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Deer Shed Festival 2017: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Tuesday, 1st August 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Words and photos by Martin Sharman, formerly Head Photographer at TGTF

A rain shower of ferocious but mercifully short intensity awoke all but the most persistent party heads at breakfast time. Saturday is the traditional time when the kids are raring to make a mess and have a party with the smorgasbord of stuff laid on for them, so off we go. There’s crafts galore: painting pots, making milk bottle faces, sewing ra-ra skirts, and creating robot faces out of cardboard boxes. For the little ones, there’s storytelling, and not just your average bedtime effort: this rendition of Bear Hunt ended up in a toddler foam party. Don’t try this at home, kids. Honestly, please don’t. For the older ones, the science tent is where it’s at. There’s countless electronic experiments to take part in, from making basic circuits on cardboard bases, to soldering more complex ones, to taking a screwdriver and a hammer to an enormous pile of obsolete consumer electronics. Music-wise, there was a competition to see who could sing the longest note (I had my eye on the top prize but had to settle for third with 42 seconds), and a multitude of analogue synth and beginners’ DJ classes. The racket from which, as you can imagine, makes the science tent quite an intense experience. Misophonics should steer clear.

Deer Shed 2017

The theme for this year was the Wilderwild, which introduced a completely new area of the festival, devoted to the natural world and humans’ place within it. There was all manner of wild pastimes to have a go at: a stall devoted to a love of hedgehogs, where you could make one out of a pine cone; an actual blacksmith where you could make your own horseshoe in case your steed had lost one; the seemingly innocuous but actually very messy chance to model clay; and a brilliant method of making fire from sticks, which actually works, but is a bit more involved than just rubbing a couple of twigs together. We made a dream catcher. We missed the den building and the live theatre so can only imagine their wondrous delights. In short, what a brilliant and appropriate addition to the festival and one can only hope it becomes a permanent fixture.

Bands-wise, October Drift were impressively active in their morning slot (Teenage Fanclub take note), their proggy songs suddenly jerking into life a bleary early crowd. The Big Moon were brilliant as always and continue the tradition of excellent lady-bands at Deer Shed. Roddy Woomble was the highlight of many people’s weekend with his off-kilter guitar pop.

Happyness at Deer Shed 2017

Stop the press for Happyness. Not satisfied by their performance on Friday night, they were pressed into service for another performance to substitute for a sadly absent booking. And in the flesh they were the best I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen them a lot. In this writer’s opinion, they are the best art-rock band in the country right now; their offering of surrealist, downtempo art-rock is utterly perfect – there was some involvement of the legs from a high-street window mannekin, and of course scalping Win Butler – they’ve added a keyboard player now but still there is no finer afternoon festival experience than the inscrutable minimalism that is Happyness. They don’t seem that happy but that’s how I end up when I see them. Well done.

The return of Ibibio Sound Machine is a glory to behold. Bringing a flash of African colour to the North Yorkshire countryside, their mere presence is a joyous, uplifting affair – add to that that they play a wonderful mashup of traditional African rhythms, funk, soul, and electro, and further still that singer Eno Williams wears shoulder pads so impressive you could serve Sunday lunch on them, and you have the recipe for a classic Deer Shed appearance. Tea time on Saturday is the musical crescendo of the festival for many: either kids for whom bed isn’t far away, or the parents that have to return to the tent to look after them. To experience such a blast of positivity and extroversion should be the way we all prepare for a decent night’s slumber.

[Those averse to a rant, or are in favour or Ms Kate Tempest should skip the next three paragraphs. You have been warned.]

