Tunin' the motor, like a weekend boater
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Monday, August 30, 2010
Yes Way Festival 2010.
Upset The Rhythm’s second Yes Way festival took place a few weekends ago at Auto-Italia, a former car showroom place just off the Old Kent Road that’s been rehabilitated as a big arts project / performance space of some kind. The fest describes itself as “a weekend festival celebrating the best and brightest of the UK's art and music underground”, and I suppose it did at least a fair impression of such, with bands playing alternately in two big rooms throughout the weekend, a ‘non-profit’ bar offering cans of Carlsberg for £2 a pop and some acceptable veggie chow.
Living relatively nearby and having a free weekend, I popped in and out of the festival through Saturday and Sunday, trying to catch as much good stuff as I could.
Here is what I learned;
Glasgow’s Golden Grrrls come highly tipped, but catching the last few minutes of their set, they failed to really grab me. The noise was thick and pleasing, but I found the pace rather sluggish and the compositions a tad offputting. Maybe next time huh guys?
Former Bullies on the other hand, I liked A LOT. An all-male London trio who bear certain traits of that unfortunate ‘90s flannel-angst revival that’s seemingly going down big amongst all-male London trios, they happily rise above via a neat understanding of Velvet Underground ’69 repetition. Their songs are quite long, and minimal, and catchy, and strummy, and feature smart and funny lyrical shout-outs that remind me of Nodzzz. A simple, fun band of quality and substance; watching them was a pleasure!
Temperatures are a salty, brow-furrowing duo proffering free drumming and bulbous, heavily processed high-end bass adventures. Hmm, not really my cup of tea. Seems a good opportunity to step out for some fresh air.
Time is a new project featuring Frances Morgan, former editor of Plan B amongst other things. Beginning their set with a slow, throbbing bass pulse, things gradually build to a pleasing atmosphere of icy, tectonic-plate shifting doom. I disliked the guitarist’s slightly wussy ‘crystalline’ tone at first, but it all made sense when he hit his big fuzz pedal, launching sheets of screeching, Denudes style treble that pushed things toward the hallowed ‘earplugs level’ for the first and only time this weekend. I’d imagine they would ideally like to hear this coupled with thunderous sub-bass, but the acoustics and amplification on offer here stifles their cosmic grandeur somewhat.
Overall, I thought Time’s loud bits were excellent, but the transitions between their different ‘sections’ seemed quite jarring, and the quiet bits, well… needed work, let’s say. Guess I’m just not feeling that whole Opeth/Neurosis thing right now. Or indeed, ever, thus far in my life.
Emerging I think from the same Brighton-based noise collective whose members I once saw subjecting a restless Sonic Youth audience to the sounds of a busy crisp factory, Blood Stereo seem to have moved on but slightly from that ideal, offering up a horribly irritable palette of sounds that puts me in mind of a frustrating day spent sawing pipes to size at a sewage works.
Perhaps unwisely, some people seem to have brought their kids to Yes Way, and my main memory of this part of the day is seeing the wee ones making a swift exit from the room where Blood Stereo were performing. The adult world must have seemed like a very frightening place to the children at this point.
Next up, a group of young men called Chora set up some wallpapering tables and show off their pedal collections. I don’t want to make this review seem like an outright diss on free electronics/noise type stuff, because there’s a lot of music in that vein that I enjoy, and I am heading into each set open-minded I’d like to think, but we really do get some morbidly uninspiring examples of the form this afternoon. No real dynamics here that I’m able to appreciate, no tonal interest or invention, just grim-faced boys and a blare.
I know it can be fun to make this stuff, and on record it can be a good palette cleanser, but oft-times it just seems obnoxious to rinse it out in front of audience in social circumstances, looking at a stage, dontcha think? I just can’t get with it, anyhow.
School Tours, a solo electronics guy, is actually doing some really cool stuff, but suffers similar presentation problems in a live context. Drifting over the heads of the crowd, I hear songs that sound akin to a more upbeat, male-voiced Zola Jesus merging into lengthy slabs of euphoric avant-disco. Real nice, but too slow to inspire movement, and by now we are weary and the age-old ‘dude staring at a laptop’ problem is foremost in our minds.
I’ve been spending a lot of quality time recently with some of this new ‘witch house’/ ’80s necromancy / haunted electronics kinda music, and whilst there is some of it I like a great deal, much of the rest reveals itself as disappointingly lightweight fare, making me wonder whether the whole thing is on track to turn into this decade’s trip-hop – tepid ‘deep listening’ for terminal stoners, or a jumping-off point for theory-minded critics who want to appear cutting edge without having to stick anything uncouth or attention-grabbing on the stereo.
With marijuana leaves stamped all over the front of their near-anonymous debut LP and a full page commendation in last month’s ‘Wire’, London duo Hype Williams are doing little to allay my fears, but thankfully they’re ready to counter the inevitable kneejerk dismissal of their chosen aesthetic, simply by virtue of being really bloody good, channelling the ubiquitous washed out, rootless synth-haze of their sound into music of convincing beauty and substance.
There is something compelling about what they do that’s hard to quite define at a time when so many faceless acts seem to be groping around in the same closet without a flashlight, but I’m gonna take a leap of faith and say that the way Hype Williams do business essentially reminds me of Boards Of Canada. Although wisely bypassing the rotting carcass of ‘90s ‘IDM’ that lurks always beneath those Boards*, they’ve got that same winning mixture of insistent pulse, rich, inviting melody and darkly unsettling undertones; garbled voices, melted ghosts of pop hits, crying children marching over the hill in the distance. It draws you in, it keeps you sedated with increasingly familiar games of fuzzy-headed audio-nostalgia, and it’s only then that you notice the nasty tricks, the sudden lurching stabs into the unknown. Very good stuff indeed.
