Sunday, 28 August 2016

Parka, Penned

This is almost certainly the first gig I've been to where the support acts are someone thanking funding agencies and a woman chopping veg.  Viva MAO!




KAGOULE, Idiot King, MAO, 19/8/16

Paul Hobson, director of Modern Art Oxford, is explaining in a pre-gig talk how pieces in the gallery’s 50th anniversary celebrations are occasionally moved to create new contexts.  Fresh dialogues can indeed be created between artworks through adjacency, but sometimes transplanting a whole art form from one milieu to another can reduce it to the status of curio.  It takes a while to get over the impression that Kagoule, a young Nottingham grunge-inflected trio airlifted from a sticky-floored gig dungeon to the austere MAO basement space, are specimens to de studied, sprawling on a pin, especially immediately after a short yam-hacking performance piece by artist Nacheal Catnott warning of the dangers of cultural appropriation.   Then again, as a pop band on the grindcore charnel roster that is Earache Records, perhaps the band is used to looking out of kilter.

Perhaps it’s this cultural displacement, but the first couple of numbers pass us by, seeming to deflate Mudhoney’s dumb scuzzy zeppelins of marsh gas to create the sort of light, harmless balloons bounced around by Superchunk.  All very pleasant, but hardly masterpieces to be recalled at the gallery’s 100th birthday.  Then, the paranoid eddy of a Sebadoh style repeated phrase catches our ear, the anti-mantra honing our attention on a band with a surprisingly subtle melodic sense.  The songs may sound simple, but Cai Burns’ guitar is fascinatingly fluid, seemingly always in transition, eliding notes and greasily sliding between chords – plus, he makes good use of that deserted warehouse chorus sound found in the space between new wave and goth.  His vocals also repay attention, at first sounding like a half-arsed sneer, but eventually revealing a delicate reedy tunefulness that we’re surprised to find recalls Par Wiksten from The Wannadies.  What truly lifts the band, though, are Lucy Hatter’s basslines, which capture a little of The Pixies’ dark enormity and a lot of Jah Wobble’s mecha-dub relentlessness.

Kagoule have their faults, they seem uncomfortable ending songs, and there’s an occasionally sticky lack of rhythmic fluency between passages, but there are lots of ideas and idiosyncratic pleasures to reward anyone prepared to give their grubby pop a close listen.  Looks like Paul Hobson had the right idea all along.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Truck 2016: Sunday



At Sunday lunch we see some Truckers walking back from McDonalds.  That’s quite a stroll, they must really be into that stuff.  Perhaps trace elements of bovine faeces are addictive.  If that’s the case, they should have saved time and simply gone to the Barn.  Blades Club might be nothing multiplied by zero, but young duo Mother Me are actually pretty great, floating gaunt harmony vocals over cro-magnon drum machine, twin chiming guitars and a Korg that barely gets touched.  They sound a lot like Bauhaus and Oxford’s own D Gwalia, and it’s brilliant to see young people make such bleak music...especially when one of them has glitter on her face.  Storme sweeps commandingly in later with some downtempo synth pop and an ultra-emotive vocal.  At times the set clutches clumsily at big gestures like Glee doing Bjork, but we’re more often reminded of trip hop torch singer Dot Allison, and even at times of early Sinead O’Connor.

Ysgol Sul are The Senseless Things without the fun, but otherwise Gorwelion Horizons keeps the quality up for the third day.  Junior Bill take cues from The Specials and The Police, and like all the good Jamaican music they nod towards, have an impeccable sense of musical space, giving songs space to unfurl.  HMS Morris, Nightshift favourites from last year don’t disappoint, despite once again playing to a mere smattering.   Theirs are budget seduction jamz, heavy on the slinky guitar and sleazily buzzing synth; they also have the best beard to falsetto ratio we’ve ever seen at Truck.

Abattoir Blues are named after a Nick Cave LP, but they could well connect with earlier Veterans stage booking Too Many Poets and their self-defined “graveyard grunge” genre.  There’s certainly a similar grunge feel, although the Brighton band edge more towards the dirt encrusted whilst keeping some melodic noise hidden in the guitar avalanche: think The Jesus Lizard & Mary Chain.  The vocalist, however, knuckles about the songs as if he’s in some Fugazi-shaped hardcore band, and we’re not sure it really fits together: still, we’ll never turn down some proper savagery.

