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Bands to Watch #270: The Orielles (formerly The Oreoh!s)

 
By on Monday, 22nd July 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Update: as of 26/11/2013, they’re now called The Orielles.

Every so often one comes across a band that so perfectly defies expectation – and, occasionally, reason – that they deserve to be written about just for that. The Oreoh!s are just such an act. Comprising sisters Esme and Sid Hand-Halford on bass and drums, respectively, and Henry Wade on guitar, this Halifax-based three-piece are notable for being the youngest in age I have ever seen on the professional circuit: we’re talking between 15 and 17 years of age here, folks. Not even old enough for a refreshing post-gig lager. Which in itself isn’t a special talent – after all, we were all young once – but what’s more intriguing is that they’re actually a really good band. My thoughts on their appearance at Liverpool Sound City are already out there, but after the buzz of that weekend had died down I had the opportunity to sit down and have a listen to their independently-recorded EP ‘Sunny Daze and Sleepless Nights’. [Our copy was handed to me personally by the band themselves at Brink cafe on the third day of Sound City 2013. Eat your heart out, Lammo, with your Bloc Party demo at the Franz Ferdinand gig outside the toilets at the ICA. - Ed.]

Slightly dodgy puns aside, this recording really shows the depth of ability that these three West Yorkshire youngsters display. ‘Truth Be Told’ (stream above) is the opener – after the riffing builds into a decent garage-band groove, the beautiful crystal-clear voice of Esme is introduced, at once powerful and delicate, with a fine knack for a catchy melody. The lyrics advise, “do it all before you get old”, a surprisingly mature sentiment considering the singer’s tender years. ‘Deduce’ (video at the end of this post) is the standout track, and one that rollicks along at a fine pace, with a massive serving of fizzy guitars, tinny drums, and Esme’s lovely vocal. This could genuinely be an underground garage-rock classic – slightly lo-fi, incredibly catchy chorus that comes round exactly the correct number of times, deceptively basic yet heartfelt musicianship. A real triumph. And just to show they can do downtempo as well as up, ‘Midnight In Paris’ is a delicate ballad based around squeezebox rather than guitar, and again that surprisingly mature sentiment is clear to hear.

The Oreoh!s have been a pleasure to discover. All four songs on this EP are great and show incredible potential. It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating here – if they’re this good this young, how good will they be in a few years’ time? Let’s hope that they’ve got the staying power to properly realise their potential.

The Oreoh!s’ EP ‘Sunny Daze and Sleepless Nights’ is available from the band’s own merch store.

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Quickfire Questions #46: Vasco da Gama

 
By on Tuesday, 4th June 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Liverpool’s Vasco da Gama wowed early punters on the second day of Liverpool Sound City this year (read coverage and watch a live video of them here), so naturally we thought we’d be cheeky and ask them to answer our Quickfire Questions. They were only too kind to oblige. Read their answers below.

What song is your earliest musical memory?
David: ‘Opposites Attract’ by Paula Abdul. I was really into the music video where Paula seemed to be in the beginnings of a romantic relationship with an animated cat.

What was your favourite song as a child?
David: ‘Monster’ by the funk metal band Extreme. I used to play wrestling with my big brother when I was about 7 and that was my characters theme tune. I can’t remember the character’s name but he wore a dressing gown and sometimes face paint.

What song makes you laugh?
Lynny: The Brass Eye ‘Cake’ song. Chris Morris presents a ‘blip’ sound and persuades his guest that under the influence of a made up drug ‘cake’ the user hears a mash up grind core track due to their altered perception of time that drags on and on. It’s funny.

What song makes you cry?
John: ‘Lonely Does It’ by Forget Cassettes. Seek it out, listen to the lyrics and try to hold it together when the ‘oohs’ kick in.

What song reminds you of the first time you fell in love? (It’s up to you if you want this to be sweet, naughty, etc.)
Joe: ‘Marry Me John’ by St. Vincent. It was 2008 on a warm spring evening in the Glee comedy club in Birmingham.