Friends with whom I was earnestly discussing what a dead end live electronica can be can be half an hour ago are now head-nodding, happily entranced as the duo crouch over their gear on-stage, if you’re willing to take that as any barometer of quality.
Ghost Hunter by contrast sounds like a man playing his ambient techno DJ set. At least he’s considerate enough to keep the volume sufficiently low for us to sit down in the corner and have a chat.
Pass the word, the rock is back! Hope I won’t sound like too much of a rockist lug if I say that after all the above, there’s a heady feeling of anticipation when Slowcoaches, from “up north”, tramp on stage and start bickering with each other, plugging in bass and guitar, checking mics and hitting drums etc. Kicking off with an unheimlich outburst of Mars/Red Transistor style dissonance, Slowcoaches proceed toward slightly more formal waters with goofily dissolute, watch-me-give-a-fuck abandon. The guitarist’s tone is just plain sick, and their songs are shambling, boisterous, broken-backed Basketcase things. Kids! Making a racket! I love it! The bassist says she’s pissed that they’ve come all the way down to London and nobody’s invited them to any parties after the gig. That’s the spirit.
I didn’t think much of Please when I saw them supporting Thee Oh Sees and Brilliant Colors earlier this year – kinda had ‘em down as blandly proficient maths-rocky twiddle. They win me over here though – found myself enjoying their set quite a lot. There are a lot of really great melodies worked into their gtr/gtr/drums sound, touches of classic ‘60s instro rock amped up via post-punk musician dude bombast, and a really bouncy feeling that the audience respond to by, well, bouncing.
Much the same can be said of Fair Ohs, a group I’ve never happened to catch before, who don’t sound at all like I expected them to sound. Given their ubiquitous support slot presence on bills w/ Male Bonding, Pens et al, I’d have guessed more sloppy reverbed junk-punk would be the order of the day (and that would have been just fine), but no, Fair Ohs are off on some other stuff entirely, and very good shit it is too, mixing a heavy, propulsive rhythm section with dense Afrobeat/Tropicalia inspired guitar work and repetitive, party-time “oh oh oh”/”awo-wayo” type singalong choruses. Under other circumstances, there might be a temptation here to say something sarcy and uncomfortable about the idea of a white band playing African-influenced party music to a practically all-white audience in the middle of an area with a majority black population, but there’s something so instinctive and un-showy, good-natured and downright groovy about the way Fair Ohs merge their various influences, any knotty dialogues about cultural appropriation seem woefully out of place, surplus to requirements in the face of some straight up good times tunes, performed by these guys in an off the cuff manner that makes the mixture of high-life rhythms and punk distortion seem like the most obvious and effortless thing in the world.
Sunday at Yes Way, I didn’t see so many bands, but the ones I did see were all great, so that’s a result I guess.
Jelas from Bristol take the whole post-Huggy Bear self-taught riot grrl no wave shred vibe about as far as a three quarters male band reasonably can, stabbing forward toward an exciting variety of noise-fucked homemade prog. It’s really great! These guys must be friendly with the Corey Orbison, right…? It would seem almost obscene that two bandfs with such complimentary methods and goals could live in the same city and not at least invite each other round for tea on a regular basis. Jelas basically rock a power trio set up, with a wildcard fourth member who adds saxophone on a few numbers, and otherwise sits cross-legged next to the drummer with a spare pair of sticks, matching his technique beat for beat. Far me it from me to make assumptions about the personal dynamics within the band, but just sayin’, if I was the drummer, I’d keep an eye on him.
I really wasn’t expecting to see a band who sound like Two Wings [no myspace findable at time of writing] at Yes Way, but holy crap, I’m glad I did. Who are they? Where did they come from? This perfectly formed, non-cheesy, summer festival-ready psyche-folk-rock ensemble, taking inevitable inspiration from the rollicking, all-together-now spirit of pre-beardy ‘60s Fairport, and upping the West Coast ballroom component big-time, sounding like a way-less-wanky Espers, or the best moments of Glasgow’s Lucky Luke, or … Jefferson Airplane? Whoa! Who is this lady strumming a big red Gibson, belting it out like Joanna Newsom trying to be Janis Joplin, only, um, not half as much of a horrendous idea as that sounds? Who is this dapper looking motherfucker with a tucked in shirt, ripping into sweet John Cipollina vibrato/fuzz-addled solos at every opportunity? Oh my sainted lord, this is some superbly style retro-rocking right here, completely out of place in a corrugated iron shed in Peckham, but completely wonderful. It makes me want to get drunk.
(What little info I can drum up suggests that Two Wings are yet another one of those seemingly endless, shifting membership ensembles birthed from the ol’ Glasgow avant-folky-whatever type scene, predictably enough. A lot of that stuff I just can’t stomach, but on occasion they deliver a real knockout, and this is one.)
Like their girl-gang contemporaries Pens, La La Vasquez have come on a long way since their initial recordings, lessening the fuzz and fuck-yous, and drawing deeply from the same well of surf-infused, heavily rhythmic inspiration as Grass Widow and, in particular, Brilliant Colors. At one point I even thought they were playing a Brilliant Colors cover, um, not that I’m insinuating there’s anything underhand going on or anything you understand. Full of tension and rough edges and a dazed mixture of noise and beauty, La La Vasquez are loads of fun to watch on stage, and another fine addition to what future historians of female-led rock n’ roll will no doubt see as a veritable embarrassment of riches emerging in the years 2008-10.
I don’t catch much of Gentle Friendly’s set, but the bit I did see seemed like an extremely pleasing mixture of rolling thunder percussion and euphoric, overblown electronics – sorta like, hey, The Boredoms are a whole genre now. Sounded a bit like I’d imagine Fuck Buttons to sound, having never bothered to listen to them.
I can’t think of anything new so say about Veronica Falls right now, but needless to say, I still love them. You can search via their tag at the bottom of this post, should you be curious re: what I’ve thought to say about this exemplary band in the past.
