Posts Tagged ‘Wharf Chambers’

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s all about the work / life balance, right? That’s what I tell myself, and my colleagues, an anyone who will listen. The truth of maintaining a work/life balance often – at least in my experience – means killing yourself to meaningfully fulfil the life element. Because life isn’t about resting, it’s about doing the things that matter, pursuing your passion, not binging on Netflix. That isn’t life, that’s hiding from work, finding a mental space in which to escape and decompress. But no-one ever lay on their deathbed saying ‘I wish I’d watched more TV’. I haven’t watched a single episode of ‘Love Island’, ‘The Voice’ or ‘X Factor’ and am fairly confident my life isn’t in any way deficient because of it. Being a writer is more than tapping out a few jolly lines while sitting on the sofa watching a nice rom-com with the wife after the kids have serenely taken themselves to bed straight after dinner, and being in a gigging band, however infrequently you may gig, takes some serious effort, especially in addition to full-time dayjob and family commitments and all the rest.

And so I disembarked in York, where I live, after a two-day work trip to Norwich, and seven minutes later was on a train to Leeds. Some people are accustomed or otherwise adjust readily to travel: I’m not among them. People laugh at me when I use the term ‘train-lagged’, especially when in the context of a day-trip to Sheffield from York, but believe me, I feel it on a molecular level or something.

Another thing I’ve discovered recently is that reviewing and performing are very different disciplines, more so even than leading a meeting and taking minutes – which is pretty much what I’m attempting here.

Performing requires beer, and I had a couple on the train, and a couple more while grabbing some food and plotting a vague strategy for mayhem before going to set up. Unusually, we had a proper soundcheck, although I hate vocal soundchecks. As long as things work, I’m more concerned about volume and tonal impact than mix, given that what happens during the performance rarely resembles the soundcheck anyway, and the while white noise and shouting only works at speaker-shredding, tinnitus-inducing volume. You don’t need to hear the words, you just need to feel the force, ad anything less than freight-train impact falls short. We made noise. We nodded, retreated to the back with more beer.

The Truth About Frank’s set started unusually gently, with an ambience that wasn’t even particularly dark, before murk and muffled samples edge in. Before you know it, the PA is blaring a surging swell of beats and a wash of noise, oscillating washes of discoordinated sound layers meld with off-kilter techno. This is one of TTAF’s more structured-sounding sets, and it builds well and culminates in a fragmented flurry of fractured noise.

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The Truth About Frank

…(something) ruined crash-landed by happy accident, and once again, in the squall of brutal noise, I ruined myself. This simply seems to be how it is. This was probably our strongest and most brutal, tinnitus-inducing set yet. I told the sound guy during soundcheck that I wasn’t fussed if my vocals got buried in the barrage of noise, and unlike some, he respected that. There are fantastic audio and video recordings of the set: I’m barely audible for large portions, but Paul Tone is on absolute A1 peak form for brutal electronic noise, and the volume, it would seem, was pretty much excruciating. So I’m happy.

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…(something) ruined

My sketchy notes state that Black Alert play Tangerine Dreamy Krautrock with samples. It’s an evolutionary electro set that’s heavy on vintage synth and drum sounds, with the drums pumped up in the mix. It’s a nice contrast, and the emphasis on melody is welcome at this point in the evening.

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Black Alert

And then there’s Un Sacapuntas. The solo noise project of Alice Nancy, this performance – and it’s all about the performance – is something else. There’s a reason I prefer to play early, an acts like this are all the reasons why: you wouldn’t want to follow this. Alice is mesmerising and intense as she fastens a contact mic to her throat while unlacing her shoes. What follows is an intense and hypnotic show, both sonically and visually: burrs of treble and shrieks of feedback break through a dank rumble while she shrieks unintelligibly and wafts around the stage, a ghostly presence.

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Un Sacapuntas

It’s a superb end to a great night which is exemplary of the Hogwash experience: Dave Procter’s curation is both considered and intuitive, bringing together a road range of unusual non-rock acts from near and far. With a respectable and enthusiastic audience, Leeds underground scene is very much kicking.

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

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

“Are you a journalist?”

I nod. I don’t like talking when a band is playing. I don’t like other people talking when a band is playing, so why would I do it? It’s rude. And I’m there to watch the band. And so I don’t explain that no, I don’t consider myself to be a journalist or a music journalist, but a writer who happens to write about music often.

She’s already asked me what I’m doing and tried to get a look at my notes – a spidery scrawl barely legible to myself, to which I’d responded by wordlessly waving my A7 pad at her.

Some people just don’t get hints.

