Review: Priests, Towel & WaLL

If ever there was a gig to make you think of its wider context – of the issues that the very event brings up, of how one evening can form a microcosm of a section of a music scene – it would and should be Priests’ debut UK show.

Although Priests have far from shied away from politics in their creations, they have been vocally critical of such an easy label to dub them with. It is blatant that they can be deemed such, but then other bands that do not fit the same musical aesthetic, rarely have this aspect of their music so persistently highlighted. Perhaps it is then worthwhile noting the other politics at play at such a gig: the ways in which the bands interact with the audience, the divides within the audience, how the bands respond to each other and how crowd members respond to band members .

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It’s easy enough to start recognising people at small DIY gigs in Cardiff and this is testament to the consistently excellent bands that DIY promoters book here; case in point, own noise and The Joy Collective’s line-up this evening of Towel and WaLL to support Washington four-piece, Priests. When a group of new faces turn up to a show, it’s all very exciting and somewhat intriguing but there is also something of the unknown – you can’t be sure how unified the crowd will be in its principles of action and reaction. Perhaps with larger gigs, this idea isn’t so obvious – of course people will conduct themselves differently – but the smaller gigs feel somewhat safer. You can go, knowing largely what to expect from the other people in the crowd around you. This isn’t relevant solely because of the genre of bands playing tonight, but that is a factor. Punk/post-punk and its sub-genres tend to be proud of its ethos and certainly hinges on specific principles.

What is overwhelmingly clear about Towel is how delighted they are to be doing this together. They’re having fun together, they’re a joy to behold and their collective humour shines through for the duration of their performance. Destruction is their aim and I was going to attempt to say something “witty” about distraction being their game (by which I mean they’ll grasp your attention from pretty much anything else) but their game is likely destruction too. And it’s great. Laughter filters through the cacophony of drums, fairground-esque keyboard and vocals in a number of their songs. They pair this with a chaotic conviction in what they’re doing: making and performing music that seems to act as an extension of their friendship, knitting together a force of targeted, wit-driven disdain. This same disdain can also translate into delight though, as we see when classic chant ‘Tinder Surprise’ becomes for one night only (or possibly multiple nights; who am I to know?) Corbyn Surprise, and the shouts of “left! Left! Left!” transform from swipes of rejection to celebratory cheers.

Towel are not the only ones to celebrate Corbyn’s appointment as new Labour leader. WaLL too begin their set dedicating a song to Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. WaLL are quite the promising act. They are not far from maturing from angst into exciting, unadulterated insight into social issues. As yet their sound comes across as something of a collage of influences – Fugazi, Hole, The Slits – but it’s certainly a strong basis on which to develop, and, paired with the courage of their convictions, they’ll soon be a force to be reckoned with. Their skill leaves little to be desired – easily they transition from melodic to discordant and their performance is always ready to complement their sound, whether it be brooding into the microphone or leaping across the space. The vocalist’s command of the audience is refreshing as, before they even began, the tall people are asked to move to allow others to better see. Setting a fundamental basis of respect and awareness of others is a fantastic move on their part – one that adheres to my understanding of contemporary punk ethos, and one which I can only wish will become more commonplace in time.

As something of an aside, certain behaviours during Priests’ set then struck me as out of place. It’s not that I hate fun but my facial expression likely betrayed me when a select few started crowd-surfing in a crowd too small to really support it and in which few others seemed comfortable with it. In the divide of back-patters vs. eye-rollers in the crowd, maybe the odd congratulatory back-pat made it worthwhile, but, if you allow me to be entirely figurative here, eye-rolls speak louder. Oh, and maybe I also just hate fun – who knows.

If I had not just declared my hatred of fun – they call me killjoy – I would herein wax lyrical on how enjoyable Priests are in every facet. Luckily for me, there is so much more to Priests. They perform with a passion that could almost be alarming, for you are soon to realise that this band have really outdone themselves on stage presence and energy, filling the space beyond its containment. That’s not to say that they refuse to hold back – they mark contrasts in melody and tumultuousness to faultless effect. ‘Doctor’ fantastically showcases the band’s signature lyrical wit, immediacy and the structural integrity of their instrumentation with all its vexed thrust.

 

Vocalist, Katie Greer – also of Chain and the Gang – makes point of endorsing the other bands on the line-up before the end of their set, paying particularly high praise to one of Towel’s final songs, deeming it one of the greatest things they’d heard of late. While thanking support groups is nothing out of the ordinary, this level of advocation is exemplary of the respect by which we hold one another up (and I don’t mean crowd-surfing) out of admiration.

