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Camden Rocks is one of a new breed of urbane festival that has infiltrated the scene across the U.S. and Europe. It requires the special kind of electric setting that can be found in places like Camden and Dublin, or organically grown ala SXSW; the corner of Texas that grew into national new music mecca. On 31 May, 20 venues across the borough will fire up their PAs, and over 200 bands will take to the stage from midday through to the small hours. There’s no mud, no tents and no burst fibreglass urinals. But what it lacks in escapist appeal, it will surely make up for in cultural backdrop and convenience. The Subways are what you might call the conventional headliners, but you can almost guarantee that it will be one of the plethora of lesser known talent that will steal the headlines.
Camden Rocks was conceived as homage to the borough’s staggering influence over the British music scene for the past 50 years. For so long an incubator of fragile new talent – from psychedelia to punk to Britpop – festival promoters have sought to express this diversity with an eclectic line up set across 20 of the town’s famous aural boltholes. It began as a one off, headlined by Pete Doherty and Carl Barat in 2009, and boasted a distinctly London chic, even if its scope was embryonic by comparison.
Resurfacing again in 2013, this year’s line-up is now a leviathan with hundreds of slobbering, stage-hardened heads just waiting to gnaw your face off. Some, like electronic punk rockers Sonic Boom Six, will be returning for another bite after appearing at the festival’s inception, whilst the likes of young guns The Hell will be attempting to muscle in and gain their share of the spoils. And, with festival scene rival Camden Crawl shipped over to Dublin in 2013, the locale will likely be chomping at the bit to host an event that expresses the veracity of the areas musical mythology.
For many, it won’t be headliners The Subways or Reverend and the Makers that are the big draw (although the £25 ticket fee would get you little change from going to see either individually on any other night). It is in the malaise of the lower line-up that the rare stones can be found. Starting at the top, Turbowolf and Orange Goblin will be representing the more traditional end of the hard rock spectrum, whilst Hacktivist’s intense hip hop/metal crossover is sure to compliment the likes of the anarchic Gnarwolves, and slackers Nine Black Alps. Further down the list and there is a thread of uber aggressive noisemakers that can be traced through the likes of Hang the Bastard, Crazy Arm and The Hell – the latter of which are solely responsible for leaving Watford as the wasteland it is today. Even the famous London poseur will be catered for, thanks to Blitz Kids and The Blackout.
It may just be a hyperbole of a standard Camden evening, but when your starting point is the motherland for so many generations of musical genres, the magnification creates a heady brew. It’s on nights like these, when Dr. Martens delve into every dive bar from Dingwalls to Dublin Castle, that you can sense the ghosts of Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Clash and Ramones – even Winehouse. On that Saturday in late May, the music of the new generation will do the talking; Camden Rocks has seen to that. But, it’s rare to find a festival at which the talent will be conscious of playing second fiddle to the venue itself.
Tickets and lineup info are available now from the Camden Rocks Web site.
The Horrors have always been synonymous with an urban aesthetic of neon punctured gloom; of gothic, monotone fashion under bulging bouffants. It’s an image that requires two opposing characteristics – a strong sense of self-identity, and a dynamism capable of keeping pace with the zeitgeist. Some would say that the purest blend the five boys from Southend-on-Sea have achieved so far was on 2011’s ‘Skying’, but all the right signs we’re there with the first single from the band’s upcoming album ‘Luminous’, starting with the 7 minute 30 second epic single ‘I See You’. Their follow up, ‘So Now You Know’ – out now on XL Recordings – doesn’t go quite so far. And, here’s why.
A ponderous opening from the rhythm section of drummer Joe Spurgen and bassist Rhys Webb forms a familiar scaffold from which the rest of the song is hung. The droning guitar and clipped choral notes (half-buried in the mix), complete a desolate scene that is immediately dispelled by the upbeat cyclic riff of the verse. The vocals are lofty and tuneful, but singer Faris Badwan reverts to type as a moody, almost spoken chorus with a sound akin to arty ’80s pop ala Simple Minds. It’s a typically Horrors combo, which might have seemed progressive on one of their earlier offerings, but with not much else other than the odd techy guitar squiggle to note, this is a track that would slip under the radar of more avid indie aficionados.
