lay down a thumping electro beat, their backs to the crowd and heads nodding in unison. In front of them, Tigs preens, tosses her head and rolls her eyes at the audience in a manner that is so arch that she is danger of becoming Frankie Howerd. Oooh yes!

Her voice is superb and a reminder that it not often that you hear a singer who can genuinely SING – you get the feeling that she could bash out a Shirley Bassey power ballad without pausing for breath.

At one point Tigs solves the problem of the ever encroaching crowd by climbing on top of the bar and singing from there. The rest of the band have surreptitiously turned their keyboards to automatic pilot and are now rocking out on guitars. It all makes for a tremendous performance.

By the time that Telepathe appear there is such a crush to see them that I have to leave the floor and hang from the side of the bar. It hurts, but it is worth it.

Telepathe are a duo from Brooklyn comprising Melissa Livaudais, who sings and plays keyboards and Ryan Lucero, a young man of quite startling androgyny, a gender confusion that is not dispelled by his voice. Or his eyeliner.

Tonight the backing beats and almost symphonic keyboards which are an understated presence on their forthcoming album ‘Dance Mother' are ramped up to the max and Ryan and Melissa stutter and jerk along to the pounding rhythms. It’s not subtle but it is hugely effective and the whole venue is soon carried away, everyone dancing and bouncing in staccato fashion. I’m hanging on to my perch like grim death at this juncture.

Comparisons are going to be made with Crystal Castles but such comparisons are unfair – Telepathe are great fun in their own right. In this tiny, mobbed and euphoric venue they are in their element.

The two magpies in the first pub have been a lucky omen. This was always going to be a good night.

Friday 14 November 2008

Oh No Oh My, Scanners, The Pan I Am - 229, 13 Nov 2008

Things don’t start well. The doorman is not letting people into the venue. “I’m in the band!” says one guy. “I’m working here tonight!” says another. Sorry mate, you are not getting in until the tit on the door decides that you can. So we wait in the rain until we are eventually waved in.

And the first band is already in mid set and presumably wondering whether it was worth their bother.

This is The Pan I Am, the new rather awkwardly named band that features Ed Larrikin, who generated a lot of goodwill in his previous incarnation as Larrikin Love. It is fair to say that there has been a major shift in musical direction.

This band are dressed in black and prominently feature an electric cello, whose operator also sings along with Larrikin on songs that borrow very heavily from the growling blues punk of mid period Birthday Party and Gallon Drunk. It’s dark, it’s gothic, it’s nothing new, but it’s done well and with gusto.

Larrikin stares at his feet throughout, flops his fringe and wonders whether to leap off the stage or not. He teeters a bit and then decides against it. The venue fills up and a general air of approval prevails.

In the lull between bands we wander into the other half of the venue where, in complete contrast to the downbeat rumblings of The Pan I Am, a stage is bathed in light and an African drum and dance troop are pounding away to the delight of a small but wrapt audience. The rhythms are infectious, bodies glisten with sweat and despite the fact that we almost certainly shouldn’t be in here (it appears to be an end of term student bash), I am mightily impressed.

After the MC announces that everybody should go upstairs and take part in karaoke (and after my recent Japanese adventures, boy, am I up for THAT) we go back to our own gig and await Scanners.

Tonight the band is showcasing new material, and is pleased to have just finished recording their second album. There seems to have been a musical rethink – while it is clear that Sarah is still the main stage presence, the newer songs also feature Amina in a much more prominent role than before.

Scanners are a band with which I have an unfortunate blind spot. I recognise that they are good, and that they press all the right buttons to be a band that I should like, but somehow I always end up feeling slightly indifferent to them. For me, they will always be a ‘seven out of ten’ band rather than anything higher. I can’t put my finger on the reasons for this, but it might be that to me they always seem to have a rather cold demeanour, which has a distancing effect.

However, that’s just me, and they are well received tonight. The new stuff sounds good and the songs from the first album (which is definitely worth getting) are well presented too.

I have been a fan of Austin Texas’ Oh No! Oh My! for a number of years now, and even corresponded with them in the early days when they would burn off a copy of their demo CD and send it to you.

Tonight they are here ostensibly in support of their new record Dmitrij Dmitrij, but disappointingly don’t play very much from it. In fact this evening’s set seems more backwards looking than when I saw them when they were last in London at the beginning of the year.

Not that this matters a jot when songs as jaunty as ‘Walk in the Park’ and ‘I Have No Sister’ are played. Birthday boy Daniel Hoxmeier has a clear voice and a cheerful strut. The vibe is upbeat and I notice lots of girls dancing, both on their own and with each other – a pretty much infallible sign that a band is delivering the goods.

Unfortunately, due to the late starting time and the vagaries of transport, I am unable to stay for the full set. I leave a band enjoying themselves with a contented crowd bouncing lightly in front of them.

A pretty decent evening, all told - although I hope the doorman got wet.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

XiongMao - M.C.N, Sendai

The M.C.N. is a small venue hidden beneath a vast shopping mall in the centre of Sendai. Our taxi driver has clearly never heard of the place and it takes a lot of communication between him and his despatching office to finally work out where to drop us off.

So, upon entering via a huge and heavy door that operates like a meat safe, it is unsurprising that there are not many people in here. In fact by the evening’s end we have totted up that there are no more than fifteen people in the room, including ourselves.

Not that this discourages the bands, who are all hugely lively and play as though headlining stadiums rather than entertaining a mere handful of onlookers. This spirit is exemplified by the first band Laughlife, a rock/rap combo who come across as a jollier version of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, complete with gangsta hand signals and baggy trousers at half mast to flash their Calvins.