Pheromoans are a lot like The Fall. Not in the sense that they imitate or aspire to be like The Fall, simply in the sense that they are a bunch of blokes and a lady banging out lumbering, misshapen yet oddly compelling mutant rock music, over which an angry, idiosyncratic man spits out an abstract litany of frustration and disdain, sounds and vocals coalescing into a rousing ritual purging of the anxiety and idiocy of the modern world, an expression of dole queue rage rendered purposefully obtuse to all but the most perverse and sympathetic listeners; the music birthed by the messthetics bands back in the late ‘70s, fried for twenty years into a joyous plate of gristle. Standing near the back of the room, seeing them kick into this gloriously unlikely festival headlining shit as the lubricated crowd hop about and shout requests is a fine site, and the band’s racket is mighty and disturbing and luridly hilarious; a fine time for my to make my exit – I’ve gotta be back at bloody work in the morning.
So that was Yes Way. What can I say, I had a great time. I didn’t see any art students in shiny faux-primitive headgear doing god-awful tribal drum jams, but I did see a shitload of great, wild, imaginative punk rock, and much more besides. For a narrow-minded Londoner like me, it was particularly inspiring to see bands like Slowcoaches and Jelas get invited along – not just great new discoveries for me, but welcome reminder that whatever depressing, suffocating corner of our great land you care to hop on a train too, somewhere, nearby, behind the high streets and the wetherspoons, there’ll be at least some cabal of kids kicking up a righteous, sloppy racket.
*Be thankful I ended the metaphor there – I was seconds away from going on about nails and crowbars and laying down carpet…
Monday, August 23, 2010
Hip Pocket Records.
Sorry for all that uncharacteristic ranting and dreary tech picture earlier on - here's a slightly more fun post by way of apology.
Wonder why this never caught on - I mean, who DOESN'T want their music portable, low-priced and groovy?
50 million kids. Imagine that.
Sansa Mp3 Players Suck.
Hey everybody, welcome to our regular consumer guide slot, and…. well, yeah, but loathe as I am to interrupt this blog’s valuable contribution to global discourse on contemporary musical cultures, can’t let this one go by without a quick warning – after all, I owe it to my loyal readers to help them avoid potential hazards and stay happy and safe and slowly going deaf however I can.
So my beloved old Rio mp3 player packed in last week – can’t complain I suppose, it’s done pretty damn well in this age of inbuilt obsolescence, serving faithfully for over five years in the face of innumerable pavement droppages, rainstorms, battery fuck-ups etc. It was a good little blighter.
So naturally I thought I’d pick up another one to replace it, until a brief web search revealed that Rio actually went bankrupt back in 2005, meaning I must have bought one of the last batch of their machines to actually hit the shelves. Oh well. Let’s see what else is out there.
In short, I went for a Sansa; looked cheap and practical and reliable and works drag-and-drop style with both OS.X and Windows, gets a near-universal thumbs up from online reviewers – suits me. When it arrives it’s nicely designed and reassuringly weighty for its size and works straight away and has an interface so instinctive a gorilla could probably use it, and gains extra points by vestige of the fact that the whole spin-wheel thing has been ripped off wholesale from the iPod with an applaudable sense of “fuck you, whatcha gonna to about it” gall. What could possibly go wrong, right?
Spent yesterday loading it up with music, and took it out for it’s first test run on the way to work this morning.
Oh, fuck me. This thing is quiet.
Ok, don’t panic, maybe it’s just this one mp3 being funny or something.
So I put on the MC5, and turn the volume up to max, and slide all the digital EQ sliders up to maximum (and I’m listening via Sennheiser high output in-ear ‘phones, I should clarify).
Quiet like the free gift CD walkman that I used to wander around town wrestling with back when I was on the dole. Quiet like, I can hear traffic from the road clearly. Quiet like, forget any thoughts you might have of ever listening to anything other than ultra-compressed, distorted rock music on this thing, even indoors. Quiet like, FUCK YOU SANSA, I actually can’t BELIEVE you’re pulling this shit on people in 2010, take your mp3 player and stick it.
And not just quiet – I mean, I’m hopefully not some kind of morbid volume fiend or anything – but this just sounds crap - muffled, flat – kinda like the tape player on some old kitchen mini-hifi thing with all the EQ pushed down to minus whatever. Did Steve Jobs get his revenge for the spin-wheel thing by sneaking in at night and fucking up their preamps, or whatever the digital equivalent of a preamp is..?
Did all the people who gave this thing positive reviews just not like music much, or have I got a dud or something? Or is my hearing even worse than I thought?
Whatever the case, time to start to unpleasant process of hassling someone for a refund. I get the feeling that “yeah, it works, it’s just shit, sorry” isn’t going to go down well.
I guess I’ll get another Sony one instead – they’re tacky pieces of crap made by a company I actively dislike and I find the output a bit thin and trebley, but at least I can hear it.
Hey, remember when we all thought it was a flat-out miracle that you could carry a hundred and something albums around in yr pocket? What a life-changer, what a beautiful, extraordinary piece of technology.
The gag is, my Rio one has now come back to life and is working perfectly, so I can deafen myself further with Sex Vid and Overnight Lows on the way home. Viva 2005! They really made things to last back in them days.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Indietracks 2010: Somehow or other, it’s been killing me trying to finish the second half of this Indietracks review, but here it is – torn straight from the metaphorical typewriter, waved under the nose of the non-existent editor, and hitting the virtual presses, no second draft. Hey ho, let’s go… Photo respectfully stolen from Underexposed.
Somehow or other, it’s been killing me trying to finish the second half of this Indietracks review, but here it is – torn straight from the metaphorical typewriter, waved under the nose of the non-existent editor, and hitting the virtual presses, no second draft. Hey ho, let’s go… Photo respectfully stolen from Underexposed.
