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Preview: NXNE 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 17th June 2014 at 9:00 am
 

Header: Press photo, J. Spaceman of Spiritualized, via Press Here

North by Northeast Festival, aka NXNE, is Canada’s version of Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) and is billed in the press as “the most anticipated summer music event in Canada”. The Music and Interactive portions of the festival begin tomorrow in Toronto and run through the weekend, but the event has already begun celebrating its 20th year with the opening of the Film portion on the 13th of June, the Art portion on the 16th and the Comedy portion on the 17th.

While Canadian and American acts dominate the Music lineup, there are also several British and international acts to be found on the docket. The usual alternative, electronic and singer/songwriter genres are represented, along with a handful of acts that fall outside those boxes. Music festival headliners include alt rock divas St Vincent and tUnE-yArDs, Brooklyn noise pop artists Sleigh Bells and British space rockers Spiritualized (pictured at top).

Austin-based acts Alejandro Escovedo and Spoon feature prominently in the lineup, as well as a long list of alumni from this year’s SXSW festival, such as buzz band Future Islands, Odonis Odonis, and Speedy Ortiz. Macaulay Culkin’s band, The Pizza Underground, who played SXSW and made a memorable appearance at the Dot To Dot Festival earlier this year, will cross genres between Music and Comedy. Curiously, several antipodean acts are featured on the bill in Toronto as well, including singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett, rocker Kirin J Callinan and alt pop group The Kite String Tangle.

Prominent UK bookings include electronic acts Fuck Buttons, Evian Christ, Golden Teacher and Welsh experimentalist Until The Ribbon Breaks. The always swollen singer/songwriter category is represented by Dan Croll, Jackson Nova, Laurel, Tom Robinson and Tom the Lion. Alt rockers Kins and Camera and hip hop artists Ikes and Kobi Onyame round out the UK contingent, along with two Scottish acts, Edinburgh roots band The Black Diamond Express and traditional folk group Trembling Bells.

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Three notable female acts on TGTF’s peripheral radar are Tei Shi, Rachel Ries, and Glasser, the latter of whom editor Mary saw opening for Elbow back in 2011 (read that review here). Rachel Ries is a singer/songwriter from the American Midwest who recently opened for The Young Folk on part of their recent English tour. Vancouver R&B artist Tei Shi was featured on Glass Animals’ ‘Gooey’ EP (reviewed here) and will tour with them next month in America.

While the NXNE Music Festival might not quite reach the dizzy heights of its sister festival SXSW, its heavy focus on Canadian musicians along with its bill of hotly tipped international acts make it a can’t-miss event for music fans in and around Toronto. The Music portion of the festival takes over downtown Toronto for 5 days starting tomorrow, the 18th of June.

 

Camden Rocks 2014 Roundup

 
By on Friday, 13th June 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Camden Rocks‘ mission? To raise the studded standard for the borough’s rock heritage, past and present. Two hundred fifty bands across 20 venues and infinite beer pumps is a heady combination for just over half a day’s entertainment, especially when the bands are mindful of competing to be remembered in the same breath as the district’s forerunners, from The Rolling Stones to The Ramones. But, who might use one of these cider-soaked stages to write themselves into Camden folklore? No matter how big the band, this historically eclectic setting means all bets are off.

The Underworld is transformed into something in between Frankenstein’s lair and Dexter’s lab for the on-rushing psychofest that is Hounds. (Read my interview with Olly Burden of the band here.) Adorned only in sterile white, the throbbing lights and monotone hum of their entrance creates a sense of mechanised power fused with intriguing unease that would continue throughout the set. Trivial sound trouble aside, a track list including the likes of ‘Stigmata’ and standout tune ‘The Witch is Dead’ ensure a powerful reception for the boys from the countryside.

Sonic Boom Six, by comparison, is kid’s TV. The lighting engineer back above ground at The Electric Ballroom turns the contrast up to maximum as the predominantly suited and booted troupe from Manchester – fronted by the anomalously naked Laila Khan – has the day’s largest venue bouncing to their unique reggae/rock/hip hop crossover. ‘Drop the Bass and Pick it Up’, ‘Piggy in the Middle’ and ‘All In’ are undoubtedly floor-fillers, but there is an element of style over substance in their scramble to cover every genre and aesthetic within half an hour. It’s a small world, after all.

