| SXSW 2014
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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 7th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
If you hail from Canterbury, Kent like this next band, you probably get tonnes of Chaucer jokes flung in your direction. (Or at least that’s what I assume. I’ll ask to be sure though…) Probably not a good idea in this case though. So, Broken Hands: the name conjures up a pretty aggro image in your head (like “ROWR! I’ve broken hands!”), or possibly, depending on the way you look at it, a really good or really bad drunken night out. Turns out their music sounds more the former. The Kent quartet – comprised of Dale (vocals) and Callum Norton (drums), and Jamie Darby (guitar) and Thomas Ford (bass) – make bluesy, growly rock, which makes a whole lot of sense if you consider that Southampton’s Band of Skulls endorse them wholeheartedly, having taken them on tour across the UK and Europe.
Ahead of two shows next week on the 11th (sold out) and the 12th of February at London Bridge Miller, they’ve released new track ‘My Orbit Changes Everyday’, which is a study into something very interesting. With a wigged out intro not dissimilar to Steppenwolf’s ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, you already know you’re in for something a little different. True to its name, ‘My Orbit…’ has a space age sound to be sure, but it’s the punishing guitars and Dale Norton’s swaggery vocal that will stick with you. What else will stick with you is how the song deceives you as you think it is about to end around the 3-minute mark, but in actuality, this is just before its outro lays into you like a Led Zeppelin jam. Let the headbanging commence!
The band will be heading to Austin for their first SXSW next month, and if your musical tastes run to the bluesy, they’re unmissable.
Some bands hit you with their driving guitar, others are piano driven, still more are pure synth. For me, a band’s appeal hinges quite solidly on the voice. Some bands of questionable musicianship have appealed to me simply for the compelling lead singer. Other bands can have blindingly good music and the vocals just turn me off. (Dare I admit to not liking alt-J?) Glaswegians Holy Esque have a particularly identifiable voice leading their sound and I can’t quite tell if I like it or not.
Pat Hynes’ heavy vibrato wrangles above the rapid fire drumming and ringing guitars giving it an otherworldly feel. It tints the tone of all they produce, driving the lyrics to a strange and mysterious place, irrespective of the actual sentiment in the song. This continual quavering is the natural way he sings and not an affectation to add interest, so it permeates every song. That’s fine, but it still sounds quite unusual. However, they are not without supporters in high places, with both NME and Huw Stephens have given them the nod.
Teaser track ‘Silences’, taken from their yet-to-be-named debut album, premiered just 3 weeks ago and opens with a supremely catchy riff. Less ‘goat-like’ than the songs on the EP, I like this song better than those earlier ones. It’s got a thick wall of guitar, punctuated by Hynes’ distinct vocals that are tempered a bit. The intensity of this track supports my idea that this band should have an ardent following passionately devoted to their rather unique sound.
After a string of successful dates last year, including the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury and The Great Escape, Holy Esque heads back to SXSW for the second year in a row. Their self-titled EP is now available and gives a glimpse into what they are about. It is left to be seen what the full length album will bring.
Update 11/02/14: sadly, we have been informed that Catfish and the Bottlemen will not be appearing at SXSW 2014.
Are Catfish and the Bottlemen actually at all cool? Granted, Van McCann has the best real frontman’s name this side of W. Axl Rose, and their hair ‘n’ leather jacket visual aesthetic is certainly a reliable if a little well-worn trope. But their music – straight ahead melodic guitar-rock, as popularised by (whisper it) Stereophonics, Oasis in the early days (when they were good), and trans-Atlantic superstars Foo Fighters – it’s a far cry from that nebulous, effete je ne sais quoi style that usually sets the blogosphere alight.
The thing is, they’re such desperately good fun that any doubts about their hipster status fade under a wave of multitudinous guitars, big rock drums and McCann’s insistent, stadium-ready voice. When TGTF last caught Catfish at a Communion night at Notting Hill Arts Club in March 2013, there were no doubts about their demeanour, but the occasional quibble about their songwriting chops and the production levels of their recorded material. It is with great pleasure, then, that we can confidently declare that their recent trifecta of releases calmly assuages such doubts.
Latest single ‘Pacifier’ has a chorus that could smelt iron, insistent guitar figures throughout, a very effective dynamic and a brilliant ending. ‘Rango’ exemplifies the loud-quiet-loud genre, but confidently takes what it needs and leaves, as opposed to displaying a crutch-like dependence on such a familiar structure. The insistent result throughout their latest material is a band that would sound right at home on a big stage, working through the rock playbook without a hint of irony. Given that the genre’s mainstream profile has arguably shrunken in recent years, perhaps encouraged by tongue-in-cheek acts such as The Darkness, it’s refreshing to hear a band dive right in without any sense of selfconsciousness.
