Posts Tagged ‘Wharf Chambers’

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.

DSCF2696DSCF2701

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.

DSCF2729

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.

Advertisements

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.

Weekend Wharf

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.

Jaded Eyes Wharf

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.

DSCF2642

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.

DSCF2693

Svetlanas

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s fitting that a band as wildly eclectic and sonically unpredictable as Bearfoot Beware should have a suitably varied and contrasting but complimentary lineup of bands on the bill for their album launch show. And it turns out that tonight is a night of energetic bassists.

Ganglions’ bassist is almost swamped by her instrument, but she kicks out some thumping basslines around which the Sheffield trio forge an unusual blend of grungy post-rock jazz with melody. It’s an unusual blend. Some moments border on the twee, a shade muso, even a touch indulgent in their noodliness, but their tightness carries the complexity of the songs’ structures and nagging, interloping guitar motifs which even incorporate currents of reggae and skiffliness. They’ve also got enough energy and drive – both the songs and the band themselves – to make it all pull together, making their set engaging and entertaining.

Ganglions

Ganglions

It’s quite the leap to go from a compact three-piece unit to the sprawling ten-legged groove machine that is ZoZo. RSI means that front man Tom has had to ditch the guitar and stick to vocals only. The two vocalists are set up in front of the small stage, and Fred really throws himself into the choppy, cutty guitar parts.

However, it’s the exuberant lunges of bassist Joe, who cranks out some driving bass noise, that provide the band’s most striking visual focal point, while sonically, it’s the big, raucous, sax sound that defines the band’s brand of art-rock. Their frenetic funk fusion calls to mind aspects of Gang of Four, Talking Heads, and Shriekback, but their more flamboyant inclinations and pop sensibility perhaps owes more to acts like The Associates, ABC, and Orange Juice. They’re as tight as they are lively, as well as being good fun.

ZoZo

ZoZo

Bearfoot Beware blur final soundchecking with the actual set, lurching headlong into scorching rendition of ‘Point Scorer.’ It’s a hell of a way to introduce the new album to the crowd, and they follow with a couple more newies before touching on the back catalogue. The songs twist, turn, lumber and lurch unpredictably, and as I watch them, I can’t help but wonder just how much they must rehearse to memorise the complex song structures and play every change with such precision. They don’t just play, either, but really perform. Again, it’s the bass player, Richard Vowden, who provides the axis around which the band spins, both as a physical and sonic presence. Energy emanates from him as he bounds and lurches around, legs going all over, a perpetual blur, his contortions almost literal interpretations of the musical compositions, while the chunky grooves hold down the spasmodic, fractured guitars.

Bearfoot Beware

Bearfoot Beware

Their Pavement meets Shellac meets No Age stylings make for an angular racket, but it this somehow suggests a band out of time and hung up on the US alternative scene of the 90s, its delivered with a twist that’s representative of the contemporary Leeds scene. It’s perhaps hardly surprising that a band whose members have established a rehearsal space and studio that lie at the heart of a DIY subscene all of its own should epitomise it.

I’ve digressed, and am no longer focusing on the set, but any launch event is only the beginning of a journey. Bearfoot Beware are here, and they’re now, and they’re kicking ass with Sea Magnolia. Tonight, they’ve thrown it out to Leeds, and tomorrow the world. It deserves to float.

Christopher Nosnibor

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or is a friend on Facebook is likely to have seen that I tend to draw attention to the fact that I won’t be chained to my desk at home writing music reviews because I’m taking a ‘night off’ involving beer and live music – in other words, I’m out and about watching live music, which I’m invariably reviewing. As such, these nights off aren’t really nights off in the strictest sense. Those who know me in person know that I never really take a night off, regardless, and that includes the nights when I go and watch live music as a paying punter, or a mate has very kindly bought me a ticket to join them watching one of their favourite bands. These are indeed rare occasions, but should constitute a true night off. But that simply isn’t how I work. Truth is, I no longer know how to have a night off. Stopping would likely kill me. Besides, I feel owe practically everything to underground music in some way or another.

So, while I’ve dug what I’ve heard of Part Chimp, my attendance is not in capacity of reviewer or rabid fan – although by the end of the night, I’m both. I’m already a fan of Joe Coates and his Please Please You gig promotions, though – the shows he puts on are carefully curated and the PPY name can be relied upon as a guarantee of quality. Likewise, I’m a huge fan of Wharf Chambers as a venue, and not just on account of the fact they sell decent beer on draught from as little as £2.80 a pint.