Formations are an odd lot.  They start their set with a muscular dubby rock stomp that has a slight Tackhead flavour, before building to an elastic rap rock verse that’s Vaguely Against The Machine, and then flipping sideways into a chorus that consists solely of the word “drugs” yelped over and over in a mad-eyed falsetto.  Their next tune features some Jan Hammer synth disco, and we have them pegged as a weapons grade version of old Oxford funk merchants Rubber Duck, with a slight hint of Holly Johnson.  Not unequivocably any good, then, but a lot more intriguing than most of the guff that has wafted from this stage for three days.  Guff like Blossoms, who are to Climie Fisher what Wolfmother are to Led Zepellin.  They have a song that sounds like Pet Shop Boys’ classic “Domino Dancing” has been squeezed through a character killing mangle, and the whole thing’s so like a benighted mid-80s Radio 1 roadshow we just want a crack at the snooker quiz to try to win the chance to cut our own ears off.   So we go home instead.

Plodding wearily along Steventon’s long cobbled causeway, we reflect that Truck has effectively become Cornbury Junior.  There are lots of incredibly anonymous bands, and a fair amount of safely retrograde sonic targets but, even as we lament that the only truly unpredictable acts were brought in by BBC Oxford or BBC Cymru or were slipped in on the Veterans stage, it’s hard to take a stance against large, friendly, appreciative crowds, who are clearly loving so much of what they see, and not shy of losing the odd braincell/shoe/fragile fragment of dignity expressing it.  We have to admit we had fun, and saw a fair amount of strong music, and feel certain that we’ll be back for truck 2017.  In two years.  But also twelve months early.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Truck 2016: Saturday (conclusion)

Thoughts go from interesting “Happy Mondays vibe” to “sounds like Nation” in seconds, and after not being able to get a description of Circa Waves from one of their fans beyond when and where they’re playing, proving that they’re only for people who have no interest in music whatsoever we decide to end the day with instrument inventor and cracked poet Thomas Truax, a sort of end of level baddy for the sound engineers.  Just as Richard Osman should by rights never have been allowed past the gatekeepers of contemporary British mainstream culture for being too odd and clever, Truax should not get a rousing response from a festival that thinks Catfish & The Bottlemen fit for human consumption with his oddly shaped, endearing songs, yet here we are.  Top marks.  

Truck 2016: Saturday



If Black Peaks recall The Club That Cannot Be Named, the Saloon stage is pure Bennett brothers Truck history.  Alt-country might boast the most inaccurate prefix in music history, but we won’t hold that against the late noughties style acts who fill this corrugated shed with sweet tones, not least the smooth-voiced Stevie Ray Latham who starts our Saturday.  Later we catch Samo Hurt & The Beatnik Messiahs, in which a man who amusingly resembles an occasional Nightshift scribe and Oxford promoter bashes out dirty Diddley country garage in the middle of the floor, like Carl Perkins pan-handling for pennies outside C&A

From The Alarm to Stereophonics, Wales seems to turn out a lot of big-boned melodic rock.  Fleur De Lys keep this tradition alive and whilst their clumpy tunes might not win any races, they could melt hearts with an impromptu break dance at the school prom – or perhaps we’ve been influenced by the sort of feelgood films on show in the cinema tent.  Do people pay nearly a hundred quid to come to a festival to watch The Goonies in a tiny hot enclosure?  Apparently so.  Probably more fun than checking out New Luna, in fairness, whose generic driving rock has a few tie dye guitar sounds, but is let down by growly vocals that seem to be trying desperately to puff the music up to stadium size.  They could have learnt a lot from Prohibition Smokers Club over the on the Veterans stage, where ex-Oxford boy Lee Christian is leading a rinsing P-funk Prince-flecked soul revue.  Each song is a sticky blast of glam rock and filth...rather like the dressing rooms from 70s Top Of The Pops must have been, we now suspect.

Anelog exist on the tuneful cusp between indie and MOR, and their set seems equidistant between Belle & Sebastian and Huey Lewis, which might not be the highlight of the day, but is a fuckmile better than Dagny, the experience of whom can be triangulated from Miley Cyrus, Icona Pop and the stale air in a balled up prawn cocktail crispbag.

Many of the best bands pull you in two directions at once, and Flights Of Helios make a big happy hippy haze into which Joy Division darkness and Chris Beard’s tarnished monk vocals swirl.  The placement of Horns Of Plenty amongst the crowd for “Dynah And Donalogue” is truly inspired. 

Brighton’s Thyla sound rather a lot like Belly, which is a very pleasant thing to do.  Nothing revolutionary here, but they’re a hell of lot more memorable than the next 3 acts we sit through, whose names we shall not dignify in print.  It’s up to Luke Smith & The Feelings to make us smile again with their existential Chas ‘N’ Dave schtick.  Luke is old Truck through and through, out of step with the prevailing ethos, nice, slightly bumbling, and well-loved by a vocal minority: perhaps he’s the Steventon Jeremy Corbyn.  Most surprisingly moving moment of the weekend comes from a rewrite of oldie “Luke’s National Anthem”, turning it into a lancet sharp anti-Ukip lament.