As mentioned in my previous report from Japan, energy on the stage is not often reflected in overt excitement in the audience. The small gathering huddles around tables, nod their heads and smile, obviously enjoying themselves, but content to watch rather than join in. The two front men perform valiantly, rhymin’ and illin’ like apprentice Beastie Boys.

As the band departs, a severely handicapped young man is wheeled to the front of the stage to get a clear view of proceedings. The kid has what looks like a large stuffed toy animal’s head on his lap. He and his friend proceed to enjoy the next act.

Who are Oyaji-Tank. This three piece blast out a deafening five hundred mile an hour speed punk that rattles the walls. There is not a lot of light and shade in their performance, but they are extremely proficient. It is indeed like being run over by an armoured vehicle. There is much riffage, lots of windmilling guitar arms and shouted vocals. Pretty good, all in all.

As we await the final band of the night, events become surreal. With help from his friends, the wheel chair guy is fitted with a giant panda’s head – this had been what I thought was a stuffed toy. He flails his arms and becomes excited.

A three piece band come on and start to play. And from the side of the stage skip two young girls who proceed to dance and chirp their way through some of the most infectiously catchy pop songs that I have heard all year. The band are XiongMao, who hail from Tokyo and are named after a famous panda. This is one of the final legs of their ‘Autumnal Panda’ tour. It is safe to say that the panda motif features very heavily.

This band are terrific. There may be no great claim to gravitas, but what they do achieve is to put a huge grin on the face of everybody present and to finally get people down the front. It would be easier not to breathe than not to dance and sing along. We all wave our arms, we join in the huge choruses, we LOVE it. Yukari and Miumi are brilliant – every move is choreographed, and they are smiling so much that it must hurt their faces.

After their set, the band are anxious to have their photos taken with the crowd, hence the disturbing image below.

It’s hard to say how XiongMao are regarded. In the UK, they’d certainly make an impact. On a Wednesday away from their home city, there is no one here.

The music scene in Japan is nearly all manufactured idoru or pop idols, who are interchangeable and mainly promoted via television video shows. They often have a shelf life of less than a year. Kids do play in bands, but opportunities to perform are restricted to a few small clubs which are often literally underground and away from the limelight.

However, these places can be sought out. In addition to those in Tokyo and Osaka, there are places such this, the M.C.N. in Sendai and a similar venue near the train station in Niigata which I was unfortunately unable to get to. If you go to Japan (and everybody should at some point in their lives), why not seek them out? There are astonishing things happening in the margins.

I’d like to thank all at Inside Japan, for their continued brilliance. I cannot recommend these guys highly enough. Thanks especially on this trip to guide Jarrod, who rose to every occasion when faced with our bizarre requests for information on local music scenes.

Visitors to Tokyo should also visit Tokyo Gig Guide, which is not only an incredibly useful guide to bands playing, but even provide foolproof info on finding your way to venues, which are often hidden away amongst the hubbub and neon.


Monday 3 November 2008

My Dead Girlfriend - 18 Oct 2008 -Chop, Tokyo

Chop is a tiny venue in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo. At 1500¥ to get in plus another 500¥ for a first drink, it ain’t cheap, but it sure proves to be worth it.

When attending a gig in Japan there are rules and etiquette to follow. No talking while the bands are playing. The bar will shut while the bands are playing. There will be little or no movement while the bands are playing.

The headliners tonight turn out to be a US band on a short tour. Bone Gunn do not really purvey the type of music that this blog concentrates upon, so I’ll simply say that they are a lovely bunch of lads and that singer Bryan Kane once spent a year living in Blackpool. He rather startlingly describes the countryside in the area to be as beautiful as that of Alaska. Something for the Blackpool Tourist Board to consider.

A feature of Chop is that the bands set up behind a stage screen upon which forthcoming shows are advertised. I’m sad to be missing Screaming Love Hole and The Night of The Vagina Killers – whom I’m sure are nice to their mothers.

The screen is raised to reveal a solitary young man armed with a variety of guitars and electronic equipment. His set is ridiculously varied, with each song radically different from the one preceding it. There are acoustic ballads which don’t seem particularly good, but occasional electronic diversions with pounding synths and a vocoder, which are much more like it.

After he has left the stage, there is a commotion in the audience. It seems that a famous Japanese rock star is here tonight, all leather jacket and cheekbones. Although he has come in with a girl, others rush to have their photos taken with him and fighting breaks out among them. This continues on and off throughout the rest of the night.

Next to emerge from behind the screen are PHD, a wild instrumental jazz band fronted by a free form saxophonist and a girl trumpeter. While not usually my bag, they are so good that I’m as swept along as everyone else here. There is crazy dancing down the front. After the set, the sax guy is literally carried past me, so drunk that he cannot stand unaided.

Drunkenness emerges as a major theme of the evening. Although very little alcohol seems to be being consumed, it becomes apparent that many of the crowd and performers are completely off their heads. I have a great time with a Japanese guy who is delighted to practice his English and who is so ecstatic that he breaks the cardinal rule and starts babbling during a band’s performance. His girlfriend hisses and kicks him before finally dragging him from the venue.

The next act are serious young men called Null, who are dressed in boiler suits and dispense long, slow, ponderous post-rock dirges in the Mogwai tradition. They are loud, they are proficient, they are dull as ditchwater.

My Japanese friend reappears, having jettisoned his girlfriend, and ready to swear undying allegiance to my party. We solemnly write our names on a piece of paper, tear it up and each retain a fragment. One day we be reunited.

Most of the crowd, including the rock star are here for the next act. Who are absolutely amazing. They are My Dead Girlfriend and for the next half an hour I am transfixed.

