Tuval and The Heights – The Hope & Ruin – 18th August 2015

The evening has a strong start with an engaging support act in the form of Wax Machine. Offering up shamanistic 60’s psychedelia, the group includes a saxophone and their own tambourine player/dancer a la Bez from the Happy Mondays. Their front man throws his body around like Jagger performing some obscure ancient ritual and the crowd’s attention is assuredly held.

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Pere Ubu – Komedia – 16th July 2015

When Pere Ubu’s front man and only consistent member David Thomas arrives on stage he strikes a fragile figure. Supported by a cane and spending the duration of the gig in a chair – it’s quickly revealed that Thomas was in intensive care only two days prior to the show. Not that he seems to think this is much of a big deal. He orders the rest of the band to relax when he thinks his vulnerable state may be effecting their playing and shrugging it off by nonchalantly stating “the current score is grim reaper: 0 – David Thomas: 3”. Clearly his near death experience hasn’t resulted in Thomas loosing any of his bite, berating his band with often contradictory commands; “none of that creepy arty-farty stuff!” he barks, which is a pretty tall order for a band that includes a clarinet and Theremin in its core instruments. They don’t seem particularly phased by all this, but its unclear whether they’ve just grown accustomed to his temperamental nature or maybe its all part of the act. Only the drummer seems to be at a loose end from Thomas constantly picking on him, and at some points attacks his drum set with such vigor you have to think he’s probably imagining hitting Thomas’ head. Despite the protests to the contrary its the presence of the ‘creepy arty-farty stuff’ that makes their music such a unique experience, blending blue-collar proto-punk simplicity with elements of improvised jazz and minimalist modern classical music, it somehow manages to feel lofty and experimental and gritty and real all at the same time

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Micachu and the Shapes – Green Door Store – 20th July 2015

Often is seems the music of Micachu and the Shapes is labeled pop, albeit very experimental pop, because well, what else are you meant to call it exactly? It really does feel like what they create is like no one else around at the moment, with the only discernible feature being that they know their way around a melody, even if it is one integrated into a beguiling mesh of noises. Whilst band leader Mica has been keeping herself busy, including an award-winning soundtrack for auteurist sci-fi flick Under The Skin, its been a while since the group have released any new music so tonight is met with much anticipation over which route the band may take next.

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Best Friends – The Hope & Ruin – 15th July 2015

Best Friends have always been a band to embrace all things DIY, from the homemade feel of their videos to the lo-fi sound of their garage rock-pop. It’s immediately apparent tonight will keep things in a similar vein with one look at the shambolic banner for the band’s name. Basically a bed sheet with the letters ‘B F’ written with some spray cans, it looks like something thrown together for a particularly messy house party in someone’s basement.
 
After Bar Rats and Broadbay set the scene, touring supports act and local group Birdskulls take to the stage. They clearly have a loyal following, or perhaps just a lot of very enthusiastic mates, as things are turned up to 11 in no time at all with head banging and even some premature crowd surfing erupting almost immediately. Birdskulls lead singe has that pained, slightly American inflected, vocal style and a command of an earnest melody and a heavy riff that is reminiscent of classic grunge. This is rock as it should be, working on a crowd in a way that feels totally cathartic in its release of energy.

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The Go! Team – The Haunt – 4th July 2015

To me, The Go! Team has always been first and foremost a live band, creating music with the primary function of getting a crowd of people moving. But whilst new album The Scene Between is still undeniably The Go! Team, it seems to be operating at a slightly lower voltage than past efforts, moving towards the psychedelic indie-rock of bands like the The Flaming Lips. It’s a shift in style represented before the show even properly gets underway by a triptych of projections that looks either like cells viewed under a microscope or a multi coloured lava-lamp. It’s all very far-out and sixties, casting the band in a light of trippy purples and yellows once they arrive on stage.

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Bully – Feels Like

Bully - Feels Like
At this point it’s pretty clear we exist in a culture that fetishizes all things 90’s. We’re now far enough away from the decade that it can easily be reduced to a collection of cultural signifiers, whether its viral videos re-imagining modern TV shows as kitschy 90’s sitcoms or the prevalence of brightly coloured sportswear. Those cynical of this appropriation will no doubt find that the all too familiar granular, lo-fi VHS aesthetic of Bully’s single ‘Brain Freeze’, complete with fuzzed-out guitars and an over abundance of plaid shirts, will induce much eye-rolling. However it would be unfair to say Feels Like is a mere throwback, and that there’s nothing more to adopting the tropes of a previous generation of bands than trend jumping. In a world where the Internet means music and geographical specificity have become completely disconnected, the 90’s represents the cusp before everything became completely decentralised. Embracing the 90’s alternative rock scene could be a way to reclaim locality by harking back to a time that had more limitations and therefore music was forcibly rooted to a time and place. The Nashville scene that Bully has emerged from shows that, although still fairly anomalous, a music-centered sub-culture can still exist. Its music with a physicality and weight, meant to be experienced by real people in a real world.
 
