Posts Tagged ‘alternative’

Cruel Nature Records – 9th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Cruel Nature clearly aren’t going for a major cash-in with this release, a 12-years-after-the-fact album containing the final recordings of a band who, while building a cult national following during their existence between 2002 and 2008, were predominantly a local phenomenon in their stomping grounds around Gateshead. Which means you may be forgiven for not being entirely au fait with Marzuraan and their work, of if you haven’t been o the edge of your seat and dripping with anticipation for this limited-to-75-copes cassette compendium.

For those not up to speed (and I’ll include myself here), the potted history of Marzuraan is that they started out as the duo of Pete Burn (guitar) and Lee Stokoe (Culver) (bass) before evolving into a full band with the introduction of Rob Woodcock (drums) and Stu Ellen (voice). ‘Taking their cue from bands such as Melvins; Black Flag; Harvey Milk; Earth; Godflesh and Loop, they soon cemented themselves as a pivotal band in the North East’s burgeoning Drone-rock / Trudge-core scene. Revered locally with a strong cult following nationally, they released 3 studio albums, appeared on countless compilations and split records influencing bands such as Bong and Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, before disbanding in 2008’. The title, therefore, is on point and self-aware to the max. But t’s never too late, right?

The recordings here – apart from two tracks which featured on an obscure compilation and split 7” back in the day – represent their final cuts, dating back to 2005 and 2006, and they’ve lain neglected in the proverbial vaults ever since.

But if anything, the timing couldn’t be better: what goes around comes around, and heavy music is very much enjoying a renaissance right now, and the north-east scene is also thriving thanks to various acts associated with microlabels represented by Cruel nature and Panurus Recordings.

It’s the seven-minute ‘Morphine Waterfall’ from the Mare Nero compilation that introduces the release, and it’s a dislocated, angular dirge of a tune that plods and trudges disconsolately through barren territory that alludes to early Swans and 90s Touch and Go, along with peer obscuritants like Oil Seed Rape and Zoopsia: it’s grunge distilled and chilled to sub-zero and as it builds toward the end, the guitars become increasingly discordant, while the snarling, rapping vocal becomes increasingly desperate.

It’s Tar and Girls Against Boys that come to mind through the low-end murk of the chunky riff grind of ‘Golden Roman’, and everything is there for a killer tune but the recording, despite having been remastered last year prior to release. It’s as muddy as hell. It doesn’t actually detract, for what I’s worth, and in many ways is integral to the gritty, lo-fi charm.

It very much sets the level: ‘Muckbucket’ and ‘Blowin’ Cool Breeze’ are built around thumping, repetitive riffs, but the guitars are trebly and skew off at divergent angles.

The final track, ‘Moneybox’, which previously featured on a record split with SINK is a doomy trudge that pushes the influence of early Melvins to the fore as it crawls in a sea of howling feedback and a 23bpm percussive trudge that’s paired with a gut-quiveringly downtuned bass. It’s ace. If you can cope with infinite suspense between drum beats and the striking of a single chord, that is.

Ten Years Too Late shows that Marzuraan were both a band of their time, and a band ahead of their time, sounding utterly contemporary now. Maybe it’s time for a reunion…

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Christopher Nosnibor

In what has been a difficult time for small venues – meaning it’s also been a difficult time for bands who aren’t massive to get gigs – The Fulford Arms in York has gone from strength to strength and while other venues have – sadly – come and gone in the city they’re not only still here, but have built an admirable reputation.

The fact it’s independent and well-run (that is to say professional but also wonderfully friendly), has great sound, and decent beer at the more affordable end of pub prices counts for a lot. That they cater to a remarkably broad range of audiences is another key: it’s easy to stick to tried-and-tested crowd-pleasers like tribute acts or be a ‘rock’ venue, but often to diminishing returns. It’s the only venue in the city you’ll find oddball electronic nights, big-name acts, local acoustic artists, and spoken word events in a single week. Their accommodating approach to new and unusual acts has made the place a real hub for the city’s music scene.

Tonight’s show marks the sixth anniversary of the venue being taken over by its current owners, Christopher Sherrington and Chris Tuke, and it’s very much a celebration of everything that makes The Fulford Arms a great venue. The lineup is very much focused on local acts, and celebrates the diversity of bands active in and around York right now.