What song makes you think of being upset / angry? (Example: maybe you heard it when you were angry with someone and it’s still with you, and/or something that calms you down when you’re upset, etc.)
John: I used to work in a venue where they had 14+ gigs, which is great for young bands to get gigging experience, except that every single one of them always covered ‘Come Together’ by The Beatles. Every single one. Usually quite badly. So while I still like the original, sadly it does now call to mind the wibbly basslines and fudged lyrics of all those well-meaning but horribly inept covers.

Which song (any song written in the last century) do you wish you’d written yourself?

John: There are loads, but the one that springs to mind is ‘Tomorrow Tomorrow’ by Elliott Smith as I’ve never been able to write anything that simple that was any good.

Who is your favourite writer? (This can be a songwriter or ANY kind of writer.)
John: Irvine Welsh. His stuff can be incredibly brutal but he’s also capable of beautiful and poetic prose. As far as lyrics go, I think James Mercer from The Shins balances obscure imagery and relatable sentiment really well.

If you hadn’t become a singer/musician/songwriter/etc., what job do you think you’d be doing right now?
John: Well, if I wasn’t lucky enough to be making an absolute fortune from Vasco, I’d probably be working in, say, a bar, trying desperately to find enough time and money to keep doing music. Imagine that.

If God said you were allowed to bring only one album with you to Heaven, which would it be and why? (Sorry, but double albums do not count.)
John: THAT’S TOO HARD. I’ll just say ‘Killec’ by Marvin’s Revolt as, despite being quite short, it’s got pretty much everything that’s good about guitar music.

Many thanks to the guys for answering our questions and Kim for sorting this out for us!

 

Interview: Dingus Khan at Hit the Deck Nottingham 2013

 
By on Friday, 31st May 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Standing in that unique niche between the Britpop revolution that is Blur and the metal behemoths Slipknot are, seemingly, Dingus Khan. With that kind of billing, it’s a wonder you haven’t already heard of them! But since they sound nothing like Slipknot, I think you should make your own mind up and listen to their debut album ‘Support Mistley Swans’, which comes with its own supporting comic. It’s utterly, utterly brilliant and includes the line, “who would want to listen to a band with less than three bass players?” Do I need to sell it further?

But onto the band, who I caught up with after their set at Nottingham’s Hit the Deck Festival. Where did I catch up with them? Just nonchalantly on the roof of a 16-storey parking garage that overlooks where the festival’s debauchery takes place, here’s a video of our elevator journey up there with the eight members of Dingus:

As we arrive atop the windswept parking structure the band proceeds to introduce themselves, to which I understand they all gave each other’s names. Which is bad for a feature, but good if you want some comedy from a gaggle of eight sweaty lads atop a building in the middle of Nottingham. Lead singer and guitarist (I think) Ben Brown announces himself by explaining why he has a bleeding gash on the top of his head: “Tom (or Alex) jumped on me and smashed me in the head with his bass guitar, and I caught his eye before he did it and I think he probably did it deliberately!”

To which Tom (or Alex) responds: “It wasn’t deliberate, because I was at the point of hitting you, upside down.”

Take this as a warning, to any who partake in the viewing of a Dingus Khan show, that it is an entirely participatory experience that requires vigilance from you as an audience. I looked away for just a minute when I saw them at May’s Liverpool Sound City in Sound and Vision and I looked up to find Brown, resplendent in blue robes standing atop a table roaring his lungs out to their single ‘Knifey Spooney’.

At the Nottingham gig though the audience enjoyed the rather bizarre performance from the band, which if I haven’t mention consist of three bassists, three drummers, an electric ukulele player and a guitarist: “There were some girls at the front of our gig who were just kind of like *mimes clapping like a seal would when handed a nice rubber beach ball* clapping along who did seem to be really enjoying it throughout, which did kind of spur it on a bit.

“As it’s the case with these kind of gigs that you turn up and you don’t know what it sounds like out front because you rush on, strum your guitar a bit, the sound guy goes, ‘great that’s a guitar’, and ‘ooh, that’s not a drum, hang on!’ Then you kind of rush on and hope that it sounds all right. So to see people enjoying it is good.”

Another band member chimes in; he said his name was Nick, so I’ll assume that his name is Josh: “Everyone kind of lines the walls at the start of the show when you are setting up, and then they kind of move in very slowly as you get going.”