Luke may not be the epitome of cool, so we are inspired to check the fashion trends: it looks as though 2015’s dungarees and backwards caps are being taken over by crushed velvet crop tops and bumbags.  Yep, every tenth person on site has a bumbag, generally worn to the front, which means they should probably be rechristened cash mirkins.  The other popular look is “multicoloured wastrel”, as many people indulge in a giant paint fight on Saturday afternoon.  It looks as though the paint won.  Probably outwitted them.  Oh, and some girls seem to have come dressed as Magenta Devine, we won’t try to work out why on earth that should be.  Minecraft t-shirts still reign untroubled amongst the under 10s.

We naturally have to visit Afrocluster, in case they sound like Fela Kuti doing krautrock.  They don’t, inevitably, but they are a phenomenal rap/funk band, with a cracking frontman, a sashimi slicing horn section, and a rhythm section so far in the pocket they don’t know where to put their keys.  It’s an astonishing bubbling groove beast of a band, that is right up there as one of the best of the weekend: score another to Gorwelion Horizons.


Sunday, 31 July 2016

Truck 2016 Friday pt 2

Later we catch Maiians’ excellent set, starting out like Godspeed!  You Black Emperor on Sleeping Bag and including a tune that sounds like “Papua New Guinea” arranged by Tom Tom Club, and Beach’s unconvincing set that sounds like Hail To The Thief played by Fields Of The Nephilim, which is rubbish, though they do get points for bringing huge reverb pedals to the Barn: drop them a line about it through coals@newcastle.com.  But, the night belongs to Jurassic 5, who are phenomenal on the main stage, and certainly don’t deserve billing beneath the bloated tedium of Catfish & The Bottlemen.  They might rap about how they take “four MCs and make them sound like one”, but the strength of J5 and all great hip hop crews is how each member has individual strength and character, throwing their style into a relaxed whole like Avengers Assemble For Netflix and Doritos.  The whole show, down to the lighting cues, is as tightly drilled and crowd-pleasing as The Moscow State Circus, but the group never loses the handmade, unfussy of classic hip hop.  Even the DJ cutting session, the B-boy equivalent of a stadium drum solo and wee break excuse, is tons of fun (there are two DJs, meaning that there are 6 members of Jurassic 5 tonight, which must have pleased that new-math Gorwelion engineer).  Earlier this summer Oxford saw sets from rap demigods Sugarhill Gang and Public Enemy.  J5 were – whisper it – better.


Steventones

Most of this stuff is in the latest Nutshaft.  There are a few dashed off dismissive criticisms that were cut, to make the review more positive.  It was a good festival, I enjoyed it more than last eyar, but by God, there was a lot of incredibly average music on the bill (and a lot of people going non-average mental for it, inexplicably).

Funny how awful I found Ady Suleiman this year, last time I saw him I thought he was at least acceptable.



TRUCK, Hill Farm, Steventon, 15-17/7/16

“We’re running two hours behind,” says the engineer at the Gorwelion Horizons stage, “and twenty minutes ahead”.  Oh, thanks, that’s – wait, what?  Have we entered some sort of South Oxfordshire Twilight Zone where normal rules don’t apply?  Is Didcot power station, the slow dismantling of which continues with a controlled explosion partway through the festival, some sort of mystical key that keeps the laws of logic and science in place?  Looks like it, fellow Truck travellers, looks like it.  How else do we explain the fact that there are 2500 more people here than in 2015, and yet the site feels open and uncluttered, and there are very few queues?  That the ecstasy of a crowd’s response over the weekend seems inversely related to our ability to remember the music?  That the amount we can enjoy the event doesn’t really seem to be linked to the quality of the line-up?  That a pint of Hobgoblin is about the same price as it is on George Street, and Truck still allows you to bring your own drinks, whilst other festivals claim they need to charge six quid a pop?  Is everything topsy-turvy in this field?

Even getting in confuses us, as we have to come past the main stage, but then walk the entire length of the site before doubling back, meaning that most of our experience of Puma Rosa comes drifting on the breeze.  It’s good stuff, though, like a chunked up Candy Says with a brief trip into The Sugarcubes’ witchy scarepop.  The charming chaps at Retro-bution Gaming, who are offering Truckers the chance to relive some classic console fun over the weekend, are surprised by our knowledge of the Neo Geo and that our definition of “retro” means Chuckie Egg and text adventures, so before we can feel any older, we sneak across to the BBC Introducing Virgins stage for some less contentious classic japes from Kancho!  Their two man rock laced with exhortative vocals brings up a marriage between departed locals 50ft Panda and Days Of Grace, but such retro-referencing is unimportant.  What’s important is the fat riffs stomping over the field like corned beef golems with murderous intent.