Early doors, Miles. sees multi-instrumentalist Michael Donnelly follow the trajectory of his previous band, Epilogues, to a more minimal end. Oh stage, he’s a striking figure, with floppy fringe, specs, above-ankle trews: he’s an 80s/90s hybrid visually, but musically, his delicately-crafted songs are of no specific time, and are perhaps even worthy of being described as timeless. Subtle ambient drones and throbs provide depth to his understated picked acoustic guitar and magnificent soaring vocals on introspective, emotion-rich songs.

Miles

Miles.

Kids today! With their shit clothes and shit music, not like in my day… You hear it all the time, and not just from crotchety old bastards who remember when punk broke, or even slightly less old bastards who remember when grunge broke, but from people barely in their 30s. That may be true of the crap that gets played on the radio, but beyond the mainstream, we’re in a time where the guitars are getting louder, heavier, denser than ever. And REDFYRN go all out for loud, heavy, and dense, with a breathtaking juxtaposition of floating ethereal folky vocals and punishing sludgy/grunge riffs, with comparisons to Big | Brave and Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard not being unjustified, although there’s also a more direct grunge-orientated aspect to their sound, which is more than straight stoner / doom / sludge and all the better for it. Apart from the bassist, they look pretty straight, especially the drummer, but looks are deceptive. They’re heavy and mega-riffy from the first chord, and when they announce the third song as being heavier, they’re not wrong: the bass positively barks and snarls its way through a grating grind of guitar before spinning into an extended blues jam by way of a midsection.

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REDFYRN

Percy don’t piss about. They’ve been at it long enough that they can pretty much plug ‘n’ play, and you pretty much know what you’re going to get from one of the most consistent bands on the circuit: workmanlike is by no means an insult in context of their Fall-influenced kitchen sink grouchfests. Does the delivery help or hinder? It’s probably appealing and offputting in equal measure – like they give a fuck. In so many ways, it’s business as usual for them: tight even when loose, scratchy guitars clang over busy rhythms as Andy Wiles, centre stage on bass throws all the Peter Hook poses. And they’ve got some cracking tunes: in fact, the current set is bursting with them, and it’s apparent that something has changed in the Percy camp of late, and they’re producing the best songs of their career right now. They really step up the intensity on the Fall-does-dance Middle Class Revolt style ‘Rubbernecking in the UK’ followed by the fiery politicking ‘Will of the People’, which ends in a squeal of feedback. They seem more energised than at any point in the last 20 years, and this is probably the best I’ve seen them in all the years since I first caught them back in 97 or 98.

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Percy

My Wonderful Daze take the stage with the guys looking doomy in smeared makeup. My notes for the evening peter out rapidly at this point as ‘m lost in the performance: the band have an incredible dynamic. Amalgamating some hefty grunge with a deftly accessible side, with bursts of noise and fury erupting from simmering tension they’re in some respects quintessential alt-rock, but don’t sound quite like any other band around. Raw but melodic, and with a compelling focal point in the form of Flowers who channels a gamut of emotional range, they’re solid and exciting at the same time.

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My Wonderful Daze

Cowgirl are a fitting headliner, and so very representative of the core of the York scene, featuring the ubiquitous local legend Danny Barton (who must be in or have been in at least two dozen acts who’ve garnered some appreciation in their hometown and beyond) and another former Federal Sam Coates. He’s sporting some heinous tassels on a fawn suede coat, and a bootlace tie. Who on earth wears those these days? The look is somewhat at odds with the band’s Pavementy slacker indie rock, but they’ve got the tunes and the knack of delivery. A lot of it’s the confidence of seasoned performers, but equally, a lot of it’s down to tidy songwriting, and these guys can kick ‘em out effortlessly and copiously. The penultimate song of set is an extended psych workout that’s not only a departure but the highlight of the performance because it’s good to see them cut loose.

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Cowgirl

What do you say to round off a night like this? There should probably be a pithy one-liner, but I’m all out: the Titanic Plum Porter is top-notch and I tumble out into the cold January night with its full moon, happy that things are good on the scene in York, and that while there may be infinite shit to wade through in life and in 2020, The Fulford Arms will continue to provide an oasis of musical joy.