2015 is certainly shaping up to be the year of the front woman. People such as Courtney Barratt and Waxahatchee’s Katie Hutchfield are coming out with some of the year’s best releases, writing raw and personal lyrics and fronting their own backing bands. Whilst Bully are technically a fully fledged band, much like the aforementioned artists this is really a one woman show, with lead singer and guitarist Alicia Bognanno basically the sole writer and even recording and engineering most of the album herself. These are Bognanno’s songs and the rest of the band is there primarily to play them.
 
Bognanno’s voice, which has a hoarseness that is full of imperfection and character, is undoubtedly the immediate strength of the record. On the excellent opener ‘I Remember’ it sounds like its about to give out before the song has even got going, perfectly capturing the frantic recollections of a relationship gone awry. But its also able to float through verses with a dreamy, cool insouciance, making it the perfect tool to accompany the loud / quiet / even louder formula that the album has pretty much nailed. The version of ‘Brainfreeze’ is significantly weaker than the version that appeared on last years ‘Milkman’ EP because it fails to adhere to this rule. Its sound may have been considerably beefed up but instead of the guitar tone going from a brittle verse into the crunchy chorus it remains sluggish throughout and Bognanno’s vocals are so far forward in the mix they sound adrift from the rest of the instruments. Apart from this minor setback however, the production throughout the album is admirably sparse and characterized by a dryness to remind you this is a bunch of musicians playing in a tiny room together. The huge grubby, dissonant riff in the chorus of ‘Trash’ demonstrates a perfect marriage of title and song, whilst in the verse of ‘Trying’ a offbeat guitar part is quickly offset by a hard-hitting chorus.
 
The lyrics largely address those regretful but formative moments of youth that is fodder for so many young bands. Images of “throwing up in your car” and Bognanno going home to “play guitar on my bed” are littered throughout the album and are likely to evoke equivalent memories in most listeners. ‘Picture’ seems to describe a typical adolescent brattish strop, with Bognanno being forced to look at a picture of herself in some capacity: “I hate it so much!” she screams, and you can almost hear her bedroom door being slammed shut. Hidden amongst the more bubblegum melodies however is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it darkness and anxiety that colours much of the lyrics. ‘‘Six’ finds Bognanno recalling the guilt of accidently breaking her younger sisters arm and when she breaks her own two years later, she confesses that “I know it didn’t make us even / so I slept on it for one whole night”. The choruses makes it clear this is a confession addressed to a current or potential lover – “I would never make you feel / the way that some people make me feel / for I wouldn’t do that to you”. The intensity of doubt and insecurity is much the same now as it was then. The past can’t be viewed from a distance, but only from the center of the whirlpool of hormones and emotion that existed when these moments were first experienced. There’s something inherently anxiety inducing about the difficulty Bagnanno has in trying to separate her past and present self, tapping into that foreboding sense you experience when in your twenties that maybe you haven’t grown up as much as you thought.
 
Bognanno has shown herself to be a promising and unique new voice, capable of a subtlety and complexity not apparent from a cursory glance. Feels Like is simultaneously much more than a pastiche piece but is also a testament to what can be achieved with some chunky power chords, clever dynamics and a big hook.
Louis Ormesher
 

Leftfield – Alternative Light Source

It’s been 16 years since 1999’s Rhythm and Stealth and a hell of a lot has changed in British dance culture since. Garage died a death only for its ghost to be resurrected by Burial, dubstep momentarily ruled the world and the deep house peddled out by acts like Disclosure and Duke Dumont is now topping charts. The announcement of a new Leftfield album was met equally with anticipation and reservation. Would it simply be an attempt by another dance dinosaur to cash in on a new generation of ravers? On their new effort Leftfield has shed original duo member Paul Daley and with him the more progressive influences on their sound, such as dub and reggae, that made their first two albums stand head and shoulders above the rest in a genre that notoriously struggles with the LP format. What we’re left with on Alternative Light Source is simply a technically accomplished record that just about pulls of the balance between functioning perfectly for the dance floor and also offering enough variations in mood and texture to make it an enjoyable home listening experience.
 
‘Bad Radio’ gets things going quickly enough with its opening glistening pads and gliding square waves before dropping into a hard hitting distorted bass line and a drum rhythm that recalls the good electro of the late 90’s and early 00’s, such as the output of German label Clone Records or James Stinson’s seminal project The Other People Place. Leftfield have always been noted for their ‘leftfield’ and inventive choices when it comes to guest vocalists and this album is no exception. The understated vocals of TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe on ‘Bad Radio’ are reminiscent of Moderat. It’s expansively cinematic and emotive, almost dour, whilst still managing to work on a purely physical level.
 