Heavily influenced by My Bloody Valentine and the shoegaze scene in general, they lay down a deafening onslaught of droning dream pop. While some vocals are taken by guitarist Ishikawa (they insist on second rather than first names) all eyes are on an extraordinary performance by Ideta.

She sits at a small trestle table with a keyboard on it. She does not play it at all, but lolls back feebly twitching her arms. She is wearing devil horns. She is singing, but seems almost comatose. As I have not seen her arrive on stage (that screen again) I start to believe that she is badly disabled and wonder about the bad taste of the band name.

However, when Ishikawa breaks his guitar and leaves the stage, she sits up and chats to the audience. It appears that she has been acting – the most unsettling deadpan performance since Ron Mael of Sparks.

Once the guitarist returns, Ideta goes limp again, but does finally dab at the keyboard in front of her. The band finish with a five minute track that may be ‘Kinoshita Fuyou’.

After they finish, I buy every bit of merchandise I can get my mitts on. I have a brief, halting chat with Ideta - my Japanese rudimentary, she very drunk.

Bone Gunn finish the evening, playing well, but rather put off by the crowd just standing passively and watching them. I don't care - I’m still in a My Dead Girlfriend whirl. If this lot could be bought to London, they’d clean up. Listen here.

More Japanese fun next time…

Thursday 16 October 2008

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Bodies of Water / Choir of Young Believers - Cargo 14 October 2008

After a long wait in an unusually under populated Cargo, we finally hear the crackle of microphones and a long, low note. Is that a cello?

It is, and it is operated by Cæcilie Trier, who is accompanied tonight by Jannis Noya Makrigiannis, a young man who looks as though he has stepped off the streets of Tombstone, Deadwood, or any other sepia tinged outpost of the Old West. He sports a moustache of a wondrous thickness and luxuriance, far removed from the scraps of bum fluff that often dirty the top lips of today’s serious young men.

Together, the pair comprise the touring version of Denmark’s Choir Of Young Believers and for the next half an hour or so, they are magical.

The obvious point of reference is the works of Fleet Foxes, because Jannis possesses an absolutely crystal pure voice that resonates around the venue and strikes the audience as dumb with awe as if they were in church. His harmonies with Cæcilie are similarly majestic. There may be people in here who are actually breathing, but it doesn’t sound like it.

The songs themselves are deceptively delicate, but louder than you imagine – although the cello underscores everything, Jannis is happy to rock out with shards of electric guitar.

After a wonderful set, I buy their excellent album “This is for the Whites in Your Eyes.” I recommend it wholeheartedly.

I have been looking forward to see Los Angeles’ Bodies Of Water ever since hearing their debut album ‘Ears Will Pop and Eyes Will Blink’. It is a record of such boundless vocal enthusiasm that you can actually HEAR the grins of the singers.

Tonight, the four singer/players are strung across the front of the stage in a line, with a very stoic drummer sat a long way behind them. While all obviously have equal standing, it becomes apparent that keyboard player Meredith and guitarist David are the ones who are calling the shots, in terms of the live performance at least. Bassist Kyle confines himself to the occasional joke, many of which lose themselves somewhere between LA and Shoreditch. Describing a show in Leeds as ‘Dickensian’ is funny though.

Meredith is clothed in a black leotard and eyes us from beneath her fringe. Throughout the show she has a running dialogue with the sound crew, wanting a little more of this, a little less of that, then reversing the instructions and so on. That she can make this seem like good natured banter rather than prima donna behaviour is testament to her communication skills.

The default Bodies Of Water sound is four voices at full bawl over a tricksy, almost prog rock backing. It is like a regular rock band with four coincidentally overlapping lead singers who create harmony by happenstance. The results are not at all precious or twee – the power that is generated does indeed make your ears pop.

Tonight, the set is almost entirely draw from the next album. It is a mark of how damn good these songs are that unfamiliarity does not hamper enjoyment in the slightest.

Meredith does not cry wolf. Although there appears to be nothing wrong from the audience point of view, there definitely are sound issues on stage and eventually David’s guitar packs up and a degree of improvisation is required while it is repaired.

They end with a stunning (almost literally) rendition of ‘These Are The Eyes’, a song that builds and builds, with ever wilder vocal contributions from the band. Every time you think they can’t go faster, higher, wilder or louder, they go up a gear.

Two bands tonight, two completely different vocal styles. And two total successes.

Friday 10 October 2008

Rolo Tomassi / Pre / Throats & Madame Jo Jo's: 7th October 2008

Photo by 'Turquoise Boy'

It promises to be a rowdy evening, so where to stand? I eventually settle for perching on a balustrade overlooking the pit in front of the stage. Not that there are many people in here just yet.

The first band is so young and unprepossessing in appearance that you assume that it must be half-term. Surely they wouldn’t be playing on a school night? And then they crank into life and innocence hightails it out the door and off down the streets of Soho.

Throats specialise in slow, monstrously heavy riffage and sport a singer who is almost pathological in his reluctance to stand upright and face the audience. In the brief moments that he is on the stage he is crouched with his back to us, emitting a succession of guttural screams.

The rest of the time he is in the mosh pit, whirling his arms and jumping around. A few of the more energetic youngsters in the crowd stand around him looking fascinated.

Meanwhile onstage, the rest of the bands experiment with feedback – resting their guitars against their speakers, holding their instruments up to the roof of the venue.

Even though their puppy dog appearance makes them unlikely rock gods, Throats deliver the goods.

As it is still relatively quiet, I move down into the pit area. Next up are Pre, featuring the tiny whirling dervish that is Akiko Matsuura on vocals and a band that groove benignly as she freaks out amongst them.

