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Do you remember between the ages of 15 and 18(-ish) when you’d sit glued to the antipodean drawl of Zane Lowe on a dark night around the middle of February? Waiting in awe to discover which titan of popular culture would be gracing the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds? You sat there ready to tweet, Facebook and text your friends about which clashes you were gutted about and which ones were glaringly obvious: I mean who WOULDN’T want to catch Black Flag over Arcade Fire on the Main Stage? They’re a punk rock institution, for god’s sake!
Now, regrettably in drips and drabs, before the bill is inevitably leaked by some cretin on Reddit, the line-up seeps out producing excitement levels tantamount to that first sleet of February. The kind of sleet where it starts and you think it’s going to snow, but instead it just dusts your porch for 5 minutes, then just goes back to being incredibly cold. That kind of faux-excitement.
Now coupled with the lack of a spectacle, we’re subjected to the damp squib that are Mumford and Sons headlining the Main Stage. A band who’ve released two mediocre albums that has led to them headlining Glastonbury and making inroads into the U.S. market that only Harry Styles and co., alongside Mumford, could dream of. Yes, I liked ‘Little Lion Man’, and it’s sure to provoke a pretty good reaction. But did anyone see the tame, lacklustre set the band threw out at Glasto? I did. You can drag out as many string quartets as you want, but when you’ve only got two records of material to run from, it’s never going to shock or surprise, let alone entertain.
Yes, Marcus Mumford has been brushing shoulders with Elvis Costello and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, but are the band any closer to releasing any new music? It doesn’t look that from where I’m sitting… In fact, coupled with Metallica’s booking, that’s two artists headlining the Main Stage who are likely to release a grand total of jack shit this year. Quite similar to Blink 182 last year as well; this smacks of bands being booked simply to bump up the bank balance before other projects. Is that what we should be expecting from £200+ worth of tickets? It’s an example of where those behind Reading and Leeds have fallen into the same trap that other festival bookers have done in the past. Going for what they assume is a safe booking over a genuine wild card contender, someone who can come on stage and be THAT SET that people are still talking about a decade on. Can you really see yourself in 10 years’ time telling friends and colleagues about a rousing rendition of ‘The Cave’? No, me neither. We all know that Sonisphere are just treading water until they can justify booking one of either Slipknot, Iron Maiden or Metallica again. It’s all just very safe. But why should festivals stick to what’s safe? (OK, so yeah, profit margins, but they aren’t cool.)
It’s probably unfair to just focus on where the institutions that are Reading and Leeds have just gotten it wrong. In 2013, the bookers got it ABSOLUTELY right. Biffy Clyro topped the bill on the Sunday, off the back of the incredible success of their most recent release, their double album ‘Opposites’.
Up until then they’d punctuated the middle of the roaster, teetering on the edge of doing better, but never receiving the backing to rise farther up. In 2013 though, the bookers at Reading and Leeds after a few 7/10 shows at recent festivals took a gamble; they elevated Simon Neil’s threesome of slippery pliant Scotsmen to the lofty heights of headliner. The result was arguably the best headline performance at Richfield Avenue in 2 decades. Every song was an anthem, every ballad a soulful sing-along, every riff a rollicking ripper (try saying that at the end of a festivals worth of stale Strongbow and warm vodka). It was a rousing success and elevated The Biff to the kind of heights that now has them touted as potential Wembley Stadium headliners. Now of course while Noel Gallagher “can’t live in a world where Ed Sheeran sells out Wembley Stadium”, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind seeing this sweaty topless threesome – what an image – screeching their balls off at the venue.
That’s the kind of effect a strong, edgy booking can have. That’s what can be achieved by going against the grain. It can stick in your memory and affect the careers of the artists involved. What does Mumford and Sons headlining Reading and Leeds mean? Probably a better turn out for the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage, if I’m honest.
The head honchos at Reading and Leeds should take a leaf out of the books of groundbreaking festivals books like Bestival, Secret Garden Party or Latitude. Exclusive sets from out-of-the-ordinary acts like OutKast or The Chemical Brothers are far more likely to excite and inspire sales. In a time where pockets are pinched and times are tight, you’ve got to do a lot to encourage your average tweenager to spend £200 on a festival ticket and not a week-long blowout in Malia spent grinding on strangers whilst sipping on buckets of Red Bull mixers.
When we talk about surf pop, the mind often wonders to the heroes of the genre – The Beach Boys, Eddie and the Showmen and The Astronauts. Now in the 21st century, you turn to bespectacled teenagers looking awkward by the sea like Wavves, Best Coast and of course those kings of melancholy and tight jeans The Drums. Well, we’ve got a new addition to that triage, in the shape of Hooton Tennis Club, who come from that surfing capital of the world, Liverpool… Yeah. Not so much, unless you like bobbing around the algae off the back of the tour boats whilst trying not to catch E. coli or Ebola.
