Saturday, 26 September 2015

Dog Fashion Disco @ The Craufurd Arms 10/09/2015 - Really Talented Americans

There are not many bands I could justify travelling half way across the country to see, especially on a work night and especially not to Milton Keynes. The town is how I imagine purgatory to resemble. Essentially, an expansive shopping and eating destination and not a whole lot else. A place where people go to consume. Regardless, this was the closest date of Dog Fashion Disco’s (Really) Ugly Americans Tour and not even the prospect of having to once again visit Milton Keynes was going to stop me.

Besides perhaps Huddersfield we had chosen the least prolific date of the tour. The Craufurd Arms is more suited for tribute nights and wedding receptions than accommodating one of the most unique bands of the last fifteen years. We knew this was going to be an intimate gig and given its seemingly unremarkable location I can only assume the band had no idea where they were either.

Joining Dog Fashion Disco on the tour were openers Psychostick. Whilst involuntarily getting to know the locals it became apparent that the majority of the audience were here for them. Perhaps years spent attempting to navigate MK’s near labyrinthine layout has left people unable to comprehend anything divergent.

Psychostick are a novelty act. Much in the same manner that Steel Panther pretend to be eighties rockstars and attempt to get underage girls to expose themselves or Five Finger Death Punch pretending to be actual accomplished musicians, Psychostick are a parody of the common associations of rock and metal. Whilst they managed some genuinely entertaining moments such as the ‘slowest mosh pit ever’ it is difficult to see past purely the novelty. Music combined with comedy is like my computer… it doesn’t work very well. Other songs just seem childish. It is music for the Youtube generation, whereby music videos go viral, not because of their accomplished songwriting, but for their ability to distract you from reality for a few minutes and then ultimately forgotten about.

Since being made aware of DFD’s existence nearly twelve years ago, they have not only consistently remained a fixture of my music collection but a catalyst for its general eclecticism. Anarchists of Good Taste is one of those rare albums that I consider timeless, had it not been for its almost accidental discovery all those years ago, I may well have spent the remainder of the decade relying on the ‘genre of the month’ artists force fed by the musical press. Never before had I listened to anything resembling their blend of jazz, psychedelica and the avante-garde. Todd Smith’s darkly captivating lyrics explored themes that admittedly as a naïve teenager I had trouble fully comprehending. For the first time I began actively exploring the words to the music, uncovering creative stories regarding serial killers, cults and occultism.

The unfinished chapter in this story regards my uncertainty of ever being able to witness the live DFD experience. The band has something of a cult status in their homeland America; I presumed chances were slim of them ever considering an international fanbase. Following their enormously successful crowdfunding campaign in 2014, the band announced successive shows in London, having to adjoin additional dates to appease demand. I was as shocked as I can only presume the band was.  

Exploding with Rapist Eyes the band instantly reassure anyone remaining from the Psychostick crowd that, this is not going to be another novelty act, despite the assumptions their name might entail. A few points worth mentioning tonight, is that the horn section lead by Matt Rippentoe, so integral to their sound is noticeably absent on this tour. However, I understand the logistics of bringing an additional member was more than likely not practical for such a small tour. Regular drummer John Ensminger is also absent, as is frequent stand-in Mike Oliver. Drum duties were therefore preformed by a mystery individual. Competent enough but Ensminger’s Jazz influenced accompaniment forms the background to DFD’s sound.

Following heavier numbers, The Sacrifice of Miss Rose Covington sounds as invigorating as it did back in 2006 and Pale Horse showcase the bands more metallic influences with guitarist Jasan Stepp taking his performance into the crowd in effort to encourage movement. Following new track, Ad Nauseam insinuates the band can demonstrate a more accessible side if they so desire, an electro tinged upbeat track that would have sounded even better with the addition of the accompanying saxophone the studio version is blessed with. 

One of the key components in DFD’s music is that, as amiable as the music represents itself, Todd Smith’s lyrics have nearly always been misleadingly morbid as the more melodic Nude in the Wilderness demonstrates. Tastes so Sweet with its almost cabaret style piano, could have been a huge crossover hit for the band, if this cultures seemingly preoccupation with bland musical conformity was not the main hindrance.

100 Suicides is another track that benefits hugely in a live environment to its horn accompaniment, yet the band still improvise enough to ensure a fully successful rendition. More recent material from last years criminally overlooked Sweet Nothings include satirically influenced We Aren’t the World and politically charged War Party, before the band revert back to fan favourites such as Pogo the Clown and The Acid Memoirs.