Christopher Nosnibor

Some bands, you only dream of seeing. Others, not even that: the possibility doesn’t even exist as a bubble of thought, for one reason or another. As one of the most wilfully obscure acts to emerge from the early 90s scene, Trumans Water have forever existed in the latter category.

After achieving a certain cult cred in the music press with their first three releases after John Peel went ape over their debut, Of Thick Tum, which he played in full in release in 1992, they seemed to deliberately sidestep the limelight with the series of improvised Godspeed albums on minor labels, and after departing Homestead after 1995’s Milktrain to Paydirt album, they more or less seemed to vanish into the underground of their own volition. There’s a certain logic to this: their last album was released nine years ago on Asthmatic Kitty Records, and probably sold about as many cops as my last book., even though Drowned in Sound were nice about it. And so they’re playing at Wharf Chambers in Leeds, which has a capacity of maybe 100 while they tour for the first time in ages to support nothing as far as I can tell. It all seems quite fitting.

It’s a killer lineup, too.

Husband and wife duo Pifco crank out noise that’s pure Dragnet era Fall, and they’ve got the 3R’s (that’s Repetition, Repetition, Repetition) nailed, with dissonance and scratchy guitar clanging over motorik but hectic drumming .

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Pifco

This is the third time I’ve seen Bilge Pump this year after the Leeds legends returned to the fray after some time out. They haven’t been anything less than outstanding on the previous occasions, and it’s a record they maintain tonight. It’s no their first time supporting Trumans Water, and they’re very much a complimentary act that sit between the cyclical repetitions of Pifco and the jarring angularity of the headliners. They also play hard – guitarist Joe’s shirt is saturated by the time the set’s done – and they’re also an absolute joy to watch, a cohesive unit firing on all cylinders.

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Bilge Pump

Trumans Water are also tight and cohesive – remarkably so, in fact. But they hide it well, sounding like they’re completely out of tune and out of key and often playing three different songs at the same time. Some of that’s down to the simultaneous vocals that don’t exactly combine to create conventional harmonies, while a lot of it’s also due to the unusual guitar style: I’m not sure of half the chords are obscure or made-up, but every bar conjures a skewed dissonance. But they are tight: the constant changes in tempo and off-the-wall song structures are brain-melting, and how they not only shift instantaneously, but play an hour-long set of sprawling freeform angularity without a set-list is remarkable.

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Trumans Water

Trumans Water have never really sounded like anyone else. Pavement comparisons don’t really cut it on close inspection: whereas Pavement were genuinely slopping in their playing early on, Trumans Water would probably align more closely to freeform jazz and Beefheart at his oddest.

It’s a riotous blur of jolting, shouty, brain-melting racket that runs into one massive sprawl of crazed anti-music. And it’s an absolute joy.

Christopher Nosnibor

So I’ve been following – if that’s quite the word – Suburban Toys since the early 90s. Vicky McClelland is (I think) the fifth female front person I’ve seen them perform with, and I’ve missed some in between. She’s strong. She’s fiery, but also understated, and gets on with singing songs and sometimes playing guitar without fuss. She sounds good, and is good to watch.

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The Suburban Toys

They showcase some new (to me) songs, still solid pop-tinged punk with dashes of reggae and cues from ‘The Passenger’. The throw in a ripping rendition of ‘Identity’ by X-Ray Spex mid-set. It suits Vicky’s vocal range and delivery. Older songs like ‘With You’ have been radically reworked (again), and this is probably the most attack I’ve seen them play with in all the years since the early 90s. They finish with ‘Sonic Reducer’ played at breakneck speed with bassist Vin on lead vocals. It’s good fun. And fun is important.

The kids – fans – are less than half my age and wearing threads that were all the rage when I was 10, 34 years ago. It’s alarming. The drummer’s facial hair is heinous and the guitar straps are so short they could strim the strings with their chins… But there’s an appeal to their raw, ragged choppy guitars and I get the impression that despite the cheap sunglasses and quirky fun elements, Perspex are a serious band with some neat post-punk and 90s alternative reference points – think Pavement, think Trumans Water. And they’re technically proficient, nailing some tidy grooves and taking the set to an accomplished climax with some uptempo space rock motorik riffology. 6th formers on the piss. One girl’s got plastic beads and a very 80s blouse, while one of the sportswear cunts is sporting a Factory T. What hell is this?

