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By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 8th June 2016 at 2:00 pm
Words by Adam McCourt
Following the overcapacity fiasco at Headrow House earlier in the evening, I decided to stay put and fight the grain of the exiting crowd to make sure I didn’t miss any of the next act, 20-year old singer/songwriter Julien Baker. I joined a handful of punters at the front of the room who were all facing the stage despite the clear lack of commotion. Ms. Baker soon appeared onstage to unpack her pedal board and work out how to connect her American plugs into UK converters.
We didn’t have to wait long before the 5-foot-nothing Tennessee native struck the first notes of the title track of her debut album ‘Sprained Ankle’. Anyone unfamiliar with Baker’s music was in for a very emotional treat, as Baker rambled through seven depressingly honest songs that touched on subjects such as rejection, forgiveness and alcohol abuse, all with undertones of love and heartache.
From the first collection of harmonics until the last click of her pedals in the final song, Baker’s audience were totally transfixed. After her first two songs, she took a moment to address us with a light-hearted story about being trapped in the venue’s elevator, which translated as her way of saying ‘it’s okay to smile’ whilst subtracting some attention from her openly revealing songs. I think at this point, people were laughing to hold back any other emotions that had culminated upon watching. The highlight of the set was Baker’s third song, ‘Vessels’. The incredible vocal projection from someone so small in stature and fragile in nature left a few audience members in tears, and her slight but effective melodic variations were happily accepted. Baker finished off her set with a major crowd pleaser from the aforementioned album, a track titled ‘Something’. The intensity of the song grew with each added layer of looped guitar, and its final lyric ‘I won’t think of anyone else’ left us with a spine-tingling feeling of fulfillment.
I took the time at this point to recuperate with a coffee before final act The Wytches took the stage to finish the day off. As I peacefully observed the bar, it was as evident as ever that This Must Be The Place exists for its love of the unusual, and the growing scene that is of quirky, neo-hipsters and surf-psych garage music. As the crowds went either to get a good spot at The Wytches upstairs, or to Headrow House to catch Tom Vek, I noticed flannel shirts, Doc Martens, skinny jeans and tote bags were the trends that carried through to the décor of the Belgrave, with its neon signs and long shared tables. It was a community more than anything, and with a community showcasing so many esoteric acts of music, who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?
I finished my coffee and made my way upstairs to the back of the hall so not to disturb the diehards at the front. The Wytches plodded on stage 15 minutes after their start time and instantly began terrorising the audience with sinister, shoegazey guitar melodies on top of equally sludgy grooves. The atmosphere in the venue was incredible. As you looked across the crowd you could see a clear circle set out as a mosh pit, filled with heads that continued to bounce up and down for the next 45 minutes.
The Wytches’ second song ‘Robe For Juda’ was the welcomed with open arms. As soon as the drop tempo of the chorus burst our ears, the crowd let out their anticipation in an eruption of moshing. Despite the furore of the audience, The Wytches kept calm and collected as they powered through their list of chaotic, feedback ridden songs, overloaded with screechy high gain vocals that to a certain degree sounded like Kurt Cobain if he were in more pain…if that’s even possible. There were other close connections to Nirvana within the trio, mainly in their stage presence. Singer and guitarist Kristian Bell stood idly hunched over as he wept into the mic, as if possessed. Bassist Daniel Rumsey had a floating, hoppy thing going on similar to Krist Novoselic, and drummer Gianni Honey smashed away at the kit in typical Dave Grohl fashion.
The crowd began to die down towards the end of The Wytches’ set, and in the back of the hall in what is more of a lounge area, some festivalgoers had given up and found seats. The fall in numbers had no effect on the three dark figures on stage. Finally ending in typical fashion, they set the feedback to full on their pedals as they struck the last chord and walked off, leaving the room filled with cheers and noise.