Photo respectfully stolen from Underexposed.
Sunday I get up early (camping, y’know), and go to look for coffee.
I probably moaned about this to everyone I spoke to at the festival at some point, but get this: there is a specialist coffee stand/van at Indietracks. I know it is one, because it says “COFFEE HUT” or something in big letters on the front. Not to sound too ungrateful, but seeing as how they are apparently making a living selling coffee at outdoor events, I can’t help but offer them some advice. Specifically: d’you think it might be a good idea to open before midday? Who knows, maybe you could sell croissants and shit too? Go nuts guys - the whole ‘breakfast’ concept can make for a rewarding business model when upwards of a thousand people are waking up and wandering around in the middle of the countryside.
Resigned to not getting any proper coffee for a while, I retreat to the top right hand corner of the railway centre, where the door to ‘Johnson’s Buffet’ swings forbodingly. So utterly, wonderfully terrible, Johnson’s Buffet is like the culinary equivalent of a haunted house – a humbling reminder of what the denizens of this country used to do on a hungover Sunday morning, before uppity swines like me and Egon Ronay started going around demanding proper stuff to eat. I ask the teenage girl behind the till what the vegetarian breakfast consists of. She doesn’t know yet, but she’s prepared to cook it for me anyway. God bless her! The thrill of the unknown was worth every penny. While I’m there, a lady brings her mug of instant coffee back to the counter and asks if she can get another spoonful of nescafe in it. Spurred on by such bravery, I do the same. I wonder whether they encounter such insubordination on non-Indietracks weekends?
I’m probably sounding like a bit of an asshole in this post thus far. If I was reading this in the Guardian or wherever, I probably would have thrown it aside in disgust by now. Is it possible to write negative food reviews without sounding like a whining, pompous dick? Maybe Michael Winner’s not such a bad guy after all? (Clarification: no, I’ve checked, and actually I’m fairly certain he is a bad guy – the evidence re: everything he has ever done is pretty overwhelming.)
Well if you do think I’m being an asshole, things are going to get worse before they get better I’m afraid, but at least we’ll be getting all the bad vibes out of the way in one go. After killing time with a nice walk through the orderly forest (I listened to ‘Master of Reality’ and ‘Ramones Leave Home’ for grounding and decompression purposes) and helping out in the merch tent for a bit (I enjoyed it), ‘COFFEE HUT’ has finally emerged from it’s slumber, and I’m stuck deep in the queue when MJ Hibbett & The Validators open up proceedings on the outdoor stage.
Now certain things in the past have maybe forced me to turn a blind eye to how terrible this guy is. For one thing, a lot of people whose opinions I appreciate seem to derive a certain degree of enjoyment from his work. I remember seeing some fliers for one of his gigs years ago in Leicester library that I thought were very charming (each of them was *hand drawn* - not photocopied – with smiling stick people playing instruments etc). I once met the violin player from his band in a pub, and he seemed like a really lovely guy. In short, there is such a Teflon coating of modest, low key friendliness around this Hibbett character that writing bad things about him feels a bit like kicking a three-legged puppy. And no one would want to do a thing like that, right?
But y’know, maybe one day that three-legged puppy might end up with a plate in its head after an unfortunate traffic accident, and it might not be able to breath properly, and it might stagger about drooling and can’t control its bowels anymore. It might start randomly trying to bite people because it no longer knows what the hell is going on, and a time comes when someone has to stand up and say ENOUGH, and the poor beast must be taken to the vets and put to sleep.
So, MJ Hibbett. His constant stream of carefully pre-planned, morbidly unamusing self-deprecating banter; his sappy one joke strumalongs, whose façade of modesty fails to entirely disguise their genesis as smug, self-righteous diatribes; his painful attempts at observational humour, harnessed to standard issue blokey open mic night strummery, somewhat like the desiccated shell of Half Man Half Biscuit, entirely drained of all the wit and artistry and invention and anger that makes them worth listening to. He’s like a Johnson’s Buffet breakfast without the charm – cringeworthy English crap-ness writ large. In short, I wish he’d stop. Just stop, please - stop now and stop forever.
I hope he doesn’t google this up and read it, as I’m sure he’s a nice chap and I wouldn’t want to piss him off or upset him, but sometimes these things just need to be said. He can at least take comfort in the fact that an awful lot of people here seem to greatly appreciate what he does. And that’s fine. Me, I’ve got my coffee by this point, and I’m running, running, to hide in an alcove where the sound won’t leak in and plot with others who share my point of view. I believe burning him at the stake was suggested at one point, but was deemed out of keeping with the spirit of camaraderie upon which this festival is based.
And, fantasies of violent death aside, it is that spirit that I hope to return you to as I write about the rest of this fine day.
Boy, The Specific Heats are an amazing band! I was pretty blown away when I caught them on their visit to the UK last summer, and this time, if anything, I like them even better. They’ve survived a couple of line-up changes since then, and the presence Eric on bass rather undermines my previous assumption that Matt Patalano had deliberately built himself an ultimate rock n’ roll band of pretty ladies to help him bring his songs to the world, but that aside the new recruits fit in seamlessly. The whole deal is still essentially Matt’s baby after all, and he’s on exuberant form at Indietracks, leaping around like a kid at a birthday party, wringing lunatic stuntman solos from his groovy Ventures guitar. Keira Flynn-Carson still gives the impression of being the happiest drummer on the planet, and the band’s high spirits are pretty contagious as they rip through a good dozen of their more upbeat numbers without a bummer to be seen.
Frenziedly pulling influences from all over the shelf marked “the last 50 years of pop-infused rock n’ roll”, the ‘Heats combination of ‘60s pop-sike baroque, breathless Sloan/Weezer-style power-pop, surf-rock dynamics and good-natured Nuggets goofery is an exultant expression of high wire walking musical synthesis, and their new LP “Cursed!” is a veritable belter. And if “Baby I’m An Existentialist” ends up sounding almost exactly like “Down & Out” by Camper Van Beethoven, and “All I Want” is The Modern Lovers’ “Someone I Care About” rewritten via The Seeds’ “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine”… well how can this possibly be anything other than a good thing? Originality is overrated.