And so it is that Thick Syrup make for extremely worthy openers. Their Facebook page describes the band as ‘Garage rock/funk/post punk/hard rock… but none of those things specifically’, and it’s a fair summary. Boil it down, and they’re a solid alternative rock band, whose singer, Gemma, performs from somewhere in the audience, often right at the back of the little venue and facing the stage, on account of the fact she can’t hear what it sounds like from on stage. Out front, it does sound good, and while they’re not big on between-song banter they are big on sturdy, rocking tunes dominated by meaty, overdriven guitars. They’re good fun.

Thick SyrupThick Syrup 2

Thick Syrup

Grey Hairs, hailing from Nottingham, offer a different kind of fun – one marked by a front man possessed of an almost psychotic intensity. The rhythm section is immense, and the foursome kick out a supremely hefty racket. The riffs are big, ballsy, grunged-out slabs of noise: they’re a good fit by way of a main support for Part Chimp, and the fact that they’re also touring with Hey Colossus in May should perhaps give a fair indication both of their sound and their quality. With a new LP, Serious Business released at the start of the year, the set draws substantially on this shouty, sinewy collection, evoking the spirit and sound of vintage Touch and Go and Amphetamine Reptile releases, as well as contemporaries like Backlisters at al who draw inspiration from gnarly 90s US rock. The heavy chug of ‘Sausage’ is full-on, but then, ‘Backwards’ shows they’ve also got a knack for a cracking chorus too. They’re a motley bunch, and it’s no critiism when I observe that front man James is no pin-up. But the image they present corresponds with the angst they channel over the 9-5 grind and the twitching anxiety of immersion in mere existence amidst a morass of bland culture and the conflict of possessing a creative bent. Oh, and they’re bloody loud.

Grey Hairs

Grey Hairs

Part Chimp, however, are much, much louder. I mean, they radiate noise from every orifice and every pore. And when the guitars serrate your skull and the bass vibrates your solar plexus and every riff is as heavy as a small planet and the drums as hard as basalt, reviewing becomes a far bigger challenge than you might think. Instead of analysing precisely why Part Chimp are so bloody awesome, what about the performance completely blew me away, why I felt euphorically drunk on a lot less beer than I know I can handle, I spend an age pissing about on the Internet trying to establish precisely how hard basalt is, and how it compares to the more common ‘hardness’ reference point of granite. I discover that basalt is more porous and is considered a medium hardness rock, whereas granite is classified as a hard rock; and so my word selection seems appropriate: Part Chimp are heavy, the riffs as weighty as hell, but they’re not hard rock band. There’s a malleable, sludgy aspect to the sound. I’m still no closer to qualifying or objectively quantifying the experience of watching four guys, a few years older than myself and by no means cool in the rock star sense, or in any way ‘the kids’ might consider cool, working up a sweat as they hammer out this immense, furious racket.

Part Chimp 2Part Chimp 1

Part Chimp

They play a fair few songs from the new album, (and the first to be released following their reunion last year, following a five-year break), Iv released today. And that’s Iv, not the numeral for four. The riffs on the new songs are slow, heavy, fully doomy and laced with a psychedelic stoner infusion. There’s no pretence or posturing: there’s a keen sense that these are regular guys, who have regular lives, and when they’re not doing regular stuff, they’re making music. Music that’s noisy, dense and jarring, yet in a perverse way has the capacity to be immensely uplifting. They’re relentless, and play hard, and, as is only fitting, there’ a lot of hair being thrown about down the front. It’s music to go apeshit to. Part Chimp: All Brilliant.

Christopher Nosnibor

Life is stressful, and life is strange. Our understanding of the world is built on a web of infinite lies, distortions, misrepresentations, and, essentially, a version of history which is skewed. This was an angle pushed by Willian Burroughs as far back as the early 1960s, and which subsequently came to be a key aspect of postmodern theory: amidst the blizzard of information, historians sift through the ‘facts’ and ascribe them narrative significance and superiority over one another, while at the same time forging a linear version of events which necessarily frames them in a position of cause and effect.