New track, Only the Haunted from their upcoming album Ad Nauseam reassures that the album is going to be a highlight of the year. The band finish on two tracks from Adultery, Sweet Insanity and Darkest Days. Between myself and the other ten or so long term fans present, there is a certain sense of disappointment that anything from Anarchists of Good Taste was surprisingly overlooked. Not only does that album serve as the quintessential release from the band, it perfectly showcases both their diversity and talent. To have been able to hear Valley Girl Ventriloquist or 9 to 5 at the Morgue would have made the evening not only memorable, but perfect. Second that, seeing them anywhere but Milton Keynes would have made it perfect.


So, whilst the set list could have benefitted from a few alterations, they band still proved they are the sole proprietors of the avante-garde metal scene (as niche as that maybe) For me it was something I had been waiting a long time for, my sentiment gleefully overlooking any minor dissuasions anyone else may have had. The band however, deserves better, better venues, better crowds and better recognition for their efforts.The thought of a supporting band like Psychostick receiving a warmer reaction than Dog Fashion Disco is as incomprehensible as Weird Al Yankovic stealing the show from Johnny Cash.


Saturday, 19 September 2015

Audio-Biography - Roxy Music

It is one of the first memories from a musical perspective I have, witnessing Roxy Music perform Ladytron on a VHS recording of The Old Grey Whistle Test. I was not quite sure what to make of it. The whole band clad in what appeared to be fancy dress of some sorts. I vividly remember; Bryan Ferry pouting his way through the entire performance, tarted up in more make-up than I ever saw my mom wearing, an androgynous looking Brian Eno twiddling knobs on a strange machine as if he were conducting some sort of bizarre science experiment, Phil Manzanera resourcefully utilising what appeared to be tea strainers as a replacement visual aid and last but not least Andy Mackay costumed as a clarinet wielding Dr Who villain. Initially, the spectacle appealed to me somewhat more than the music. This was glam rock after all, the age where visuals and aesthetics were often deemed more important than the artists creative output and this was the nineties where the majority looked back at the seventies with a mixture of confusion and ridicule. 

Roxy Music accompanied me through most of my formative years. As one of my dads all time favourite groups, seldom was a weekend or a car journey spent without some kind of art rock inspired soundtrack. Yet, despite my dad’s best efforts, he was not able to convince me of their apparent greatness. In the years beginning my ascent towards secondary school, I could only imagine my peers reaction should I have proudly confessed my appreciation for this old fashioned dad-rock made by men wearing dresses and eyeliner.

I was short on popularity as it stood. I don’t think advertising myself as a Roxy Music fan would have greatly improved my credibility. This was the early 00’s when alternative metal and wrestling reigned supreme in my interests. With the subsequent (and since regrettable) purchases of Kid Rock and Godsmack albums, my dad presumably admitted defeat, his musical legacy nipped at the bud by a rapping redneck who in all actuality was neither a kid, nor could rock.
However, as you age you begin to appreciate your upbringing significantly more. The onset of adulthood makes you develop a retrospective of your childhood. In effect, gazing back to the past especially when the future seems so scary and superfluous. This is exactly what occurred during my inaugural year of university. It was the first time living away from home. Despite the fact I was eighteen, I still retained the mentality of a fifteen year old. I was so gracelessly shy that the mere prospect of making trivial conversation with those I was due to be living with seemed an impossibly daunting task. They all seemed far more mature and enlightened to life’s ways than me. I had bought my entire CD collection along (yet only one pair of socks) with me hoping that I would be able to bond over a mutual admiration of music. I devised a plan and carefully selected a mixture of my more well known albums to play loudly enough to draw in the masses, then I would bring out the lesser known albums once I’d singled out those I had common ground with. Ultimately I found myself discussing more about bands I merely kind of liked (or pretended to) but there was no substance to the discussion. It was just a mutual agreement of appreciation.