No, they’re not cool. But they rock.
As if to celebrate a communal emergence from a very Dry January, this week three of TGTF’s favourite city-based festivals revealed great chunks of lineup. Live at Leeds and Liverpool Sound City take place on the same May bank holiday weekend, although Leeds is really only a one-dayer, whereas Liverpool treats its weary punters to the full 3-day marathon. And southerners don’t miss out either, as a week later the entire PR population of London decamps their beards and designer handbags to Brighton’s The Great Escape. For some, it’s a holiday, for others, well, they’ll need a holiday afterwards. [Having done both Sound City and Great Escape back to back 2 years in a row, I concur with the latter. – Ed.]
Like the artists themselves, for instance. There’s only so many buzz bands to go round of course, but at the time of writing already five hardy acts are lined up to play at all three events. Here we take a quick look at each and try to determine exactly why they’ve been picked to play three big shows in a week.
Liverpool’s Circa Waves (pictured at top) may well have heard the odd Libertines album in their time (and there were one or two odd ones!): the frantically strummed guitars and the big, melodic choruses have just the right amount of familiarity for them to sound like old friends already; the addition of a pronounced Liverpudlian twang in the vocal delivery of ‘Get Away’ adds a welcome point of differentiation from the seminal Londoners. Similarly, ‘Good For Me’ carries more than a hint of The Strokes’ ‘Last Nite’, although forsaking the latter’s bone-dry retro production for a wider, more modern sound. The big question is, are they more than the sum of their parts, or simply destined to follow paths that others first trod over a decade ago? No doubt their live show will provide the answer.
The we come to Melburnian slacker chick Courtney Barnett, famed for her Dylan-esquely-meandering autobiographical ditties. ‘Avant Gardener’, in its baggy groove and surreal, stream-of-consciousness take on a medical emergency, sounds nothing less than if Shaun Ryder had happened to be an Australian woman and was produced by Beck. Stranger things have happened. But there’s more than just a swaying rhythm and a clever turn of phrase to this antipodean artisan: her debut collection ‘A Sea Of Split Peas’ displays an enviable depth and maturity: being no stranger to a 5-minute epic, something like ‘Anonymous Club’ showcases Barnett’s ability to turn down the tempo and bring out a more circumspect, even sombre, mood, all led by her gently vulnerable voice. Truly a talent deserving of a wider audience – and these three gigs will provide that.
If you spend your nights lying awake trying to decide which flavour of rock you like better – the big, heavy, riffy version with screamed vocals, or the more jangly, melodic stuff with at least vaguely recognisable lyrics, then I’m pleased to say you can sleep easier from now on – Darlia from Blackpool have locked both styles in a negotiating room, not letting them emerge until they agreed on some sort of uneasy musical truce. Despite its portentous title, ‘Napalm’ even goes a bit garage-rock in the middle eight, before the Metal Zone pedal is stamped on again and the riffage re-emerges. It’s doubtful that this is a tribute to Napalm Death, who in comparison make this lot sound like a nursery singalong, but it powers along nicely in its own punk-pop-metal way. There are hints of Green Day here, although Darlia come nowhere close to knocking out the sort of world-class melodies that Billie Joe and Co lose down the back of the sofa. Indeed, on occasion, such as on recent single ‘Queen Of Hearts’ from the Knock Knock EP, the light/heavy contrasts don’t sit easily together at all. Much as there’s no demand for a lemon meringue pork pie, I wonder whether metalheads might dismiss Darlia as too lightweight to admit to liking, whilst the riffs might scare off the mainstream audience that bought so many copies of ‘American Idiot’. Time will tell.
Dolomite Minor also do heavy, but theirs is the weight of a fuzzbox, lashings of spring reverb, a repetitive, loping groove, and handfuls of late-60s/early-70s proto-hard rock attitude. There’s a touch of psychedelia too, but they don’t venture far enough away from their riffs to really earn the epithet. And what they carry in musical weight they absolutely drop down the toilet in terms of lyrical sophistication. From ‘Let Me Go’: “The sun goes up / the sun comes down / everyone goes out on the town”, and ‘Microphone’: “Go get her a microphone / all she needs is a gramophone”. There’s a lot of “Spoon on the Moon in June” going on here. With a tune. To be fair to them, fancy-pants lyrics are not the point here: a fey singer-songwriter might have a bunch of clever words, but do they have an industrial revolution guitar riff and drums than could kill a pigeon? No. They’re from Southampton, and so are Band Of Skulls, and they play a Gretsch guitar, and so do Band Of Skulls, which are of course just a couple of big coincidences and in no way has one influenced the other. No sirree. Nevertheless, as the latest in a long line of two-piece teenage riffmeisters, nobody could accuse Dolomite Minor of poor timing. There must be a lot of unemployed bassists out there.