A quick licking by The Howling‘s resident axe man The Rev, and it’s off down to Purple Turtle for the force of nature that is Palm Reader. This is not a gig. This is a tumultuous, chest-thumping display of disenchanted machismo: a charmingly anarchic right of passage requiring limitless energy, plus a promoter willing to pick up the tab once the dust and debris has settled. Towards the heavy end of the South’s resurgent punk nouveau riche, to call them abrasive would be an insulting underestimation. With bassist Josh Redrup in the crowd and singer Josh McKeown emitting some kind of primal scream, it hardly matters which track they were playing (although ‘Spineless’ and ‘Uncomfortably Lucid’ somehow stood out in the malaise), and signing off “let’s get a beer or something” could not be a more welcome sentiment.

Managing to avoid the pitfalls of Sonic Boom Six despite their penchant for eyeliner and a statement fringe, the choreography of Fearless Vampire Killers feels somehow more sincere. A product of the My Chemical Romance era, the five boys from Beccles are theatrical in both dress and attitude, spitting water and multi-layered vocals across the youngest crowd of the day. A smattering of tracks from 2012’s ‘Militia of the Lost’, alongside a curious cover of Wham!‘s ‘Club Tropicana’, is clearly a release after the relative confinement of an acoustic set earlier in the day.

There’s only one way to describe the next band: ‘Shit Just Got Real’. Fittingly, this is already a song title from their debut album ‘You’re Listening to The Hell. Starting off as a smarmy joke at the expense of the hardcore scene, the band’s modus operandi is to instigate moments of raw, self absorbed aggression. Appropriately, the first act of their set at The Black Heart is a man with a deadpan look nonchalantly chucking his pint into the anonymous singer’s face from point blank range in an almost silent room.

Needless to say, it only spurs them on to incite more carnage through the likes of ‘These Butters Bitches’, ‘Groovehammer’, ‘Everybody Dies’ and ‘Hanneman’ – dedicated to the late Slayer shred machine. It could be their unique aesthetic – the guitarists play on just four strings between them and their merch tag is ‘…You Dick’ – that seems to unite the crowd in an anarchic union bound only by the uniqueness of their reactions. In any case, a joke about similarity has come to encompass a definition of individuality.

Rap metal maestros Hacktivist (pictured at top) openly admit that theirs is an act to be witnesses live before it can be fully comprehended. (Read my interview with Ben Marvin and J Hurley this way.) Chastised on occasion by elements of both the hip hop and metal scenes, their model doesn’t include a Chester Bennington or Fred Durst to bridge the gap like their noughties forerunners. This is more for the UK purists. With a thick smattering of London grime vocalists Ben Marvin and J Hurley machine gun out syllables that hit the crowd consciousness square between the eyes.

It also becomes evident who The Hell had sold their strings to, as the band’s Korn-esque rhythm section wove through the likes of ‘Fight Fire with Fire’ and Jay-Z‘s ‘Niggas in Paris’ on their six-string bass and eight-string guitar. Onlookers tear the place apart metal-style, and trying to envisage this same set getting an identical reaction amongst a room full of hip hop fans is tough, but that shouldn’t detract from a massive performance by the boys that have clearly been welcomed in to this scene with horns raised.

What organiser Chris McCormack have achieved in this year’s edition is quite possibly the most biggest buzz you can get in Camden for £25. And, as just a short walk amongst the shady characters around Camden Lock will tell you, there are plenty of ways to get your kicks in this borough.

 

Live at Leeds 2014 Review (Part 2)

 
By on Thursday, 12th June 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

To read the first half of Martin’s review of Live at Leeds 2014, go here.

Happyness sound like they come from Slackersville, USA, their sound reminiscent of college rock luminaries such as The Lemonheads. But a quick post-gig chat with affable singer Jonny Allan reveals they’re actually from South London – it’s their record collections, not their accents, that are transatlantic. What’s also very British is their moderately grumpy, slightly pained, dead-pan intra-song witticisms (imagine if Derek and Clive formed a band and cut out most of the swearing) which puts the lie to their optimistic name.

Such obscurantism matches the music well – the full name of one song is revealed to be ‘I’m Wearing Win Butler’s Hair; There’s a Scalpless Singer of a Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’. Said song has a superbly laid-back groove, making it pretty much the perfect song for a late afternoon spent indoors when it’s sunny outside. There’s every day at a festival there’s a band who summarise the mood, linking atmosphere, location and sound in a perfect circle of gentle euphoria – Happyness are that today.

Woman’s Hour (pictured at top) trade in gentle washes of electronica and minimal beats, topped with Fiona Burgess’ peachily delicate croon. Smooth and fragile, here appropriately swathed in smoke-machine atmosphere, Burgess making smooth motions with her hands as if hosting a communal tai-chi class. Much like the smoke, there’s the suspicion that Woman’s Hour are a bit ethereal, slightly monotonal, perhaps without the dynamics to structure a set which fully engages right to the end. Within their niche, very competent, but The xx have nothing to fear.