What they have produced here is a kind of dot-to-dot effort that would doubtlessly be overshadowed by other East End trendies trying to forge a reputation by starting as an uncertified homage to The Horrors. The opening single suggested something fresh and altogether more intriguing, but all is not lost for ‘Luminous’ – scheduled for release May 5 on XL Recordings- as there were signs within the production (such as the guitar solo, that sounded like it was emanating from a nuclear silo) that more variety might be on the way. And, if all else fails, dream pop’s resurgence means they could just cheer up a bit, allow the synths to take over and give CHVRCHES a run for their money.
Single ‘So Now You Know’ is out now on XL Recordings. The Horrors’ fourth album ‘Luminous’ will be released on the 5th of May.
Having cultivated a reputation as the go to support act for bands that have debatably dipped below their highest watermark, you could be forgiven for thinking that The Minutes had missed the boat on the riff-oriented retro rock revival of the mid-to-late Noughties. Fans of the Dublin-based trio will be pleased to hear that the earliest indications from the bands eagerly anticipated follow up to their 2011 debut ‘Marcata’ suggest the upcoming release of ‘Live Well, Change Often’ could provide some of the most refined rock to come out of Ireland since The Giant’s Causeway.
First new single ‘Cherry Bomb’, released late last month on Model Citizen Records, is a swaggering, crotch grabbing number in the mould of glam rock aficionados T. Rex. Building up from the solid foundation of a tested blues base, the band constructs a neon fronted dive bar from which to hawk their seductively seedy wares. The delicately reverberating fuzz that permeates both Mark Austen’s guitar and vocals gives the track a warm, mock vintage quality that has the potential infect the music buying public with the same veracity as Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’.
What ‘Cherry Bomb’ proves is that The Minutes have used their time as understudies to the likes of The Strokes, Supergrass and Flogging Molly wisely. From the uncut diamond of a band that covered Led Zeppelin songs (albeit with an intriguingly abrasive edge) at gigs that were never quite designed for them, this track may signal a shift from support act to niche carvers. Many factors will have influenced this sea change, not least their time spent recording with Garth Richardson at Vancouver’s Fader Master Sound Studios, but the boys from Dublin ultimately deserve the credit for re-packaging their sound into something with a little more mass appeal.
‘Cherry Bomb’ is out now on Model Citizen Records. ‘Live Well, Change Often’, the Minutes’ second album, will be out on the 9th of May in Ireland (not sure about a UK release date but if we had to fathom a guess, we’d presume it’d be the following Monday, on the 12th of May).
The blues rock sphere of influence is but a single bubble on the Venn diagram that is The Family Rain’s full-length debut offering, ‘Under the Volcano’. However, a certain phrase springs to mind with bands that spread their influences so broadly: ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. The Bath-born blues brothers were described in a previous life as an “irony free Darkness with bare torsos and blonde highlights”, which fits neatly with their porous approach to soaking up contemporary musical influences. The key question when digesting this album, “does it blend like a fine wine, or jar like ethanol mixed with grape juice?”
‘Carnival’ is a frantically upbeat introduction, with an intricate interpretation of blues scales set within a powerful but regular rhythm from guitarist Ollie Walter. It’s a sound that sits somewhere between a Kings of Leon retrospective and a memory of The Strokes of Christmases past. Originally released as the band’s debut single back in November 2012, ‘Trust Me… I’m A Genius’ (video below) has a distinct whiff of Jack White‘s most recent release ‘Blunderbuss’, which grows to an overpowering funk as the band introduce enough bluegrass to induce some kind of psychotropic episode. It’s a somewhat soulful mix of staccato singing and multi-layered vocal melodies, with a swirling guitar solo that circles the plug hole and plops to an abrupt ending.
Somewhere, A Flock of Seagulls’ lawyers’ ears have pricked up on hearing ‘Feel Better (FRANK)’. In tone, it is the genetically deficient twin of ‘I Ran’, the most memorable track of the New Wave band’s self-titled 1982 debut. The track holds its own in the grand scheme, but also shows anomalous moments of questionable production. It’s a theme that perhaps blunts some of the sharper edges on later tracks too. ‘Don’t Waste Your Time’ is a whimsical ride back to early Noughties trip-hop that folds into ‘Reason to Die’; a typically mid-album attempt with the stripped back, garage-y, bass/vocal onus and ironic swagger of Arctic Monkeys more recent offerings. Right on cue, ‘Binocular’ reaches the high water mark of the album so far. It’s a ragtime shuffle with a cheeky bluegrass wiggle thrown in – a jaunty skip between classic blues scale and droning root note (for both guitar and throat) that wouldn’t look out of place on an seizure-inducing camera ad of a thousand colours.