The term ‘psychedelic pop’ gets thrown around so often these days it’s almost become offputting, usually just boiling down to the work of bedroom bore with too much gear who once heard an Olivia Tremor Control record. As such, it’s fucking great to hear such a strong, funny, talented band stepping up to the plate and just plain OWNING that once noble descriptor. See ‘em, hear ‘em, however you’re able.
It’s fair to say I think that The Specific Heats go down a storm, attracting one of the most enthusiastic crowds of the festival, but sadly their Indietracks set seems not to have made it onto youtube, a predicament thankfully not shared by The Loves, whom the festival programme informs me I went to see play next, so I’ll give you two videos of them to make up for it.
Ah, The Loves. I thought they were a triumph. I mean, I always think they’re a triumph. A triumph of ease over effort, of the obvious over the abstract.
The Loves are the kind of band who’d probably hire a manager just because it seems like the kind of thing a rock n’ roll band should do, and then said manager would sit around and get drunk, because who needs a ‘manager’ in this day and age? There’s a kind of genius at work in everything they do, I think. An understanding of the way pop greatness walks hand in hand with absurdity; a finely developed sense of Fowleyan tongue in cheek egotism.
All Simon Love wants to do is play old fashioned bubblegum rock n’ roll, to assume the moves appropriate to a purveyor of such, to make people dance and laugh. It’s not a hard concept to grasp, but people seem to have such trouble with it. I just don’t get people sometimes.
I don’t know if half the people who are even IN The Loves these days really appreciate the idea. It’s… it’s playtime, y’know? It’s FUN. It’s big, dainty glam-rock chords, and easy singalongs, and songs that sound quite a lot like other people’s songs. It’s like The Gentrys, y’know, or The Archies, Venus & The Razorblades, The Pooh Sticks. Rock n’ roll as a really great cartoon – but don’t cartoons just make the underlying qualities of things brighter, more obvious?
And this time, The Loves take the stage to the theme from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’! Simon wears a top hat, theatrical cape, shades and a rather misguided moustache! They have go-go dancers who do specially rehearsed interpretive routines to selected songs! They throw footballs into (more like ‘at’) the crowd (“like a cut price Flaming Lips”)! They play a thundering great version of The Velvets’ “Guess I’m Falling In Love”, amongst other things! Original Loves singer Liz, latterly of The School, comes back for a one time only appearance! They even do this kinda bizarre concept album story-song that involves that Bobby McGee bloke dressed in a white robe playing Jesus, delivering in-jokey pre-scripted dialogue, and I’m not driven to immediately flee the area – that’s how much I like The Loves.
Turned around after they’d finished, ready to exchange some “boy, that was great” type bonhomie, and it looked like the whole festival had temporarily buggered off. I just don’t get people sometimes.
The next thing I remember is seeing The Bettys again, playing an impromptu (kinda) acoustic set in the merch tent – perfect recreations of their hits on just a couple of borrowed guitars and a tambourine, with the tightly packed crowd helping the sound travel further by joining in and clapping along where needed. As with so many moments this weekend, the whole scene is just a uniquely happy and affirmative happenstance, cementing the festival beyond doubt as a triumph of the good & right. And hey, looks like this one made it to Youtube…
Next it’s back outside to where a dedicated cadre of true believers gather before the still largely deserted main stage to bear witness to The Cannanes, over on a rare visit from Australia, quickening the pulse rate of those loyal few who hold the band’s scattered and commercially unheralded discography in such reverence you’d think they pressed their records onto solid gold (or so I’m assuming).
I’ll admit, my Cannanes knowledge is as sparse as the crowd watching them; I have a few tracks by them on comps, which are all excellent, but the main weight of my liking for them currently rests upon the fact that whenever my flatmate Pete is spinning something wondrous-sounding and unidentified in the living room and I ask “what’s this”, the answer is often The Cannanes.
And indeed, The Cannanes – comprised here solely of core members Annabel Bleach and Stephen O’ Neil – sound wondrous. Hard to put into words quite how and why, but their music is of a quite different order to most of the groups I enjoyed at Indietracks. These songs are sparser, rawer, more serious of intent, although never earnest or lacking wit. Just a strummy guitar, a clear, ballsy singing voice, and songs that hurt and fascinate and question and chuckle darkly, like some kinda Richard & Linda Thompson raised on The Velvets and Beat Happening.
Can’t think of much more I can say without wider reference to their discography, but this was a strong, sharp and affecting performance of some brilliant songs, and I’m very glad I saw it.
Some blokes from Sarandon joined them to bulk up the sound for the last few songs, but with no disrespect to those guys, I liked the songs they did as a duo better.
Inevitably, there were some good bands I managed to miss during the course of Sunday. I’m sad I didn’t get to see frat party garage funsters The Millipedes play what was apparently their last ever show (I’ve had a half-finished review of their big box o’ singles sitting on my desktop for months, sorry Trev), and that I failed to catch The Blanche Hudson Weekend (I saw them at a warm up gig earlier the same week though, thought they were excellent).
Other bands I ended up just kinda half-seeing. I was walking back to the campsite for a shower and a bite to eat when Standard Fare came on on the outdoor stage, but no matter, they were mixed so loud I could hear ‘em perfectly most of the way. I may have found myself unable thus far to really connect with their album (“it’s good, but it’s not the one”, as the guy used to say on ‘Catchphrase), but they’re an excellent band, no question, and sound completely in their element on a big festival stage.
