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If the only music festival you’ve been to (and this is potentially more aimed to UK readers than U.S. fans) consists of standing in a muddy field in wellington boots or becoming heavily inebriated while trundling to the next stage to see a mildly hyped-up indie band, then an indoor festival, or metro-festival, is a highly different experience. Leicester’s 4th annual Handmade Festival took place on the May bank holiday with the stated goal of gathering “the best new and forward thinking music, comedy, art, film, performance and photography and bring(ing) it all together for one weekend”.
When I first arrived at the University of Leicester on the Friday, the welcoming sign of ‘H A N D M A D E’ spelt out up the stairs in large plastic letters beckoned festival-goers into the venue and gave a great indication as to how the festival sees itself: welcoming and with a hint of non-seriousness. Being a completely independent venture, Handmade is unique in that it prides itself on being a place to discover brand new things, and this is most prominent in its musical lineup. The headliners themselves are tenured enough in the industry to draw a crowd, particularly We Are Scientists (pictured at top), Deaf Havana and Lonely the Brave, who jointly win the award for “Largest T-Shirt Representation”. With these crowds drawn in, it was up to the acts beforehand, both local and national, to cement the weekend, and this they did.
On Friday, we were given the choice of either Lacura or Estrons, two bands that cover the rock spectrum nicely, with Lacura taking on the dreamscape, ease-you-in side of things and Estrons taking the face grabbing route. With both sets comfortably and officially kicking things off, the small crowd that had gathered at this early stage of the festival soon ventured to the weekend’s main stage, Academy 2, to witness Ash Mammal. This was the first sign that it would be easy to find your new favourite or soon-to-be favourite band here. Ash Mammal brought a raucous set, reminiscent of early Placebo and not easily forgotten.
An important aspect to mention before heading into any more detail on the weekend is the venue layout. In total there were three main stages for music, not including the smaller stages in the venue landing area. The main stages were the aforementioned Academy 2, the Academy 3, which was found by venturing down into the basement of the complex and through a labyrinth of corridors into a seeming ex-dance studio, and also The Scholar Bar. The initial trial of finding your way around the complex was confusing, but after one trip around the available open areas, it turned out to be a well-laid out routing that consisted of a multi-layered circle. Getting lost was a fool’s errand, and a mistake only made once.
The rest of Friday’s highlights included Black Honey, who are already gaining a serious amount of traction and for good reason. They combine blues-tinged, reverb-heavy rock with a frontwoman who has the sultry and confident attitude of Debbie Harry, Alison Mosshart and Cherie Curie combined. Sheffield’s 65daysofstatic brought an electronic turn to the proceedings with a light show and tunes to make a strong enough statement that should also aide their current hype. By far the biggest highlight of the day was punk band Pretty Vicious in The Scholar Bar, a tiny venue that already made the softer acts seem edgier than you would believe. Pretty Vicious brought out their re-birth of British punk and showed us exactly how they’ve managed to score a major label deal. Snotty, abrasive with purely fantastic riffs, they’re enough to give the Sex Pistols a run for their money.
Headliners We Are Scientists proved why they’re still going strong in the game after over a decade, a solid set full of the massive hits that first put them in the spotlight, peppered with newer songs which sounded just as strong. The show itself did feel like a watered down version of an atypical We Are Scientists event, at times feeling rushed. However, having taken to the stage 15 minutes late this was potentially an executed measure to get through all of the crowd pleasers.
Stay tuned to TGTF for parts 2 and 3 of Steven’s roundup of Handmade Festival 2016, which will follow in the coming days.
This year, 2016, marks the 10th anniversary of the highly acclaimed city-based festival Live at Leeds. I wasn’t sure what to expect ahead of the day – I’ve attended a number of different festivals in the past, but never Live at Leeds, and never with the intention of writing about it afterwards. After overcoming my own apprehension and a couple of inevitable setbacks on the day, I’d call the endeavour a success, and despite my very sore feet, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
First on my list was Atlantic Shore at The Faversham, the music venue that dates back to 1947 and boasts of having Arctic Monkeys and The Gossip amongst others perform there. I arrived a couple of songs into Atlantic Shore’s set while the crowd was still relatively small. The unsigned band’s music is a mixture of pop, indie and rock, and they have recently been featured on BBC Introducing Merseyside. The band seemed to face a few feedback issues during the set, but they went with it and played a heartfelt set, which included ‘The Comedown’ and ‘Easier’ from the band’s latest extended single release.
Following editor Mary’s preview list ahead of the festival, I did my best to cover as many of those recommendations as possible. This meant that my next stop was to see The Jackobins at Leeds Beckett Stage 2. I arrived about halfway through the set and was immediately blown away by the sheer stage presence of the band. They were evidently having the best time and in control of the room. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a frontman – in the form of Dominic Bassnett, in this case – of an up-and-coming band look more like he was born to be on stage, and with such a powerful voice too. Lead guitarist Veso Mihaylov looked like he would have been happy to continue playing for the rest of the day, and the whole audience was nodding and bopping along.
After The Jackobins I dashed over to the Brudenell Social Club to watch The Velveteens. Their live sound is brasher and denser sounding than the recorded versions of their songs, but it suited the setting well. Included in the set was ’60s surf-sounding single ‘Mister Blackjack’, which is the perfect sound for a crowd to dance along to. The crowd did seem to stick to the back of the room, and had to be encouraged to move closer, which was more a reflection on the layout of the room than the band themselves. The band were comfortable having a chat and playful back and forth with one another on stage, perfectly natural in their environment.