Live: We Were Promised Jetpacks

As my stomach rumbles disturbingly, excitement surges through me, for I read the upset stomach brewing up a storm inside me to be no more than an anticipatory foreshadowing of We Were Promised Jetpacks’ tempestuous gig to come that very evening.

Across their three albums, We Were Promised Jetpacks have persisted with their thunderous fall-back sound to such an extent that it seems almost too easy a comparison to make. There are moments when I listen to them wondering if they could even be a ‘concept band’ – that they’ve listened to the likes of ‘A Wind’s Poem’ and thought to extend that one concept as their entire sound. Whether or not this is true, to do otherwise than parallel them to a climate of storms would likely elude their central themes.

In the midst of the crowd, the venue feels intensely muggy and close. It could be the layout of The Exchange, or it could be that I like to run away with conceits, but as the band gather on the stage they seem to loom overhead and the tightly-packed audience below bump up against one another with the electric atmosphere readying us for the first strike.

Whipping their way through their set, they are everything we have come to expect from the band: the cacophonous, crashing of drums and onslaught of instrumentally-led outbursts, while vocalist Adam Thompson’s eternally soothing tones tease and lull us. Even as he roars over the cyclone surrounding him, there remains an aspect of tenderness. They provide us with little by way of interaction, preferring to uphold a brooding front. However, on a number of occasions the bassist – he who is surely the essential undercurrent of such a sound – lets an expression of sheer joy break through and dapple across his face.

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Songs from the first album are certainly those that have the audience crowd at our most raucous, but then familiarity always is a crowd-pleaser. In fact, the distinction between the material from the three albums is largely imperceptible, yet they have mastered a formula that does wonders forthem, so they are not to be resented for continuing down the same vein.

Apt as ever, they finish on the tumultuous ‘It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning’. We crash and tumble our way through the calm of its build, craving that final perfect storm from which we surface, a-buzz and drenched in vapours of sweat and delight.

Live: Deerhoof @ The Marble Factory

The modest honour exhibited by a solid-sounding support band is a long reliable harbinger of a great show to come. The Marble Factory tonight is no exception. Cowtown take to the stage to showcase their tightly skewed sound. Their songs have a definite urgency to them, although they later joke that their nerves are speeding up their songs four times over. An air of fear, delight and eventually victory vaporises around them – an unsurprisingly confused cocktail considering the magnificent spectacle to follow them: Deerhoof.

As they first hit upon our senses, the sheer love of the crowd for tonight’s main act becomes immediately apparent. Across the front of the stage, they adopt almost a line formation as if to portray upfront the elements forming Deerhoof – each band member takes their songs to manipulate out different shapes but, without exception, they all tessellate perfectly.1502_deerhoof-1417824346

They begin their set with ‘Exit Only’ and ‘Paradise Girls’ from their latest release, La Isla Bonita. Satomi Matsuzaki’s deliverance of these songs grasps us with its deconstructedness – her style seems at first disarmingly uncluttered but it is consistently impressive and exercises an odd complexity.

Something almost geometrical emerges from their sound. While their songs feed off an enigmatic genius, there remains something of an abstract structure to crafting something that is so satisfying, we are putty in their hands. The shapes into which we mould are nothing compared to Matsuzaki’s superlative dance moves, which correspond so as to be surely written into the songs themselves.

So overwhelmingly brilliant is this set that we are owed something of an interlude and, yet again, they deliver as drummer Greg Saunier takes to Matsuzaki’s mic:
“Each night I stand up and start striding toward the microphone. I hear Ed start to giggle in my ear as I’m passing by. And today in Bristol on, whatever day it currently is… Feb Two Three, it’s the first time that I’ve ever worked up the courage to face Ed and say “Ed, what is so funny?” and at last I’ve discovered either the truth, or what he’s telling me to spare my feelings, which is Everything. Everything is funny. Whether he meant it or not suddenly I found a quiet moment inside my own mental experience that I agree 100%.”
This monologue is delivered with such perfect timing and artistry however that really there is no let-up on that overwhelming brilliance. We are simply more infatuated and ever more eager for whatever it is they decide to next subject us to.

Whether it’s the contortions of a demonic birdsong preluding ‘Bad Kids to the Front’ or the eagerly anticipated encore – inspiration for another comedic insight into Saunier’s mind [see appendix] – of ‘There’s That Grin’ and ‘Come See the Duck’, we are all honoured to bear witness to – and in the final case, participate in – an encapsulating performance so supreme.

Appendix: “It may appear as though we were stalling, just seeing the maximum width to which our heads could expand. In fact, 99% of the time we were gone we were just trying to figure out how to get the curtain back open – it’s Velcro-ed very tight.”