Their new single ‘Jasper’ was recorded at fellow Liverpudlian Bill Ryder-Jones’ mother’s house. So you’ve already got the image of an incredibly low budget recording effort, which makes for a very laid-back tune. That’s what ‘Jasper’ is, in a nutshell. It’s not brash, brazen or the band trying to be anything they’re not. There’s something distinctly languid and almost quintessentially English to the melancholic tones of Hooton Tennis Club. The single is a delightful slice of off-colour pop music. It’s Khal, Haz, J. Dean and Uncle Ry’s debut single and marks the band as one of the up-and-coming indie starlets for 2015. They’re not in the Royal Blood mould, but I can’t see the populist Radio 1-friendly rock market not getting on board with the four-piece.
What I can see though is the soundtrack to stoner sessions in basements in Soho, or chill-out vibes on a patio in Brighton as eight Bird’s Eye own brand burgers sizzle on the barbecue. The band have taken a leaf out of Teenage Fanclub’s books in their songwriting, to good effect. Now it remains to be seen whether after Jasper, whether Hooton Tennis Club can go and discover their own verve and sound…
Hooton Tennis Club’s debut single ‘Jasper’ is out today on Heavenly Records.
The name Gengar for anyone between the ages of 10 and 25 will probably only conjure up one image: a giant purple ghost whose unevolved form would not stop giving you grief as you went through Lavender Tower, and had that kind of mischievous, possibly paedophilic grin painted on its face. After sufficient airplay on the BBC’s specialist music outlets – BBC 6 Music and Huw Stephens’ programme on Radio 1 – Gengahr (see the difference) may bring an altered image into your consciousness.
The North London four-piece are fronted by Felix Bushe, a man who’s not afraid to take on the sublimely creepy in his lyrics (and videos for that matter): take ‘Powder’ for example, it’s a chilling almost Addams’ Family Values take on your classic ’80s flick. They’re supported by BBC Introducing in London on their wee jaunt to Austin, Texas and that automatically will hand them some clout in the hazy heat of the desert. They’ve already impressed at festivals in the UK with their morose take on indie-psych pop, with audiences at Worthy Farm, Richfield Avenue and Bramham Park all seeing the allure of this indie band.
They’ve got the backing of some serious names as well, after sharing the bill with both Dry the River and alt-j and opening for the latter at none other than the O2, they’ll not be daunted by much that is thrown their way. They’re also releasing their debut record this year, so with a trip to SXSW on the cards, it’s undeniably a crucial year for the band if they really do want to evolve from a BBC Intro buzz band to an act with some real hype and credibility. They’re also going to be showing their faces at The Great Escape in Brighton and at a few festivals across Europe like the Best Kept Secret festival in Holland, so it’s likely that their name is going to be out there during 2015.
What are they about? Well, it’s indie noir, if you can conjure up that. The kind of music that you’d expect to see underpinned by a video of a man in a purple smoking jacket, with a twirly little moustache, puffing on a strong mahogany pipe. Are you there yet? No! Well how about this – a morose mix of electronic guitar phase mixes, which are reminiscent of ’70s pop combined with layered vocals and dark sultry undertones.
They’ve caused a stir in the UK and around Europe and now it’s time to see whether audiences in America are going to be captivated by Genghar. Catch them next month at the BBC Introducing / PRS for Music night Wednesday, the 18th of March, at SXSW 2015 in Austin, Texas.
We’ve all done it. Looked at that empty field down the road on a stuffy summer’s day, with a can in one hand and said, “yeah, I could put a festival on and that place over there would be fucking great. All my favourite bands would play, on the cheap of course, tickets would be tuppence and the cider would blow your bloody head off”.
Of course the difference between most people and the legends at 2000 Trees is that they bonny well went out and did it. And do you know what, it’s gone great.
2015 is set to be the eighth year where revellers descend on sleep Gloucestershire for some folk, fun and fornication and a whole whack of the best UK rock you can get your ears around. This year’s event takes place 9-11 July.
The first announcement for this year’s bash sees rejuvenated six-piece Deaf Havana topping the bill to make their bow at the festival. It’s been a while since the band stopped singing about ‘Friends Like These’ and moved on to a smarter, more mature sounding edge. In fact, their most recent record, Old Souls is testament to their transformation, into the UK’s very own Gaslight Anthem. Sure, James Veck-Gilodi may be one of the harder to like frontmen in Britain at the moment, but if one thing has gone down well at Upcote Farm in the past, it’s been a wholehearted, air-grabbing singalong. Just ask Mr Turner, he’s got a camp named after him. With the assets in Deaf Havana’s armada, it’s pretty obvious these guys will go down brilliantly at Trees.