It took a chance meeting with a now close friend to make me realise the sentimental power of music. Like myself, my associate had a strong musical influence emanating from his dad. One of the bands he had grown up with was also Roxy Music. And there I was thinking I’d make friends with Killswitch Engage and Bleeding Through. Unlike me, however he had not diluted his preferences with discordant metal and actually appreciated the music. It took some convincing but I reluctantly began to rediscover Roxy Music. I had somehow stored the lyrics away in some distant nostalgia related portion of my brain and still remembered every song. My now musically enlightened understanding was able to fully appreciate the unique instrumentation and song writing. Most importantly however, I remembered the songs reconnected me to memories of my childhood, be it lazy weekends with my dad whilst my mom was working, the excitement of long car journeys to traditional British holiday destinations or making cassette compilations and always requesting the same songs.
The music I was listening to during this time was still too new and fresh in my mind to formulate any higher association from it. With Roxy Music I could effectively recreate the home comforts whilst I struggled to develop my own identity. It was almost therapeutic. What was once strange and un-cool was now enjoyable. It didn’t matter that my peers wouldn’t approve anymore either; we were now all adults free to enjoy and share whatever we pleased. The admiration for Roxy Music has since developed into more than just a sentimental affinity. I can now appreciate how progressive and influential they are. Saxophonist Andy Mackay perfectly addresses their influence with this quote;

"We certainly didn't invent eclecticism but we did say and prove that rock 'n' roll could accommodate – well, anything really."

This is apparent not just in musical terms either. Bryan Ferry has set the bar unreasonably high for every wannabe suave crooner that has dared challenge his legacy, Eno’s synthesizer wizardry became a staple part of the succeeding decades music, even the risqué imagery on their albums covers, famously depicting whoever Ferry was, to put subtlety, courting at the time has been replicated by many. As the title implies, that’s what progressive music does, it pushes boundaries, be it creatively and/or controversially. For example, I’m sure there were a few eyebrows raised when the choice of album cover for Country Life was decided. On a side note, I remember finding the album as a small child and being unable to comprehend how such a masculine face could have such ample breasts. 

My preferences for more conventional rock have, unfortunately ensured I’ve largely bypassed anything after 1975’s Siren. Not even the pioneers could escape the cultural phenomenon (or travesty) of disco and by 1982’s Avalon it might as well have been a completely different band altogether, a timid collection of radio- friendly ballads owing more to Ferry’s solo career and the onset of the new romantics than a collaborative effort.

Their best and most memorable material derives from 1972’s self titled release, which has since been regarded as something of a classic, Virginia Plain and Ladytron have since become my most significant songs to memory; The former due to my dad’s insistence that it is the greatest single of all time and the latter on account of an occasion whereby I jokingly sang the introduction to a girl who was so besotted by my apparent impassioned vocal delivery that she decided to become my girlfriend the same night. Owe it all to you Bryan.
Of course the main point to take away from this first of many insights into my musical upbringing is to appreciate the past. Paradoxically, disregarding Roxy Music as a child, only heightened their appeal later when they became my correspondence to times gone by. They essentially became something of a stand in for an absent paternal influence, if you will. Coinciding memories to music is now something I actively pursue as it not only adds a greater meaning, but also sentiment. Songs have the magical ability to transport you back to a previous time or even state of mind and Roxy Music have the distinction of being the first band to make me realise this. 


Saturday, 12 September 2015

Ghostfest Review - Bristol Motion 06/09/2015 : Scary in Parts

Nothing punctuates a nice romantic evening with your girlfriend than the unexpected invitation to attend a hardcore music festival. The festival in question was the Bristol date of the annual Ghostfest. The line up consisted of bands I had certainly heard of, but by no means a prolific follower of their music. Regardless a free festival is a free festival and despite the fact that I was slightly overdressed, the three large glasses of wine I had previously consumed urged me forth.

Before we start I can honestly state that I have never been to anything considered a true hardcore gig before. The presumed appeal of donning my most fashionable sportswear and windmilling myself into unconsciousness has somehow been lost to me. Sure, I’ve been to many metalcore gigs where this kind of behaviour occurs, but it is usually from the minority of patrons whilst the rest of the audience spend the longevity of the gig staring at them with a combination of pity and disgust.
My inexperience with these kind of events manifested prematurely. After going through the line-up and planning an itinerary I somehow forgot to realise that this had been an all day event and therefore had subsequently missed the few bands I had actually wanted to see, namely Despised Icon and Turnstile. I had no right to complain though, quite how I thought the organisers would be able to squeeze nine bands into a few short hours is anyone’s guess. 