Review: Tuff Love, Roll for the Soul, Bristol

Roll for the Soul – a charming community bike café – is the setting for tonight’s Glaswegian trio of bands: Tuff Love, Pinact and Algernon Doll. In the lead up to the gig, the set times had been shifting around, re-ordering, until it transpires Pinact and Algernon Doll were stranded on the motorway and would no longer be playing. Although disheartened to be missing out on those two, the buzz of excitement filling the small, cozily lit venue remains intact for Tuff Love.

Tonight’s show is part of a micro-tour celebrating the release of their second EP, Dross, but they also pay heed to the earlier songs from Junk. The lack of glaring lighting on the stage area allows for wave after wave of surf-pop melodies to evoke images of dappled light emanating around us – it’s a signature haziness that has a distinct Glaswegian hometown flourish.

Each and every short, fuzzy pop song is met with great enthusiasm and delighted anticipation. One such song is ‘Sweet Discontent’ – saturated with sunny haziness, piercing drums, soothing vocal harmony and jaunty-dance-inducing guitar, driven by insistent bass.

The second single taken from Dross, ‘That’s Right’, pummels us with its catchiness, its scuzziness, its undeniable upbeat instrumentation. An unadulterated affection fills us all because Tuff Love are quickly proving to have mastered the perfect balance of impressive lo-fi with imaginative flair.

Finishing with ‘Slammer’ – a song that they wrote in a day last June – Tuff Love show off their ponderous yet energetic riffs and sharp lyrics. With a confident ease, they command our excitement – for, after a 45 minute set, our stamina is not yet worn down. If anything the friendly, encapsulating atmosphere is ever hankering for more. Something will happen, hopefully, we are told.

The organisers do not disappoint. After an interlude, two local musicians turn up to play an acoustic set, alternating songs between the two of them. Lou (of both Personal Best and Caves) and Warren (of something I’m sure; I regret I do not know) embark on a spontaneous performance with songs about binaries and fluidity; close friends leaving; and finish with Warren singing Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5. Hastily put together through necessity though it may be, this only adds to the sincerity of their compassion.

With the small group of us circled around the space in which they perform, there is something of a campfire to nature of it all: not just in the way that Warren, when playing, leaps around the space like a flame, but in the sense of togetherness, lightheartedness, and community. It’s all you could hope for and imagine in such a charismatic venue as Roll for the Soul.

You can see Tuff Love at Wales Goes Pop!, April 4th at The Gate

Review: Fago.Sepia, Gwdihw

It strikes me that no one really knows how to dance, or at least, at the gigs I attend, everyone is unsure of how to execute dancing without bringing attention to their awkward bodies. A few years back when at a Johnny Foreigner gig in Bristol I witnessed (and was complicit in) an apparently spontaneous choreography in which the audience danced en masse with a thrust forward of one shoulder, propelling the other back. That was it. In time with the music, we relegated our movements to our shoulders only.

Math rock music is particularly susceptible to this dancing affliction: arguably, it’s the subgenre most enticing to dance and has attracted dedicated fans who are keen to express their enjoyment and appreciation thus, but the unpredictability of the music leaves us vulnerable to misplaced shapes being pulled left, right and centre.

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Fago.Sepia’s debut gig in Wales is no exception. Like at jofo, dancing seems concentrated in one body part, although it differs for each member of the crowd: shoulders, hips, heads, waists; no doubt the French band have the power to afflict an entire, collective body with their confidence and expertise.

Their outfit is one that brims with self-assurance and an impressive certainty in their skills – a certainty that every twist and turn will infect the crowd with a glorious delight. They share in this very same delight: part way through their set, they thank us for their hot hearts (warming their hearts – this corporeal English idiom is about as graceless in translation as the dance moves I, for one, am attempting).

Onward, with their riffs that pirouette, gyrate and invite us into the over-excited frenzy, the taut structures tumble into dissolution. They clatter, they lull, they storm through our circulations with a wild precision to fuel a body of rhythms more toned, supple and tight.

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They deliver their final punch of fun with quatorze – the first song from their 2010 release, the resume – a fantastic texture of cool, jabbing guitars, intermitted with a yelp of joy reminiscent of that starting The JB’s Gimme Some More. Apt, as the bodies cease with their flailing limbs and shout an “encore”, before a steady dispersion.

Photos: Oli Montez, Circuit Sweet, http://www.circuitsweet.co.uk/

Live: David Thomas Broughton & Juice Vocal Ensemble – 23rd Sept

Read our extended interview with the engaging David Thomas Broughton right here

If his music on record has the beauty, complexity and diversity of birdsong, then David Thomas Broughton’s live performances are the theatrical, chaotic and spontaneous reality of a predatory bird in pursuit of its prey, crossed with the bizarre but endearing courtship display of the male hummingbird. His spectators can observe his rituals and behaviours ceaselessly and can only expect to emerge in a confused state of awe.