Monarks don’t manage to kick things into gear nearly as well, resembling an emoier Six. By Seven.  There’s nothing wrong with their set, but it’s unconvincing, like getting a telegram reading “Rock the fuck out” delivered on a silver platter by an aging asthmatic royal retainer.

The main stage seems to be home to some pretty shocking nonsense at this year’s festival, and indeed, the younger clued-up audience seems to treat the Market stage as the place to be, but Ady Suleiman has got to be about the most egregious offender, with his cruddy unplugged Jamiraquoid reggae soul fluff fouling up the air.  On this evidence it wasn’t Curiosity Killed The Cat.  It was shame.  Still, at least Ady has some songs and only stays onstage for thirty minutes, whereas at the other end of the field there’s a great big trailer full of Boss salespeople in which a man in a stupid patchwork cap plays inane blues licks constantly for the entire weekend.  If Nightshift were rich we would have just strolled up, bought every piece of mojo artillery in the place, and then smashed it up, set it on fire and used it to cook marshmallows for the Rotary Club volunteers.

They may have trouble understanding numbers, but once again the BBC Cymru Gorwelion Horizons tent hides some of the festival’s gems.  Not only do Cut Ribbons provide a lovely antidote to the fretwank fraternity – “I don’t think this guitar can go in E, let’s do a different song” – but they play percolated pop laced with melody that resembles Stereolab without the krautrock, or the glory days of Alphabet Backwards when they were all about sherbet and heartache.  Cool Michael Nesmith/Benny from Crossroads woolly hat, too.

We take a quick visit to the kids’ tent, where we find a man dressed as a sheriff sitting in the dirt and singing a very slow, dirge version of “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, like a clown having a break-down, and we decide that the very young have far more taste than any of us, especially anyone aged 16-22, who should be setting the world aflame with music.  Take Homeplanetearth, a not entirely unpleasant but far from weighty young crusty-pop ensemble who make us think of Back To The Planet.  And we’ve not thought of Back To The Planet since 1993.  How blissful those 23 years have been.  Bastards.

Amazons are like The Presidents Of The USA via Then Jericho, except crapper, so we make a trip into The Barn, which now seems to be pretty much sidelined as a stage and which is generally empty all weekend – although perhaps nobody can stand to run the gauntlet past Big Billy Twiddlebollocks and his Boss Box of Bad Blues.  Forty Four Hours weren’t strictly worth the effort, but they are at least interesting, the two of them dressed in black and ranting politely over wistful piano chords and thin drum machines like Richard Clayderman’s audition to join Atari teenage Riot.  Then we notice the boys are twins, and so we’re left with the image of Jedward: The Rehab Years.

People are not walking, they are running towards the Market tent for The Magic Gang, cramming in and dancing like it’s 1999 and it’s going out of fashion and nobody’s watching and there’s no tomorrow.  We’ve seriously not seen this many people crammed into a space since we went to the coffee stall: there are 8 of them stuffed behind that table, but we still have to ask 4 times to get a cuppa?  Is it a test? 

Truck used to be a huge proponent of metal, and whilst Brighton’s Black Peaks don’t signal a return to past interests, they are the only decent heavy band we’ve seen at Hill Farm for about 3 years.  They take the most acceptable parts of noughties metal and weld them firmly to a thrash chassis before spraying it all with the sort Kerrangular post-post-rock we hear a lot of nowadays, and that’s all just fine, but it’s Will Gardner’s vocals that floor us.  His harried screams and guttural growls are like a vortex of crows, and he inspires a proper old-fashioned mosh pit in the packed Nest tent from old-school metallers and members of The Club That Cannot Be Shamed.

The local presence is strong at this year’s festival, but Lucy Leave possibly take the crown.  Their crazing paving pop brings together prog, psych and punk with Blur’s sense of a good tune, whilst the drumming is astonishingly frenetic and jazzy, like Gene Krupa squashing ants for money.   If you wondered what it would sound like if Stump, Tiger, Neu! and Hawkwind got together down the pub for a pint of mild and a game of astronomy dominoes, Lucy Leave’s “40 Years” will give you an inkling.

As if they’ve been playing too much Tekken at the Retro-bution tent, two bands in succession take us back to the early 90s.  Glitched give us politics, anger and syndrums in a way that should make Forty Four Hours hang their heads in shame if they’re still backstage at the Barn, and DMAs relive that brief moment before Oasis became a tedious brand, when they were still an intriguing mixture of influences culled from diverse sources like the Roses, shoegaze, The Who and Flowered Up.  Except, in place of The Beatles DMAs seem to have venerated Simple Minds and The Housemartins.  That’s odd and not always successful, but they make a good case for themselves, and everyone in the tent seems to know the words, so fair enough.  Plus, the acoustic guitarist looks as though he’s got everyone else’s coats on, perhaps he lost a bet.