Monday, 1 November 2010

The Joy Formidable, O2 Academy 2, 5th October

The Joy Formidable play tonight as part of the NME Radar tour. After the performance they gave, they’ve plonked themselves well and truly on the map.

After an interesting set (in the broadest sense of the word) by support act the Flats, followed by Chapel Club, the crowd rapturously applaud the Joy Formidable on stage. The North Wales three piece outfit suit their name – they are a joy to watch and will be a formidable presence in the music industry. Songs such ‘Greyhounds in the Slips’ and the amusingly titled ‘My Beerdrunk Soul is Sadder Than a Hundred Dead Christmas Trees’ sound fantastic live, the drummer Matt Thomas in particular giving the performance of his life. Ritzy Bryan and Rhydian Dafydd make an endearing pair on vocals, making good interaction with the crowd and declaring their love of Newcastle. T

here really is little to fault about their performance, and new single ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’ is an instant crowd pleaser. Their climatic final song is played with such ferocity, such commitment and passion, it is almost mesmerising to watch. Ritzy Bryan swoons round the stage, waving her guitar around, turning knobs and dials scattered across the stage, all of which keeps the mood of the music unpredictable, engrossing and original. Once their new album, ‘The Big Roar’, is released, the only way is up for these Welsh rockers. The reassuring thing is, they thoroughly deserve it.

Michael Worthington

Northumberland Arms, 19th October

I shall at this moment that I am not, and indeed never have been, a keen fan of hardcore nor punk music and so it comes as no surprise when I shall that the gig at the Northumberland Arms on 19th October was my first hardcore gig. I must also take this opportunity to state that I was surprised by the sheer quality of the hardcore scene in Newcastle, with the level of musicianship being far above that I am used to seeing at low-key pub gigs.

The night opened with a refreshing and surprising rebirth of the early 1990s shoe-gazing genre, with the local artist, ‘Waskerley Way’, taking his name from a cycle route crossing the Pennines ending just shy of Newcastle. The landscapes which must be visible whilst on this route, I hope are as lush and breath taking as the sonic landscapes which he produces with little more than a guitar, producing the trademark shoe-gazing wall of sound, and a laptop producing electronic and thoroughly modern beats and back parts.

The display of local talent continued with the likes of ‘Tide of Iron’, who also started the night’s hardcore line-up with their powerful instrumental skill. A power-trio in the strictest and truest sense of the phrase, the interplay between all three members shows a dynamic and bond which many bands who are touring and playing much larger venues fail to have. Tight, feedback riffs emanate from the guitar over the truly thunderous bass parts, both of which fit perfectly over the heart-pounding drums which deafen and shake a venue where a PA system isn’t quite required and yet gives Tide of Iron the high decibel power which their music fits so perfectly.

Austria’s ‘The Plague Mass’ did not let up when it came to both onstage energy and indeed volume providing a barrage of ‘Rammstein’ -influenced continental hardcore rock. On tour throughout the rest of mainland Europe and indeed England, these rockers seemed not to see Newcastle as ‘just another gig, in yet another city’. The explosive nature of their furious guitar work and thunderous drums shows the eager energy of an enthusiastic band who are passionate about the job they have set themselves, and most importantly they enjoy it. Singing in a mixture of both German and English, where in the instances of the former, much of the audience could not understand the lyrics not being fluent, it was no matter. Just as with the shoe-gazing vocals heard earlier, those of ‘The Plague Mass’ are delivered in such a way that specific understanding or even hearing of particular words and lyrics is unimportant, so is singing filled with angst and anger, which does not need a dictionary to be translated from German to English, or in fact Geordie.

The evening was brought to an epic end in the form of the Cornwall originating ‘Crocus’ whose brand of so called ‘screamo’ music I would never describe as ‘my cup of tea’ was nonetheless performed with the energy and passionate which the previous acts had seemed to leave upon the stage. In an era where their angst-driven lyrics can be found being played on Radio 1 by such fellow hardcore bands as Enter Shakari, it may not be long before ‘Crocus’ start receiving air-play of their own. The talent is there.

And I think this can be said for all of the bands which graced the slightly cramped and low-ceilinged stage of the Northumberland. The talent is present. When the charts today are found filled with seemingly endless and mindless ‘R’n’B’ tracks, it gives me hope that although they do not tailor to my taste directly, the spirit of rock, however hardcore, is still alive and well, to be found in the local pub on a cold Tuesday night.