This show is not him alone though; tonight Juice Vocal Ensemble join him on stage to showcase their recent collaborative Sliding the Same Way.

The first two songs of the set lead in relatively conventionally, or as much as you could anticipate from someone acclaimed for their unpredictable stage antics. ‘Woodwork’ naturally preludes ‘Yorkshire Fog'; both showcase Broughton’s rich, cooing vocals, but the latter of these songs is given the perfect setting by girls’ crystal a capella.

Soon enough, during the delicate harmonies of ‘Oh, Nurse of Mine’, Broughton turns to a small case brimming with all manner of equipment: a device that emits a monotonous tone akin to that of a heart monitor, another to both distort his voice and to emulate something between flatulence and a toy train, to name a few.

Unpleasant as these additions may sound if taken at surface level, they actually add depth to the performance, particularly for ‘Unshaven Boozer’. Juice Vocal Ensemble’s sound effects on record seem to parrot the subtle voices of the boozer’s drinks: the crack of a can opening, the whispering of a dying froth, the chug and glug of a bottle being emptied, but amongst the bleeping and indiscernible distortions of David’s equipment it could just as well be the mechanics of the industrial town of which the lyrics speak.

As he begins one of two songs in the set from his second album Outbreeding, the girls seem to take a backseat, but this is only meant to lull us into a false sense of security for this is the song to which Broughton refers the following day in a Facebook status, saying “I feel a little violated. But I gave them free reign. So I let myself in for it. Surprises all round!” ‘Nature’ is one of his more energetic songs, so while he is brought into a state of dishevelment, his unaffected stamina is shown to be thoroughly impressive. He performs with his usual intensity and modest plume, like that of a heron, as they unlace his shoes, unbutton his shirt, turn up his collar and swap his watch for one of their own.

Only when he has the appearance of a disorientated fledgling, do Juice turn on the audience, or rather, those of us wearing watches. No longer are we entitled to keep track of time, not only for our watches now embellish the arms of the band, but I think it fair to say we are all lost in delighted befuddlement.

For David Thomas Broughton, anything and everything is a prop, a means to add some everyday surrealism and to baffle audience and musicians alike. His success is most palpable when his simple “Cheers” swiftly plummets us into the realisation that the performance is over – a man humbly potters on the stage as his counterparts lie sprawled across the floor. They rise. No one knows what just happened but titters of joy are to be heard all around as we migrate away from the stage.

 

All photos by Sarah Dorman

An Interview with David Thomas Broughton

Ahead of his show at Clwb Ifor Bach on Sept 23rd and a forthcoming documentary about him, we chatted with the intensely talented David Thomas Broughton

With David Thomas Broughton, it was fascination-at-first-listen. The fluctuating, meandering spirals of Ever Rotating Sky caught me in a trance and it’s not completely implausible that I’ve been hypnotised into a state of awe ever since. It is often his spontaneity, his unconventional stage antics and the peculiar beauty of his music that catches the attention of his audiences though. Having not yet seen him live, I’m at a loss as to what to expect at Clwb Ifor Bach later this month, but I’ve heard tales of upturned chairs, a personal attack alarm making an unlikely debut in duet, and various fruit and vegetables incorporated into his performances. All to be ascertained from this is that the show will be a heady cocktail of the strange and spectacular. Prior to his upcoming show with Juice Vocal Ensemble in Cardiff, I ask him about the documentary currently in the works about him, music in South Korea, and the appeal of the Log Lady.

As part of the upcoming Documentary about you, the film makers asked you to prepare a set from scratch for End of the Road festival – leaving you alone with a variety of instruments in a room for 2 days. Were you content with the outcome and the audiences reaction?
It was an interesting thing to actually put a process in place. I’m usually resigned to the fact that stage fright, or whatever it is that happens to me, means any plans and ideas I build up prior to a show are lost as my mind goes blank. However, as much as I attempted to build ideas to form a set for the festival, things played out in the only way it seems they are able to. All plans and new song ideas that had developed during the previous weekend vanished as I stepped on stage. And despite being able to reel off some of the more memorable songs from my latest record, the show is always a process of recalling fragments of ideas and stumbling through assembling sounds from what I have provided myself on stage. As such, I can’t say anything about differing audience responses or whether I was content with it. A show is never something I am totally happy with because of the circumstances explained above.