The largely forgettable ‘On My Back’ aside, the musical landscape evolves yet again on ‘Pushing It’. The verses have airs of The White Stripes in their bare, pugnacious strut and sense of impending collapse, but the chorus (although catchy) attempts too much and creates a juxtaposition which does neither aspect any favours. ‘Together’ takes more from the American indie scene, and achieves a sense of continuity that isn’t always evident throughout the rest of the album. The lackadaisical intro uses a ‘lonely musical trill plus tinny radio voice’ technique seen on The Killers’ ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’, and generally follows the same upwards trajectory – albeit never to the same height and with a distinctly British aftertaste.
Tambourines and a guitar line heavily drenched in feedback give closing track ‘All the Best’ a sound that would be recognisable at regional live nights across the UK, but with a sense of bravado that lifts them high above Morrissey’s winding back alleys. William Walter’s voice possesses a neat vibrato that compliments the loose threads that hold this entire number together. It’s an honest and personal conclusion to an album that anchors itself to many poles. Ultimately, ‘Under the Volcano’ walks the tightrope of musical fusion with a wobble and occasional stumble, but never a fall.
‘Under the Volcano’ is out now on Vertigo Records / Virgin EMI.
A moment of euphoria unfurled in 2010 as Broken Bells shifted 50,000 copies of their eponymous debut album within the first week alone. Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) and The Shins’ James Mercer – the songwriting duo behind such a well crafted and somewhat existential collection – toured successfully, supported by five cherry picked compatriots.
But, almost 2 years passed before Mercer spoke of future plans for the indie troupe (save the ‘Meyrin Fields’ EP in 2011), and it would take 2 years more for these plans to become tangible. So here we are; waiting with baited breath for the new year and the answer to whether follow-up LP ‘After the Disco’ can maintain pace, with only new single ‘Holding on to Life’ to dissect in search of clues.
Strip joint psychedelia is perhaps the most accurate summation of the first 45 seconds of the single, with heartbeat bass thud and eerie theremin-like fluctuations giving way to the first words of Mercer, here playing the role of an assured ‘80s new romantic come to rescue his own “waitress in a cocktail bar”. By the pre-chorus, he’s shifted up into a nasal falsetto and the song timewarps back 10 years; Barry Gibb emerges from a low mist of dry ice made turquoise in the glow of an underlit dancefloor somewhere on the disco nebula. The space/time defying detour travels furthest away from planet now during a curious middle eight that possesses an air of both The Beatles and The Kinks, whilst maintaining just enough of their signature sound to make sense. Recapturing the ‘70s buzz, Broken Bells close with a synth line that spins with a sporadic twinkle – a mirrorball mesmerizing in its stationary orbit. And, if this single is anything to go by, fans of their dreamy, multi-faceted sound are likely to get their indie dreamscape fix.
‘Holding on to Life’, the new single from Broken Bells, is now available from Columbia. Watch the song’s ‘pseudovideo’ below. Upcoming album ‘After the Disco’ will be released the 14th of January 2014.
‘Champagne Supernova’ rang out from inside the faux regency portcullis that frames the stage at London’s faithful Brixton Academy. The crowd, clearly hyped, were eager to catch up with their own palatable rebel just weeks before the release of his latest album, hopeful of the chance to garner any loosely disguised teasers. What was once part of the raw appeal of Jake Bugg – his stripped back appraisal of urban life in often decaying provincial centres – has become a brand on the back of the astronomical success of his debut LP. This was one of the first opportunities for his most loyal UK fans to learn whether he would stay true to his roots.
Oasis’s seminal track gave way to the haunted tones of Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’ reverberating around the cavernous hall as Bugg and his band coolly took to the stage with all the fanfare of a band practice on a rainy Tuesday. The sense of compulsion that is at the heart of the Johnson “I sold my soul to play the blues” legend (a misplaced attribution meant for his predecessor Tommy Johnson – one for all you bluesos) was also evident in this 21st century journeyman, who has delved to depths beyond his years since the tender age of 12 – even if it could have been done using a more subtle, less worn cliché.