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Perspex

I’ve seen Percy even more times than the Toys, and over a comparable time-span. The West Yorkshire Superheroes (who hail from York) have been around forever, and subscribe to the tradition of hardworking northern bands like The Wedding Present and The Fall, and Half Man Half Biscuit who just keep on plugging away, solid and dependable. They always look like they’ve just knocked off work and stopped off for a pint: singer/guitarist Colin Howard always has about 4 days’ stubble and they seem genuinely comfortable being middle-aged workers doing the band thing on the side. There’s a lot to be said for that, but I won’t say it here because I’ve other reviews to write and a day-job of my own, and it’s too much of a digression.

There’s actually a guy here in a Percy T-shirt, which is a measure of something. But they’ve not got the college cocks’ backing, sadly, and the room has thinned a bit. The benefit is that I’m less worried about having my toes danced on by some 6ft teenager.

Bailing in with the Fall-like ‘Hep’, they’re bring a clanging attack of furiously thrashed jangling guitars that are nearly in tune and provide the backdrop to sneering, spitting monotone vocals. And, like The Fall, they may have only recently released their first album proper 20 years into their career, but half the set consists of unreleased material. And, also like The Fall, they kick out a fair rockabilly ruckus and reference The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life.’

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Percy

‘Rubbernecking in the UK’, pushes the synths to the fore, and it’s exhilarating and also pure early 90s indie. Magnificently atonal guitar provides a skewed backdrop to sneered lyrics about the mundane everyday. Masters of four-chord chugs, ‘Unicorn’ is fierce and noisy by way of a climactic closer.

Having seen three decent bands for free and supped decent beer at £3.60 a pint I’ll say it again: pub gigs and small venues are where it’s at.

Christopher Nosnibor

Wading through gallons of sick on my way through the city centre, I’m reminded why I generally avoid town on a Friday night, especially when the races are on. But sometimes, it’ necessary to take risks and brake rules – right?

And so I arrive at a spookily quiet Spread Eagle. there isn’t even a band in sight ten minutes before the first act’s due on. But as is often the case, three minutes before time, people emerge as if from out of the woodwork.

Dullboy mine a deep seem of 90s alt rock / metal with grunge leanings, especially in the quiet/loud dynamics. A bit Alice in Chains with the harmonies, but also hints of Soundgarden… They’re accessible without being Nickelback, and anything but dull, but I notice the singer’s wearing a Fightstar T and realise I’m probably the oldest person here, including the mum of one of the adult band members.

My Wonderful Daze battle through some early technical difficulties which found them guitarless to power through a strong set. The guitarist – seven strings filling out the sound when the amp finally works – bassist and drummer are the lankiest buggers you’re likely to meet, but singer Flowers is the driving force and dominates the space. In their more melodic moments, they’re a bit Paramore, but when they really blast it, they’re more Pretty On the Inside era Hole: Flowers has a massive raw roar, and the unconventional song structures mark a distinction from other female-fronted alt-rock bands.

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My Wonderful Daze

I’ve managed to miss PAK40 the last half dozen or so times they’ve played in my vicinity, and I suppose an element of atonement and making up is behind my presence tonight. But mostly, I just wanted to see them again, and I’m very quickly reminded why. The first song is a soft, cyclical Earth-like trudge that erupts at the mid-point into doomy riffage. The monastic vocal passages in the second track call to mind Sunn O))) and Bong before they lumber into psych / prog territory in a ow seep of sludge. And they’ve got range: it’s not all noise, and occasionally they do groove too, and do it nicely.

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PAK40

The room’s almost cleared before Churis even start. Shame: the threesome make a massive jolting racket and are seriously fucking good. Swerving wildly between melodic harmonies and screeching angst, they meld math rock, grunge, hardcore, and (thankfully minimal amounts of) emo into a strong cocktail of guitar-driven goodness. Five-string bass action and sheer force fill out the sound, and they make for a worthy headline act. The few who witnessed it scored lucky, and those that didn’t, it’s their loss.