And so we come to Marika Hackman, who has featured in TGTF a number of times before; the Brighton-based singer-songwriter and sometime model knocks out pieces of delicate fragility and open-hearted honesty, sometimes bordering on gruesome realmusik (see ‘Cannibal’ from 2013’s ‘That Iron Taste’ mini-album). Mary caught the end of her very popular show at The Great Escape last year, a very sparse affair with Hackman accompanied by just her acoustic guitar. Let’s hope she’s expanded her live palette somewhat this year: a good part of the joy held within her recorded material are the entirely self-played arrangements – ramshackle at times – that add depth and groove to the idiosyncratic song structures.
There we have it – five artists “doing the triple” of urban festivals this May. There will be more lineup announcements between now and then, and if any more acts end up playing all three festivals, we’ll feature those too – but what more incentive could you need?
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 31st January 2014 at 12:00 pm
Let’s face it: there a lot of men out there trying to negotiate the choppy waters of electronic music as solo artists, with varying levels of success. The trick seems to be finding your own special niche in the already overcrowded electro market, something that this act has done well. And seemingly so quickly too.
James Page records and performs under the stage name Sivu (I think you know why he *might* have chosen a stage name now, right?), and it was just under a year ago that he released his first single, the critically acclaimed ‘Better Man Than He’. A recent press release reveals that Page used to be a call centre worker before he found his calling (no pun intended) as a musical artist, and his work since then hasn’t gone without notice: he placed on the prestigious amongst us music editors Blog Sound of 2014 long list. What else has Sivu been up to? Last summer, Burberry picked up on his music as well, grabbing him to film one of their famous acoustic videos. He supported Marika Hackman on a tour of England last month, which no doubt culminated from their collaboration on their Hype Machine-topping collaboration on 2013 track ‘I Hold’, which we featured on this MP3 of the Day post back in November.
But the proof is in the music. There is something beautifully desolate about ‘I Lost Myself’, which was released as the lead single from the EP of the same name last autumn. Is it the sweeping music that feels effortless? Is it Page’s haunting voice itself? No, it’s everything coming together perfectly for something truly timeless. Page is currently working on his debut album with production help from Charlie Andrew (alt-J), and it’s expected to be released later this year. ‘Can’t Stop Now’, sounding awfully like he’s channelling Bombay Bicycle Club, should not to be confused with the early Keane song of the same name; it will be Sivu’s next single. Have a listen to the track at the bottom of this post; the single will released on the 24th of March on Atlantic Records.
Yes, you read that right. Atlantic. A major. You’re probably now wondering, why haven’t I heard of this guy before? With the single receiving its premiere radio play Monday night on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 programme, it won’t take long for Sivu’s star to skyrocket. He’s scheduled to perform at this year’s SXSW and if you miss him in Austin, don’t come crying to me later. You’ve been warned.
Inevitable comparisons to the last indie kings of Scotland, Franz Ferdinand, will dog Glaswegian band Casual Sex in their early days. Songs ‘What’s Your Daughter For’ and ‘Stroh 80’ are faux-indie, surf-pop machinations in the Ferdinand mould, but understandably Sam Smith (not to be confused with the new BBC Sound of… darling) tries to avoid comparisons with his elder contemporary Alex Kapranos.
For a band which describes their genre as sleaze, it’s unsurprising ‘Stroh 80’ (stream at the bottom of this post) is a ditty about nobbing your best friend’s bird when you’re absolutely changed off your tits. They do their best to revert to type throughout their back catalogue, with another song ‘The Bastard Beat’ towing very much the ‘casual sex party line’ – I suppose that’s all you can expect from a band who have named themselves Casual Sex.
Anybody looking for quintessential British indie boys will be pretty delighted by what this four-piece have to offer, as Casual Sex appear to be an indie offering cultivated from a mix of what’s doing the rounds at the moment, a la Franz Ferdinand, Royal Blood, The 1975 and Night Engine. There’s a broody, almost sullen vocalist in Smith, backed by Edward Wood providing the dreampop guitar elements, Peter Masson on bass and Chris McCrory tapping away on drums. Mixed in with some pre-1970s goodness for proper measure, they’re a taste of all things British in four-good looking blokes. Marketable and sure to be gobbled right up by the A&Rs at SXSW.