Highasakite sound like nobody else and are certainly the most ambitious band of the day. They make a fantastic orchestrated noise, perhaps best described as prog-pop, where guitars are just another instrument to carry their elegant, architectural melodies. Ingrid Helene Håvik strolls on stage unassumingly, wearing a hoodie several sizes too big, but when she starts to sing, the true potential of the band begins to be realised. ‘Since Last Wednesday’ is an epic on the theme of loss, featuring cathedral-size pipe organ and enormous drum hits, ‘Indian Summer’ has an enormous uplifting chorus, and latest single ‘Leaving No Traces’ melds spaghetti-western sensibilities with an electronic pop chorus which manages to be both icy cold and deeply emotional all at the same time. Quite a ride.

Each member of the band appears to be a virtuoso, particularly the impossibly-talented, formally-trained synth player Marte Eberson, whose playing stands out as being as stunning as her looks. In the back room of the Brudenell, with not much more than a handful of audience members, this starts to feel like a rare treat, of a band with stadium-sized potential playing a private gig for a select few who know the secret of where to find nuggets of otherworldly music. This is the performance of the day, and, for that matter, of the year so far.

There could hardly be two bands more different than Highasakite and The Orielles. One is an ensemble of refined, trained musicians who formed at the Trondheim Jazz Observatory. The other is a group of two sisters and their schoolfriend from Halifax who have a, shall we say, more rudimentary approach to their instruments. What isn’t rudimentary is their ability with a tune. Their sound is 60s-inspired melodic surf-psyche-garage of the most endearing naiveté. But there they are on Spotify and iTunes, with an EP and a single, showing for more experienced practitioners how to go about this music business thing.

Check out something like ‘Old Stuff // New Glass’ from their ‘Hindering Waves’ EP (video of the title track we featured earlier on TGTF here) – there’s a fantastic surf-guitar sound that Dick Dale would be proud of, there’s the double-double-barrelled Esme-Dee Hand-Halford giving Louise Wener a lesson or two in offhand cool, and her sister’s Ringo Starr-esque drumming holding it all together with a simple, tight groove. They even take on a bit of white funk in ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt’. Tonight, the audience are mostly men, mostly at least twice the band’s age, heads nodding and feet tapping to the frenzy of noise coming from the stage, as the band race through their set with no banter or niceties to lighten the intensity. You might go to see them for the novelty of age, but you’ll stay for the tunes. (For more of our coverage on the Orielles, go here.)

By the time TGTF arrives at Leeds University for a look at the Wytches, the well-refreshed crowd are already as excited as a toddler at Christmas, bless them. The appearance of Kristian Bell and his the sound of his dirty power chords sends them over the edge – a tsunami of people surge forward and crush the photographers and their expensive gear who’ve braved the front of stage position. The photographers don’t stay long, the crowd continuing to press wave after wave of human flesh against the barrier. A fight breaks out at one point, which seems perfectly normal given the circumstances.

The band themselves do have a nice line in semitonal noise, mixing ’60s psychedelia with ’90s mainstream grunge like Temples‘ naughty little brothers. In ‘Wire Framed Mattress’, Bell emotes about his dignity collapsing, and it’s clear some members of the crowd can relate to him from first-hand experience this evening. Overall, The Wytches are about as scary as a Vincent Price film, and just as corny, but they’re good for a laugh in a paradoxically light-hearted way. Just don’t stand at the front if you value your bones unbroken. (For more of our coverage on the Wytches, go here.)

It’s left to Drenge to wrap the night up. They take the visceral impact of an act like the Wytches but manage to tidy it up a bit, making proper songs that don’t rely on tons of reverb and walls of noise, but feature audacious concepts like groove and melody. Eoin Loveless is a positive guitar hero for a new generation, despite, or perhaps because of, not really ever playing a solo. (For more of our coverage on Drenge, go here.)He loves a good riff, though. Kids these days, eh? Sadly the crowd here is even further removed from the mores of polite society than the previous one, with flying beer cups, extreme moshing (some punters even come complete with anticipatory plaster casts already applied), and the final straw – enthusiastic vomiting just in front of the speaker stack. TGTF retreats to a safe distance – outside the venue, watching from the stage door – just to be able to enjoy the performance without being assaulted by various fluids, bodily or otherwise. And that’s it. The end.

