Posts Tagged ‘Stereoscope’

Christopher Nosnibor

One of the UK’s biggest beer festivals may be in full swing a mile or so up the road, but a quality lineup is always going to attract a respectable crowd, especially when the headliners have spent the first months of their existence being careful to avoid overexposure. As such, a Stereoscope gig always has the air of an event about it, and tonight is no exception.

Singer / songwriter Meabh McDonnell is first up. Having turned solo after her previous ensemble, Bored Housewife, split, she’s been learning guitar and writing a set of new material. She’s nervous as hell, but makes it a part of the performance with herself-effacing chatter between songs. But she has a brilliant knack for penning amusing – and sometimes really quite sad – vignettes, lifted from the humdrum existence of daily life, and she really does have a lovely voice, and receives the warm reception she deserves.

Meabh McDonnell

Meabh McDonnell

Wolf Solent – former Federal and contributor to almost infinite bands around York, Danny Barton – is an old hand when it comes to performing, but still prefers to keep his presence on-stage low-key. Playing almost in darkness, a silhouette on the stage, he’s sporting a very dapper pale suit and some impressive Cuban heels. None of this really matters, though: what matters are his magnificently understated, lo-fi indie tunes. Despite having only three or four pedals, he conjures a vast array of sounds and textures from his guitar. It’s the perfect accompaniment to his laid-back but poignant vocal delivery.

Wolf Solent

Wolf Solent

Continuing the dark, stark mode of presentation, Stereoscope are a band who play in black and white. It’s a radical shift from their previous incarnation as Viewer: then, Tim Wright and AB Johnson would play concise, danceable pop songs, bursting with pithy social commentary, in front of eye-popping psychedelic visuals. Stereoscope play long, heavy, mid-tempo dirges built on repetition, with introspective and often deeply despondent lyrics in front of black and white videos of rivers and pavements. And they have a live drummer, which lends a whole new kind of aural dynamic to their performances. It helps that Martell James is a seriously good drummer, hard hitting and with precision timing.

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Stereoscope

They’re not going for the mass market here. And yet, ultimately, I prefer this. With Stereoscope, it’s clear they’re dredging deep into the depths of their innermost dark places. Johnson contorts himself into impossibly angular shapes as he wrings the angst from the corners of his slender frame. Immediately accessible, it isn’t, but with a slow-building intensity they grind their way through a powerful set that reaches its final destination: with the emergence of light and colour, it’s ultimately uplifting.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Are Three Trapped Tigers really a £10 band? Are they a band who can justify playing 300-400 capacity venues on a UK tour with some 15 dates? The people of York clearly don’t think so, and it’s telling that the majority of those who’ve turned out purchased discount tickets from the main support, Stereoscope. And yes, they’re the primary reason I’m here, too.

And so it is that being on just 15 minutes after doors, Soma Crew, playing as a three-piece, perform to an almost empty room. As a venue space, Fibbers is good. But when it’s quiet, it’s a vast, cavernous barn of a place. It’s also a huge space to fill, sonically. The twin guitars melt together in a mass of infinite reverb, and the metronomic drums – an integral part of their sound – are all in place, but something, more than the bassist, is missing. It’s not until toward the end of the set when Simon turns to his amp and whacks it up by 30% that it all comes together. Yes, their swirling, FX-laden psychedelic shoegaze dronescapes need to be heard at volume to achieve the optimal effect. The music needs to form a big, fuzzy sonic blanket, a sound large enough to get lost in. and when they achieve that, as they did at the end, they’re ace. Still, you can hardly blame the band for the sound out front when they’ve barely been given a soundcheck.

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Soma Crew

Also denied a detailed soundcheck, Stereoscope have less kit and so manage to achieve a fuller sound. Playing in near darkness, the trio pump out a set of slow-burning electronic behemoths. The live drumming would have benefited from being up in the mix for maximum punch on his outing, but even so, it brings an essential dynamic to the band’s industrial-edged mechanised sound. Front man Andy Johnson gives some amusing and self-deprecating patter between songs, but his lyrics are as dark as the grinding basslines Tim Wright churns out from his laptop, and as the stage itself. Announcing the last song as a cheery number about depression, he contorts his spindly frame into agonised postures and he pleads to stop the world.

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Stereoscope

So, why did the two support acts only have 20 minutes to soundcheck between them? Well, the headliners needing two hours to prepare for a set just over an hour in duration, in short. Ok, so it is their show. So where are their fans? To be clear, I didn’t turn out to gripe about the headliners. True, I did catch them live as a support act some years ago and was largely unimpressed. I wasn’t able to find my write-up of that show, but listening to their stuff on-line in the run-up to tonight gave me an indication of why I might not have been loving their work. But I was still willing to give them another go, and wondered if live they were more palatable.

And lo, the first track of the set made me think I’d perhaps been too harsh. With some strong, energetic and extremely dynamic drumming driving a relentless succession of twists and turns, but marked by some solid riffage, it suggested a powerful statement of intent and that maybe the lengthy soundcheck was justified – after all, the sound was incredible: the clarity! The crispness! But then the wanking began.

I’m by no means antagonistic toward musicianship. But as much as good musicianship requires technical ability, it equally demands the performer has a sense of listenability. Is it really music when the compositions are and endless succession of noodly snippets, disjointed and disconnected, the sole purpose of which seem to be to show the players’ technical prowess? I’ve long maintained that being a good musician does not necessarily correspond with being a good songwriter, and thee London trio reinforce this with every bar. Musicianship should at some point translate to the creation of music, beyond a showcase of technical ability.

And then there’s the presentation. With bearded hipsters Matt Calvert and Tom Robertson standing behind a bank of synths and looking rather self-satisfied (the former flailing at a guitar and paying less attention to his keyboard and laptop), I can’t help but be reminded of the line in hipster-bashing anthem ‘Being a Dickhead is Cool’ by Reuben Dangoor: ‘I play synth / we all play synths’. Granted, the drummer doesn’t play synth, and I can’t tell if he’s wearing loafers with no socks, but he’s a bearded hipster too.

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Three Trapped Tigers

Watching these guys rapidly disappear up their own anuses, my issues are twofold, and do extend beyond grousing about trendy tossbags making music for trendy tossbags: there really is nothing to get a handle on here. There’s no emotional heft, there’s no sense of trajectory or evolution to the songs. It isn’t that I demand emotional depth from every band: that would be unreasonable. Variety is the spice of life, and fun is important. Only this isn’t fun. They don’t conjure a mood, because no one section last long enough to conjure anything other than dizziness. Three Trapped Tigers communicate nothing, beyond a sense of their own self-importance, which hinges exclusively on the fact they can play their instruments extremely well. And I’m not going to deny that they can, because to do so would be patently absurd. But how do you connect with that, what is there to relate to?

The second is the sense of superiority: if you don’t get this and love it, you’re just not smart enough, maaan. But people respond to tunes, and they respond to art that speaks to them in some way. Three Trapped Tigers don’t speak on any level, and seem to think they’re above tunes. They’re wrong, and being a dickhead is not cool.