The worst way to be woken from such repose would be by the awful racket that comes out of Kate Tempest’s mouth, so what better way to drown it out than another droning cacophony: that of a heavy rainstorm atop canvas? Which is exactly what happened. For the exact duration of her set – no shorter, no longer – the heavens gave the site a thorough drenching. Deer Shed themselves reviewed her performance as prophetic. How? Their review was written only the day after. Had anything she prophesied already come true? Did she predict the rain? Does a black cloud follow her around? Or maybe she’s prophetic in the more general sense of being a prophet: a modern-day Chicken Licken who’s come to tell us how awful we all are and how shit the world is. According to the festival, being subjected to “an apocalyptic epic poem about the pain and suffering inflicted on the most deprived members of society” is a fun way to spend a Saturday night, and apparently the pouring rain actually enhanced the experience. The sky is falling! Wicked, man! Blame the Tories!

It’s a truism that one person’s champion of the disenfranchised is another person’s dreary propagandist, and for this writer Kate Tempest falls firmly into the second category. So we have a situation exactly like Billy Bragg in 2015: at least half the festival have NOTHING TO SEE at what should be the climax of the entire weekend. Why Deer Shed should repeat the mistake of headlining a divisive, politically-charged, minimalist solo artist who’s made a career entirely out of invoking leftier-than-thou middle-class guilt at the exact time when everyone should be united in one big pillow of funky togetherness absolutely fails to compute. Moreover, Tempest is a hypocrite of the highest order – she moans about “the gulf that separates us” whilst by her own presence creating that very gulf; she quite shamelessly complains about “ugly words in public spaces” – I couldn’t think of a better way to describe her own perverse, monotone streams of consciousness. I come to festivals for respite from the turbulent political landscape, not to have it thrust before me. I come to festivals to experience beauty and optimism; hers is an ugly, hopeless world. Most importantly, I come to festivals to have fun, and Tempest is no fun at all. The triumphs of Darwin Deez, Johnny Marr and Richard Hawley are but mocking memories.

Apparently the reasoning for the Tempest booking is to attract more “young people” to the festival. Which is deeply patronising and didn’t work out anyway: every person I spoke to, of all ages and shoe sizes, could sum up their opinion of Tempest as “meh”. And is it just me, or are there already more children here than at every other festival in the land? Perhaps by young people they mean young adults, in which case I would have thought that that age have ample choice in the festival market, and to try and attract a group who the vast majority of your usual demographic are paying you good money to avoid, would be something of a mistake. The Big Chill tried that and look what happened to them. The “young adult” that I bumped into who was complaining about losing his block of hashish before promptly consuming most of a discarded and grassy cardboard plate of cold pasta with his bare hands could hardly be called Deer Shed’s target market. Stick to what, and who, you know.

At any rate, the potential disappointment for losing a Saturday headliner was tempered by the fact I didn’t have to get wet listening to them, and that the Obelisk stage actually worked this time. By which I mean the post-Tempest brilliance of Aelfen, who are secretly a heavy metal act disguised as a folk band – they started off innocuously enough, but by the end of their set the tent was rocking. Good stuff. Marc Riley took over for a bit, playing a predictable but nonetheless rewarding set of classic tunes: lots of ‘80s, some Prince, Bowie, et al.

And then – stop the press! – some actual DJing from Manchester-based collective Across the Tracks. Of course you never see real vinyl these days, but these guys were the next best thing, beatmatching like the experts they are, wrangling perfect mixes from the tabled Pioneers. For a while the tent was properly grooving and whooping to a very competent house music set, and finally there was a reason for the “Rave” definition that the programme had so tantalisingly promised. Deer Shed was finally letting its hair down, which is really all we ask of it.

As I left the Obelisk tent, the rain was falling. The ground was slippery mud. Tomorrow could be challenging.

Across the Tracks at Deer Shed

 

Deer Shed Festival 2017: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 31st July 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Words and photos by Martin Sharman, formerly Head Photographer at TGTF, except where noted

If last year’s Deer Shed was the impeccably-behaved child who eats with their knife and fork and never speaks with their mouth full, 1 year on that same child is bigger, a bit more difficult to get on with, but still manages to bring joy in virtually unlimited quantities when they’re on their best behaviour. The first signs of growing pains come when we are introduced to a brand new parking field, easily doubling the distance ‘twixt vehicle and pitch. Still a modest trek in comparison to some, but the extra luggage distance is a sure-fire recipe for sore arms. The new field was needed because the camping areas have been enlarged at the expense of parking spaces, meaning that there’s almost too much camping space: there’s acres of room, so nobody has to camp near anyone they don’t want to.