Not the kind to require total self-reinvention on each release, opening track ‘There’s a Beast and We All Feed It’ was a neat little teaser from his eagerly anticipated second album ‘Shangri La’ that suggested his vantage point has remained the same, even if his horizons have changed. His blissful incoherence already stood in stark contrast to the bubblegum autotune of so many of his contemporaries.
The stage layout was simple, with drummer Jack Atherton shifted off to the right and a scaled back lighting rig hidden behind a sheet adorned in Bugg’s now universal half vinyl logo. Beams like truck headlamps erupted through the darkness for ‘Troubled Town’, an infectious single release from his eponymous debut album that details the apathy of the British recession in his native Nottingham.
The first chords of ‘Seen it All’ – a song that perhaps best characterised his initial shift from promising protégé to dominant chart force – pulled the crowd up by their vocal chords for a rousing recollection of urban hijinks with a Bob Dylan esque narrative and soaring choral line.
‘Simple as This’ was the first of the night’s mellower tracks, and although it’s hard to dispute Bugg’s sincerity, it’s fair to say that he seemed to find it more difficult to connect fully with an audience that were more overtly distracted than, say, Arctic Monkeys to The Verve within three tracks.
Aside from activating the advertising node of all fans of slightly watery mainstream ale in the room, ‘Country Song’ provided relief in demanding total attention from a crowd that had hitherto drifted in and out. Such a unified moment caused the song to echo off the vast ceiling, even if the “old rusty guitar” of which he sings is sounding a little more clinical these days.
Despite its meeker approach, the crowd remained fixed throughout ‘Pine Trees’ and on into ‘Song About Love’ (get your laughing gear around that in a thick Midlander accent!); a number that showed real versatility and rose to a lofty, magnificent summit. Such a view became the perfect intro to the image rich ‘Slide’, another acoustic wander that beautifully expresses Bugg’s vocal range and joy in isolation.
The daydream was shattered as the rest of the band returned for the mildly psychedelic vibrato of ‘Green Man’, which passed in a customary two minute thirty blur into the swinging “you take the wheel” blues rock of ‘Kingpin’ – one of the standout tracks from Bugg’s upcoming album. ‘Taste It’, with an intro that resembled Johnny Cash’s cover of Soundgarden’s ‘Rusty Cage’, had the seated circle on their feet in appreciation, whilst the skiffle sound of ‘Slumville Sunrise’ spoke of separation from nostalgia and alienation in a pacey, amped mould. The final track of the set proper, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, was a manic first finale with an up-tempo beat and slicing solo, with Bugg himself exhibiting an unmistakeable tonal inflection worthy of Alex Turner.
Again, Bugg instigated a major dynamic change to the set as he returned for the pastoral grief of ‘Broken’. The audience would repay his self-effacing admission of outsider tendencies with their most interactive response yet, united in voice and a point of view that they could not have put so eloquently. With slide guitar and a gospel sounding chorus, this is also one of Bugg’s clearest indications of musical malleability.
The subtle juxtaposition at the heart of Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ might have been best covered by Bugg mid-set, as the audience grew antsy for their personal favourites to be shoehorned into the closing minutes of the set. However, the concept of placing oneself outside the archetypal established or contemporary musical circle – the idea that forms the fulcrum of Young’s original – is undoubtedly one that chimes with Bugg.
It was right to give the final slot of the night to a track that potentially played the biggest role in elevating this young troubadour to his current height. Coming after two such touchingly personal numbers, there was an element of “putting a brave face on” throughout ‘Lightning Bolt’ that rendered it stock compared to his performances a couple of years ago. But, with its jangling chords and country fried vocal melody, it was a chance to take stock with a bass and drum breakdown, even though the majority of the crowd were behaving more like frontmen by now than the song’s own architect.
At this stage of his career, it seems fairer to label any criticism of the band more as growing pains than a precursor to survival in the musical wilderness. Yet again, Jake Bugg possessed one compelling feature that granted him brevity; that it was evident he’d still have writing those same songs, even if no one had ever listened.