There is either a huge problem with the sound, or the singer is emitting shrieks of a frequency beyond my threshold of hearing. I suspect it’s both. Either way, much of the vocals are inaudible.

This doesn’t actually distract much from the band, because Pre are all about physical performance and niceties such as lyrical content come fairly low down their list of priorities. The only song where the vocals can be heard seems to have the chorus “I want your penis, I want your love!” So that’s alright.

Akiko crawls around a bit and needs a little push to get her back on stage once she’s dropped down into the crowd. Good entertainment.

Rolo Tomassi have got a certain brand of indie kid in a bit of a tizz. They appeal to woolly cuddly Los Campesinos! twee-core enthusiasts, but also flirt with US hardcore in the same manner as acts such as The Ghost Frequency. They’re that happy blend of naughty but safe which means that girls are happy to fling themselves about in front of them as much as their boyfriends.

The very eye catching selling point of the band is vocalist Eva, tonight resplendent in a tight black dress that would be better suited to a posh drinks reception than a sweaty night in a rock band. A colleague describes her the next day as ‘very bendy’, which is a polite way of saying that she kicks ass, flails around and screams like a banshee. She is assisted by occasional vocalist and random keyboard basher James, who is awkward, very bendy, and her brother.

Tomassi songs are tough to get a handle on, because so much of the performance seems completely arbitrary. Any given track will approximate scream-twiddle-drum solo-gentle cooing noises-more screaming- guitar solo- both vocalists cooing-more guitar-twiddle-silence. And then start up again in some random repetition.

They are exhausting, fun, but ultimately baffling. The band seems to have no quality control at all, or ever had anyone say that something might be a bad idea. But this wild experimentation leads to moments of felicitous noise, and the crowd are going mental for them.

Rolo Tomassi have a devoted fan base, certainly in this small venue, but may be in danger of disappearing into their own artistic cul-de-sac. Making students run in circles is one thing, but it is hard to see them appealing to a wider audience without compromising on their ideals.

Me? – I hope they stick to their guns.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

HeartsRevolution / Death Cigarettes at Proud Gallery

Photo: Lorne Thomson

There are at least three reasons to be here tonight.

First amongst these is the appearance of the ever wonderful Death Cigarettes, about whom I rave on this site whenever possible. The second is anticipation of the head liners Heartsrevolution, and thirdly is the venue itself, which has good and bad points, but which generally creates a special atmosphere.

I still think that £11 is a bit steep for this evening, though.

For those unfamiliar with the place – Proud Gallery is a converted stable block which has been upgraded to cater for lavish entertainment. It’s a lovely environment and great fun, can be a very unforgiving place for small bands to play.

This is because the stage where the bands perform is set in a largish covered courtyard and is separate from the bar and stable areas. Unless you are interested enough to keep an eye on the stage, or are just passing through to the main venue where dance music blares all night, you wouldn’t even know that a band has started playing. On nights such as these, the acts are presented as exotic but incidental attractions in the same way in which girls dance on plinths in clubs in 1980’s movies.

Death Cigarettes thus have their work cut out. But of course they rise to the challenge.

The deceptively innocent looking Maya is fretful because of a large and unnecessary crowd barrier that surrounds the stage. Referring to it throughout as “The Cage” she tries to uproot it, kicks it, bangs her fists against it and generally rails against the injustice of keeping her from her audience.

So, like a mini-Maginot Line, she solves the problem by going round the side. Once among the crowd she can get to business chivvying them around and coyly luring passers by into her web- before grabbing hold of them and screaming in their ear.

The rest of the band mostly stay put, and become the real focal point once Maya has disappeared into the open spaces. The set is strong as ever, and concludes with a dismantled drum kit, guitars flung and an ankle-threatening jump straight over the top of the barrier. Another exhilarating performance and a job well done.

The Bishops who follow, have a much harder time of it. I’m not a great fan of them at the best of times and tonight they seem to have regressed to an embarrassing degree. They are just shouting to make themselves heard and it quickly becomes painful. I temporarily withdraw.

Heartsrevolution come here tonight having already played earlier this evening at ULU in a support slot for Midnight Juggernauts. Singer Lo looks very forlorn as she sits on an amplifier waiting for the two other members of the band to set up.

Once they start playing, they are terrific, although the sound balance is horribly awry, with the drums all but drowning out everything else. However, it becomes clear that Lo is in a lot of distress and has somehow this evening –the earlier show?- sustained an almighty blow to the head. She is clearly disorientated and after a mere handful of songs is unable to continue. It is very unsettling and you hope that she is going to be alright.

By this stage of the evening, the Proud Gallery has come into its own as a lively nightspot. This is what it does best. But they could make more effort on behalf of the bands that play there.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Autodrone - Strike A Match

About eighteen months ago, I happened to be in New York and caught a very interesting band called Autodrone. At that time they had a feisty front woman and played a dark brand of pop. I have kept an eye on them ever since.

In the time that has elapsed, the band has undergone changes. Rachel Luria has gone and vocal duties have now been taken by Katherine Kennedy. The music too has changed direction – and for the better.

So I am delighted with Autodrone’s first album proper ‘ Strike A Match”. This fuzzy guitar-led rock is beautifully geared for late night /summer evening listening. Strike that; it’s damn good whenever you fancy listening to it.

After the opening title track, which sets the scene, the epic ‘Final Days’ comes crashing in. What a tune! Uplifting, noisy and yet equally tuneful. A guaranteed smash at the indie-disco of your choice.