‘Universal Everything’ offers up a more straight forward 4/4 beat, with sparsely used synth lines and textured vocal samples, the song feels like it will run out of steam way before it reaches the end of its 7 minute length, only for it to erupt as a peak-set banger. Whether it’s grime or dubstep, many of the developments that have happened in electronic and dance music in the UK since Leftfield’s sophomore effort have reflected the claustrophobic spaces of the inner city. In contrast the reverb-drenched synths here leave little space for ambiguity. This is music meant for huge spaces, used to fill festivals, warehouses or even arenas.
 
In general there’s little reference to the changes that dance music has undergone in the last five or so years, with the trap referencing ‘Storm Ends’ being the sole exception. All the tropes of the genre are here: the 808 drum beat, skittering high high-hats and the tongue clicking tuned percussion sounds are all present. Although the addition of delicate chords add much-needed light and darkness that’s absent from the cartoonish machismo much EDM style trap endlessly churns out.
 
‘Head and Shoulders’ seems like an obvious and rather self-conscious attempt at an updated version of the John Lydon featuring ‘Open Up’ on their debut Leftism. To replace him Leftfield have reeled in Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson, who has had plenty of comparisons made between his inflected Midlands drawl and Lydon’s own idiosyncratic vocal delivery. The track credits Sleaford Mods as collaborators but there seems little evidence of beat maker Andrew Fearn on the track. Without Fearns’ gritty naïve instrumentals, the pristinely polished production only serves to take the bite out of the Williamson’s voice, which isn’t helped by his slow, lethargic flow instead of his usually short-breathed ranting. His lyrics feel more like a game of word association rather than making any kind of cohesive sense but his enunciated “Chicken in the basket” is weirdly phonetically satisfying.
 
The almost beatless album title track uses a folky picked guitar line and at first feels slightly out of place until it suddenly plunges with a vinyl scratch into album highlight ‘Shaker Obsession’. Building polyrhythms out of clattering noises anchored to a bludgeoning bass line and kick drum, ‘Shaker Obsession’ doesn’t feel indebted to any particular decade or subgenre, instead choosing to rely on what sounds produce the biggest effect.
 
The choice of Ofei on album closer ‘Levitate For You’ was the most pleasantly surprising guest vocalist on the album. After releasing a handful of promising James Blake style, vocoder-laden soul cuts in 2013 and 2014 the artist disappeared off the radar. Here his voice is much more low-key than the bombast of his own tracks, but Leftfield compliments this with effective atmospherics and economically used bass.
 
Since Leftfield disbanded in the early 2000’s, indie and guitar music went on to dominate much of the decade, but the popularity of dance music has come full circle. Its big business now, in a way it hasn’t been since its 90’s heyday. Alternative Light Source sets out to capitalise on this; it’s loud as hell and doesn’t feel too fussed about trying to catch up with a new generation of producers. Barnes knows what works and he’s stuck with it. And sometimes that’s enough.
Louis Ormesher
 
 
 
 
 

The Vision Fortune – Bleach – 11th March 2015

Wednesday at Bleach played host to two Brighton bands and an interesting one from London. The Soft Walls has been a band I have been longing to see for some time, after getting their brilliant first album No Time (produced by fellow psychedelics’, Hookworms). Headlining the show was London act Vision Fortune, consisting of brothers Austin and Alex Peru. Previously on local label Faux Discx, the duo are now signed to ATP Records. Now touring their new album Country Music, I wondered how their sound has progressed.

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Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox – Concorde2 – 16th February 2015

What makes a good cover version? Is it a case of putting a new slant on the original, like emphasising a lyric, bringing a minor part to the fore, or simply singing the Bejeezus out of it? I don’t know if I’ve ever stopped to really ponder this, but I know of a man who has. Pianist and arranger, Scott Bradlee and the Postmodern Jukebox (a collective of musicians and singers) have been busying themselves for the last couple of years working on stylised covers of modern pop. They must be doing something right, as their videos have amassed 165 million views on YouTube! Their thing is to create mashups (Nickelback as Motown or Wham! as vintage 30s jazz, to name but two). However, is a mashup a cover version, musical muscle flexing, artistic genius or simply entertainment? I’d probably plump for a bit of all the above, but judging by the capacity crowd at the Concorde 2 on Monday night, such contemplations probably don’t concern Bradlee.
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James Walker – Brighthelmstone Promotions

I run Brighthelmstone Promotions specialising in live shows in and around Brighton, Brighthelmstone Management/PR (Ian Chambers is key account manager on some of these accounts) as well as co-run At The Helm Records with Ian. I’m also in post-production for Brighthelmstone Music TV, which will be on Latest TV soon

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