Upon entering I was surprised by the diversity of the audience. We had the expected conglomerations of hardcore kids; the more conventional metalheads going through their traditional shedding of clothing as the festival progressed, the old school punks presumably there to see a band I missed, the scenesters posing at the back, the guys dressed head to toe in gym apparel possibly keen to make up the cardio day they were missing with some vigorous slam dancing and even a group of skinheads adorned in denim jackets with dubious looking logos and symbols. Aside from the latter, each found unity in a common appreciation for the music.
The first band I witnessed was Crime in Stereo whose only crime was unfortunately to be playing the same time as Emmure. And by witnessed I mean walked past as I went to go watch Emmure.
Emmure are a difficult band to define. They mix the traditional deathcore sound with nu/rap metal elements (Nu-Deathcore?) and surprisingly it works. Frontman Frankie Palmeri reminds me of a deathcore version of the Bloodhound Gang’s Jimmy Pop. I think it’s the baseball cap and pseudo hip-hop gesturing. The band relies heavily on riff-based approach and whilst their songs are often quite similar, the formula they have chosen is competent enough. Solar Flare Homicide could very well be the heaviest Nu Metal track in existence, whilst Children of Cybertron is essentially a two minute long breakdown. Their performance was well received by all but the old school metallers, who were probably left wondering that Limp Bizkit have got a little bit heavier. 

Similarly, the old-schoolers most likely thought that Rage Against the Machine had also taken a drastic change in style when Stray from the Path followed. It is obvious that Rage is SFTP’s main influence (Rap-Metalcore?) From the clear politically influenced lyrics, the Tom Morello-esque guitar twiddling on Badge & a Bullet, right down to Tom Williams’ written message on his guitar. Like Emmure though, the formula works. Both bands have created a modern sound by combining elements from genres past. It just so happens that this genre is mid-nineties Rap-Metal which as refreshing as it is, certainly makes me feel old. 

This was the second time I had seen SFTP this year following their performance at Download Festival and it is apparent they have quite an audience here in England. It is worth noting that the band seemed genuinely humbled by the audience’s response, which is something that has been lacking from recent gigs I have attended. Just as they drew an expansive crowd at Donnington, they achieved the same results at Ghostfest, which is even more impressive considering headliner Hatebreed started midway through their set. 

Hatebreed are simply that… Hatebreed. Their style has rarely deviated from their formation nearly twenty years previous. The admiration derives from understanding that they have settled on a winning style that has placed them as both pioneers and leaders of the genre. As aggressive as their music represents itself, the band do not take themselves as equally serious in their live performances. They leave the music to speak for itself. 

The traditional hardman approach is not adopted by frontman Jamey Jasta. For an American metal band to draw such a crowd in a humble West Country town is an achievement within itself. Hatebreed appreciated the crowd and omitted the stereotypical “kick anyone in the face that isn’t moving” lingo that many similar bands adopt. Not that it stopped anyone, but it was not encouraged. Like most Hatebreed concerts, the venue was left equal parts concert and equal parts combat arena. 

I conclude that, perhaps I am not the ideal person to fairly review a hardcore gig. To appreciate it fully you need to be amidst the crowd, caught within the momentum of the music, not stood at the back hoping someone doesn’t make you spill your coke down your shirt. The line up certainly gave credence to the phrase ‘music for every generation’ and the bands I did see are a prime example of the ongoing evolution of their genre. If there is a festival next year I’ll likely get more involved although the potential of turning up to work the next day with missing teeth and black eyes may raise more questions than I am capable of answering.

Friday, 4 September 2015

A Tale of Two Bands: The Moonlandingz @ The Picture House Social, Sheffield 29/08/2015

The Moonlandingz are a “cosmic synth, krautobilly” band from Valhalla Dale, just outside Sheffield and headed by narcissistic frontman Johnny Rocket.

Or at least that is who they were, as depicted on The Eccentronic Research Council’s recent record Johnny Rocket, Narcissist & Music Machine… I’m Your Biggest Fan. The album, featuring, and narrated by actress Maxine Peake, documents the tale of J Rockets’ stalker.

Though originating as a fictional band The Moonlandingz, are, in reality a 6 piece consisting of members of The Eccentronic Research Council and Fat White Family.

This weekend they returned to The Picture House Social, having filmed a recent video for Sweet Saturn Mine (Sean Lennon De-Mix) here a few months prior. Despite the credentials of the individual collaborators, it is fair to say it’s impressive that they have sold out all of their gigs on this short tour across the north of England and in London.

Despite being in the room awaiting the presence of the band there was something surreal about the whole affair and an expectation of something great. The atmosphere was electric and kicked off in kind as soon the band exploded onto the stage with opener, Sweet Saturn Mine.