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Churis

Once again, it’s the little bands playing backroom gigs that provide the real excitement and prove that the lifeblood of live music is way below the radar. This isn’t about hipster snobbery, about obscuritanism, about superiority. It’s a matter of experience, and there is no substitute for standing mere feet from a band pouring their all into a set in a space the size of your living room as if it’s everything. Because it’s real, it’s sincere. It’s urgent. Chances are none of these bands will break out of anything, and they likely know it. They’re not in it for that. They’re not in it for the money. They’re in it because they need to be, because they love what they do. And that’s art.

Christopher Nosnibor

Incredible. I arrived at a gig in Leeds with a dry shirt, thanks to it neither raining nor sweltering. And while it’s not exactly heaving in Wharf Chambers tonight, the eclectic (and international) lineup has drawn an interesting and curious crowd. I decide to take notes on my phone, and not to spend too much time on editing. This is a gig that’ about the moment, and it needs capturing.

DJ Perro, up first, isn’t a DJ, but a band from Mexico. The quintet perform the apex of busy math-rock and they’re buoyant with it. And kinda maybe how you’d imagine Mexican mathy post rock somehow. They clearly love doing what they do, and they’re astoundingly good at it. There’s a lot going on, to say the least. It makes my upper arms itch, and it makes my brain twitch. The songs are incredibly complex and incredibly tight and they’re a pleasure to watch. There’s something transportative and elating about watching five staggeringly good musicians, no egos, and some stellar compositions perfectly executed.

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DJ Perro

Failyer have two synths players and play drony, grating synth noise with live drums from James Islip, gig booker, tonight’s doorman, and perhaps best known as one half of seminal noise duo That Fucking Tank, who I first stumbled upon supporting Whitehouse in Sheffield in maybe 2005. And the blew me away, while pissing on the headliners. It was the same night I discovered Kelham Island beers, so the fact he Duck& Drake where I stopped on the way was serving Easy Rider. Failyer’s sound is sort of Krauty Fall meets Suicide motorik noise. Sinewy, echoey, sparse, repetitive. The skinny singer sits for large segments of the set, leaping up to spit punky vitriol into a sea of rapid reverb while throwing shades of Pete Murphy. It’s an awkward but cool take on The Cramps meets The Fall meets DAF. Or something. They’re the best reminder I’ve seen in ages of why the Leeds underground is an awesome thing. And there is no success like Failyur.

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Failyur

Grey Hairs are the reason I’m here and while I’d remembered they were good, I’d forgotten just how blindingly, blisteringly good. What’s cool about them is that they don’t give a shit about being cool. The press write-up says that ‘their third album Health & Social Care … [is] a scorching reflection on balancing your creative impulses against the commitments of impending middle age’. But the reality is more. Way more.

The riffs are all the grunge with hardcore punk moments high in the mix, and front man James transforms angst and anxiety into performance art: twisting his hands and arms around his face, twisting and pounding his palm against his forehead. covering his eyes and exuding a spectacular awkwardness: his presence is awkward, confrontational, and oddly appealing. It’s a performance you can get into – or otherwise be repelled by, depending on your position and life experience.

I could go home or even die happy already.

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Grey Hairs

But then I’d have missed the awesome spectacle that was Doble Capa, the Spanish duo of whom the event’s write-up describe as being like That Fucking Tank but better. The pair certainly have that Tank vibe, and some serious energy. Thumping drums and what even the fuck is that four-string effort rammed through a trainload of effects (mostly distortion) to crank out a massively messed-up racket is the essence of what they do. It’s punkabilly blues noise making optimal use of a minimal setup. A blur of hair. A blast of noise. It’s compelling. And it’s great fun.

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Doble Capa

And I go home happy, and don’t die.