Tony Curtis’ Hypernormalisation documentary presents an alternative perspective of those events, and rationalises the semi-fictionalised version of events which has become accepted as the narrative of historical fact, in the name of simplification, and primarily for political end. The music of Manchester-based duo worriedaboutsatan features on the soundtrack to this epic documentary and, indeed, many other projects for film and television. Hypernormalisation is one of those works which makes you feel tense and uncomfortable. On the other hand, the music of worriedaboutsatan, while built on what on the surface may appear to be jarring incongruences, offers a conduit to escape the horrors of the modern world in some small but precious way.

Tonight’s event is the fifth and final date of a mini-package tour which serves as something of a platform for the type of music favoured by the label, This is it Forever, run by Gavin Miller and Thomas Ragsdale, aka worriedaboutsatan (and also for a time, Ghosting Season), with Sunset Graves – the brainchild of Andy Fosberry, who also happens to run microlabel 3rd and Debut providing a complimentary yet subtly contrasting coalition.

Sunset Graves’ material could reasonably be lodged into the brackets to techno and electro. And while it would be just to praise the swirling ambience which eddies around the set, and the meticulous architecture of progressive beats which defines the sound, any objective appraisal of the performance will inevitably fall short. And herein lies the magic of Sunset Graves: the carefully-considered and yet equally intuitive structures and the attention to texture and detail disappears in the enrapturing experience of simply experiencing it in the moment. Playing in near-darkness, the man with the short back and sides and the Sonic Youth ‘Confusion is Sex’ T-shirt makes musical alchemy.

DSCF7423

Sunset Graves

The same is true in many respects of worriedaboutsatan, an act who have evolved immensely over the course of the last decade. Without doubt, while they continue to exist on the fringes, the word of music is all the richer for their presence. Way back, they could be described as post rock with glitchy beats. In fact, I probably did describe them as precisely that. In fact, my first review of them in 2009 contained the following: ‘The scratchy click and pop beats give way to thunderous pounding rhythms, and Tom, arched over the Mac, looks like an alien hardwired into the mains as he twitches spasmodically. Meanwhile, lurking in the gloom, Gavin adds depth and texture with drones by means of guitar played with a violin bow.’

And so, in many respects, little has changed. Gavin still conjures layers of vaporously-textured guitar sound, occasionally with the use of a bow to the strings and Thomas still launches salvoes of thumping beats and deep, resonant basslines. Yet, by the same token, so much has changed. The pounding beats are there from the start, making for a more direct and immediate impact, and the sonic and textural contrasts are more prominent than ever.

20170217_215210

worriedaboutsatan

Having performed independently of one another during their hiatus, Gavin and Thomas’ contrasting styles have become more pronounced, and now, as Gavin cascades cinematic post-rock textures from his fretboard, Thomas cranks out evermore dense, thumping rhythms and woozy basslines which resonate around the solar plexus. They play facing one another, and if you put a line down the middle of the stage, or split the screen, you would likely be convinced you were watching two separate shows: Miller rocks silently back and forth, his guitar so drenched in effects as to not sound remotely like a guitar, while Ragsdale is a man possessed, savagely attacking his electronic gear and channelling every last drop of power from its circuitry through his veins and into the PA. But it’s the contrasts which ultimately render worriedaboutsatan such an exciting and unique proposition, both sonically and in a performance setting.

20170217_220325

worriedaboutsatan

It’s in the coming together of these seemingly dichotomous forces that worriedaboutsatan create their unique and utterly immersive space. There are vast expanses of sound which wash over the listener, and as the tracks often segue together, the set feels like a deftly-navigated sonic journey. It’s clear that I’m by no means the only one in the room who’s completely engaged: the minimal visuals – on this outing, relatively simple changes of light, and not a lot of it, as they still favour playing in near-darkness – mean that it’s the music which stands well to the fore, and this s music capable of inducing an almost trance-like state. There’s a guy in front of me who’s flailing his arms and pounding the air in time with the big beat drops, and there’s no question that he’s utterly lost in the moment; the majority of the rest of us simply stand stationery, transfixed.

20170217_220843

worriedaboutsatan

More than a decade into their career, and worriedaboutsatan are stronger than ever. If there was any doubt following the release of Blank Tape last year, they’re an act who are going far beyond fulfilling their early promise and are now well into the realms of forging a niche that’s entirely their own.

Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 4th April 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Despite there being a fair few middle-aged blokes in black jeans milling about, the demographic of the crowd who’ve turned out to Wharf Chambers on a Monday night is pleasingly diverse.

Knifedoutofexistence is one man, Dean Robinson-Saunders. A lone artist with a substantial array of pedals and electronic bits and pieces and a bleak outlook. A fairly standard stereotype on the noise scene. He’s dressed in black, long hair down over his face as he hunches over his spread of kit, laid out on a table on the floor on front of the stage, in near darkness, growling and howling impenetrable intonations of pain and anguish amidst a wall of raging noise. But Knifedoutofesistence stands out by virtue of being making a raging wall of noise that’s texturally interesting, and by the sheer intensity of the performance. He clutches a chain, which he wields and occasionally thrashes against the ground in nihilistic fury.

Knifedoutofexistence

Knifedoutofexistence

A common shortcoming of noise and power electronics shows is that the lineup will be packed out with acts all doing pretty much the same thing, which ultimately gets wearing long before the headliners take the stage. So, credit is definitely due in recognition of the diversity of the bill here.

Circuit Breaker, who’ve been supporting Harbinger Sound label-mates Consumer Electronics around Europe may have proven somewhat divisive amongst the audience members, but the Milton Keynes duo’s brand of dark synth pop, overlayed with screeds of murky guitar provided vital contrast. Wirth his eyes obscured by his hair, and an idiosyncratic style of enunciation which reminds me of Brian Ferry (think the footage of Roxy Music performing ‘Virginia Plain’ on TOTP), I find myself spending much of the set looking at the singer’s teeth. Musically, they’re more like a guitarier, gothier Gary Numan.

Circuit Breaker

Circuit Breaker

Sarah Froelich – aka Sarah Best – has very nice teeth. She also has some serious lung capacity, and opens both her lungs and mouth wide to vent streams of lyrical abrasion. Flipping in a blink of an eye between sultry poses and a serene expression to raging banshee, she presents a formidable and fearsome presence on the stage. Her whole body tenses as she hollers maniacally, giving her performance a ferocious physicality. Wild, unpredictable, dangerous, she’s the perfect foil to Philip Best’s splenetic tirades.

Having seen Best perform with Whitehouse on four occasions between 2003 and 2007, it’s reasonable to expect some crossover in his stage act, but while he still throws the occasional power pose and postures with parodic lasciviousness as he tweaks his nipples, it’s the differences between Consumer Electronics and Whitehouse which are most evident tonight.

Consumer Electronics 1

Consumer Electronics

First and foremost, the thudding beats which drive many of the tracks mark a clear separation from the largely arrhythmic noise of the overlords of the Power Electronics genre. There’s a more overt sense of structure and trajectory to the compositions, and while there is noise, there’s also a greater diversity of texture, and a sense of restraint. More than anything, the sonic attack is used as a means of adding emphasis to the lyrical content, rather than something that buries it.

Best’s lyrics have a poetic quality. We’re not talking pretty pastoral vignettes or vogueish socio-political commentary with a hip-hop vibe, but nevertheless, this is not just some guy shouting obscenities in a blind, inarticulate rage. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find rage more articulately expressed, and on numerous occasions during the set, I felt like the Consumer Electronics live experience is in many respects a (brutal, vitriolic) spoken word performance, with the emphasis very much on performance, bolstered by beats and extraneous racket.

Russell Haswell’s contribution to the dynamic shouldn’t be undervalued, either, and his featuring in the current lineup brings new dimensions to the sound. Standing unassumingly at the back, and often nipping off stage, as he unleashes shards of sharp-edged analogue fire.

Consumer Electronics 2

Consumer Electronics

There are some tracks that go all-out on the assault – ‘Co-opted’ finds Best and Froelich duelling over the most ferocious delivery of the refrain ‘Cunts! Co-opted by cunts!’, but much of the set, culled largely from the two most recent albums, Estuary English and Dollhouse Songs, shows just how much Consumer Electronics have refined Power Electronics and the extent to which they explore nuance and contrast. Tonight, they’re nowhere near as loud as many Power Electronics acts, not least of all Whitehouse at their most explosive, but the impact of the set is truly immense.