Will Reynolds

The Count and Sinden, Digital, 22nd October

Having had the honour to meet and interview The Count and Sinden mere hours before their headline slot at Digital, I had the opportunity to question them on their set-list, but like every great artist and magician, they were tight-lipped on what was to come.

But what was to come was an amazing display of skill and ability as not only DJs but as performers, playing what can only be described as an enjoyable set of dance-music, house music to be exact, even for someone such as me whose ear for the electronic and dance side of music is limited.

Although their latest tour, on which this is one of the larger dates, was described by the duo themselves as an album promoting tour, this was not to say that they merely played their first release, the under-played ‘Mega Mega Mega’ from start to finish as it appears on the CD, as is the temptation with performing the latest album. Although the quality of their own album tracks and indeed the performances of them were flawless, The Count and Sinden only really hit their stride when a remix of other artist’s tracks are coming out of the decks and through the speakers.

Having spoken in the interview before about their admiration and friendship with Mr. Mark Ronson it was only minutes into their set, a fabulous reworking of Mark Ronson and the Business Int.’s ‘Bang Bang Bang’ resulted in the transformation of a, in my opinion, bland track into a dance floor filling track. The alternative-infused house-music which marks The Count and Sinden apart from other Djs in my eyes continued as later in their set, the pair dropped their fantastic collaboration with the Mystery Jets, ‘After Dark’, one of the best tracks of the past 12 months.

When a performer is as good as The Count and Sinden were, then the set list they play is irrelevant as the performance itself is so inspiring and entertaining that your lack of knowledge of the tracks fades away to pure enjoyment. The skill and indeed passion shown by both The Count and Sinden was a perfect example of a musical bond and friendship which can only be found between a limited number of musical duos. The Gallagher’s rarely spoke on stage, or even off it, Jagger and Richards have a notoriously strained relationship, but this icy working environment was not to be found at Digital with The Count and Sinden.

With one of the greatest sights I have seen on a stage was the pair playing, on various occasions, on the same set of decks, bouncing ideas of each other and making the other grin, laugh and indeed dance at a dropped beat or musical interlude. This comradely, shown initially as friendship in the interview, transformed into a seemingly telepathic musical link with the sole purpose of wowing the crowd of Digital and to reduce the dance floor to a teeming mass of movement and enjoyment.

Will Reynolds

Kodo - One Earth Tour

Hall One, The Sage Gateshead, 15th October

Elevated on a platform bordered with glowing lanterns, the heavily-varnished o-daiko gleamed centre-stage. Magnificent in both size and design, its mere presence commanded respect from the eager audience that filled Hall One in The Sage Gateshead. Around it lay an array of Japanese drums in all shapes and sizes. The lights dimmed and a spot shone on the front nagado-daiko that rested on the floor. Its player entered, took position and, with the softest tap that managed to fill the whole room, began an evening of music like no other.

Founded in 1981, Kodo are based on the 'floating treasure chest' of traditional Japanese culture, Sado Island. The birthplace of Noh theatre and now also home to three varieties of puppet theatre, the island has for centuries been a centre for the arts in the Land of the Rising Sun. Today, its history and natural beauty provide fitting inspiration for Kodo to create rhythms of the most primal type – rhythms belonging to an ancient art that was almost lost forever during the Second World War but, thanks to the tireless work of veterans of the group, is now very much alive.

On stage, the large drum was being beaten faster and stronger. A scream of effort took its player to his knees and, after beating harder than seemed physically possible, another agonising scream brought him back to his feet. His body tense and his head shuddering to the rhythms, he somehow found the stamina to drum through two or three more distinct phrases before a final strike gave rise to a rapturous opening applause.

Lighter, more fun pieces followed. There were smiles all round when, led by the young Yoshie Sunahata, individuals of Kodo had the chance to show off their skills as they each took turns to entertain the audience and themselves with short solo impromptus. Later, a comic piece that demonstrated all the nuances and colours hand cymbals have to offer caused plenty of laughs from both those on- and off-stage. There was a growing sense, however, that many of us were waiting to hear just one thing – the grand o-daiko mounted on the platform.