Christopher Nosnibor

My appreciation of the debut album by Leeds noisemongers Irk is already out in the public domain, as is my admiration of their capacity as a live act. It was only fitting that they should launch their debut album at Chunk, the rehearsal space which has become the hub of the new Leeds underground / alternative scene which has begun to emerge since the Brudenell – still the best venue in the country – has become increasingly popular and catering ever more to bigger-name acts. And there’s no escaping the fact that without the tiny venues, the microscenes, the free and cheap spaces where anything goes, there’d be nowhere for the bands of the future to explore and develop ideas free from the limitations of marketability and the pressure to achieve success. Commercialism strangles creativity, and we need the obscure band who want to fuck shit up more than ever in these desperate times in the stranglehold of corrupt, constricting neoliberalist capitalism which is not-so-slowly eroding every real freedom for the ordinary person.

Chunk is so no-budget, so DIY that there’s no licence for tonight’s (free) event: its BYOB, and people file in with carrier bags containing four-packs and the atmosphere is just so laid back that my anxieties about finding the place (Chunk is hidden through a door up some steps (which I worry I may fall down on my way out) next to a car repair place in an industrial area two miles out into the arse-end of nowhere) and all of the other stuff I panic about but tend not to talk about evaporate almost immediately. There are friendly faces, faces I recognise, faces I can chat to, and it feels more like a house party than a gig.

Only, there’s a gig PA and there are bands, and Beige Palace are on first. I note that they’ve been using a quite from a review I wrote of their live debut on my only previous visit to Chunk in the summer of 2016, which says ‘Beige Palace make sparse-sounding music that’s jarring, dissonant and hints at a clash between early Pram and No Wave angularity.’ Two yeas on, it still seems a fair summary. ‘It’s not math-rock’, their diminutive and moustachioed front man, Freddy Vinehill-Clifee forewarns the audience before they begin their set. He’s right. It’s atonal, droney, repetitive noise-rock with an almost spoken word delivery. Kelly Bishop’s flat, elongated vowels are reminiscent of Mark E. Smith in the early years of The Fall. They’re bursting with nagging, awkward guitar lines and clattering percussion playing unusual time signatures, too. So, like math-rock, only not. Or something. But it’s not about labels, but the music, and while they’re still rough ‘n’ ready, their confidence and intuition has evolved a lot over the last two years, and they turn in a more than decent performance.

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Beige Palace

It was the release of BRITN3Y that brought deranged Edinburgh 3-piece Britney to my attention, and I’d been itching to see them live ever since. They don’t disappoint. Comprising bass – through a fuckload of pedals; vocals – through an even bigger fuckload of pedals; – and drums, they deliver sonic riots in the form of blistering sub-two-minute noisefests. Occasionally, chuggy riffs and even grooves emerge from the screaming, spasmodic mess, albeit fleetingly. It hurts after two songs. It hurts a whole lot better after ten. The speaker a foot from my right ear is sounding like it’s fucked and they just fuck it harder with a relentless barrage of explosive, brutal hybridized noise that draws on elements of metal, hardcore, and grindcore and Final Fantasy (the victory fanfare is a recurrent feature throughout their set and closes it, too, while the infamous Tidus Laugh from FF X also features). They’re joined at the end by NALA for some screaming vocals to wrap up set appropriately culminates in an ear-splitting wall of noise, and I’m not the only one blown away.

Britney

Britney

It turns out that Jack Gordon still has the copy of The Rage Monologues from the time we exchanged books. He’s read my review of the album, and during our brief exchange, I’m reminded that so many of the people who make art that pushes extremities, in whatever way, are the most pleasant, polite, and mild-mannered people you could wish to meet. It’s their outlet, and it’s what keeps them sane. Better to make brutal art than commit mass murder. Probably. Jack – bespectacled, sporting jacket and chinos and looking like any other smart-casual office worker – is a nice guy. But with the aid of a PA, a backline, and a bottle of Buckfast, he brings the brutality.

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Irk

If the disappearance of Blacklisters from the Leeds scene following Billy Mason-Wood’s departure for Germany left a jagged, gaping hole, then Irk more than manage it fill it with their own rendition of that Jesus Lizard, Touch ‘n’ Go skewed 90s US noise-rock racket. The trio are quite a different proposition and are very much their own people, but the comparisons and local lineage are impossible to ignore. And in this enclosed space, with the volume at pulverising levels and the warmth of community and camaraderie only adding to that of the proximity of bodies, everything comes together perfectly.