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 www.wildblanket.com - 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.