In the neighbouring room, on the Brudenell Social Club’s main stage, Demob Happy only played for approximately 7 minutes, due to getting caught in traffic. But for those two songs Demob Happy performed with a ferocious energy that got the crowd sufficiently hyped up to thoroughly enjoy the set and lament that it couldn’t have gone on for longer. As I left the venue, amongst the group that had just watched the performance, I overheard numerous people saying they wished the band could have played for longer, and a couple of guys even started singing the lyrics to ‘Succubus’. I couldn’t help but agree with them. From the moment the band arrived, as they threw their guitars onto the stage and began hurriedly unravelling cables, the focus was on them, and the minute they started playing the crowd was evidently glad to have stuck around.
Next on my list was Dublin-based Otherkin, which meant a return to Stage 2 at Leeds Beckett. A couple of songs into the set, the enigmatic lead singer Luke Reilly had removed his shirt and was moving about the stage with the confidence of Iggy Pop as he took the occasional swig from a can of Heineken. The band’s edgy pop-rock sound translated well live, with the band playing their popular singles ‘I Was Born’ and ‘Ay Ay’. Looking ahead to a return to the city in late summer, Reilly’s final words to the crowd were, “we’ll see you at Leeds Festival”.
With a few moments to spare before the next band on my list, I managed to pop into the Academy and catch a few of Mystery Jets’ tracks. The room was packed to the rafters, with people jostling about to get a closer view, and dancing and singing along. I managed to hear a couple of songs from their latest album ‘Curve of the Earth’ (’Midnight’s Mirror’ and ‘Blood Red Balloon’) before leaving just after their crowd-pleasing early career megahit ‘Half In Love With Elizabeth’. There was evidently a big buzz around the band’s performance, but I was glad to get out of the crowd and return to the outdoors once more.
Keep an eye on TGTF for part 2 of Rebecca’s Live at Leeds 2016 coverage, which is scheduled to post tomorrow.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 11th May 2016 at 11:00 am
Across Europe and the UK, electronic music has become a mainstay. Electropop in particular has become part of the fabric, if you will, of the music landscape and history for that part of the world. Originally from Berlin, musician NINA now calls London home. She’s working hard to make her mark as an up-and-coming electropop artist in this always busy part of the music market. She showcased last week at Canadian Music Week (CMW) 2016, playing two shows in Toronto during the festival. Ahead of the event in the Great White North, NINA kindly answered our Quickfire Questions tailored just for this year’s CMW, and you can read her answers back here.
In the below interview, she tells me about the supportive synthwave community she finds herself in and whose fans have kept her going. We also chat about a tour in North America she went on as support for Erasure. She’s maintained a friendship with them and managed a very useful connection production-wise that will likely prove priceless in the future of her music. Have a listen to our conversation and be a fly on the wall below. I’ve also embedded below the interview a stream of her self-described dream pop cover of Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’. She performed it at The (Dance) Cave Thursday night during CMW and it blew me away, so I wanted to share it with all of you.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 10th May 2016 at 6:00 pm
Canadian electropop goddess Grimes really can’t make a wrong move, can she? Late last year she released ‘Art Angels’, which saw her doing her poppiest work to date. You can read Steven’s review of the album out now on 4AD through this link.
Now she has a new video out now this week and Grimes directed it herself. Inexplicably, ‘California’ was filmed not only in Los Angeles but also in Paris. Appearing in the video are singer Megan James of Purity Ring, musician HANA, model Eric Cheng, musician Born Gold, and rising star Mac Boucher (Grimes’ brother?). Just like Grimes herself, the music video is very colourful and radiant, and you can watch it below.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 10th May 2016 at 11:00 am
Canadian Music Week (CMW) 2016 turned out to be the location of, or at least played a part in facilitating many firsts of the artists coming out for the week of activities. Cut Ribbons from Llanelli, South Wales, played their first North American shows during their time in the Great White North when they were here on our continent last week. Prior to coming out to Toronto, they played two warm up shows in Guelph, another town in the Province of Ontario. The morning of this interview, the band also made it out to Niagara Falls, which along with the CN Tower, proved to be one of the most popular tourist sightseeing spots that bands I ran into during CMW reported as wanting to visit.
Listen below to my interview with the entire group – Aled on vocals and acoustic guitar, Lluan on vocals and synth, Chloe on bass, Christian on lead guitar and Ray on drums – in which we talk about the Canadian acts they find inspiring, as well as what sounds like a new direction for the band in new material they’re working on as we speak for their next Cut Ribbons album. Also included under the embedded interview stream is their promo video for ‘In the Rain’, one of the tracks they did play at the Studio Bar show I managed to catch during CMW.
Dutch singer/songwriter Amber Arcades (known to her family and friends as Annelotte de Graaf) seems to be celebrating her recent signing to Heavenly Records with a rather heavenly new promo video for ‘Fading Lines’, the title track from her upcoming debut LP which is due out on the 3rd of June. Our own Rebecca recently featured Amber Arcades in her Bands to Watch #387, which highlights two previously released tracks from the album.
The airy weightlessness of the eponymous ‘Fading Lines’, expressed sonically by lithe guitar riffs and de Graaf’s delicate vocals, is reflected in the video by aerial imagery of a skydiver in reverse–that is, starting from the ground and flying back upward into a plane. De Graaf explains the connection between her song and director Gover Meit’s visual representation as follows:
The song is loosely inspired by my grandfather’s death a while ago and the way he was able to accept everything his life had and hadn’t been. It’s about the feeling of being in an overwhelmed state, like you’ve been propelled free-fall into something you don’t understand for the most part, lines between memories and moments fading until it all turns into a gloriously incandescent blur. When Gover told me about his idea of recording a person dancing mid air, slowly falling up into the sky, I felt like this was the best possible way to translate this overwhelmed feeling into moving images. I never could’ve imagined it would turn out this beautiful though.
Watch skydiver Ruta Norvaisaite gracefully execute mid-air choreography by Sjaan Flikweert in the video for ‘Fading Lines’ just below.
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