‘100,000 Years of Revenge’ follows, a white-noise instrumental that mutates into the lengthy, strong ‘Kerosene Dreams’. Another stand out track.

‘A Rose Has No Teeth’ and ‘Through the Backwoods’ are further examples of feedback heavy, warped pop, songs that sound sweet to the ear while also making your speakers rattle.

‘Moth of July’ (yes, the insect rather than a typo) is where the band live up to their name. This is pure drone, five minutes of guitar wash and treated, muted voice. ‘Can’t Keep These’ is another dynamic song with a soaring, distorted vocal, as is ‘With Arms Raised’.

‘Of Home’ is the track that most closely resembles the work of My Bloody Valentine, if those worthies had ever managed to produce a record that did justice to their live shows.

The album ends majestically with ‘Pictures’, which is a power ballad of sorts, although it is also an epic guitar drone.

In the last year, the UK has embraced like-minded New Yorkers Asobi Seksu to its bosom. Well, if you liked them, you’ll bloody love Autodrone.

‘Strike A Match’ is already available digitally. A physical release is released 11 November 2008 on Clairecords.

Friday 12 September 2008

S.C.U.M - Shoreditch Church September 11th

It is getting dark as I approach the church. Outside, gaggles of black-clad people mill about. As do various members of Shoreditch’s homeless community, who are confused by the crowds of strange looking folk who have usurped the steps of St Leonard.

It is a stunning choice of venue – a working church, complete with stained glass windows, pews and a grand altar, details of which can be seen in the flyer reprinted above. The acoustics in this place are marvellous – so marvellous that when I wake up the following morning I am as deaf as a post.

Piles of speakers and other musical equipment have been set up in front of the altar. Washes of dark noise crash through the building as a DJ hides from sight.

The audience wanders through the church, sitting randomly in pews, talking round the font, dancing in the nave. They are having fun, and alcohol is available, but there is a sense of respect here, and no one is going TOO mad.

The girls who comprise An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump begin their set. There are three of them, swathed in black. At any particular time, one will pound out a thunderous tattoo on a snare, one will lay down a subterranean rumble of bass and one will stand alone between them to sing. After most songs they move around to a different position to begin the cycle anew.

The lighting tonight is superbly atmospheric, just a few scattered lamps at floor level, leading to long black shadows and threatening silhouettes. This creeping darkness lends itself perfectly to the music.

When the first band has faded into the gloom, next act KASMs takes the floor. The crowd packs tightly in front of them. KASMs live are all about the gyrations and performance antics of singer Rachel Callaghan. Other band members hang back.

For a very few moments it looks as though the surroundings will cause her to rein in her temptations. But by the second song Callaghan has fought her way into the throng and is screaming her lungs out. “I always wanted to do that in a church!” she comments.

The rest of the show is performed in similar vein. Callaghan will crawl on the floor, do pirouettes (there seems evidence of schoolgirl ballet lessons in her past) and make forays into the audience. It’s a black erotic cabaret. During the final number she flings herself violently into me, hitting and kicking.

Afterwards, I hobble away up the aisle, my shin bleeding from her stiletto heel.

The next band requires no such close attention. Spectrometers are a guitarist and an electronics operator, who generate long instrumental passages of semi-discordant noise. People walk around them as they play, but it is more curiosity than involvement. The sound they make is appropriate for the surroundings, but they are not particularly interesting, nor easily distinguishable from the music that is played in between bands.

After they are gone, things get ever more sinister. The lights grow dimmer and clouds of dry ice erupt from the floor. Hooded figures emerge from the murk, initially joined by a strange figure in a veil that leaps from the altar, parodies the crucified Christ behind him and emits heavily distorted and echoing shrieks.

This is S.C.U.M. and they are keen to make the most of these hallowed surroundings. Veil soon discarded, singer Thomas spends the whole set in constant motion, climbing walls and speakers, playing with his microphone and all the time seething and screaming.

Although tonight is primarily about the new single, S.C.U.M. do not play individually distinguishable songs. Their set is a whole, a single entity of sound that lasts some thirty five minutes. The first five minutes sound slightly uncertain, the following thirty sublime.

S.C.U.M are not easily categorised, and I like them even more tonight having seen them before. My colleagues this evening are less impressed and gradually disperse. The band’s performances are powerful but delicate constructions and occasionally threaten to teeter into the realms of the silly. The onlooker needs to buy into what they are doing, to have FAITH in the vision of the band’s art.

The band disappears back into the dry ice fog and we disperse into the night.

There is something tribal going on here tonight, a scene has emerged that has grandiose visions and romantic but terrifying notions. This is the Dark Wave. Something is rising in the East.

Monday 8 September 2008

X-Ray Spex at Roundhouse 06.09.2008

When Cormac McCarthy coined the phrase ‘No Country For Old Men’ he wasn’t aware of this part of Camden tonight. When Television Personalities sang of ‘Part Time Punks’ they missed the mark as well.

Tonight the area is packed with the real deal, survivors from 1976-78 who kept the faith but also got jobs, raised their own kids and now run the country. So although we have bank managers with an unfortunate neck tattoo and head mistresses in rather fetching silk bondage trousers, there is a genuine warmth and positive vibe – the tribe is together again.

Before we get to the main event, we have to put up with the plastic pantomime punk of John Robb and Goldblade, who on most levels are cringe-makingly awful, but who play their whole set as cabaret and generally instil a party atmosphere. What is bad about them is their repeated insistence about how genuine they are and how we are all punks together, when, if memory and Wikipedia serves, they formed in the mid Nineties and have more in common with the cartoon Oi! bands of that period.