As we filed out of the venue and I made my way home, I thought to myself how friendly and undisturbed the festival was. It is inevitable that at festivals there are always groups who cause havoc, usually in the form of fighting, indulging in drugs, or doing something as stupid as walking between sites, shouting, “lads, lads, lads!”. But there was none of that here. This Must Be The Place attracted very like-minded people to a day where they could sit on old sofas in cool bars and sip craft beer in peace, whilst simultaneously taking in some of the country’s or even the world’s best up-and-coming talent in a subculture with an ever-growing market.
Part 1 of Rebecca’s coverage of Dot to Dot Festival 2016 in Nottingham is here.
I’d heard a little bit about Rat Boy (pictured above) before the festival, mostly in comparison to Jamie T. After taking a break following EKKAH’s performance, and waiting for The Rubens to start, I decided to head into Rock City’s main stage to see what the hype was about. What I found was a frenetic crowd, evidently having the time of their lives, and I discovered that the Jamie T comparisons weren’t too far off. Rat Boy’s performance was raw and charged, with his music drawing together all manner of influences from hip-hop to punk. For someone so young, he’s managed to amass an impressive number of animated fans.
Catching The Rubens meant a trip down to the Rock City Basement, one of my favourite rooms that I visited due to the lofty ceilings and coolness of the air. The Rubens had travelled all the way from Australia and seemed pretty amazed when they found out that there were no Aussies in the considerable Dot to Dot audience. They seemed to genuinely love being up on stage, playing a number of their indie-bluesy tracks, including their popular single ‘Hoops’.
I arrived early at The Bodega, where I was planning on watching the start of Palace Winter’s set. As I arrived, Girl Friend were just finishing up in the packed out bar, and I felt a little disappointed that I hadn’t made it sooner to catch more of their energetic set. I headed upstairs to watch Palace Winter play in front of a moderately-sized crowd. Their melodic, balmy indie synth style was atmospheric and engaging, and I would have been happy to stick around for the full set, but I only ended up sticking around for the first three tracks.
As I wandered back across town, the plan was to see The Sherlocks next, where they were playing at the Rescue Rooms’ Subculture Live Stage. Despite being from my hometown, I’ve never the band play live, and I was looking forward to getting a chance to finally see them in action at Dot to Dot. By the time I arrived, however, the room was packed out and I popped my head through the door but couldn’t get close enough without getting bashed every time someone came into the room. It was a shame I couldn’t get in to see them, but a great sign for the band and their increasing popularity.
After deciding that I’d be unable to get a decent spot for The Sherlocks, I headed to Rock City’s main stage to watch Mystery Jets. I’d recently caught the band for about 15 minutes at Live at Leeds, so was very excited at the prospect of seeing them for a little longer this time around. They played a balanced mix of old and new songs, including the older ‘Serotonin’, ‘Elizabeth’, the newer ‘Blood Red Balloon’ from current album ‘Curve of the Earth’, and of course, the classics ‘Young Love’ and ‘Two Doors Down’. There were points during the set when the crowd, who had been in incredibly high spirits throughout the entire set, were jumping up and down so enthusiastically that I could feel the floor move beneath my feet, which were incidentally stuck firmly to the sticky floorboards. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of.
I left about 15 minutes before the end of the set, and headed back into the Red Room of Rescue Rooms to watch the last band on my schedule for the day, King No-One. When I arrived the band were in full swing and lead singer Zach Lount was twirling the microphone stand across his shoulder, evidently having a great time. The band’s star-spangled indie rock sound translated very well to their live performance; fans of their music should definitely check them out in the flesh if possible. The set ended with Lount firing a confetti cannon into the cloud, which was a fitting end to a great day.
Pretty much every band that I saw during the day was a perfect example of why, whilst music sounds great on Spotify or on your record player, you just can’t beat it live. Dot to Dot is a great example of how you don’t always have to travel across the country for the big festivals to have a truly great experience. There’s so much going on in your own city or neighbouring ones that you might not aware of. It’s really worth supporting these smaller city events because we’ll bet you’ll find more than a few new favourite indie bands to follow.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 7th June 2016 at 2:00 pm
Words by Adam McCourt
As I returned to Headrow House, I instantly acknowledged the At The Drive-In-esque guitar tone produced by Harkin. As a massive ATD-I fan, she automatically perked up in my ears. The unfortunate thing about Harkin’s set was the inconsistencies in her guitar playing, especially when she set such a high standard with her voice. If she had an accompanying band, the songs and delivery would have translated a lot better. Despite a few minor discrepancies, she performed a set filled with chirpy vocals reminiscent of Bjork, soaked in delay, giving that added layer somehow creating an element of mystery within the delivery.