The band have been trawling the festival circuit mercilessly and unrelenting performing their no holds bars kind of insane live set to as many people as they can get to bare whiteness to them in a small room as possible. Their unyielding touring though does have the disadvantage of a slight lack of control: “It’s our first time playing Hit the Deck Festival but we were kind of supposed to play in Bristol yesterday. But well…” (The attention then turns to a man named Gaz, who is tasked with explaining the tomfoolery.)

Gaz clarifies: “I was driving the van from a local gig up in Ipswich and the police stopped me because we had a brake light out and the police stopped me and it turns out I don’t have the right licence to drive a van of that size.

“So I got three points on my licence and a £60 fine.” To which the assembled band proceed to giggle and guffaw at the unlucky lad.

It seemed thought that 60 quid and a blot on an otherwise clean driving licence was not the end of their tumultuous tale of travel: “We needed to be in Bristol by like half 7, so we didn’t do it in the end and as you might of noticed we are one person short as well now. Well, that’s because one of the members of our band Tom Armstrong [maybe?] just didn’t travel along.

Why, I ask? “Well he has this thing where he can’t swallow at the moment and it’s become this kind of paranoia for him. It may sound untrue, but this is serious, he can’t leave the house at the moment and he is really ill.”

So what are this band about? When told they’re a link between Blur and Slipknot they politely as a group shrug off the billing and Ben, their Dingus in chief it seems says: “A bit between Oasis and AC-DC, with a bit of Supergrass and Slade and Pink.”

Tongue and cheek it may be, but this band are all about the tongue and indeed the cheek and a sense of humour is required if you are going to watch a Dingus show. But don’t take it away from the tunes, they aren’t a bunch of one trick ponies relying on their humour and quirks. They have big tunes, full of heart and covering ever relatable topics like, when your bag for life breaks in the shop, or when you can’t find a knife and you have to use a spoon.

So come on, give the boys a chance. ‘Support Mistley Swans’, they need YOUR help.

Many thanks to the band for this interview and Joe for setting this up for us!

 

Liverpool Sound City 2013 Interview: Chris Hawkins (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 29th May 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Didn’t catch the first part of my interview in Liverpool with 6music’s Chris Hawkins? No worries, you can read it here.

6music’s Chris Hawkins is quick to give thanks to the many people who listen to his 6music show online: “We have a strong and I’m very happy to say very loyal online audience. From Australia and the States too. That’s quite cool, it adds another dimension to the programme.” I explain that if there was a way I could get 6music on my car radio, I would, but for now, I’m limited to listening to the station on my computer, to which he laughs.

He understands this. “Oh, the messages we get all the time from American listeners, ‘thank god for 6music because we have nothing like that here, everything here is Clear Channel owned and samey’. I feel very lucky to work at 6music, sometimes I have to pinch myself and think, ‘I can’t believe I’m working at the radio station that I would choose to listen to’. You know, it’s a great privilege, and it’s as great to work there as you would hope or expect it to be, which I don’t think is always the case. But behind the scenes, it’s as good as it is with what you hear out of those speakers. And as I say, the online audience adds that weird dimension of a morning programme, because of course it’s often nighttime for some, or the middle of the night for people who can’t sleep, or it’s drivetime in Hong Kong, for example. That turns it (the show) absolutely on its head!”

A topic that came up during the radio plugging session was how 6music was successfully saved from the BBC’s axe not just by the presenters’ own intervention but the actions of their loyal listeners. I asked Chris from his perspective what it felt like when all of this was going down. “There’s sort of a point of mixed emotions, because the threat to the radio station was a threat to something that I and my colleagues that worked at 6music loved. Everyone that works at 6music is incredibly, ridiculously passionate about the radio station. So that first and foremost was the priority, to work with the listeners as much as possible to save this amazing radio station.

“But then of course it’s your livelihood as well, another important factor, with your family and living. It was an incredibly hard and dark time. But then this amazing listener reaction, revolt and rebellion, it’s like a fairy tale. And the ending, well, it has been a fairy-tale ending. Two years down the line, and audience figures are fantastic, I think the station sounds better than it ever has done, and it’s got great health for the future.”