The genius of Live at Leeds is that it attracts enough ticket sales from those wanting to see bigger, more mainstream acts – apparently Frank Turner’s acoustic set was at capacity long before stage time – that they can afford to run a fringe of more interesting new music. DIY’s programming of the Brudenell was flawless – in another universe TGTF stayed there all day and saw The Amazing Snakeheads, Fair Ohs and Pulled Apart By Horses. But the program is so varied that there’s something for everyone, and at £25 for a whole day of class acts, superb value. Roll on 2015.

 

Interview: Ben Marvin and J Hurley of Hacktivist at Camden Rocks 2014

 
By on Wednesday, 11th June 2014 at 11:00 am
 

With a name like Hacktivist, an interview with some kind of 21st century incarnation of HAL 9000 would have sufficed. Instead, vocalists Ben Marvin and J Hurley spurn the monotone passive aggression to offer a colourful account of their rise to prominence, their unique rap/metal crossover style and and their love for the borough that is the heartland for London’s alternative scene at this year’s Camden Rocks festival.

So, obviously the theme of today is rock music. How important do you believe events like this are to the genre as a whole?
Ben Marvin: Very important, man! It brings everyone together – a lot of bands that have done festivals and tours together all getting to mingle. It’s good for the fans because they get to split and choose who to see and at what venue and stuff. But, yeah, really cool.

How does it feel to be playing in Camden, with such a unique rock music heritage? Do you feed off that a little bit?
J Hurley: I love coming to Camden and playing music. Every time. Obviously it’s the heart of music for London. I’ve always enjoyed playing here. The crowd’s always crazy – everyone’s always crazy! Every time we play it’s always energetic and just… crazy!
BM: It’s always a good vide in Camden. Good Chinese too.

What’s your favourite Camden venue?
JH: Underworld. But, I went to see Yelawolf at The Electric Ballroom, and that was awesome.

What is it about the Underworld that keeps drawing you back?
JH: It’s nice and dark and dingy and low…
BM: It’s a grimy venue, but it’s a big grimy venue. So, it’s the best of both worlds. Your on top of the crowd; it’s really intimate, small stage. There’s a lot of injuries take place. Ticks all the boxes.

Urban festivals, or fun in a field?
BM: I say both. Both have their qualities. I think we’re yet to play a festival or gig that we haven’t enjoyed. There’s pros to playing urban festivals. We played a lot of festivals last year where the bill’s were all over the place with the artists that were playing. So, we love doing shit like that. But, at the same time we’ve played stuff like Fieldview, which was kind of like a hippy fest so we were really out of place there. And, that was a proper ‘sit down on the grass’ kind of thing – and even that fucking went off. So, I think all festivals are good.

Sticking with the ‘rock’ theme; what inspired you to start making rock music in the first place?
JH: For me, my brother kept coming home with loads of drum n bass/rave tapes. It wasn’t even called drum n bass then! It was just ‘rave’ music to me. And, then I used to listen to the tapes and sing along to them, and then one day I just thought I might as well make my own lyrics. Rather than singing their stuff, I’ll just write my own. That was when I was young. I was probably about 14-15 when that started happening, and then when I got to 16 I thought “Right, I’m going to write lyrics now”. From then, that was it.

So, lyrically, who are your main influences?
JH: I’ve got a log of influences, like Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Pharrell Williams, P Money, I like Eminem
BM: Obviously, J’s not from the rock scene. I kind of wheeled him in a few years back, and ever since then I’ve been getting him in to metal. Then, about a year later, that’s when we started Hacktivist. I’ve been in metal (there or thereabouts) bands since I was 14, so me and J I guess got in to the music scene at the same time but from different angles. I mean, I’ve always been involved in the rock scene, so we kind of met in the middle and created Hacktivist.

How’s the reception been to your unique brand of crossover?
JH: They’re loving it. The reception’s been amazing – the reception’s been better than I thought. Every gig’s been like “woah!” – people singing along. Even when we went to Russia, there were people singing along to every single word of the lyrics. I just thought “wow!”, it blew me away, man.
BM: We’re definitely a ‘love or hate’ band. I think when we started, there was a lot of controversy about what we were doing for some reason; because we don’t fit in to a certain category or whatever. We never tried to be a certain thing anyway. It was just an experiment. We never realised we would even be a band. I think, over the course of time, even the haters are slowly moving over because – a lot of people who hear us, don’t like us. They come and see us live, and they come and speak to us and are like: “I never really got you guys, but now I get it”. It takes a while. I mean, I was the same when I was a kid and first heard Slipknot, I was like: “What the fuck is this shit?” – this is when I first started getting into the rock music and stuff. And, you know what, I listened to the album 2 or 3 times on loop and something just clicked. From then I was into heavy music. I can understand why people would automatically take a dislike to us, but overall I think the reception’s been way better than we could have ever dreamed of, man. It’s just going up and up!