Deer Shed 2017 signpost

It was sunny.

On Friday, the dulcet melodies of Happyness (of whom more later) and Honeyblood (a brilliant two-girl Scottish duo of various grungey textures) spill on the gentle breeze as we have line-of-sight of the main stage from the campsite: such luxury!) But by the time airbeds are firmed, John Shuttleworth is the unanimous choice for first act in person. His deadpan delivery is spot on, as always. The “soundcheck” joke deserves to be repeated at stages across the land, and in his delivery of such postmodern classics as ‘Two Margarines’ and ‘I Can’t Go Back to Savoury Now’ live the ghosts of such diverse entertainers as Les Dawson and Fred Dibnah.

John Shuttleworth by photographer Simon Godley for Deer Shed Festival
John Shuttleworth by photographer Simon Godley for Deer Shed Festival

Kids are dispatched, and it’s time to finally see Teenage Fanclub live after many a year of listening to them on record. I believe they were alive, just, although from the one-dimensional dynamic built from the same metronomic handful of chords played in slightly different orders, it was difficult to be sure they were fully awake. The breathless fanboyism of Deer Shed’s own review tells a different story, but let’s set the record straight here: unless your idea of fun is watching the result of an accountants’ team-building session shuffling around a stage, stick to their recorded oeuvre.

It was still dry.

Teenage Fanclub by photographer Simon Godley for Deer Shed Festival
Teenage Fanclub by photographer Simon Godley for Deer Shed Festival

This was mentioned back in 2015, but it bears repeating now: presumably in an effort to swell the audience for a headliner who needs such assistance, there is nothing scheduled elsewhere on the site during the final main stage band. There was little point in escaping Fanclub so they received the benefit of the doubt and a full viewing in case they got going a bit towards the end (they didn’t). The Obelisk tent is Deer Shed’s traditional late-night party venue, and it kicks off just after the headliners finish around 11 o’clock. Revellers flock there to continue the party, in the hope of a fresh beverage and some tunes of increasing intensity.

The former: yes, the latter: not so much. Bryde is excellent in her own way, with a beautiful breathy voice and songs of drama and poise. I wouldn’t mind her in the sun earlier in the day, but in essence she’s just a girl with a guitar, at gone 11 at night, when there’s nothing else on and everyone wants at least a boogie, basically. And after her there’s another solo singer/songwriter, Lewis Bootle, who I like less. His patois-hip-singing is annoying and falls far short of satisfying an increasingly impatient crowd. They’ve even taken away the piano that’s been in the corner of the bar for Sheds past. Sacrilege! (I’d find it the next day, looking damp and forlorn, abandoned on the grass some way outside the tent. With the lid locked shut.)

Someone faffs around with a mixer for ages and finally, well past midnight, some danceable music comes on. Nothing special mind, just an indie disco basically, but it’ll do. They say you make your own entertainment, however, so meanwhile all number of just-about-remembered faces from festivals gone by are reacquainted, along with some new ones (shout out to Jen, Billie, Alex, Chris, Neil… and all those others whose names I’ve forgotten), so a night in the Obelisk is always memorable. But please, Deer Shed, can you schedule something upbeat every night as soon as the main stage ends? Many thanks.

It still hadn’t rained as I crawled into bed.

 

(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Album Review: Happyness – Write In

 
By on Tuesday, 4th April 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Happyness Write In album coverOne of the most overused cliches in music writing is the term ‘sophomore slump’. It’s pretty much a no go for any writer worth their salt, so when talking about a band’s second album you have to get creative, much like the band themselves. London’s Happyness are a band who are seemingly deep into the idea of not giving a fuck. Following 2014’s ‘Weird Little Birthday’, an album that was as deep as wandering the metaphorical streets in a daze was always going to be a hard task. There’s only so much slacker daze rock you can create without just ending up going in circles, which, unfortunately they pretty much do on this new album.