Aside from music, the Belgrave are also known for their exquisite food. Purchase some pizza provided by Dough Boys, situated directly to the right upon entering the bar on the ground floor, or if you desire some sloppy burgers, Patty Smith’s burgers is placed at the back, between the edge of the bar and the stairs to the venue. I opted for a meal deal from Boots. Still living on a student loan means cutting down on luxuries like Belgrave’s pizza and burgers. However, it gave me the opportunity to take a little breather between Harkin and Julia Jacklin (pictured at top) to head into town and enjoy a sandwich in the bank holiday sun. The beauty about it was that I was still only a few minutes away from both venues, so the break didn’t eat too much of my time diving in and out of town.
Then it was back to Headrow House for the dreamy sounds of Australian native Jacklin, who was perfectly framed by her guitarist on the right and bassist on the left. Both facing inwards, the result was the complete focus was put on Julia. Her sentimental songs went above and beyond the default structure of telling a story over four chords. The added intricacies brought forward in each song’s arrangement continued to compel the audience after being captured by the inviting tonalities of Jacklin’s voice and subtle guitar-playing. She closed her show with her most recent single ‘Pool Party’, and I witnessed something unlike anything I had seen that day. It was almost as if the audience, me included, lost our sense of reality as we proceeded to sway along with her, as she does in the video.
Weirds were one band on the bill that astonished and frightened me at the same time. Listed on their Facebook page as an alternative rock band, they had more of a nu-metal, post-hardcore vigour about them. Their frontman Aidan Razzall was unpredictable in the most beguiling way. When stationary (which was very seldom), he would gaze at the front row of gig-goers, wide eyed, with a maniacal look on his face. Until he screeched down the mic with a heavily distorted vocal feed that echoed through the hall via the use of a long-tailed delay. Although during songs these guys were a poster for mental illness, their between-song banter allowed them to interact with the crowd. They cracked jokes as they responded to the odd heckle and thanked everyone for coming out, including festival organiser Ben Lewis for putting them on.
As they rustled through their last few songs, they showed an excellent level of musicianship, with well-crafted songs that showcased an equal blend of in-your-face riffs with undertones of unpleasant noisy synths with laid-back grooves that allowed audience members the opportunity to dance and jump along. Their second to last song was quite a spectacle, as Razzall took to the floor. With his finger pointing to the ceiling and his mic in hand, he marched in one straight line that split the crowd in half, and roared his lyrics in what could only be described as a speech a dictator or army leader would give.
As I made my way back to Headrow House to catch Trust Fund at 6:30 PM, we were met by security at the door of the performance area to say it was full up and now one in, one out. Despite this, it didn’t take long to get in, and just in time to catch the last 15 minutes of Trust Fund’s set. Usually a 4-piece pop/garage band from Bristol, this time they were stripped down to just their singer Dan accompanying himself on guitar for the intimate, 30-minute set. Call this extravagant but it was almost like the Beach Boys do pop punk. His incredible vocal register produced meandering melodies that were a little hard to follow, but he was a definite favourite of the day with quite a cult following. A quarter of the room were plonked on the floor as they watched on, wide-eyed lost in his songs. Before leaving us, he thanked everyone for coming down, thanked Ben for the gig and lastly thanked the sound man, which I thought was rather courteous of him as he was the first and only act of the day I saw to do so.
Dot to Dot was our editor Mary’s first UK festival, and she had spoken highly of her experience in Nottingham in 2009, so I was anticipating an exciting day. Armed with sensible shoes and a roughly hashed-out schedule, I was ready for a day jam-packed with a wide variety of music.