Following on from opening acts Steve Hadfield, who’ delivered a set of proficient but slightly static electronica and Dean McPhee, who performed some ethereal, atmospheric guitar instrumentals with the assistance of a bank of pedals that almost filled the venue’s small stage, worriedaboutsatan built their set nicely. One of their trademarks is intelligent structure, and while they’ve woven segments of their latest album’s more delicate parts into their set, they swiftly transitioned from drifting ambience through subtle rhythmic pulsations to propulsive beats, all the while conjuring rich layers of atmosphere. Gavin Miller’s guitar sounds even less guitar-like than ever, as he conjures rippling waves of sonic abstraction from six strings.

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Steve Hadfield

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Dean McPhee

It’s been a long and taxing day, and I’ve consumed more beer than intended, than is wise, I’m switching between tenses, and I’m trying to decipher the narrative of the film projected at the back of the stage. It’s intercut with various black-and-white footage that conveys nothing in itself, but is evocative in its bleakness, and there are flickering light segments, too: beyond this, they play in darkness, visible only in silhouette. Their stage show hasn’t changed dramatically in recent years, but it’s visually striking and effective, and places the immersive music to the fore.

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worriedaboutsatan

Then, halfway through, a couple of women appear at the front and get down to some mum-dancing: fair play, but they don’t need to be exchanging comments about it. I have my earplugs in and am in the zone, perhaps more even than usual in my state of inebriation. It’s the short, chubby one who starts nebbing at my pad – not that I’d have been any happier had t been her taller, slimmer friend.

“Who do you write for?” she shouts in my ear. It’s a shame earplugs only reduce volume and cut top-end rather than muting irritants.

“Me.” I want to tell her to fuck off, but even seven pints in, I’m mindful of manners.

This throws her but she seems to think it’s cool, and she asks yet more questions, and then she starts going on about how she’s worried about my eyesight, writing in the dark and all. I appreciate the concern, but my liver and blood pressure and anxiety are probably more of an issue than my eyes, and besides, I’m wearing tinted glasses at a gig, and if perfect strangers feel the need to worry about anything, I’d say climate change, Brexit, the stranglehold of capitalism, and the simple fact we’re all doomed are more worthy of that worry. Ok, so I don’t appreciate her concern one bit.

Eventually, she leaves me in peace and I’m able to watch the guys bring their set to a triumphant climax to an appreciative response from a home crowd. And deservedly so: the fact they don’t tour often, and when they do, they’re reliably solid, consistently engaging and dynamic in both set formation and performance, and perform with such incredible energy, makes an intimate show like this all the more special.

Christopher Nosnibor

It may only be nine minutes on foot from the station according to Google Maps, but despite having probably been maybe twenty or even thirty times, I still find myself struggling to find it, even with GPS assistance. I have no idea why: it’s like I have some kind of mental block, or the venue has some kind of cloaking device that blocks my internal geographical radar. And so I’m disproportionately pleased when I find myself within yards of the venue without taking a single wrong turn. And then I remember the bar doesn’t take cars, and despite having intended to get cash at York station, then Leeds station, then en route, I’ve sailed past all of the cashpoints and only have about four quid on me. Even with beer at £2.80 a pint, I might be a bit thirsty at the end of the night.

I still make it back, with cash, before doors, and they’re not quite done soundchecking. The fact I’m considering plugging up just for the soundcheck brings a small buzz of anticipation: we’re here for some hefty riffage, and it’s best experienced at an appropriate volume. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not loud enough.

Leeds drums and bass duo Calm are an interesting proposition on paper, consisting of John Sutcliffe from Canvas, Humanfly, Kings, Natterers, and Paul Handley from The Plight, Kings and Ladies Night. In the flesh they’re interesting, too: at the opening, oscillating sequenced synth lines bubble along beneath woozy bass before the distortion crashes I like a tidal wave of sludge. The drums are more energetic than the low-BPM grind of the chords. Structurally, the compositions are segmented and almost sound like three or four pieces glued together, but the transitions make for a set that holds the attention well, and as Sutcliffe, on drums, intones mystical droning incantations into a sea of reverb against a wall of low-end that sends vibrations through my steel-toed boots, the experience takes on an almost spiritual quality.

Calm

Calm

A Headless Horse bring a much more sedate atmosphere with mellow female vocals and delicately layered, meticulously structured songs. Their songs are keenly focused on texture and melody. In contrast to Calm and the rest of the lineup, there’s significantly less weight, and less emphasis on volume overall: that isn’t to say they’re quiet, but when they bring in the riffs, they’re not obliterative, but simply denser. Comparisons aren’t everything, but The Cure and Cranes provide fair touchstones here, and Headless Horse demonstrate that they’re capable of delivering mathy post-rock with emotional resonance. Given that this is only their second outing, they show a lot of promise.