My biggest misstep of the day though was missing The Pooh Sticks. How did I manage that? I mean, I love The Pooh Sticks. Their Swansea-based (non)existence, and their album ‘The Great White Wonder’, hold a definite place in my personal mythology. This was “their” first public appearance in, like, nearly twenty years or something. It’s not like I was doing anything, y’know, important while they were playing. I was hanging around in the train-bar, barely feet away from the stage, drinking beer. I was having a nice time, sure, but when I saw happy faces emerge from the hanger, bearing placards reading “E=MC5”, I knew I’d made a terrible mistake. These things happen at festivals, I know, but… I’m sad it worked out this way.
Here’s what I missed;
I could weep.
When The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart close the festival, I’m standing at the top of the slope overlooking the main stage, surveying the scene, sharing some whisky with a couple of friends. Now The Pains aren’t, like, my favourite band in the world or anything, far from it, but it’s going to be difficult writing about how beautiful their set here was. When I got carried away writing about their album last year, vis a vis my last few paragraphs, this was EXACTLY the vision I was seeing in my head.
The sun has set, and the moon is rising. There’s some cloud in the sky, but it’s still a perfect, mild summer’s evening. The air is still over the miles of fields and fences and neatly cultivated clumps of forest that stretch in every direction. It’s the midlands, flat and wide, and empty, and in the middle of it, there’s bright white and blue light (exactly the colours I mentally associate with this band, weirdly enough), there’s a gigantic PA, and…. well it could be any number of bands playing to be honest, any number of variations of noisy rock n’ roll, but this time it’s The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, and that’s just fine. They’re happy to be here, and they’re discovering maybe for the first time, that their band is a flat-out perfect festival headlining act, and they're just fucking killing it, sending blissful, electrifying distortion echoing for miles across the empty English countryside. Not a corporate logo in sight, or a security guard, or any reason to need one – this whole edifice built on DIY culture, enthusiasm and mutual friendship. Opening song: ‘This Love Is Fucking Right’. Halfway through their set I’m almost crying. This is what it’s all about, surely? The reason why we all do this stuff that we do? Standing in the middle of nowhere, hearing that noise hit those empty spaces.
People down by the stage are dancing and hugging, and it’s the festival’s big finale, but me, I’m just dumbstruck.
That’s ya big kiss-off moment of course, but the night is far from over. Down at one of the marquees, Birmingham DJ Attagirl is playing the flat out perfect DJ set for myself and my assorted friends to bond over. Girl-centric cult ‘90s indie? Oh, go on then. There’s still probably someone somewhere waking up screaming at night, having witnessed my reactions to hearing “Nightlife” by Kenickie and “Kandy Pop” by Bis.
At some point after that, we have a running race. There is a great spirit of camaraderie on the last tractor-land-train thing back to the campsite, stragglers leaping onto the runningboard and being pulled on-board. It probably would have been easier to walk, but it’s a lot of fun. Back at camp, conceptually unsavoury London night Crimes Against Pop is holding sway at the disco, so we hang out outside instead, banging steel picnic tables, making our own songs.
For me, the real end of the festival comes sometime between 3 and 4am, when The Sock Puppets and their retinue play a ‘secret gig’ in the tent of a guy with an acoustic guitar who invited everyone back to his tent and promptly fell asleep. They’re belting out their hits at the top of their lungs, and it’s sounding brilliant, when, inevitably, men with torches are banging on the tent, telling us to pack it in.
“Now, now” says the man from the campsite, “you girls have got lovely voices and everything, but it’s pretty late, y’know, and we’ve got a lot of families trying to sleep up in the top field, so if you could just keep it down to a manageable level…” – once again, I am almost moved to tears by the sheer NICENESS of this reaction to our heinous, drunken noise pollution.
Stumbling back toward our own encampment, we see a grumpy looking man sitting awake outside his tent. “Was it you lot singing those songs?”, he asks. Yeah, sorry, we reply. “No, it was good, I really enjoyed it, thanks” he says, and wishes us goodnight.
Goodnight to you too, Indietracks – hands down the best festival I’ve ever attended.
Monday, August 09, 2010
Things of Interest:
Stinky Toys / Elli et Jacno
It goes without saying that I’ve been learning a great deal from Joe Stumble’s spectacular recent round up of French music from the punk/new wave era over at Last Days of Man On Earth.
Of all the tunes and videos he’s posted though, the two that really did it for me turned out to be the work of the same people.
First, here’s Stinky Toys from 1979;
As you will have observed, Stinky Toys appear to be a replica of a ’79 power-pop band created by aliens who tried their best to replicate earth culture, but, rather like the creators of the room Dave Bowman wakes up in at the end of 2001, got everything slightly wrong. By which of course I mean completely right.
The singer’s dress and dance moves are of an order one rarely sees without having ingested powerful drugs. The interlocking guitar strumming patterns are simple but quite unusual and deeply pleasing, as is the deceptively ‘normal’ rhythm. The English language lyrics are slurred and kind of perplexing (“Chinese Chinese birthday party / give me Chinese birthday cake”?). The whole thing is awesome and fascinating.
Before long it seems, the singer and one of the guitarists broke away from the band and began to build a pop career as a duo: Elli et Jacno.
Stinky Toys seem pretty rad, but I think this was undoubtedly a good move for them, because Elli et Jacno are simply incredible.
In fact, I have no words that allow me to quite quantify how incredible they were.
By way of explanation, let’s just watch this;
Oh man, the bits where he plays the ‘solos’. GENIUS. I love you Jacno.
Elli et Jacno did some other songs and videos in 1982 as well.
They’re all pretty similar.
They’re all pretty great.
‘Main Dans La Main’ Is still totally the best video, but ‘Le Telephone’ is probably the one I’d go for if I was DJing somewhere.
Elli & Jacno was a French 1980s electro-pop group. They were quite successful in France and to some extent in Britain, having been featured once on the front page of Melody Maker magazine.