I’d intended to get to Nottingham to start my day at Dot to Dot a little earlier than I managed, with every intention of watching CHAPPO’s full set. I ended up missing most of the set, however I did manage to get there for the last two songs at the packed out Spanky Van Dykes. As I ascended the stairs I could see that there was some sort of commotion in the crowd. Lead singer Alex Chappo’s head could be seen amongst a sea of people where he was fervently singing at and reaching out to the audience. People were perched on the stairs, eager for a closer look, whilst the enigmatic indie rock sound of Chappo filled every inch of the eclectically decorated venue.
Next was a stop at The Black Cherry Lounge for Leif Erikson’s set. The band sounded great in the grungy-feeling venue, with musical interludes and guitar riffs aplenty. ‘Looking for Signs’, their single that was released last year, was played against a backdrop of purplish-pink light, causing the band to look ghostly and edgy. The moody light displays, teamed with the rough-around-the-edges style of the venue and people drinking from beer cans created a great atmosphere. The Black Cherry Lounge is one of those venues that makes you fall in love with a band all the more for simply making you feel like you’re so much more immersed in the experience.
Next on my list was Ben Caplan back at Spanky Van Dykes. I was determined to get a good spot, as I was very curious about Caplan after hearing about his unusual and grandiose style of performance. I managed to get a decent spot near the front of the stage, very glad to have got to the venue as early as I did, because the room filled up very quickly. Towards the end of his Dot to Dot set, Caplan said that he was used to performing with a full band, so the stripped back nature of the set was a different experience to his other performances. With Caplan switching between guitar and piano, yowling and maniacally laughing through the set, it certainly was a sight to behold. Caplan’s lyrics tell wonderful stories, and watching the set felt like one of those really great moments where time stops, and you just watch and listen in amazement.
Haus are one of those incredibly exciting bands that you wish could carry on performing forever. Lead singer Ashley Mulimba has a sharp, intense voice, and he sang whilst keenly staring into the crowd during much the set. The band gave a passionate performance, and they epitomised why it’s so great to watch new and upcoming bands: the experience of being able to see them up close and in action far exceeds watching bigger bands play in bigger venues. The indie rock quintet has a mixture of electronic and hip-hop influences that come across really well live, and it was a vivid and electrifying performance. I’ve been playing Haus pretty much non-stop since I saw them last weekend.
Before EKKAH’s performance, there were technical issues that meant the duo (pictured at top) didn’t get playing until about halfway into their allotted timeslot. Fortunately, they and their band, along with the audience, saw the comical side of the situation, when for about 10 minutes, Dot to Dot sound techs exasperatedly tried to figure out why every time they got one microphone working, another would cut out. The band waited patiently as the techs got things up and running, then started the set with plenty of enthusiasm, to a roar of approval from the crowd. EKKAH’s music is a lively blend of disco-pop filled with funk rhythms and dance beats. They sound great on record and even better live. Lead singers Rebecca and Rebekah both play instruments, including saxophone and guitar, as well as dance along to the music with coordinated movements. Honestly, check them out if you can.
The second half of Rebecca’s coverage of Dot to Dot Festival 2016 in Nottingham will post later this week on TGTF. Stay tuned!
Words by Adam McCourt
The first and hopefully not the last This Must Be The Place festival took place this bank holiday Monday in Leeds city centre. It was held primarily in two of the city’s most well known music venues Belgrave Music Hall and recently established Headrow House, with a few additional gigs at the Live Art Bistro, a short 10-minute walk towards the bottom of the Headrow. The brand new festival set it sights on “bringing together music, film, art, food and drink” and compacted it all into one grand all-dayer.
As I made my way towards Headrow House to catch the opening act of the day, Oh Peas, I noticed there wasn’t as much of the hustle and bustle that naturally comes with an all-day festival held in the heart of a city, especially one notable for its high percentage of students. However by the third or fourth act of the day, it became clear that TMBTP had a particular scene in mind when organising and promoting the festival. With headliners The Wytches just above Dilly Dally and Joanna Gruesome on the lineup, it was clear that TMBTP was created for fans with a love of new wave, indie rock, psych and surf rock, and garage and noise rock. A specific market indeed, but one that proved more than successful after experiencing the crowds it attracted throughout the day.