What is good about them, however, is their energy, and their ability to give this audience what it wants. By the end they have a chorus of ladies from the crowd cavorting on stage and everyone is having a fine time. More than this you cannot ask.

With the immortal words “They think little girls should be seen and not heard…” there is a flash of light and X-Ray Spex are here doing “Oh Bondage Up Yours”.

Poly Styrene looks absolutely fabulous tonight. No longer awkward, she is a happy, glamorous woman who is having a terrific time in front of a devoted and loving crowd. And her voice can still peel paint.

The rest of the band ultimately proves to be a bit of a bone of contention. My impression is of a very slick bunch of professional musicians for hire, who blast out the old Spex numbers impressively but soullessly, and with far more polish and power than the original band could ever hope to muster. It is sad to see that Laura Logic has been replaced by (a very proficient) male saxophonist.

However, I am chided by a nearby member of the audience, who tells me that this is very much a spur of the moment event and that all the musicians involved are essentially doing this for love rather than money. Which is certainly a happier interpretation.

The original Spex only had a single album to their name, and all the tracks from it are aired tonight. What is really impressive is how well the singles such as ‘Bondage’, ‘The Day the World turned Day-Glo’ and ‘Identity’ have stood up over the years. They sound modern and urgent.

Poly beams throughout, and everyone is having a good time. This may be a somewhat limited exercise, but it has been worth it. Well done to all involved.

For an encore, Poly brings her daughters on stage for a family blast through ‘Bondage’ one last time and, some ten minutes later, after tumultuous applause and stamping from the crowd, returns again for another run through of 'Day-Glo’.

It’s been a fun night. But let’s make it a one off.

Incidentally, another excellent review of this gig here

Ash at the Roundhouse 05.09.2008

Ash pic by Faye Wigham

With the exception of Mindless Self Indulgence a few months ago, it seems that every time that I go to The Roundhouse, it is to see some band that have either reformed or who are essentially turning into their own tribute band. As a venue it is a musical graveyard.

These last Friday and Saturday nights have been prime examples of this phenomenon.

On Friday we have Ash playing their debut ‘1977’ album in its entirety. 2008 is not a particularly significant anniversary (it was originally released in 1996), and although popular, it is arguably not even their best album – I’d give that accolade to the less-loved follow up ‘Nu-Clear Sounds’ or to ‘Free All Angels’.

So tonight’s event may have more to do with the band needing a little love after the departure of guitarist Charlotte Hatherley and the relative flop of 2007’s ‘Twilight of the Innocents’.

I’ll gloss over the distinctly ordinary support act Fighting With Wire and reflect on the main event.

Ash have long been obsessed with Star Wars, and throughout tonight’s performance the stage is patrolled by Imperial Storm Troopers from that franchise. The law of diminishing returns sets in – the first time it happens it is a welcome novelty, but after a while it becomes a needless distraction.

There is no other preamble. The lights come on and with a bang and we are straight into ‘Lose Control’. Ash are a formidable live unit, who are happiest when rocking out at full blast. Tim Wheeler poses with his axe, bassist Mark Hamilton nods his head in approved metal manner and Rick McMurray pounds away on his enormous drum kit.

There is little subtlety about this part of the show, with everything taken at full pelt. And what seemed true when the album came out is equally apparent now – Ash are a singles band, and in this period, a very good one.

‘Girl From Mars’ and particularly ‘Oh Yeah’ sound as good now as they ever did. The crowd sings along happily. However, the non-single tracks are nondescript and the second half of this part of the show is starved of hits.

After a brief encore, things get much more interesting, as the band unearth rarities from this era. In addition to a rousing version of debut single ‘Jack Names the Planets’, there is a cover of ABBA’s ‘Does Your Mother Know?’ and the Star Wars ‘Cantina Band’ (Storm Troopers much to the fore).
Having seen Ash many times over the years, I know that if they have one failing, it is that they can outstay their welcome. And so it is as they come out for a third time, to play odds and ends from throughout their career.

What must be worrying for the band, and a reflection of the theme that I touched on above, is that the one track they announce as “This is new, we’ve been playing it at the festivals this summer” falls completely flat. The crowd is as still and quiet as a mill pond.

When their last album stiffed, Ash announced that they would not be releasing any more, but would release individual tracks via downloads. There is a real air about this evening as though they are winding down, or rather that they have passed from being a vibrant new band to a group that will hence forward always be defined by what they have achieved in the past. As long as they play their hits, folk will still come out to see them, but the spark has gone.

Best to remember them as they were.

Saturday 6 September 2008

Death Cigarettes @ George Tavern 03.09.2008

pic from - a wonderful archive of new band photos

I’ve trekked down to the George Tavern, which is a stately pile of a pub deep in the East End of London.

There is a mess of equipment in one corner, but no obvious stage or performance area. Doors supposedly open at eight o’clock, but there’s no one here.

As the time approaches, various musicians wander in. Including the ones we are here to see. More equipment is piled up in the corner and it becomes clear that this is where the show will go on.

Jessie Evans is here, clutching her saxophone with her at all times. She steps up to the microphone and has a little parp and a sing. She seems generally happy, and steps away.

Death Cigarettes uncoil themselves from their table and have a bit of a practice. This involves three members of the band charging as far from a central point as the leads on their equipment will allow. Singer Maya bounces up and down like a power ball, screaming at full volume. Everybody else in the pub looks completely stunned. After five minutes of tumult, the band stops. There is a spontaneous round of applause. Jesse Evans and drummer Toby Dammit look scared.

Time drifts on. A small group of punters wander in at around nine o’clock. Nothing continues to happen. We are eventually invited to stump up £5. About time too.