Chris believes there is a huge consequence on bands specifically of having 6music’s operations no longer solely based around London: “Now that 40% of the station (programmes) is done outside of London, I think it’s a really positive message that the BBC is sending out, that there’s a world outside of London, there are gigs outside of London, that bands don’t need to move to London to get noticed or get heard. When you physically know that a radio station like 6music has a Manchester base, psychologically for anyone who isn’t trying to forge a music career in London, psychogically it’s great to know that there are producers and DJs based in the North West. I think it’s fantastic.”

I go back to his picks from the earlier session for the acts he believes will be the Next Big Thing. New York punks Parquet Courts, who had an astonishing hype build up around them from this year’s SXSW, are one of them. “Parquet Courts, they are just ridiculous, they do all the things that I said earlier (in the session) not to do. They don’t have a Twitter, you can’t find anything about them on Facebook.” I surmise that maybe it’s part and parcel of wanting to be mysterious, which works for some bands but not all of them. “But there’s a fine line between wanting to be mysterious…they (Parquet Courts) provide just enough information, cleverly on a very DIY Web site, on one page, everything you need to know.

“I absolutely adore Chasing Grace. They’re an amazing duo from London…Hertfordshire. They are an indie, almost rooted in folk band, but they also have this kind of dubstep link that’s getting them airplay on 1Xtra and will get on Radio1 as time goes on. They’ve got a record deal with Island now, they’re young guys, really young, really smart, and what they’re doing is painfully of the now. It’s what could be the next big thing. I think they’re fantastic… It’s brilliantly produced, and brilliantly polished, and the buildup has been just right for them, so they’re just starting to make their way. Very soon everyone will know about them.

“There is also a band signed to Mumford and Sons‘ label Communion, they’re called Bear’s Den.” I stop for a moment and smile, explaining to Chris that I’d met the band’s producer, Kris Harris, lead singer of Isle of Sheppey band Story Books, at this year’s SXSW. When I explain that Story Books were one of my highlights of SXSW and he should have a listen to them, he lights up with the mention of such a connection. “I will do (check them out), I love links like that! Communion seems such a tight-knit community. Bear’s Den, I love them, I look forward to hearing much more from them. I think there’s a lot more to come.” Another pick from Chris is Chelmsford’s Wild Combination, “who are electro, very different from that kind of (folk) sound…punchy, sharp, hard in places, but very, very catchy. I would search them out, if you’re vaguely into anything synth-y and electro-ey.”

And there you have it: a couple of bands recommended personally by the Hawk for you to check out. Really, there wouldn’t have been a better way to end this interview. In the radio plugging session earlier that day that Chris was a panelist on, there was much talk about how bands still can get airplay on radio stations like 6music if they submit demos – either as CDRs clearly labelled with the band and track names or emailed as downloadable links with all the information a presenter might need – and catch the eyes and ears of one of their presenters. It’s not just wishful thinking that happens inside the minds of bands. It does happen. Chris, along with a whole army of presenters across Britain, are dedicated to finding the best new music and making sure it will be heard. I for one will always be indebted to Chris and 6music for changing my life, and I hope his and their mission will continue for generations to come and benefit from.

I’d like to thank Chris very much for his time in Liverpool so we could sort this interview. Cheers!

 

Liverpool Sound City 2013 Interview: Chris Hawkins (Part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 28th May 2013 at 11:00 am
 

At this year’s conference portion of Liverpool Sound City 2013, there were loads of sessions I was interested in sitting in on, including one with the unusual title of ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’. A strange mouthful of words, but the panel consisted of some very important heavy hitters from the BBC, last.fm, and Xfm and they were going to discuss how bands could get their music proper radio airplay, something that I’ve always felt would be a beneficial real world extension to all the promotion we do of new bands at TGTF. Unfortunately, the timing of the session coincided with another one that both John and I said we probably should attend – one on how to start creative and digital businesses, should we one day decide to go entirely business legit full time with TGTF – and I recall questioning my Twitter following which they thought was better to attend. Who else should reply to my Tweet but BBC 6music’s own Chris Hawkins? Taken aback by a great of the radio station that has changed the way I’ve viewed music in the last 5 years, it was no contest which session I would attend.