Throughout the show there was an element of mystery and delirious abandon which had clearly set in. Which Moonlandingz exactly were we watching? Are they “The” Moonlandingz or are they The Moonlandingz. Quite frankly I don’t care. The fact that there was such enjoyable confusion was sufficiently unique.

There is time to ponder, as clearly there are plans afoot for continued activity. After Psych Ersatz,  a number of new tracks (aka. Not featured on the mini EP) were included in the set.

Forty Thousand Years had a krauty groove and explosive attitude.  Whereas the succeeding Dirt Red Rose conjured a sort of carnival meets Cash somewhere on a dark Yorkshire road sound. An odd concoction of dizzying country psych.

Constantly hearing both Fat Whites and ERC influences, one got the feeling there was an element of conflict and tension causing the band to burn bright. Another new one Black Hans was cosmic but not spacey. Frenzied and yet somewhat restrained. Everything just bubbling beneath the surface with total assuredness of forthcoming implosion.

Slowling the pace, Lay Your Head Down on the Road returned to a more familiar landscape for those approaching from an ERC narrative. More embedded within the story presented on Johnny Rocket. Oddly however, it felt almost obligatory and disjointed. Were The Moonlandings pretending to be The Moonlandingz?

Final track Man in Me Lyf saw a total blast of into the cosmos causing apparent loss of motor functions in many in attendance; total abandon. And then they were gone.

Taken slightly aback by the full on assault of music and the audience alike (the latter caused me to spill gin all over my face) I was left somewhat reeling physically, whilst my internal monologue was still pondering whether or not I had indeed just been to see a real or imaginary band. This reflected dualism of identity, or relational dissonance as I tried to describe it at the time, was part of the excitement.

Sure we were all physically present. But somewhere within that ineffable space between the physical reality, Johnny Rocket was breaking through from the beyond to reclaim his rightful place on the stage (spoiler, he dies).

(Note: It may (or may not) be revealing that if you misspell the Moonlandingz, Google wants to tell you they are a hoax. Bear it in mind).


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Alvvays @ The Leadmill, Sheffield 31/08/2015

Alvvays return to the UK for their second headline tour since the release of their 2014 self-titled debut; on this particular evening greeted by a packed back room of The Leadmill.

Alvvays enter to the sound of pipes, presumably some famous tune from their Nova Scotian homeland. Opener Your Type feels as though it harnesses the vibe of the traditional entrance theme, the music of the earliest settlers weaving though time to make itself known. Of course in a punchy, alt rock Alvvays style.

I was aware the group were Canadian but only through seeing them live did that identity become so apparent, and clearly crucial to their output. I should perhaps stress, I mean a Nova Scotian identity. I have made the acquaintance of enough proud Newfoundlanders or Quebecans to know not to start throwing around the C word!

Whilst there appeared to be some nerves at the outset of the bands performance, following Adult Diversity both band and audience had found an excitable and relaxed equilibrium and by the end of Next of Kin the grin on the face of lead singer Molly Rankin was contagious as the rest of the band exchanged equally impressed looks.

Crowd pleaser The Agency Group is followed by a new track, giving the crowd a taster of what is to come.

Ones Who Love You and Dives, provide a mellower atmosphere but no less of a crowd response. These are followed by Atop a Cake, which appears to have garnered a certain status among Alvvays fans. That is if the excited looks I saw on a few audience members faces mouthing “Atop a Cake” is anything to go by.

Throughout the show the band remained animated, and exchanges with the audience continued to be consistently amusing.

Underneath Us preceded the epic and spine-tingling Party Police, for me the standout track of the album and of the evening. An emotive track in which it was clear a large majority of the young crowd could relate to.

New Haircut, another new track feels like a teenage anthem. Perhaps their next big hitter. But for the time being the evening ended with the track that started it all, Archie, Marry Me.  

That is until the encore of Red Planet, performed solo by Molly. Whether the lyrics are describing Mars or referencing exotic (to the UK audience at least) and bleak landscapes of Nova Scotia, I’m unsure. I can say however that the crowd loved it.

The rest of the group returned on stage to finish the night with a bang, with a cover of Kirsty MacColl’s He’s on the Beach.

Without presuming too much I’ll take their off the cuff oil related comment from mid-way through the gig as a declaration of intent. Watch out tar sands, there is competition for the title of Canada’s biggest export!