Stay tuned for more of Ben’s coverage of Camden Rocks coming soon.

 

Interview: Olly Burden of Hounds at Camden Rocks 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 10th June 2014 at 11:00 am
 

B-movie mad scientists Hounds – a motley troupe of up-and-coming electro punk rockers – were delighted to occupy their slot at The Underworld for Camden Rocks 2014. Having escaped the ecological entanglement of their countryside roots, TGTF’s own Ben Parkinson managed to grab 5 minutes with lead singer Olly Burden to muse on the day and its impact on the scene at large. Here’s what he had to say:

The theme of today is rock music. How important do you believe events like this are to the genre as a whole?
I think, very important really. As we were driving into here today, as we were loading our gear in, the whole of Camden had been taken over completely by bands. Everywhere you look there’s splitter vans and transit band pulling up. I’m really impressed, to be honest, as to what Chris [McCormac, the event organiser] has done. I’m really impressed, man, he’s done a great job and it provides the opportunity for a lot of people to get some publicity – to get their name out there. And, he’s sold it out, which is amazing. I think it can only be good for the rock scene as a whole. This IS the British rock scene – the capital – and everyone’s come here to play and show what they’ve got. So, respect.

How does it feel to be playing in Camden, with such a unique rock music heritage? Do you feed off that a little bit?
We love playing Camden. We’re not a London band. We come from a tiny village out in the middle of nowhere. So, for us to be included in this type of thing is always a big deal. Even though we come up here and play a lot, it’s still a big deal because there was nothing to do where we came from apart from cause trouble and start fires and stuff like that. So, we use to look at this sort of thing and think, you know, “one day we’ll be included in something like that”. For us, now, to get the invite to play something like this, it’s like a sense of achievement. It felt like something that we would never be able to do because there was nothing going on and we didn’t feel like part of a scene where we came from. We had to work hard to get here. We love it. To be included in this today is great.

What’s your favourite Camden venue?
It’s hard to say! We’ve played most of them. We tend to play The Barfly a lot, so I’d have to say The Barfly just because we feel most at home there. The dressing room is kind of like our own living room. And, if we’re not playing and we’re going to see our friends playing it’s still the same, because it’s our mates!

Urban festivals, or fun in a field?
It’s hard to say, because we’ve just played the urban festival and it was amazing. Fun in a field is always good. We come from the countryside, so maybe we feel more at home in the woods, in the dark surrounded by trees and shrubs. So, our own festival, I feel comfortable with.

Sticking with the ‘rock’ theme; what inspired you to start making rock music in the first place?
Well, my Dad was the drummer and singer in a band, so growing up I just used to listen to rock music all the time. It was what was played in my house, and I think it’s the same for anyone that ends up in a rock band. It’s the first sound you hear. Luckily for me, it was things like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple rather than some shit pop band. So, yeah, it was in my blood, even from being a little kid. And, then it’s the same for everyone else in the band. Like I say, we grew up together in a small village, and we all gravitated towards each other because we were the only people, in a place where there was nothing to do but course trouble and play football, we gravitated towards each other because of the same interest. So, we ended up in a band together, causing chaos.

We noticed during your set that there was an element of mad scientist, with everyone coming out all in white, this throbbing light and drone going off in the background. Could you tell us about the idea behind that?
We think of ourselves as, you know… We’re always experimenting, so I guess the tag mad scientist kind of fits. It feels comfortable hearing you say that. It’s like, in a sea of black, it would be quite fitting that we’re the only band swimming in the opposite direction. Looking around, I’m probably the only guy in Camden wearing white, and I’m quite happy with that. That’s where we wanna be. We’re swimming in the opposite direction to everybody else.

So… nothing to do do with purity then?
[Laughs] It’s fuck all to do with purity! Quite the opposite.

Stay tuned for more of Ben’s coverage of Camden Rocks coming soon.

 

Live Gig Video: Model Aeroplanes play ‘Whatever Dress Suits You Better’ at Radio 1’s Big Weekend 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 27th May 2014 at 4:00 pm
 

One of my biggest hopes for the next big pop band is Dundee’s Model Aeroplanes, who had the unenviable task of playing the BBC Introducing Stage against One Direction on the Main Stage at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Glasgow on Saturday. There’s no contest in my mind, but in case you need some convincing, watch the Scottish lads performing the energetic ‘Whatever Dress Suits You Better’ below. Do they remind you of early Two Door Cinema Club? Hmm?

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like idiots.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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