Thursday 29 November 2012

Public Service Broadcasting at XOYO - 27 November 2012

Public Service Broadcasting pic by Michael Gallacher

This is my first time back at XOYO since their refurbishment. They’ve done some extensive work.

The venue itself has now been subsumed into a larger bar called The Shoreditch Butchery. There are enough skulls and memento mori about the place to make Marilyn Manson feel right at home.

Heading downstairs, we are just in time to see Professor Penguin beginning their set.

There are seven musicians rather bunched up on the small stage. It’s a veritable pile-up of guitars and keyboards and drums and xylophones and other musical nick nacks.  But however cramped they appear, their music is expansive, ranging from pure voice-led folky singing to shoegazey guitar thrash outs. It all works very well and they appear an affable bunch.

Wild Palms follow and they very quickly divide opinion within my group.

It’s all about singer Lou Hill. His voice is the most piercingly loud vocal since the days of Kirk Brandon and Spear of Destiny. Hill lollops along on the spot, stoop shouldered or else dramatically waves his arms around to declaim his point. One minute he’s Bez from the Happy Mondays and the next he’s Benito Mussolini.

Wild Palms’ sound is absolutely drowned in reverb and distortion. The songs themselves seem pretty good, but the sheer volume and shrillness makes for a physically painful experience.  Definitely an acquired taste.

I had previously caught Public Service Broadcasting in a tent at 1234 Shoreditch. Judging by the numbers here to see them tonight, their star is in the ascendancy.

PSB have a great deal of equipment, ranging from the usual keyboards and drum kit to various walls of television sets and a giant mocked up TV screen that acts as a backdrop. As inevitably happens in such circumstances, there is a great deal of finnicking about before the set actually starts. It is sadly never as simple as just plugging in and pressing ‘Play’.

Although he is accompanied by a live drummer (Wrigglesworth), Public Service Broadcasting is the vehicle for one man, J Willgoose. He remains mute throughout, what rapport there is with the audience provided by a Speak and Spell machine.

Willgoose expertly marshals the video input, the vocal samples and wigs out on electric guitar and an adapted banjo.

PSB’s schtick is impressively performed but it is ultimately rather self limiting. Samples from old movies and TV programmes are synched with modern dance beats. When everything coalesces, it is a fine old racket and the world is a wonderful place. However, if it doesn’t quite gel, the effect can be rather forced and flat. It’s a very narrow line to navigate.

The band have expanded their repertoire since I last saw them. Tonight’s new material is generally much more dynamic than most of the earlier ‘War Room’ stuff. That said, the best song tonight is a version of ‘Spitfire’ which (after a number of false starts) is a guitar-drenched juggernaut of a tune.

By now the venue is so heaving with people that I’m no longer sure that I’m the only person within this pair of trousers. XOYO is sold out tonight, highlighting an unwelcome quirk in the new design of the place. The stage can only be seen from roughly half the room, with the result that a whole venue’s worth of people are trying to occupy about half the available space. It’s pretty uncomfortable.

On leaving, the upstairs bar is discovered to be full of dry ice, but almost utterly devoid of people. Spooky.

An interesting rather than wholly successful evening. Professor Penguin were pleasant company, Wild Palms were entertaining if deafening and Public Service Broadcasting were brilliant on the rather too few occasions when they really took off.

Not too shabby all in all.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Polica and NZCA/Lines at Heaven - 20 November 2012

Polica pic by Grace Dickinson

I ordered the tickets back in June, so it’s fair to say that I have been looking forward to tonight for a long time.

First the bad news. Support act Phantogram have had to pull out because Josh Carter has broken his hand.

The good news. Everything else.

For starters, we have a very enjoyable and capable stand-in support act in NZCA/Lines.

As is the case with an increasing number of electronic bands, they take inspiration from that lush neon-soaked synth music from the Eighties that was synonymous with American pop videos in which a beautiful woman would stand in a window while the curtains blew around her. They were considered rather naff at the time, but are now enjoyed unironically. Chromatics have a lot to answer for.

Main man Michael Lovett sports a haircut that was produced with the help of his mum’s best pudding bowl and fiddles with a small keyboard. He sings in a high register, accompanied by a drummer and a bassist who adds a healthy dose of funk to proceedings.

I like NZCA/Lines a lot. They have actual songs and don’t just rely on the nostalgic swoosh of their music.The fact that Lovett’s speaking voice is about four octaves lower than the one he uses to sing is also a source of wonder.

There was a period during the first quarter of the year when Poliça suddenly became the coolest band on the planet. They had a good SXSW and the hipster end of the internet burst into flames. Can the band now justify that love?

They can, and in spades. No band ever went wrong through having two drummers and Poliça are no exception. As with NZCA/Lines, much emphasis is put on a thumping bass guitar.