Denis Quillard alias Jacno and Elli Medeiros decided to start a music duo after leaving the punk band The Stinky Toys. Jacno composed and performed the music and Elli sang and wrote the lyrics. They released three albums together before splitting up and beginning solo careers.
I have found The Ramones of minimalist, tongue in cheek French synth-pop, and I couldn’t be more happy.
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
The Midlands Railway Centre at Swanwick, which hosts the Indietracks festival each year, is perhaps the most quintessentially midlands place on the face of the earth. Though a beautiful and remote spot by most people’s definition, it’s not really ‘beautiful’ in the sense of the more rugged and intimidating terrain that dominates more coastal areas of our land. A supremely quiet and orderly piece of countryside, it speaks of a benevolent idyll where the trains and canals run side by side, where the farmers grow their crops in neat, symmetrical rows and the cows only shit at night when nobody’s looking.
It’s a deeply comforting, reality-defying kind of beauty that people in this part of the world seem to fight hard to maintain against the imposition of chaos – a sort of Victorian biscuit tin beauty made real through sheer determination, if you like. And with the idea of ‘Victorian biscuit tin beauty’ very much falling in line with the original, correct (pre-musical; pejorative) usage of the term ‘twee’, the essential connection between the location and the nature of the festival it is hosting becomes inescapable.
I’ve not met or spoken to the founders/organisers of Indietracks, so am unable to qualify my assumptions, but it seems the brainwave that originally brought together a midlands heritage railway and the reserved, nostalgic sound of jangly ‘80s-vintage British indie presupposes certain values. Modesty; decorum; gentle good humour; tweed trousers; a nice pint of ale to sip contentedly after a hard day’s cycling; that sort of thing.
As such, I can’t help but wonder how the event’s founders feel as the festival has grown, the music has become more varied and the provision of food, accommodation, entertainment and amplification has expanded dramatically (apparently the first event four years ago attracted 150 attendees, now it’s somewhere in the region of several thousand)… all leading to a perilously un-twee situation wherein surly reprobates like me find themselves in attendance, demanding the opportunity to guzzle whiskey and leap about like baboons through the early hours. What would Morrissey say?
Seriously though, I hope no one minds. I hope there’s no lovable middle-aged fellow with authentic ‘60s patches on his jacket elbows, looking on with his head in his hands as bands start plugging in distortion pedals and his beloved railway is reduced to a zone of moderate racket and borderline impoliteness. If he is out there somewhere, he can rest easy in the knowledge that he’s still helped create what is surely the most friendly and enjoyable festival experience in the British Isles, and still run with a more genuine sense of camaraderie and respect for DIY ethics than any event I’ve ever attended.
Looking at the composition of the attendees is kinda interesting, I think. Leaving aside the fact that I seem to know about a third of ‘em, by sight if not by name, there does seem to be a noticeable disjuncture between the classicist indie-poppers crudely stereotyped above (sorry guys, I love ya really), and others whom you might call, well…. I’ve never considered the term before, but sort of hardcore indie kids, y’know? The ‘90s-raised lifers who’ve kept the faith in the badges, the big glasses, the messy hair, the reverence for Kenickie…. my people, in short, whether I like it or not. They’re a good bunch. It’s a lovely feeling, realising you’ll be able to turn around at pretty much any point this weekend and engage the person behind you in conversation about, I dunno, Urusei Yatsura or something. Odd that it’s the former contingent who seem to be making most of the fanzines these days, but there ya go.
ANYWAY, enough offensive generalising about other people’s cultural backgrounds, let’s get down to business.
Lackadaisical travel planning means that most of myself and most of my companions end up missing the bands on Friday night, but that’s ok, there are only three of them. (Veronica Falls are great, but I’ve seen ‘em loads of times; Allo Darling can go suck a fuck for more reasons than I can bother listing here; Eddie Argos’s Everyone Was In TheFrench Resistence..NOW thing worked a lot better as a funny press release than a record.)
I didn’t actually manage to catch Glasgow’s The Felt Tips, but having seen them at the warm up gig they played with us on the Thursday, I’d like to throw ‘em a mention, and I’m confident that they were indeed pretty good. Happily generic indie-poppy type stuff really, but their classically twangy lead guitar lines, strong songs and big, melodic bass give things a pleasantly Teenage Fanclub-ish feel, if you’ll excuse the regional stereotyping. Nice stuff, and you’ll remember what I said about the virtues of being nice earlier this month.
There is a definite disparity at Indietracks between the two main stages (which are quite big festival stages), and the church, which is inexcusably tiny, with a maximum capacity of about a hundred and one-in/one-out operating thereafter. It does have the obvious advantage of being a wonderfully creepy/picturesque (delete as applicable) railwayman’s chapel, allowing for a pub gig intimacy and fantastic straight-from-the-amps sound that slays the other stages, but still… the lack of any medium-sized venue is somewhat to the festival’s detriment when more popular bands scheduled to play in there have more punters queuing outside than enjoying the performance.
Nonetheless, I make it in there just in time to catch Foxes!, from Brighton I think, a band I’ve been hearing good things about for a long while, and… well everyone else I spoke to thought they were great, but I was a bit disappointed to be honest. Their sound was a bit thin for my tastes, and their songs seemed fussy and over-complicated, with the hard work of rendering them accurately serving to strip the performance of the kind of ramshackle joy one would assume to be the point of starting a band called Foxes! who record goofy song cycles about sailors.
Oh, but how I wish any of that could be said of the next band on, some bunch of chancers called The Give It Ups, who with their foul attitude of entitlement and pauper’s disregard for musical syntax can only be assumed to have got on the bill through bribery, blackmail or begging. Honestly, this one guy hammers away on a bass through half the songs like he thought it was a tennis racket, they repeatedly use the f-word before a mixed audience, and their lyrics variously invoke mythical beasts and promote larceny, slothfulness and envy. That they were allowed to sully the air of a House of God with their impudent assaults on conventional harmonics and good sense speaks of a loathsome miscalculation on the part of the schedulers, and one that I trust will not be repeated in future.