At around a quarter to ten, Death Cigarettes start their set…

…I can barely comprehend the next three quarters of an hour because I’m just so blown away. There is a guitarist on the sofa behind me and a bassist attempting to disengage his instrument from the light fitting. Maya is EVERYWHERE, on tables, climbing the door, hanging from the roof and hanging off bemused audience members.

Forthcoming single ‘Bleed You Dry’ sounds astonishing tonight. There are quite a few new songs too, which sound much more focussed than some of the earlier compositions, although they still kick like sixty ton Robo-mule. There is so much going on, the noise is so all-encompassing that it seems as though we are three feet way from the energy source that powers the whole damned universe. The world has literally shrunk to these four walls.

When the set finishes the onlookers are almost as exhausted as the band. I realise that the corners of my mouth are sore from smiling so widely. What makes Death Cigarettes so special is that it is the whole band that is the focal point. Wherever you look, someone is doing something extraordinary, at full tilt, all the time. The cumulated effect is devastating.

With due apologies to Jesse Evans and Toby Dammit there ain’t no following that. And it's getting too late.

I reel off into the night, deaf and happy.

Monday 1 September 2008

Offset Festival: 30-31 August 2008

Your Friends Are Architects

I’ve just come back from two days at the Offset Festival, held in Epping Forest. I’ve seen thirty five acts and taken a load of pretty dreadful photographs. I’ve seen more good music than I could shake a very large stick at.

Far too much to cover it all, but the following bands are well worthy of your attention.


An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump: Three girls (C-Bird, D-Bird and X-Bird) producing a menacing, growling, grungey sound. It’s mid afternoon, but things have already turned dark.

Load! Click! Shoot!: Multi-coloured tykes doing a bouncy, angular guitar type thing with plenty of proggy keyboard. The first barrier-hurdling leap into the audience of the day. Bolt Action Five may be gone, but their legacy lives on.

I Am The Arm: Arty three piece with arty hair and a tendency towards a buzzing, crackling electric racket. This is a good thing.

Thomas Tantrum: Look out of place on the main stage. Don’t seem to be more than an ordinary indie band with a pretty girl stage front. I’ll need to see them in more confined circumstances.

ddd: Dark and brooding, it’s Darryl and John and a drum machine. Cool as it gets. Note the lower case. These things MATTER.

Ice Sea Dead People: Lovely guys who value screaming, guitar mangling and having a good time. Absolutely delighted by the erratic dry ice machine they share the stage with. Always fun. ‘Hence Elvis’ was the first track I heard as I approached the site, and its even better live.

S.C.U.M. : So studiedly cool they could give you frostbite. There is a real sense of occasion when they play. Distorted vocals and a gothic, early Cabaret Voltaire feel. A packed tent and so much dry ice that for most of the set they are all but invisible. In a year’s time, the entire population of Camden will look like them.

Trademark: Seen entirely by accident due to late running in their tent, these guys are a revelation. Waves of synth, emotional singing and a terrific stage show. A wonderful moment when the three stop to gather lovingly an old tape recorder and listen to a choir. I rush off and buy their album. I suggest you do too.

Factory Floor: More random experimentalism. Recommended by Nikki Colk, that’s enough for me. I didn’t catch much of them, but liked what I saw. Good stuff on their Myspace.

Glam Chops: Eddie Argos and David Devant’s glam rock folly. Today they are almost utterly defeated by sound and equipment failure, but they are troopers to the last. Eddie is resplendent in gold lame, later topped by a red Indian headdress. The Panthergirls behind him help matters along by kicking balls into the crowd. By the end the whole tent is singing along to ‘The Lord Is A Man Of War’ and ‘Glam Not Glum’. A hard won triumph.

Excellent Glam Chops pic by Mike Burnell

Wire: What needs to be said? The masters are back and they aren’t taking prisoners. The set straddles their whole career rather than merely the first few albums. Looking rather like puzzled accountants who are unexpectedly playing to a field full of young people. New tracks such as ‘One Of Us’ fit in just as well as oldies such as ‘The 15th’.

(Wire pic: Veronika Moore)

A great end to a great day.


Maria & the Mirrors: Take ages to set up their complicated equipment, but are ultimately worth the wait. Two girls in gold and silver face each other and bang heavily miked up drum kits. They ululate in harmony, while between them a guy who looks as though he has wandered in drunk from a Bowie tribute night plays bass and occasionally fiddles with electronic equipment. This band aren’t big on variation, but they make up for it in originality.

O Children: Another band that look too cool for school. I’ve reviewed them on this site before, so won’t say more. But they go down big today, and ‘Death Of A Disco Dancer’ is reaching epic status.

Your Friends Are Architects: A singer shouts over his punk funk guitar, while centre stage a topless drummer screams and beats the living crap out of a small snare. This in addition to their other drummer. A performance that spirals ever more wildly out of control, culminating with equipment flying everywhere, much to the endangerment of a mostly supine audience. I like.

KASMs: I’ve been looking forward to this lot and they are even better than I hoped. Leopardskin clad Rachel Callaghan is described in the band’s biog as providing ‘vocals/noises’. To this she can add ‘violence’, ‘climbing’ and ‘writhing’. Within a few seconds of the start she is off the stage, wrestling a girl to the floor and wailing. She is never still and no space that can be reached with a microphone cable is left unexplored. This lot are very similar in style and tone to Death Cigarettes. I for one can’t get enough of it. A tour de force.

Future Of The Left: On the main stage and mighty with it. Andy Falkous is so sun bronzed that his face is as red as a match, which also goes well with his choleric demeanour. Plenty of new songs, all of which sound excellent.