Easing us into the day was a scene I can only imagine being influenced by the Ryan Gosling film The Place Beyond The Pines. In a mildly lit room, on a stage decorated with a banner of makeshift leaves with strings of fake ivy hanging from the rafters was a solo female artist with just her voice and guitar. Oh Peas, a soft singer/songwriter whose songs touched upon personal, very sensitive and gloomy subject matter. So sensitive to the point where I felt I was imposing on her problems just by listening. Although she stood idle onstage as she was serving up her issues on a plate, Oh Peas successfully managed to mask them in rather light-hearted overtones and bullish melodies, creating an interesting mix of emotions among her small collection of observers.
Cutting her set slightly short, I ducked out to Belgrave Music Hall in order to catch the first band there, Leeds’ own Chest Pains. It is worth noting at this point the venture between the two main venues was a mere minute walk. And considering the non-overlapping stage times, it was virtually impossible to miss much more than half a song at a time. They sauntered onstage at 2:00 PM with a deceptively casual demeanour that was shattered as they struck the first chord of their opening song. They appeared looking like the ’70s skateboard team Z-Boys at different points in their career. Guitarist/vocalist Sam Robinson and drummer Harry Rogers both sported the bleached blonde hair, sand-washed jeans and Vans look, which seeped into their music with added elements of psych rock and garage.
The mass wall of fuzzy chords and disjointed melodies left room for James Tkaczyk-Harrison to create his own melodies on bass, which acted more as hooks than bass lines. As a unit, they were solid and steady from start to finish. Their songs incorporated elements of poppy surf rock, old American Johnny Cash-style folk, and original ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, yet completely covered in the sculpted style of Chest Pains. Perfectly executed with an equally as energetic performance these guys well and truly set the festival off into a sprint.
Making another round trip of both venues, witnessing equally quirky yet a little cringey performances from Two White Cranes and Dirty Girl, the day was well underway. Each time I returned to the venues, the crowds grew more and more, reaching its highest as of yet for Dirty Girl at Leeds’ legendary Belgrave Music Hall. I next settled in Headrow House for one of the most honest performances of the day. Showered in an oversized poncho, Lail Arad openly told us she had stepped off the train a specific “17 minutes before reaching the venue”. But by no means did this stop her from transporting her audience, through her stories, to a time she evidently wished she had experienced: Greenwich Village, New York City in the ‘60s. As she invited her audience to take “at least one and a half steps forward”, she was inviting us into her world.
Her crowd interaction was very engaging, allowing us at one point to choose a cover between Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon and after finally deciding jokingly stating, “you can fight amongst yourselves later”. Her performance filled with conviction, well crafted in every way, even down to seamlessly covering up mistakes by making them an element of her show. Arad set herself apart by baring her innocent, playful nature while producing equally as lovely songs. Overall, she was an absolute delight to share a half an hour with.
The Orielles’ performance was another example of the excessive level of talent in the UK surf-psych scene. Although they played off the quirky, unsure yet cool characteristic their songs and stage presence were crafted well enough that proved they were serious about what they do. In particular, Henry Wade gave an extremely energetic performance, constantly hunched over, head banging and smashing the chords on his guitar. Their music covers a vast array of styles in their music. ‘Sliders’ and ‘Joey Says We Got It’ portrayed the poppy, relatable side of garage rock, whereas their final song ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt’ showcased the more obnoxious, slightly sinister side, the song dragging out in a hypnotic fashion.
Stay tuned for the rest of Adam’s review of the first-ever This Must Be The Place festival in Leeds, which will follow in the coming days.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 26th May 2016 at 2:00 pm
You know that phrase, “loud enough to wake the dead”? Saturday night at Canadian Music Week 2016 may not have been all that loud, but it was definitely the most crowded night out in town, with plenty of locals out and about to lend a party atmosphere. It sure was very cold and windy, making me wonder whilst wearing my hat and gloves if the dearly departed residents of St. James’ church cemetery near my accommodation for the week were rattling around in their graves.