I found the discussion itself very intriguing, on how presenters and producers of radio channels view the radio business these days and how despite illegal downloading affecting record label bottom lines and band profits, radio is surviving – and indeed thriving! – when listeners tune into their favourite programmes and put their faith in their beloved presenters. I was very pleased that before I left America, Mr. Hawkins helpfully agreed to a chat with me when we were in Liverpool. I had to wait a while as the masses went up to Chris to say what big fans they were of his, to give him demos in the hopes that he’d listen to them, to ask for advice on how to make it in the radio industry.

Chris Hawkins interviewI felt somewhat awful, dragging him away from a well-deserved drinks with the others in his crew, but he was such an affable chap to speak with in the bar of the Hilton Liverpool, my worries vanished into thin air. 6music, as many of you know, is my audio lifeline to Britain during my working day, and it’s such an important part of my daily life, I really do not know how I would have coped these past couple of years without it. While I was on holiday in Britain for 3 weeks this May, I couldn’t listen to it at all in any sort of regular schedule because my laptop charger broke 4 days into the trip; to say that I felt lost without my beloved 6 is a huge understatement. I was very pleased to be able to speak with Chris about his work, especially considering that he has championed my friends Van Susans and the Crookes in recent times. This was the first time he attended Sound City and he says he’s been convinced, maybe in some small part by me but surely by the strength of the sessions and the industry people who do make it up to Liverpool, that it’s an event he will attend for sure in future years.

I always thought that being the first presenter in the morning must be a difficult task; I know in Washington, if I’m having a bad commute into work, my eyes are shooting poison arrows into the radio console on my dashboard, and not because I’m mad at whoever presenting, it’s just the situation. So I really wanted to know from Chris how he felt presenting so early in the day. “There is no greater relationship with your audience, with your listeners than first thing in the morning, because you’re all very much in it together. The relationship is like being part of the family with your audience. No-one likes getting up at half past 3 in the morning, which is what I have to do. But once I’m at work, in the studio, I’m as excited about doing the show at that time of the day as I would be doing it at any other time of day.

But I think you have to tailor what you do to what your audience is doing. You’re waking up with your audience. I think the iPlayer and Listen Again facilities are great, but I always think morning shows sound very out of context if you’re listening to them in broad daylight, whereas when I’m starting in the morning, it’s dark outside, and over the course of the 2-hour show, people are opening their curtains, getting in the shower, having their breakfast. And that routine doesn’t change much. So we try not to change the show too much, because we want the audience to know where they’re at any given time, as much as they have their routines. So we want to fit in with them, to have them work their mornings to ideally around the songs and junctions we have on the show.”

I also was curious how a Shropshire lad was fitting in up north, now that his show has moved from London to MediaCity in Manchester. “I lived in London for 15 years, having worked in Western House and then previously at Marylebone High Street, which is where GLR, Greater London Radio was, where I’d come down to London to work there, because it was a radio station with the likes of Danny Baker, Chris Evans, Chris Morris had all worked there, a great radio station that still has a very important piece of a lot of people’s hearts. And then, Western House for 10 years? And then MediaCity, which is an incredible BBC development in the North West.

“It’s unbelievable, the show has gone from strength to strength since we’ve moved. It was a great fresh start for me, and it’s great not least there’s a window in the studio, which is actually very unusual. We can actually see outside! It’s not a boxed room, which is very common in radio and you can actually see through a window what is going on in the real world outside your little booth. And it’s been a fantastic year to be based in the North West, you can become very London-centric and end up talking about tubes and things that outside of London have any concept about. The tube is unique to London, and the things you do in London are very different than the way people’s lives are outside of it.”

Check back here on TGTF for the exciting conclusion of my interview with Chris Hawkins, which posts tomorrow.