Poliça’s focal point is vocalist Channy Leanagh. The fact that her vocals are Autotuned is a vital element to the band’s sound, adding a slight metallic, artificial sheen to her keening delivery. She stands, her arms outstretched, embracing us all.

The band’s default setting is a precise and well-honed smooth groove that sits comfortably alongside acts such as Portishead and Massive Attack.

However, the real musical spectre at this feast is UK soul queen Sade, who during the early Eighties bestrode the world of popular music like a cool seductive colossus, and who is increasingly becoming a key and influential touchstone. Of course the fact that Sade is both elegant and so reclusive that she makes Kate Bush look like Cheryl Cole doesn’t hurt the mystique either.

(A further digression – Brooklyn-based outfit The Rosebuds have just re-worked Sade’s ‘Love Deluxe’ album in its entirety and released it for free. It sounds absolutely ace and almost exactly like the original).

A good sign for me is when a band sounds too big and accomplished for the venue that they are playing in. Poliça completely dominate this evening and conquer Heaven in a way that Django Django signally failed to do last week.

I raise some eyebrows among my friends by comparing Poliça with Kraftwerk. I’m not alluding to the sound that they make, but the meticulous manner in which they make it. There is barely a note out of place here, or any component that has not been scrupulously considered.

It is testament to Channy Leanagh that a band that might otherwise seem cold and aloof instead seem warm and inclusive. She has a big smile on her face and this crowd beam back at her.

Poliça genuinely deserve their critical adulation. What they now need to do is to expose themselves to the wider world.

They’ll go down a bomb anywhere there are beautiful women, balconies and lots of wind to blow the curtains about.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Django Django at Heaven - 12 November 2012

Django Django

I’m rather unexpectedly out on a Monday night. It’s a slight shock to the system. The ticket touts outside also seem confused – they are trying to buy spares for someone called ’Dingle Dangle.’

I’m here at Heaven because this gig was postponed a few weeks ago to allow the headliners to make what turned out to be a futile tilt at the Mercury Music Prize.

First up are Gulp. There are three of them onstage, but so much of their sound is pre-programmed that they effectively have a fourth member in the guise of a computer chip.

Singer Lindsey Leven is dressed in a long black robe that makes her look like some benign abbess presiding over the stage. On either side of her a guitarist and bassist step lively. The bassist is Guto Pryce, erstwhile Super Furry Animal.

The Gulp set is a bit in and out. They are at their best when Leven sings songs with actual words. There is a particularly fine track which is promised as a forthcoming single. However, the default setting for the group seems to be to create a wash of sound with the singer wailing wordlessly over it. It’s not unpleasant, but if they are competing with great non-verbal singers such as Elizabeth Fraser or possibly Bjork, the comparison is not going to be flattering.

Quite early in their show, Django Django pause and give praise to their set designer. He’s certainly done a good job.

The band is attired in black uniforms with luminous markings. The set behind them is a mass of neon tubing and venetian blinds. It looks very effective yet also somehow reassuringly simple.

Django Django have come a long way in a comparatively short period of time and the growing pains are rather evident this evening.

Their musical approach is what I could glibly describe as ‘folk-tronic’. Vocals are often sung in harmony, accompanied by stabs of acoustic or electric guitar. Half the stage is filled by piles of electronic equipment, which one member of the band busies himself with.  For all their futuristic appearance and gear, the band do not really have a dance sensibility – their digital side seems rather undercooked.

The songs are all jolly raggle taggle affairs and the crowd is happy. However, there is a sense that everyone is waiting for the Big Hit.

When it arrives, ‘Default’ is then rather thrown away as the group decide to use it as the backdrop for a ‘meet the band’ segment.

Very tellingly, Django Django acknowledge that they don’t currently have much material. I suspect that quite a lot of what we hear tonight will not survive the arrival of a second album.

Django Django are never less than enjoyable, and have at least one killer song. But you do get the impression that fortune has catapulted them into the big time somewhat precipitously and that they have been promoted beyond their current capabilities.

Not bad, but not great. At one point the band yell “It feels like a Friday!”

It bloody doesn’t.

Saturday 10 November 2012

La Femme at Barfly - 8 November 2012

La Femme by Hugo Guyader

We’re told that it’s only their second gig. It doesn’t feel like it.

Qtier are minimalist, but tuneful in the same way that the XX or Radiohead are. They pulse, they tick. There’s a thin falsetto vocal. This band exists in the spaces between the notes.

And they are very brief. They do three songs and they’re gone. It’s a pleasant little cameo. I’ll keep an eye on them.

Fantasy Rainbow are deliberately misleading.

Centre stage the handsome guitarist, his quiff tall and proud, stands up to the microphone. He turns out to be a Maguffin. In truth, he barely sings at all.