When it comes to the elements, I consider myself reasonably hearty stock if dressed appropriately, having faced wind and driving rain in my face on many occasions in the UK. However, following along in a theme that has repeated in most everywhere in North America this spring, it was just too damn cold Saturday night. In stark contrast, I saw The Spook School play an early set at the Garrison that afternoon when it was sunny and bright, and I had wished we could have bottled that poppy sunniness and used an atomizer over the entire chilly week of CMW 2016.
My plans for the last night of CMW 2016 would take place solely and in one of the nicer clubs in all of Toronto. Velvet Underground on Queen Street would be seeing out the festival in style, thanks to a ‘Music is Great Britain’-branded showcase put on by UK Trade and Investment. The first two bands on the bill are friends of TGTF; the other two, well, you’ll have to read on.
As a rule, TGTF does not condone skipping school for the sake of music. However, we’re going to give The Orielles a wide berth, as they arrived in Toronto as close as humanly possible to play their first show during CMW while catching as much school as they could before they left. I understand they had finals to return to after; I hope the adrenaline off their first North American music festival saw the band through them.
While they played, excited whispers abounded all around me. “They’re how old?” “And they can play *that* well?” “When did you discover them?” “Liverpool Sound City?” “No, 2013?” “Seriously???” “How old are they again???” Opening the UKTI showcase might well have been ample cause for anxiety, but the young yet experienced in gigs trio from Halifax came out with tune after tune. The Orielles’ first North American appearance was a triumph in every sense of the word, impressing industry and punters alike with their energetic garage and surf-tinged performance.
The People The Poet, now SXSW veterans after showcasing back to back in 2015 and 2016, were up next. From the surfy, psych vibe created by the Orielles, the Welsh band brought things back squarely to good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. The vocals of frontman Leon Stanford – growly, emphatic and Joe Cocker-esque – are a force to be reckoned with on their own. But accompanied by the band’s driving instrumentation with the anthemic glow of any Springsteen number worth its salt, the complete package of The People The Poet provide a formidable punch. Check out recent single ‘Club 27’ below.
Very early on in my CMW 2016 schedule preparation, I’d pencilled in The Undivided for my last night in Toronto. I’d gone through the profiles of all the UK bands headed out to the festival, and I had been most impressed with the oomph of ‘Invincible’. I fully felt the emotions of this band, displayed on their sleeve for all to see. It was a feeling I’d experienced 2 years ago at Liverpool Sound City when faced with Geordies Boy Jumps Ship for the first time. (They’ve just released their debut album this month, and I couldn’t have been prouder of and happier for them.) When you listen to the power of their music and lyrics together, you just know this means an awful lot to every member of the band. Even more weirdly coincidental, both of these bands’ names suggest an inclusionary, “all for one, one for all” mentality that is comforting in this crazy world we live in.
The Welsh band released their latest EP ‘Satellites’ on the 6th of May when we were all out in Toronto, so I hadn’t had a chance to listen to it. It’s on Spotify now, and it’s good stuff. This is loud, fast-paced rock with plenty of heart, and you should do yourself the favour of checking them out now. You know, before they hit it big and I say in a smug tone “I told you so” to your face.
I have gotten onboard with Slaves and have been known to sing along – loudly – to ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie’. However, I have to admit that I still haven’t quite figured out the appeal of Fat White Family. Is it the camp posturing of Lias Saoudi that gets people hot and bothered? Is it the spitting? Is it the sleaze of ‘Touch the Leather’? Or is it just the anarchic feel of their brand of punk? Of all the bands at the UKTI showcase, they brought in the biggest crowd of the night. Is that a commentary on the music lovers of Toronto? Let’s hope not.
I left Velvet Underground with the same feeling I had closing out what will probably be my final Sound City in 2014. What was I missing about this hugely hyped band? A few weeks out now from my first CMW, I have come to the acceptance yet again that as they say, there’s no accounting for taste. TGTF will continue to do what we’ve always done: champion the little guy and the music that moves us. And we appreciate you all – bands and fans alike – being along with us for the ride.
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