 

Liverpool Sound City 2013: Martin’s Day 3 Roundup

 
By on Friday, 17th May 2013 at 3:00 pm
 

Bands of the day: Goonam, Ilona, Night Engine

Venue of the day: Mello Mello

The previous two days of Liverpool Sound City 2013 had seen the music kick off around 6 PM, but as a special Saturday treat, the Korean delegation arranged a showcase at the Kazimier Gardens from the unearthly hour of 2 PM. As well as showcasing four of the country’s finest bands, there was a delicious and in-no-way-an-incentive-to-turn-up spread of native Korean food and drink. Marinated and barbecued pork, chicken and beef vyed for attention with the superb kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish flavoured with chilli, ginger and garlic. To wash it down was a unique cinnamon beverage with pine nuts floating in it, and for those that drink in the afternoon (me!), Korea’s version of dry sherry. All utterly delicious and free of charge. As if that wasn’t enough, there were goody bags packed with promotional materials and traditional Korean wave-in-one’s-face fans – not that they were much needed in breezy Liverpool. I’d like to think I would’ve turned up anyway, but who doesn’t find free food always seals the deal?

Galaxy Express Liverpool Sound City 2013

The music was just as memorable. First up were Galaxy Express, a hard rock power trio whose song titles come translated into English but they actually sing in Korean. No matter, it’s all about the energy with these guys; they know a thing or two about throwing shapes, slinging their vintage guitars all over the place, thrashing their way through their set at top speed. There’s a great deal of skill on offer – anyone remotely interested in rock music should give these guys a listen. Even though I haven’t a clue what they’re on about (a point which holds true for all four Korean bands, for obvious reasons), theirs is a fine, attention-grabbing set.

Goonam Liverpool Sound City 2013

Goonam are brilliant. First of all, the music is just perfect for the laid-back vibe of the afternoon – the lazy rhythms and mock-Hammond organ recall early ’90s Acid Jazz output, the ideal accompaniment for swaying around in the weak early afternoon sunshine, knocking back Korean fortified wine. But the star of the show is the eccentric, perma-grinning bassist ByungHak Eem. Attired in a woman’s yellow-with-black-polka-dots blouse, heavy black shoes that are literally falling apart at the seams, and sporting a fine example of the classic Chinese emperor beard style, Eem’s presence lends the whole set a quite rare frisson of surreal excitement. His stilted explanation of how he came to play with lead singer Ung Joh is described in a charmingly naive accidental haiku:

We meet in karaoke
He sing well, I love him
We make band

There’s a deep vein of subtle, deadpan humour running through everything Goonam do, making it easy to get right behind them. Eem really is the star of the show, his beams lighting up the stage, his theatrical bass-as-machine-gun genuinely amusing. Memorable stuff.

Apollo 18 (pictured at top) are a bit more conventional – another hard rock trio, mostly instrumental this time, they don’t quite have the same amount of accessible personality as the previous two acts. What they do have is high levels of extremely intense noise, which comes as a bit of a shock to the system after the chilled out Goonam. Not quite my cup of SuJeongGwa, but if shredding is your thing, Apollo 18 are worth checking out.

To wrap up the Korean invasion are Gate Flowers: possibly the most intriguing of all the acts today. They’re another guitar-rock band, but far more mainstream this time: a bit like a heavier Counting Crows, and at times the guitarist’s wah-wah technique adds a touch of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The songs are very competent, and the singer’s bizarre hand movements and “anti-singing” technique are captivating in their own way, but I can’t help but think that if they were British or American they wouldn’t particularly stand out as ones to watch.

After Gate Flowers finish their main set, the crowd are hungry for more, so they kick into a cover of ‘Paint It Black’, at which point the stage is invaded by members of the three previous bands, who proceed to plug in and jam along. As the stage becomes more crowded, things get messier, with singers sharing every available microphone, guitar solos played whilst hoisted on someone else’s shoulders, and our friend Hak standing on a speaker waving an empty sherry bottle and mugging for the multitude of video cameras surrounding him. A drunken outdoor Korean rock supergroup party jam – not something that you see every day.