By the time Betty & The Werewolves come on, the queue outside the church looks to have reached Soviet Union bread-line proportions, and we only get to witness proceedings by hiding to the side of the, er, altar and bothering the photographers. And lord, what can I possibly say about The Bettys by this point? I’ve seen their set so many times it should be a matter of routine, but every time it just seems to get better – faster, more joyous, more rocking, more varied, more exuberant - and in these happy circumstances they’re on absolutely top form, with choice album cuts like “Purple Eyes” and “Heathcliff” sounding just as incomparably great as their super-hit singles. They’re simply a brilliant, brilliant band, and it’s a privilege to be able to exist in the same time and place as them.
Over on the big, unavoidably echoy shed/hanger stage meanwhile (be sure to stand centre stage at the front if you value the sound of properly differentiated instruments), New York’s Boy Genius precede to blow me away for the second time in a week. Looking like one of the bands from Scott Pilgrim come to life, Boy Genius demonstrate perfect timing in breaking out the absolute perfect end credits music for that comic’s recently published final volume with their sickeningly anthemic “Ramona Saves The Day”, and their mixture of starry-eyed jangle-pop exuberance, late-period Husker Du tuneage and full-on Crazy Horse guitar heroics again proves about a thousand times more exhilarating than a New York indie-pop group called ‘Boy Genius’ might reasonably be expected to be.
Brad from One Happy Island proves to be the most kick-ass bass player I’ve seen in recently memory, while the lead guitarist’s Cave Weddings-esque twangy riffs are a total joy, the drummer really kicks it too, and… well shit, they’re just one of those infuriating bands where EVERYONE’S really great. I dunno if their stuff would quite do it for me in cleaner, recorded form, but here, with a third guitarist guesting from OG indiepoppers Miracle Legion, Boy Genius speed over over the line from ‘pretty good’ to ‘KIN AWESOME, ending their set with a veritable guitarpocalypse that must have some onlookers worrying over precisely how much rocking constitutes too much at an indie-pop festival.
Fun and accessible and genuinely pretty great, I’d be tempted to single out Boy Genius as likely recipients of Pains OBPAH style hugeness by this time next year, were it not for the fact that few punters I spoke to afterwards seemed quite as enthused by them as me – oh well, who cares, I mean it’s not like I’ve ever been much of an arbiter of public taste.
I think I headed back to the campsite at this point in proceedings for a shower and a bite to eat, and to be honest, the rest of Saturday is a bit of a blur – I don’t think I managed to see any more bands for more than a minute or two. I remember stating my disinclination to bother watching The Primitives, only to exclaim “oh my god, I never knew they did THIS FUCKING TUNE!” when they launched into their big hit – y’know, that great “shut, shut your mouth” number from every indie disco ever? Clearly that’s a way good song. I always thought it was some one hit wonder band from the ‘90s who did it. I think maybe I was confusing The Primitives with The Barracudas or something? Who knows – too late to rectify my mistake now.
Speaking of indie discos, much of the fun I had at Indietracks consisted of leaping around to the various post-bands DJ sets. With friendly faces always within sight, a steady supply of alcohol, cool summers evenings, an endlessly happy atmosphere and a variety of reliable sorts spinning fun tunes, the festival makes for a pretty perfect atmosphere for late night dancing and later night campsite shenanigans, and it would be wrong of me not to at least mention the highlights.
I very much enjoyed the way the weird acoustics in the big shed managed to make familiar tunes sound like a storm of noise as soon as the DJs took over and tried to push things up to club night volume. I don’t remember what they played so much, but the preponderance of random, reverberating racket with a bass line certainly got me going.
Following that, Ian from How Does It Feel’s ‘60s soul special over in one of the marquee tents was absolutely bloody magnificent. I’ve always thought Ian is a fine DJ with a great ear for throwing together totally unexpected combinations of killer tunes, and let off the hook here without needing to play the bloody Smiths or something every ten minutes, his set is an absolute blast, drawn primarily from the seemingly endless well of guaranteed party-starting obscurist soul cuts, mixed with the plenty of straight up classics, plus occasional diversions into girl group, rock n’ roll and ye ye…. every tune I didn’t recognise was of course totally killer, but it was a such a joy when something like “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” or Otis Redding’s “Shout Bama-Lama” hoved into view. Just the absolute BEST time, as far as myself and my poorly synchronised feet are concerned. I think I made it through all two hours near continuously, switching between groups of friends as circumstances demanded. Fun.
Back at the campsite, an unpromisingly named crew called “Feeling Gloomy” wisely decide that trying to score cool points off a dwindling gang of early hours drunkards looking for any reason not to return to their uncomfortable tents is probably a bad idea, and give us what seems like hours of collective memory singalong goofery to Weezer and Fleetwood Mac and god only know what else. Somewhat brilliantly, as the night drags on the sound system begins to fail, fizzing in and out of hearing as if the moss and mud of the forest has started to infiltrate the speakers, leading to a situation where uncertain revellers are forced to try and make their own way through a barely audible mid-section of “Born To Run” before the sound crackles back in a bit for the chorus. Things get pretty weird after that, with the volume coming and going, the numbers thinning, the speed of dancing slowing to a zombie-like crawl and the music deteriorating…. I think I bail at about 3:30 when I can’t take it anymore.
The two guys in the burger van outside are still up, waiting for business, grinning gap-toothedly into the moonlight as the darkness of the woods closes in. Not to seem unkind, but judging by the look in their eyes, I don’t think I’d trust them to provide me with a snickers bar. Never mind, I've got some biscuits back at the shack. Man, what an awesome festival.
Sunday review coming as soon as I’ve written it.
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