But that would have to wait as entering the stage was a lady. Tied with a white knot, her beautiful red kimono was embroidered with two small butterflies just visible from these front rows and her black hair was tied up, decorated with a crimson flower. In white slippers, she shuffled towards a small mounted nagado-daiko and, with two delicate taps, began a plaintive duet with a male member of the ensemble drumming in a corner of the stage. Their music captivating and the lady's graceful movements bewitching, the pair told a melancholic tale of unfulfilled passion between two young lovers, separated by distance but united by the spirit of the drum.

It is believed that the sounds of the daiko resemble the very first rhythm experienced by us all – that of a mother's heartbeat in the womb. Indeed, its thunderous vibrations are often used to help lull a baby to sleep. “Heartbeat” is in fact one of two meanings of “Kodo”. The second, read in a different way, is “Children of the Drum”, a reflection of Kodo's desire to play their drums simply, with the heart of a child.

There was nothing simple, however, about one piece. Composed especially for Kodo in 1976 by the late Maki Ishii, 'Monochrome' was as thrilling to listen to as it was complex to play. Incorporating mainly small shime-daiko, it was possible to hear everything from the gentle sound of rain drops to a swarm of locusts drummed out at an unbearable volume. At such points, time would seemingly stand still before crashing back down to earth again with the mighty boom of a gong. With such sophisticated techniques used throughout the 22-minute composition and such masterly playing to match, this was a definite highlight of the evening.

Then, finally, the moment had arrived. The platform was wheeled to the front of the stage and, as a heralding song came to its close, the loin cloth-clad leader of Kodo, Yoshikazu Fujimoto, and his apprentice climbed on board. For a moment, silence filled the hall. Then the first tap to the black and white painted skin took its place, resonating in all directions, then the second, the third and fourth, quicker and quicker until a steady rhythm was maintained. Bouncing on his feet like a boxer in the ring, Fujimoto was putting his whole muscle-laden body behind each strike, attacking the o-daiko with his beaters like a wild beast. A change of rhythm, more variation this time, his painful gasping for air clearly audible whenever he had the chance. And as if the sight of his drumming and the sweat pouring down his bare neck and back hadn't transfixed every pair of eyes in the room, there was another visual element to the event: a giant shadow of Fujimoto's caused by the platform lanterns was flickering on the ceiling, evocative of spirits or silhouettes dancing in a cave. A mighty climactic beat lead to a deafening cheer before a final flurry of percussion by the entire cast brought about the end of the show.

A powerful performance, primal and earthly in many ways, Kodo's 'One Earth' was both of a forgotten age and timeless. Executed with true Japanese precision and incredible energy, we were all privileged to be a part of this concert given by the very best in their field.

Hedd Thomas

Friday, 8 October 2010

Architects, 02 Academy 2, Monday 4th October

The last couple of years have seen the prominence and the fan base of Architects soar. Their blazing performance at the 02 Academy 2 is an indication why.
The event was bursting at high energy levels well before Architects graced the stage – a sold out crowd proceeded to mosh relentlessly throughout the three support acts, culminating in a ferocious fight between two fans during the Norma Jean set. The two troublemakers were subsequently dragged out of the venue. However it was Architect’s who packed the biggest punch tonight. Once on stage, the Architects got straight down to business.
Songs such as ‘In Arrogance’ and their latest single ‘Day In Day Out’ ooze with flavour and impressive vocals from frontman Sam Carter. Songs ‘Early Grave’ and ‘Numbers Count For Nothing’ are both utterly stunning – the frenzied response from the crowd a clear reflection of this. The Brighton born frontman commanded the audience to "get drunk and have some fun" - the mass of moshing fans willingly obliged.
Architects produce a sound that is both uncompromising and ferocious, and it is evident that every band member puts 110% into their performance. The Architects send out a clear message from their explosive set. They are on top of their game, and the only way is up. Although their style of music is not suited to everyone’s taste, they have clear potential to be heavy-weights in their own genre.

Michael Worthington

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Preview The Playground Presents: Kavinsky, Kap Bambino, Autokratz...

9pm – 3am
£10 advance / £13 door
Tickets from

Purveyors of style and taste The Playground are taking over the sumptuous surroundings of Camden’s KOKO for a night of cutting edge electro and intoxicating beats this August. A jam packed line-up spread across two different rooms in the venue includes some of Kitsune's finest live acts the catchy and incendiary live performers Autokratz and remix masters Punx Soundcheck. The night is headlined by the smooth eighties-infused electro of Kavinsky.