A Headless Horse

A Headless Horse

There’s a proliferation of beards tonight, and Dystopian Future Movies are very much a beard band (singer / guitarist Catherine Cawley clearly excepted). They’re also a very much an atmospheric band, and a band who exploit the dynamics of volume to optimal effect, as abundantly demonstrated by the choppy stop/start lumbering riff of ‘Dulled Guilt’ which opens the set powerfully. Their description of themselves as ‘taking a Sonic Youth approach but arriving at some dark place between Neurosis and Chelsea Wolfe’ is pretty accurate, and they pull the listener in with slow-burning ethereality that yields to punishing riffery, without at any time falling into the trap of formula.

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Dystopian Future Movies

This four-date joint tour sees DFM and Grave Lines unveil a collaborative / split EP, and they’re joined on stage by Jake Harding for a killer rendition of ‘Beholden, which begins a brooding whisper, almost folky in feel, before erupting into thunderous power chords The vocal duet is magnificent: the two singers intertwine with Hardin’s baritone croon underpinning Cawley’s graceful, evocatively gothic intonation to conclude a mesmerising set.

Grave Lines stand out as being very much different from their peers by virtue of the exploration of extended quiet passages that are as much dark folk as post-anything, while exploiting tropes commonly associated with post-rock. This imbues the songs with a palpable emotional depth, and when they crash in with the u-to-eleven distortion, it hits hard.

With ragged hair and beard, wrists and shoes wrapped in grubby shreds of bandage, and a dingy off-white vest, Jake Harding cuts a dramatic and tortured figure as he spews anguish and nihilistic fury, his body tense and wracked, over low, slow sludginess; then again, guitarist Oli, with Alan More hair and beard and sporting a torso so tatood as to appear to be wearing a heavily patterned shirt brings a stoic intensity that’s in stark contrast to the laid-back drumming of Julia Owen, who has an airy style of playing that belies the force with which she delivers stick on skin.

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Grave Lines

And yet it’s when Harding ceases words and spits a guttural ‘urrggh’ that most succinctly articulates all the pain and frustration the band channels.

Caroline from Dystopian Future Movies returns the favour of providing additional vocals on Grave Lines’ contribution to the new EP, the epic ‘False Flame’, and they take things right down for the penultimate track of a remarkably concise – but suitably hard-hitting – set with the minimal ‘Loathe / Disgrace’, pairing a droning organ sound which quavers against a vulnerable, melancholic vocal performance.

My notes blur to nothing as the band drive the set home with crushing force with ‘The Greave’. And in this high-volume release lies the uplifting joy of catharsis.

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s my second visit to Wharf Chambers in as many evenings. It’s a good job the beer’s cheap. And that it’s a nice little venue. And that the promoters, TV’s Over, have booked some quality bands. I’ve just about recovered from the blistering assault of Svetlanas the previous night when I arrive.

There seems to be a certain misapprehension that music reviewers hang out with bands and are mates with all the bands, their managers, PR and labels, and it may be true for some, but I prefer to preserve a certain professional distance as a rule. You never know when an act may deliver an absolute stinker of an album, and then what do you do? Blow your critical integrity, or the friendship? And so I find it’s generally better – safer – to keep people at arm’s length. And that’s a rule I apply to life in general.

But, necessarily, for every rule there is an exception, and it so happens that two of them are on the bill tonight, in the shape of the two support acts, Leeds’ Wharf Street Galaxy Band and Lincoln’s Suburban Toys. Both acts feature individuals I know and like, but also know well enough to share an honest appraisal. These things matter.

WGSB have evolved a fair bit over the last year, and the set has changed radically over the time. The fare they’re touting now is, dare I say it, significantly more commercial than before. It’s all relative, of course: the set opens with a loping marching rhythm, feedback and an eternal bass rumble before Dave Procter enters and paces the venue, hollering impenetrably into a loudhailer, building toward a monotonous chant of the song’s title, ‘Freedom is Compulsory’, culled from their eponymous debut EP.

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Wharf Street Galaxy Band

‘Hector and Harass’ is an altogether more accessible effort, with a terrace chant of a chorus, and as I listen and smirk, I remember that in fact, this is my fault. Yes, my review of the aforementioned EP inspired the title, and there are no two ways about it, this is exactly what they do, especially here.