You Love Her Coz She’s Dead: The fittest band of the weekend. This pair are a three hundred mile an hour 8-bit version of the Ting Tings. But better! Huge songs and a non-stop aerobics routine from Elle Dead, who never stops jumping around for a second. Jay Dead is a pretty nifty mover himself, and he has bass and electronic duties too. Exhausting and uplifting.

Neils Children: A collaboration tonight with SKIPtheatre, who are three girls doing arty things with a succession of newspapers, umbrellas and hoops. The extras don’t really add much to a terrific set from the band, who have attracted a large crowd and don’t disappoint them. Very varied material, all good. This band may finally be going places.

The Ghost Frequency: Stars in the making. Of all the acts here today, this lot look like they are going to go on to a different level. Their set is a sweaty and euphoric combination of dance and hardcore thrash. A mosh pit soon forms. But not a nasty one. More like a basket of puppies. Singer Doran is an amiable host, at one stage climbing nearly to the top of the central tent pole before falling off. “I tried to reach the top, but it was slippery!” he wails. There’s a metaphor there somewhere. The band even cover a Minor Threat song to prove their credentials. Wildly entertaining, and set things up for…

Gang Of Four: Again, blogged on here a few months ago. Tonight they give the crowd what it wants- large doses of ‘Entertainment’. They are brutal, and still sound like nothing else around. The mist and wind blows round them and they seem like warriors from the past, come to save the future. A stunning performance, appropriately ending with the “Goodbye, Goodbye” refrain from ‘Damaged Goods’.

The Offset festival has been a rousing success. As you can tell from this epic blog, I had a great time. Roll on next year.

Thursday 28 August 2008

Be Your Own PET: First and Last - Parker Place 2005 to Dingwalls 2008

From this - Photo: Leia Jospe

To this - Photo by Ponyrock

Be Your Own PET are no more. These Nashville teens arrived, blew me away and entertained me royally in the space of four short years. I was there at the beginning, and I was there for the end.

Let’s compare and contrast. On 23rd March 2005, I saw them play their first London show in Parker Place, Holborn. I filed the following report for Artrocker along with an email that read “I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with this lot.”

‘On Tuesday morning I become aware through my many media tentacles that the hottest band in the entire history of the planet i.e. right NOW are Nashville’s Be Your Own PET (typography important). And that they are playing at Parker Place the following evening.

So I slide down my Bat-pole and 24 hours later I’m in the venue. And so is every music biz hanger-on in London. This is basically a nice quiet new bands night in a nice new (to me) venue. But tonight the circus is in town. There are queues up the street and bouncers on the door.

The venue is as long and thin and crowded as a tube train during rush hour. The stage itself is situated behind a crash barrier and mounted in a kind of Regency dining room at one end. There are chandeliers, mirrors in golden gilt frames, red velvet drapes and chinoiserie screens. It’s fair to say it’s not your normal set up.

Be You Own PET are on first and despite being a little nervous and awkward for the first few numbers, once they hit their rhythm…wow! These teenagers are the long awaited Yeah Yeah Yeahs/ At The Drive In hybrid. Impossibly feisty and cute singer Jemina Pearl screams, rolls her eyes and camps it up like a shopping mall amalgam of Britney Spears and Courtney Love while the hugely afro-ed bassist Nathan Vasquez bounds around like a frog. Furious guitarist Jonas Stein is prettier than any girl in the room and plays as though his life depends on the next thirty seconds.

After about five numbers they have smashed the stage up to such an extent that Jemina is scared to stand on it anymore and comes down to crowd level to finish the set. Single ‘Damn Damn Leash’ is a real stand out, but it’s all good stuff.

Be Your Own PET are so full of naïve charm and youthful excitement that it doesn’t matter that their sound is not the most original. They have got moxie by the bucket load and they are going to make a lot of friends. Tonight they really are the hottest band in the entire history of the planet. And it’s still only Wednesday…’

That was the beginning. I’ve seen them many more times since, and they have never disappointed.

Four years later, on 26 August 2008, I am here in Dingwalls for the end.

The air is heavy with sweat and expectation. Support act The Hot Melts have done a good job in warming things up and various roadies are fiddling with equipment…

…and suddenly Be Your Own PET are onstage. And they are playing the Fleetwood Mac track ‘The Chain’. All hell breaks loose.

Jemina has cut her hair short and daubed her face in red war paint. The guys are all topless and also crop haired. While the singer remains upbeat throughout, her eyes saucer-wide, the others seem rather grumpy.

The set flies by in a thresher’s flail of limbs and hair and bodies and stage divers. There are mixed messages from the band – the guys warn people off, Jemina eggs them on. It’s chaotic and silly and utterly appropriate for this most delinquent of juvenile bands.

“Black Hole” and “Becky” are blasted out, the singer bouncing all over the stage, the guitarists occasionally venturing into the madding crowd. With the screamed “Food Fight” things almost get out of hand, but the boarders are just about repelled.

It’s a losing battle. Once “Super Soaker” is announced as the final song (of what I suspect was intended to be the end of the main set before the encores) an enormous scrum of bodies piles forward. Remember all those hordes of rats that run over Indiana Jones? It’s like that.

You hear the band playing on, Jemina occasionally popping her head between the sweating mass, but then the equipment is crushed and the gig is over. It’s mildly disappointing, but entirely in keeping with their whole career. They are just too much fun to be tidily contained.

Be Your Own PET were a delightful antidote to serious attitudes. They epitomised what it was like to be young and full of life and just wanting a good time at high school before the real world weighs you down.

They were brilliant, messy, and they didn’t stay a moment too long. Thanks for everything, guys.