The main singer and progenitor of the band is Oliver Catt, here acting as second guitarist lurking stage right in tracksuit bottoms and an enveloping black jumper.  He has a drawling delivery that works very well in the context of this music which marries fuzzy thrash with heartfelt angst.

They are a very interesting outfit – the songs are complex and varied, yet form a coherent and dynamic set. There’s some real bite here.  It’s a measure of how much I like them that I am disappointed not to be able to find them afterwards to buy their album.

I last saw La Femme at this year’s 1234 Shoreditch and liked them enough to come back for a second helping here tonight.

And from the moment they start until the end of their set they do not put a foot wrong. They are absolutely terrific.

There are five keyboards strung across the stage, although in practice there are rarely more than three employed at a time. From behind this wall there’s a chic riot going on.

It’s just so JOYOUS. Every song is a surf pop delight, and if you can’t dance to this you are probably dead.

Vocals are traded between Marlon Magnee, nattily attired, his hair sticking out at right angles, and the lovely Clemence, grooving furiously and also dressed to kill. Each song is propulsive, a breakneck helter skelter ride of beats.

Although there is a definite surf rock, Sixties feel, this is also allied to a real modern dance sensibility. Tunes build and build before the inevitable break down that sends everyone into paroxysms.

I’m smiling so much that my face hurts.

I could watch this band all night and when they finish, the venue is just packed with happy, dazed looking people.

A really good night out. La Femme have now become one of my current darlings. Magnifique!

Sunday 4 November 2012

Taffy and Blindness at Wilmington Arms - 3 November 2012


It’s been a number of years since I was last at the Wilmington Arms. They’ve now completely separated the downstairs venue from the rest of the pub. It is small and dark and intimate.

It’s also not too busy initially. Haiku Salut play to the proverbial one man and a dog. And me and my friends constitute the dog.

The girls perform a set in which a wide variety of keyboards, accordions, trumpets, melodicas, kick drums and some iPad-weird-Bjorky thing come into play. The problem that arises is that once you’ve acknowledged the range and diversity of the instrumentation on offer, there’s not really much else here.

It’s all very pleasant, but each song is basically an interlude, rather than something to listen to in its own right. They might as well perform behind a poster of the test card.

The next band represent something that I didn’t think actually existed.

In my mind there have always been pub bands (who are perfectly respectable but relatively mundane and content to ply their trade at a lower level, usually for the love of playing rather than any expectation of greater things) and bands that have some spark of originality about them and who are giving the music business a real shake.
 It’s a reductive way of thinking, but it has generally steered me right.

My initial impression of Blindness turns out to be totally wrong. They’ve clearly been around the block a bit and they are dressed rather like a cheesy night club act. But I am wrong to dismiss them this easily.

After an uncertain start the band settle into a slow and heavy and all-conquering electronic groove which is shot through with lashings of distorted guitar feedback. Right up my alley, in other words.

Singer Beth Rettig arches her back and emotes in a low, urgent voice. I’m reminded of acts like Curve, or even the later iterations of the Jesus and Mary Chain. I like them a lot.

I’m attracted to Japanese bands on tour in the same way that a wasp is drawn to a plate of strawberry jam sandwiches. Tonight I’ve alighted on Taffy.

This band continue the retro theme of the previous act and actually hark even further back into music’s past.
In 1986 I used to go to the Bull and Gate about three times a week to see bands like The Wedding Present, The Mighty Lemon Drops and The Soup Dragons. At this time My Bloody Valentine were a power pop combo.

Taffy would have fitted right in to this scene. We might now call this music star-gaze or the like, but back in the day it was disparagingly called ‘shambling’ and mostly sneered at. But really it was great pop music made with guitars.

Taffy play pure jangly C-86 power pop. It’s impossible not to tap your feet and jiggle about.

Singer Iris is dressed in pink. Guitarist Asano introduces the band by phonetically reading from a notepad and thanks us for coming. The pleasure is all ours. Drummer Ken is a joy- a happy bespectacled and slightly plump figure who beams from ear to ear. It’s impossible not to smile back at him.

The set rattles along at a great pace, with the more bubblegum numbers gradually replaced by longer pieces that fall more squarely in the shoegaze genre of extended guitar noodling. What’s not to like?

It’s been a fine evening’s fun. I’ll try to get back here more quickly next time.

Friday 2 November 2012

Katzenjammer at Islington Academy - 31 October 2012


It’s Halloween. A night of horrible fun and light hearted nastiness.

I’ve already seen an impressive Jason/ Pinhead hybrid on the tube. He’s tall and menacing and carries a sword. He gets to have any train seat that he wants.

As we enter the venue, the first act is already onstage. You’d think that he was in costume. But he’s not.