‘Write In’ opens with ‘Falling Down’, a track that makes you want a whole 2 minutes until you even hear singer Jonny Allan mutter a word. A bold move, but one that is repeated over and over, something that eventually grinds on you after four or five tracks. Sure, slacker rock is what it is, seemingly effortless yet tactile in its execution, but it always leaves you feeling unsatisfied. Track two, ‘The Reel Starts Again [Man Overboard]’, is perhaps the record’s most accomplished moment, which is a shame because that means the LP has peaked so early. Utilising piano, Southern style guitar slides and laid-back romantic vocals, it feels like the soundtrack to a montage scene in a rom-com. A very specific analogy, but one you can try out yourself at home with a muted film.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpyecEkrg2s[/youtube]

Writing the entire record off as a repetitive throwaway would be unjust. There are moments that moderately deviate from the spectrum such as ‘Through Windows’, which is a piano-led number with beautifully layered vocals. If you’re a follower of Happyness, you’ll recognise a couple of the tracks such as ‘Anna, Lisa Calls’ and ‘Tunnel Vision On Your Part’, both of which featured on the band’s previous EP. The latter track closes this full length and does so with a beauty that’s lost on the rest of the record. These are moments that do their best to stand out, but to close it out with an effortlessly beautiful track like this is tantamount to eating a gobstopper and finding the nice bit in the middle.

As a full length album, it has its moments, but ultimately this is quite a slog to listen too. Happyness could do with adding an extra element to their sound, be it a tempo faster than that of a resting heart rate or a break in the monotony of the vocals. It should also be said that some may find the throwback aspect of their sound moderately appealing. There’s a harkening back to the late Eighties and early Nineties with the production, which is a pleasing novelty. The elements are all there, but the band fail to really push them into any real solid development. Slacker rock can only go so far before it folds in on itself and becomes counter-productive.

4/10

Happyness’ second album ‘Write In’ is out this Friday, the 7th of April, on Moshi Moshi Records in the Uk and Bar/None in North America. They just appeared at SXSW 2017 in Austin. For more on Happyness on TGTF, go here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RopxSLkLosY[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: how to see five bands in 1 hour, or editor Mary’s method to smash SXSW (Thursday night, part 1) – 16th March 2017

 
By on Monday, 3rd April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

If your intention during your time at SXSW is to catch as many bands as possible, you’re in luck. Many of SXSW’s venues are close together. Usually the bigger problem is navigating around the people who aren’t as bothered from getting from point A to point B as you are. That’s avoidable if you detour around 6th Street. Is FOMO still a thing? Maybe everyone who is experiencing it just isn’t announcing it on the internet every 5 seconds.

If the terrible feeling does come over you, I have a solution for those I who worry they might be missing out on the Next Big Thing. It’s not for everyone and certainly not for the faint of heart, so put on your big boy/girl pants and buckle up. I’m going to tell you how I saw 5 bands in the span of 1 hour Thursday evening, and I will provide a few ‘rules’ on how to smash SXSW. None of the venues I visit in this summary were on 6th Street proper, so I feel like a bit of a champ rereading my schedule for the night.

Rule #1: Like switching the radio station or cueing up a new song on your favourite streaming service before the previous song finishes, leaving in the middle of a set, at least to old hands at this, is not only expected but to some extent, even encouraged. Be considerate to the performers and depart quietly to minimise blocking of the view of your fellow punters. Watching a pop band and not feeling it? Step outside, go down the street, and poke your head in to the next club and get some better dance or rock into you. You’ll find it, and it won’t be far.

Rule #2: Embrace venues that have one entrance and two stages to maximise your time in a venue while minimising your time in a queue. Barracuda (formerly Red 7 a few years ago), Scratchouse (formerly Holy Mountain), Cheer Up Charlie’s, Empire Control Room and its associated Garage (not to be confused with the Mazda behemoth set up this year) and the Mohawk are great examples of this.