In a set that’s as much, it would seem, designed to torture the band as the audience, they bludgeon away at repetitive, cyclical riffs, looping bass motifs and singe-chord assaults, topped with repeated refrains (‘fucking useless stupid bastard’ they drone on ‘Clueless Advocate’) ‘Sex Master’ mines a squelchy bass groove and funky drum that threatens to veer into Duran Duran / Associates territory. Which is no bad thing. Puffins dominate the closing duo, as does a thunderous PiL meets Fall Krautrock groove dominated by a relentless, juddering bass.

Suburban Toys have had more lineup changes than I’ve had hot dinners, and could probably rival The Fall or even The Damned. They’ve probably been going nearly as long as The Fall, too, off and on, although the difference being that their mainstay is still with us, and it’s bassist Vincent Ramsey (or Vinnie, as he’s named on the website) who’s the consistent feature of their revolving-door credits. And like The Fall – to appropriate from John Peel – they are always different; they are always the same. A number of the songs (notably ‘Far Away’ and ‘Salamander’) are familiar to me from (dare I say it?) some 25+ years ago, but have been overhauled to varying extents.

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Suburban Toys

What they do is simple enough, and it’s a tried and tested formula: poppy punk songs with just the right balance of bite and bounce. They sit well alongside the female-fronted poppy punk bands they reference, which include Blondie, No Doubt, Penetration, and X-ray Spex. Abi is bubbly and energetic and a likeable performer, who brings a real presence. Her vocals are strong, but not overpowering or overtly spiky, enhancing the band’s accessibility. They’re proficient, they’re tight, they’ve got some decent tunes and endless bass runs, and most importantly, they’re uptempo and fun. They go down well, and deservedly so.

Culture Shock may be one of the key exponents of Ska Punk, and noteworthy for being Dick Lucas’ band between Subhumans (whose drummer Trotsky actually did a stint with Suburban Toys some years later) and Citizen Fish, but it’s simply not a genre I can get into. Maybe it’s the awkward stylistic straddling, paired with uncomfortable cultural appropriation that doesn’t it well. Maybe it’s the tendency of fans to feel the compulsion to go all Dick Van Dyke and dance like a bunch of Cockney chimney sweeps when presented with anything ska punk. Maybe I’m just difficult and hyper-critical. But Culture Shock simply offer nothing to excite, let alone shock: it’s all so very predictable. Any rebellious intent is diminished by three decades and the delivery being in the form of party tunes.

The nostalgia is tangible: you can see it on the punters’ faces. And I get it. It’s just not my nostalgia. I’ve already got what I came for, and with a 5:30 alarm in prospect, I slip out into the night to leave the old punks to their party.

Christopher Nosnibor

If you look up scarily intense in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a picture of Olga, the dynamo shouter who fronts Russian hardcore punks Svetlanas.

The three strong supports have already done a decent job of getting the crowd warmed up. First up, Weekend Recovery have been touring hard in support of their debut album, and seem at ease in the intimate venue. Kicking off with a punchy rendition of the hooky ‘Turn it Up’ and signing off with a driving romp through the power pop of ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’, they deliver a neat tour of the album. Lauren’s in good voice, the band are tight, and the grunge heft of the album’s title track, ‘Get What You Came For’, is a clear standout.

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Weekend Recovery

Jaded Eyes and bring sheer, snarling fury and immense, brutal density. They crank things up several notches in terms of volume, too. There’s no pretence. There’s nothing showy. Just full-on, balls-out, aggressive punk, the songs played hard, fast and packed back to back with no let-up. Hardcore the way it should be.

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Jaded Eyes

Brazilian female-fronted three-piece Yer Mum don’t exactly go easy on the ears, either: packing some dirty, low-slung riffage worthy of Fudge Tunnel, theirs is a hefty, dense sound. There’s pace and energy to their full-throttle grungy punk attack, and my notes – appear to reference Nymphs and L7, although I wouldn’t necessarily trust my notes as they’re scrawly and very sparse – I was too busy watching the band. This is the main reason to go and watch live music, after all, and we always hope for those moments where the experience envelops us and everything else, all the bubble and froth of thought about work, life, and all the rest, is pushed out of the frame in favour of the moment.

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Yer Mum

Svetlanas achieve this, and then some. The band are mighty in the noise they produce, but it’s Olga who provides the focal point. Compelling would be an appropriate adjective for her performance, but fails to convey the fact that you watch the set with your eyes glued to her because you fear for what may happen if you don’t pay attention. She’s an incendiary force, and what she lacks in stature she makes up thousandfold with her fiery energy: the kineticism is exhilarating and exhausting. But it’s all in the eyes: the wild, wide eyes that she sticks right in people’s faces as she jerks and flails her way through the crowd. There’s mania and danger in those eyes. Paired with the pulverising sonic blast that explodes from the PA, Svetlanas live are the very definition of intense.

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Svetlanas