How have you felt about the documentary so far? 
It is flattering and strange. I still find it funny how much of a response I have had to my music and performance. And I’m impressed by the director’s dedication. There had been an idea around for some time to document the perception of what I do, as it is often cause for some disagreement as to its worth as music or art, as to whether I am a fraud or not. I do something I enjoy, and have found a platform to sing, but also tackle any other idea of performance or expression I feel like trying or feel is in need of release. It is not something I like to analyse, and in this respect I’m not necessarily keen to hear what people have to say about it. But I know some people are keen to discuss it.

Has anything in the documentary interviews surprised you? Has it changed your perception of what people think of you or how you view your own music?
As I’m not really involved I don’t know what’s being said. Greg has not revealed anything to me as he’s keen on it being a surprise, should I watch the whole thing. I know that some people like what I do, or that’s what I hear, as the people who hate it probably don’t go up to people to lambast them to their faces. I know there’s dislike out there too though as people are looking for different things from a performer, I know this because there are things I like that others don’t and things I don’t like that others do.

Have you found your approach to spontaneity, particularly in performances, has changed (or do you expect it to change) in regards to your recent collaboration with Juice Vocal Ensemble?
There is definitely an added awareness of others and a need to give them space that sometimes reigns in my wandering. But I have been lucky to work with people who are happy to take on spontaneity and react to me doing exactly what I always do. To some extent it can provide me an added prompt or stimulus to take a show somewhere it wouldn’t normally have gone, other times I kind of forget other people are adding their textures. It’s a funny thing, but I often have no consciousness of what is actually happening. And it takes some time or people’s post-show analysis to bring to mind what actually occurred during the set.

For much of the record – sliding the same way – it’s a much more structured affair and actual parts have developed which we will be trying to stick to, especially on the short a capella tracks, but it adds a nice pull back to centre a set. Despite trying to fix some of these tracks down the juice girls have the great enthusiasm and ability to join me on wildly different journeys using the songs as a base… We’ll just see what happens.

You’ve said before that your stage antics arise from boredom and a desire to explore the space and possibilities of your performance. Do you find yourself wanting to push expectations more and more as you become increasingly accustomed to the stage?
I do want to keep trying new things for my own entertainment, but I do also see a need to rely on recurring themes. Out of a pragmatism, giving me some fallbacks, and out of a recognition that giving a little of what is expected is good for audiences. Familiarity is not a bad thing, as it taps into emotion through sparking realisation as memories or shared life experience. To place this alongside surprises and spontaneity involving the space reinforces a shared experience in that moment. My mood and physical state also affects things. Obviously I’ll be lazy when tired, or less inclined to be nice if I’m angry. But the most tense shows often expose the rawest emotion and inspire more debate or introspection.

Have you performed in South Korea at all? How do audiences there receive you?
There is a different approach in the main, starting with technical ability, which makes it feel more of a challenge. But yes, I’ve done a few shows, and with somewhat limited audience for the small underground or alternative scene I’ve managed to peek into so far I have had good reception. The only thing is not being able to express the Englishness of the show, so any humour is not recognised so easily. They sense a general emotion of melancholy and sadness in the songs and tone of music. Some appreciate the process I put on show. But Korean culture tends to mean that they can’t really be negative so they politely say it was good even if they didn’t think so.

Why does imagery of birds, insects and the like feature so heavily In artwork for your albums and merchandise?
It is what I am interested in, it’s what I respond to in the world. I draw what I like or what I’m surrounded by. My attention is drawn to these things. I like to draw and I like detail. It often distracts and annoys me to think I can make out detail in things I can often drift off trying to just observe the world around me. Maybe there is also a recognition of the organic and natural as related to the how I have made music without being conscious of pre-planned structure (although there is structure there).

I noticed way back on Facebook you said “I wish every episode of my life had a log lady introduction” – do you find yourself wanting to incorporate aspects of film, music, art into your life to expand your performance into the everyday?
There will remain a separation between my everyday life and my performance, but there is no doubt that everyday life is what inspires art, film, music in general. I am a fan of misdirection or misinterpretation, so the log lady’s cryptic take of future events are my kind of funny, perplexing and sometimes cerebral. But, no, bringing my performance into the everyday is not what I want. But bringing the everyday into performance is surely a widespread and welcome procedure?

Is there a new record in the works of your own music?
Sure, we’ve mastered a massive recording session I completed over a few years exchanging mixes and new parts over the internet between me in Korea and a producer in France. We had sessions players come and add parts and I managed to pull in favours for guest singers and players and spoken word, contributions by email from Scotland, Bristol, Texas, London or me going round with iPad to capture their part. It’s quite a lot of music so let’s see what we can get out in 2015.

 

All photos by Sarah Dorman