So is Tellers, where I saw my first two bands of the night, clambering up the stairs, thinking that’s where I was supposed to be. This is where I happened upon The Gift from Portugal, and what a unique surprise they were. An astounding supporter of the band and as well as collaborator is Brian Eno: he cowrote and has produced songs from their latest album ‘Altar’. It appears his golden touch has already translated to a lot of positive attention for the group.

The Gift, Planetary Group showcase, Tellers, Thursday 16 March 2017

If you walked into the room not knowing anything about the band like I did, you’d probably think, “Liza Minnelli! Cabaret!” looking at camp frontwoman Sonia Tavares, looking vaguely gypsy-ish and like she stepped out of a ‘20s film. Yes, the keyword here is ‘theatrical’. The music started, with thumping disco beats and shiny synthpop. Evidently, the hype has extended its reach as far as The Great Escape, as the Portuguese band are headed there in May. Pencil them into your schedule, you have been advised.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMcSvtA4cqI[/youtube]

The Fontaines, Planetary Group showcase, Tellers, Thursday 16 March 2017

Creaking back down the stairs at Tellers, I resumed back on my planned schedule to see brother-sister act The Fontaines on the lower level of the two stages Planetary Group had curated for the evening. The four member, self-described ‘new-wop’ act barely fit on the small squarish stage, but this did nothing to deter singer Charlotte Fontaine, resplendent in red garb, from giving it her all in her performance. Conjuring up the soulfulness of Etta James and looking as sultry as Marilyn Monroe, it was a bit of a (good) head trip. Accompanied with their bass-heavy sound bringing the funk and things back to present day, what’s not to love? Tipped by me and Tidal ahead of them going out to SXSW, I reckon this band has a bright future ahead.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wGREc6huxs[/youtube]

Rule #3: Embrace and accept the stage delays and unexpected performers you come across. See my further thoughts on the Wednesday evening at Elysium, where the KCRW showcase was running behind schedule. Learn the art of chilling out. Scratchouse had taken over for the night by the Kosha Dillz Presents: Oy Vey showcase. Yes, Kosha Dillz is a meshuggeneh who funnily enough worked his way onto this 6 Music programme of Steve Lamacq’s from 2 weeks ago. A DJ was on the indoor stage when I arrived instead of who I was expecting…

Thankfully, there wasn’t too long of a wait for Los Angeles electropop Smoke Season to start. With their soulful tunes and wide smiles, Gabrielle Wortman and Jason Rosen seemed to be oblivious to the fact that people were still shuffling into the venue. They went for it and were soon rewarded for their dynamic show, with keyboardist Wortman putting her voice through its paces.

Smoke Season, Kosha Dillz Presents: Oy Vey, Scratchouse, Thursday 16 March 2017

Let’s be real, there are tons of electropop groups out there right now, so what sets Smoke Season apart? Wortman’s lead vocals – not to mention her firey ginger hair you can see from a mile away – can turn on a dime, from sultry and slow burning when she wants them to be, to delicate and wispy, to emphatic in a take charge kind of way. If you’re a girl and you’ve ever wanted to be a singer, chances are her voice (with all its quirks) is the kind you’ve always wanted. (If you were wondering, my particular alto range makes this impossible, sob!) As a complete package, I find Smoke Season exciting because they’re not a one-trick pony. Equally good at dreamy numbers (‘Emilia’) just as well as more complex, in your face pop tunes (‘Loose’), I found it hard to pull myself away from their set. But as they say, sometimes needs must.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN2pL4pPcC0[/youtube]

Rule #2 was invoked again when I swung back west on 7th Street to Barracuda, where the Secretly Group showcase was also just coming to life. I’d seen Alex Lahey the day before at the StubHub / Culture Collide showcase at Banger’s, where she played in front of hundreds of people swilling beer and munching sausages at picnic tables. I was convinced her performance be different at an evening show, and I was at least right about the vibe. The slacker silliness and rapid fire lyrics of ‘Weekend’ worked better in full sun than it did at night, but it was still came off as fun. You just got the feeling an open-air festival would be a better venue for her.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDBqxBbdWS8[/youtube]