Ben Caplan hides a very basic act behind a riot of grey facial hair. When Edward Lear wrote of a man with a beard, Caplan took notes. Every meal the man ever ate must be in there somewhere.

Caplan’s act is simplicity itself. There is a certain amount of folksy charm and a whole lot of all-join-in-the-chorus call and response stuff. If there is a rhyme all night that is more subtle than moon-June-spoon I don’t hear it.

Ben Caplan is likeable enough. Indeed, being likeable IS his act. But it is so lowest common denominator undemanding stuff that he could probably do this with his eyes shut.

A confession. Last time I saw Katzenjammer, I couldn’t warm to them. They were clearly good, but I just couldn’t feel it. I’m here to give myself a second chance.

In the spirit of the season, the band come onstage sporting a variety of false moustaches. It looks really weird. But then Katzenjammer are rather a weird beast.

Theirs is a musical chimera of Scandinavian folk, American country music and Weimar cabaret. It’s rather a queasy mix and some of it works and some of it doesn’t.

That’s actually a lie. There is nothing that Katzenjammer do that is not well executed and completely spot on. I genuinely like them...

...but not here, not tonight.

This is a soulless rectangular box full of people. This band should be enjoyed in a dark, comfortable bar, preferably with me zonked out on expensive brandy.  In the harsh confines of the Islington Academy, I’m too uncomfortable to relax into the band. Everything seems strained and forced. After half an hour I leave.

I've tried twice with Katzenjammer and both times have failed to enjoy it for reasons that I can't really fathom. It really is a case of 'it's not them, it's me.'

As I pass through Angel tube station, a young girl is being attended to by paramedics. A young man is having hysterics and is being physically restrained from throwing himself upon them as they try to revive her. It is one of the most upsettingly horrible things I’ve ever seen.

Happy Halloween.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Mindless Self Indulgence at Forum - 28 October 2012

Mindless Self Indulgence

It’s been a tempestuous day. It’s raining cats and dogs and I’ve just come from the ill-tempered Armageddon that was the Chelsea v Man Utd match. I’m damp and seething.

I find comfort in the dark shroud of a half full Forum. Arriving in time to catch about two minutes of the Dead Betas, it’s hard to form an impression. However, their Bandcamp is here.

Taking Haley are up next and are pretty much the dream support act. Everything they do seems designed to warm up an audience for someone else.

The crowd are encouraged to wave, clap and sing along, which they are happy to do. The band are enthusiastic, glad to be here and come across a bit like a lightweight version of Ash, but without any immediately killer tunes. They know their audience and they do a respectable job.

And then...arriving full pelt and not letting up for so much as a second, Mindless Self Indulgence are among us.

The crowd effectively implodes into a mass of moshing guys and screaming girls. It’s a tsunami of hormones and testosterone which suddenly occupies about the half space as previously as the kids pile forward. There is then a great wash of humanity as lighter and more sensitive souls are expelled from the seething mass.

A band like this is only as good as their front man and James Euringer, aka Jimmy Urine is the best of the bunch. This man never rests for even the merest second, a non-stop blur of flailing limbs, spiky hair and obscene gestures.

He is joined by Steve Righ? sporting a bandana and beard, and clearly enjoying himself by rather camping it up, even though he looks like a grizzled biker. Bassist Lyn-Z is relatively restrained in comparison, only occasionally getting the limelight when Urine passes her the microphone to scream into. Drums are thumped by Kitty, tonight dolled up like a member of Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

But it’s all about Jimmy Urine. He dashes around the stage, teetering on a series of podiums hidden between the other musicians. He keeps up a non-stop monologue of insult, off colour humour and audience-baiting. The ruder he is about them, the more they love it. Which is part of the joke.

Songs pass by in a blur and I must admit that the actual musical content rather passes me by – I’m too busy watching the singer’s antics to care about what he’s actually singing.  

An indication of the highbrow nature of tonight’s proceedings can be appreciated when, after announcing that the band will be playing in Paris the following evening, Urine gets the crowd to chant along “Fuck The French!”. At another point, he balances awkwardly on a podium the better to repeatedly moon us with his skinny white ass.

After an hour or so, the law of diminishing returns starts to set in. The band are as full on and outrageous as previously, but the crowd seem exhausted by it all.

The second encore is rather bizarre. The band leaves the stage apart from Steve, who invites various members of the crowd up on stage to play his guitar. They can’t. Steve starts to sing “Born Free”. There is some confusion and it becomes clear that this is indeed the end, and the others aren’t coming back.

Mindless Self Indulgence live up to their name in a good way. It’s great to let off steam, be a little silly and just make some noise.

And I’m sure that somewhere that Urine and co are getting some French kids to chant “Fuck L’Anglais!”