Joining them on the bill are Arcane Roots, who will have likely be releasing their third studio album this year and went down incredibly well at last year’s bash. That aside, they fulfil the criteria for a Trees band perfectly: just under the radar British talent with incredible riffs and even better beards. Leeds trio Pulled About By Horses, another of those bands whose chaotic live show will surely ensure a rapturous reception from the Trees faithful, is also scheduled to appear.
Lower down the bill are the fantastic, Frank Turner-endorsed Solemn Sun who hail from that part of the woods. So you can expect the kind of hometown heroes welcome they’ll get. Tickets are currently £87 for the 3-day weekend plus fees. For more information, visit the 2000 Trees official Web site.
Stevenage is hardly a sleepy town, but it can’t be classed as a buzzing hub of musical creativity either. In fact, when you arrive there, the lasting impression is that there are an awful lot of underpasses and it feels like you may end up being involved in a scene out of Harry Brown, where Ben Drew “kicks your fackin’ ‘ead in”.
So it’s no surprise that Bad Breeding have burst free of this bite-size chunk of not-so-quaint suburban London and started making one hell of a racket. Their music hits you with an assault on all senses: seriously, you can smell the sweat, these guys are lively. Since Gallows faded into irrelevance, when Frank Carter decided to neuter himself and start singing about love and throwing knives in his dressing room, Britain hasn’t had a band flying the flag for old school punk values. We’ve seen pretenders from America like Trash Talk who have brought their own brand of chaos to our venues and festivals, but Bad Breeding are one of our own and deserve some recognition.
They’re the kind of band you’d want at your house party… Well, if it wasn’t your house. Their music is refined chaos and their first singles ‘Burn This Flag’ and ‘Age of Nothing’ are testament to the aural attack their music offers, blending the best elements of modern hardcore with enough reverb to make your bowels shudder and void themselves. The foursome sound like what they are, a group of angry young men bursting out, in remarkably the same way Gallows did almost a decade ago with Carter leading the ferocious charge.
SXSW fell in love with Gallows once and there’s no excuse as to why Bad Breeding can’t descend on Austin and do the exact same thing. It’s music to rip your shirt off, mosh around and punch someone in the face to, pure unadulterated testosterone in the form of 3-minute bursts of fire. This is Britain’s angriest band, bursting at the seams with rage and foaming at the mouth ready to nut you at SXSW. You in?
They’ve been asking if they want to come back all these years, and this week it was confirmed that The Vaccines would indeed be coming back to Liverpool Sound City after a 2-year absence. They’ll be joining Belle and Sebastian and The Flaming Lips at the top of an already incredibly tantalising bill of talent.
The four-piece who shot to prominence of the back of their first album ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ have barged their way back onto the scene in proper Vaccines fashion. That is, in the form of another 2-and-a-half minute banger, with guitars so fast you’ll miss them if you blink and a chorus as catchy as a cold at this time of year. The guitars are frantic, as they were on all of The Vaccines’ releases we’ve heard up to now, and the four-piece have undeniably stuck to the same formula that has worked so well for them over the last four years.
‘Handsome’ may not have as killer a chorus as ‘Do You Wanna’, but it’s a fantastic pop song with wide appeal, there is no doubt. The new single is released on the 8th of March officially, but is already doing the rounds on social media and the radio, and all around it looks like everybody is pretty happy with what The Vaccines have produced. Will the album be on the same form? Well, from this evidence what can we expect from The Vaccines, more of the same…
As for who’s joining them on the bill at the rejuvenated Liverpool Sound City, which has been moved to pastures anew at the docks, there are some fantastic up and coming talents ready to catch the eye on Merseyside. Female four-piece Dum Dum Girls will bring a bit of shoegaze to the Sound City festival. Math rockers Dutch Uncles have also joined the bill and will be looking to move away from being a festival buzz band and to a group which can really excite people on a festival bill – is this festival the right platform? We shall see.
If overblown hipster chic is what you enjoy , eccentric duo The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger are certainly a feast for the eyes. Whether their off-colour take on psychedelic rock will captivate or confuse, they’re likely to be an interesting draw alongside Roni Size /Reprazent, The Thurston Moore Band, Gaz Coombes, F*cked Up, Evian Christ and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
But with a BBC Sound of 2015 nomination and countless plays of their new single on Radio 1, the act I’m undeniably the most excited about catching a glimpse of at Liverpool Sound City (barring the headliners anyway) are Slaves. Their no nonsense approach on indie rock and incredible tunes like ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie’ are certain to draw a capacity crowd to their slot at the festival, and as it did with me at 2000 Trees 2014, they’re almost certain to leave you asking, “Debbie… Where is your car?”
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