Rule #4: Know when to leave – or better yet, not even join – the long queue. SXSW old timers like me know that you can waste a lot of time queuing to get into venues when you could be elsewhere, seeing a band and knocking back a drink. While there are times you’ll want to queue for your most favourite artists, know when you spot a queue that’s around down the street and many people deep (example: Rag ‘n’ Bone Man opening Friday night at the British Music Embassy) and make a quick decision to bolt if you conclude you don’t have a chance in hell of getting in. Related to this: instead of chasing the big names and the crowds, head for a less busy venue you know you’ll be able to get in so you’ll definitely see a band. Result!

Except for James Vincent McMorrow in 2015 there, we’ve never had a problem getting into and around the inside of Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room (not to be confused with the usually more busy Maggie Mae’s proper and Maggie Mae’s Rooftop). London slackers Happyness, who are gearing up to release their second album ‘Write-in’ on Moshi Moshi in the UK, were appearing on their American label Bar/None’s night there.

Happyness, Bar/None Records showcase, Maggie Mae's Gibson Room, Thursday 16 March 2017

I’ve always liked them much better on record, and I’m a little confused with what seems like a new direction to me. While still embracing the lo-fi sensibility from their previous LP ‘Weird Little Birthday’, I’m not following the Brian Wilson-y meets shoegazing style they’ve now embraced. Jonny Allan in a baseball cap further made me think, okay, so they’re chilled out dad rock now? Mind numbing. This was Thursday night, and most everyone in the room was sitting down. I’m not saying I need to headbang or dance every second when at SXSW, but as Simon Raymonde quipped at his talk at the convention center the next day, “I don’t love it.”

Running around Austin to catch as many bands as you can in an hour isn’t for everyone. But given the carnival of crazy SXSW is, I hope I’ve convinced you it is doable.

 

(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Video of the Moment #2262: Happyness

 
By on Friday, 13th January 2017 at 6:00 pm
 

London lo-fi group Happyness are heading out to SXSW 2017 and Austin for a second time in March. Though you might think lo-fi rockers would be slackers by their laid-back sound, this trio has been hard at work over the last year. Back in September, they released the ‘Tunnel Vision on Your Part’ EP, which featured the opening track ‘Anna, Lisa Calls’, which we featured in this previous Live Gig Video feature here.

Now they’ve announced the release date for their sophomore album, the follow-up to 2014’s now beloved ‘Weird Little Birthday’. ‘Write-In’ will be released on Moshi Moshi in the UK and Bar/None in America on the 7th of April, just a few weeks after their appearance at the big dance in Austin. For an early taste of their upcoming second album, have a watch and listen to lead single ‘Falling Down’ just below. To read more on Happyness on TGTF, come right this way.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpyecEkrg2s[/youtube]

 

Live Gig Video: Happyness preview upcoming EP with opening track ‘Anna, Lisa Calls’

 
By on Wednesday, 7th September 2016 at 4:00 pm
 

Happyness are doing their part to continue the lo-fi tradition that’s proven so popular as of late. They’ll be releasing their newest material in less than 2 weeks. The ‘Tunnel Vision on Your Part’ EP will be released on the 23rd of September on Moshi Moshi. As per usual in the past, the guys have a winsome description for the EP’s opening track, ‘Anna, Lisa Calls’:

This is our first phone call song and our 5th song in E major. We wrote it one day in the studio in June and recorded it straight away – I think we were going for a kind of Traveling Wilburys thing. Also we felt like we hadn’t put a synth in a song for a while, so there’s a synth.

To celebrate the release of the new EP, the London trio have unveiled this live performance of the song, which you watch below. There’s also an intriguing, Pixies at their most melodic kind of feeling to it. Which begs the question, which Happyness are we going to get on the new EP? We’ll have to wait until the 23rd to find out.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ_dg6Sswvs[/youtube]

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours 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 no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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