Ilona Liverpool Sound City 2013

In between sets of Korean music, I headed for a swift break to Mello Mello, the location of Thursday’s triumph from The Oreoh!s, and dispenser of the finest beer of the festival, a heavily-hopped American-style IPA. At 6% ABV this beer is a special treat, and no sooner had I tucked into my half, the realisation dawned that there was another special treat in the room. Ilona is a Bulgarian-born, London-based singer-songwriter, who stands out from the enormous crowd of similar hopefuls by being tremendous fun to watch and listen to. Being sparsely accompanied by mentor and co-writer Tony Moore is an advantage here, as it lets the natural character in Ilona’s voice shine through. And what a voice – sumptuous and sultry at low volume, powerful and beautifully-toned at normal range, with a buzz-saw intensity rasping through when the song demands it. As for the songs… recent release ‘Love is Stupid’ is clearly gunning for the Radio 2 crowd, but it may be a little too hackneyed even for that ultra-mainstream demographic – by the time the third chorus comes around, I’m switching off. And don’t get me started on the cheap video. Elsewhere, the set is jolly enough to hold the interest, but her Alannah Myles-style voice is crying out for something of the quality of Black Velvet (if she wants to stick with the pop-rock genre), or maybe, since she comes across as Marina Diamandis’ feisty younger sister, something quirky and electro. Either way, it has to be acknowledged that this is very early days for Ilona, and her collaborators are doing their best with limited means to promote her talents. A performer dripping with potential.

Willy Moon Liverpool Sound City 2013

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Willy Moon since reviewing his debut single “I Wanna Be Your Man” in our 10 for 2012 feature, and declaring, “If those dance moves translate well to a stage, he’ll be an unmissable prospect live.” However, the sad truth is that he turns out to be the greatest disappointment of the weekend. It doesn’t help that he’s 40 minutes late, in a roasting hot venue, making the crowd restless and perturbed before a note is played. And when Moon arrives, it becomes clear that his set consists of a handful of stunted backing tracks, overlaid with live drums and guitar, and his gyrating karaoke. More worryingly, he appears to have no personality whatsoever, struggling to string enough words together to thank the audience for sticking around in the equatorial heat, let alone provide a compelling reason why we all should have gathered here in the first place. The final straw is the deep streak of misogyny running through the performance – the two other musicians are women, with the drummer particularly scantily clad in a fishnet top, and he regularly gurns leeringly at them, sometimes mopping his sweat-caked brow on the guitarist’s shoulder. They must have the patience of saints. When the best thing about a music performance is the drummer’s jiggling breasts, you know something has gone seriously wrong, as evidenced by the room steadily emptying as the show progresses. Moon needs to completely rethink his stage show, get some proper songs, proper manners, and a proper personality, otherwise people will increasingly come to view him as a hollow charlatan.

Night Engine Liverpool Sound City 2013

Night Engine, despite only having released their début single (‘Seventeen’, on lovely limited edition red vinyl) just a couple of months ago, have already managed to conjure a reputation for being the next big thing. The Shipping Forecast is hot and humid, and technical problems delay the start of the gig; thus the atmosphere builds feverishly before even a note is played. But when the band finally kick off, it becomes apparent that Night Engine are good. Actually, make that very good indeed. This is sharp, elegant, guitar music with an irresistible, pristine groove from the exquisitely tight rhythm section, overlaid with splurges of fuzzy synth. Phil McDonnell is a disturbingly intense presence on vocals and lead guitar – his selection of glares and stares as the music ratchets up the drama simply add to the intensity of the performance. But it’s not all serious – there’s a gleeful joy in the grooves that prevents everything collapsing under the weight of its own portent. The obvious stylistic reference point is Bowie’s early-80s funk-influenced output; there’s elements of Chic in the clean stabs of electric guitar, and perhaps even Kraftwerk in the metronomic accuracy of the rhythms. But most of all, they simply sound like Night Engine, which for such a young act is an astonishing achievement.

And that, give or take a humdrum Delphic performance here, or the ubiquitous ukulele covers band there, is that. Liverpool Sound City is a world-class place to discover new music, new friends, and new beer. There’s talk of it becoming as important as SXSW on the international music scene, and I see no reason why that should not be the case. That said, SXSW is, by virtue of being on another continent, an event with a completely different promotional demographic, meaning Sound City is an event with few real competitors, despite several other regional music festivals happening around the same time. Add to the mix the superb venues and the warm welcome experienced by every visitor to Liverpool, and you have quite a fine event indeed, and one which deserves to go from strength to strength. See you there in 2014.

 
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