Other unmissable acts include the poppy synth-led finesse of Rubicks, and Is Tropical (new Kitsune signing) with their infectious blend of wonky electro, quirky lyrics, and rock inspired rhythms - the new Late of the Pier?

With the backing of trend setting company de jour The Playground and their impeccable selection of live acts, this night is a must for all who deem themselves connoisseurs of modern dance music so grab a ticket before they go from and come down to dance like your shoes don’t fit.

By Louise Morris

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Evolution Festival Newcastle 2010

The biggest musical event of the North Eastern calendar Evolution festival which straddles the Tyne is now more expensive and more full of pre-pubescent drunkards than ever before due its strategic occurrence right in the middle of university exams...still don’t let that put you off, the line up was varied to say the least with fantastic dance heavy acts dominating the Blatic stage on the Sunday and chilled folk on Monday up at the Ballast hill stage. In case you were forced into confinement due to exam guilt or couldn’t face the possibility of having to listen to Tynchy Strider, here’s what you missed:

How to sum up the initial atmosphere of Evolution 2010....well, the ticket queues were a mile long, full of underdressed underage girls/overdressed orange women with stilettos (yes at a festival) and hyped up boys determined to smoke as much as possible to convince everyone around them they were actually old enough to do so. By 4pm the younger festival goers were mainly covered in the own vomit, passed out on the way back to the Baltic stage, or whirling around in mosh pits, formed regardless of the musical genre of the performers.

But enough moaning, Beardyman was his usual ingenious and charismatic self, mixing and beatboxing tracks completely new tracks live with irreverent comments on the Newcastle sun thrown in for good measure. Filthy Dukes provided a decent DJ set with remixes and old favourites, though certain tracks did seem to crop up all too often across the artists who played the Baltic stage...Scratch Perverts provided a refreshing change of tone with their dub style remixes and Doorly’s set was dancey and fun, but it was Fake Blood that most people were waiting for. Despite the man himself (Theo Keating) being typically elusive and refusing to give NSR a mini interview/vox pop as he just doesn’t do interviews, photos and all that jazz he played a crowd pleasing set of heavy electro/house, getting everyone bopping up and down in frenzy as really how many people can actually dance properly to house? Stand out track was “I Think I Like It” though sadly Theo ignored requests for the incredible “Mars”. All in all an energetic day.

Monday: Ahh the Ballast Hill stage, an oasis of calm, circus skills, ice cream and actual grass. This is where I spent most of my day to watch the folky acts perform inside their red and yellow tent. Arrived part way through talented Illinois singer Lissie’s set, I’d never heard her stuff before but her powerful husky voice successfully carried her band’s mix of slightly country infused rock, acoustic balladry and soul. If the small crowd of newly converted fans clustering around the backstage fence are anything to go by good things are going to happen for Lissie this year- like supporting the incredible Local Natives on their current tour.

I was slightly worried at the severe lack of people in the tent before Slow Club’s set and their ridiculously early time slot- they really should’ve been headlining the day. The lovable Sheffield duo blustered on to the stage to a suddenly bustling tent, and their first song collapsed into giggles as drum fell over and beer was spilt much to the consternation of Rebecca, apparently poor old artists performing at Evolution are only entitled to one free pint! They pulled it all together though and delivered a heart warming, beautiful performance, showcasing many new tracks from the upcoming (and yet to be recorded) second album, all with characteristically poignant lyrics though often with a darker underside and more driving percussion. Rebecca asked for requests then rejected the ones she deemed naff before making every male audience member’s heart leap when she professed that if she thought the Geordie accent the best for a boyfriend! Old favourites like “Because We’re Dead”, “It Doesn’t Have To Be Beautiful” and “Giving Up On Love” were rapturously received and the haunting “Wild Blue Milk” was an apt set closer.

Caught some of local band Brilliant Mind’s enthusiastic set at the Unsigned stage, enjoyable indie pop at its best, a blast of noise from Dananananaykroyd’s final song at Spiller’s stage then back up to Ballast Hill for Danny and the Champions of the World. The folky troupe completely filled the stage with a total of eight members toting anything from a bango to a fiddle to a harmonica. The songs were lovely laid back old fashioned country/folk but got gradually more repetitious as their set went on, my musician friend with me at the time declared that they needed “better arrangement”. Briefly saw De La Soul for a bit of old school hip hop, though apparently their set was a tad disappointing including none of their most famous tracks. Then it was gothy London outfit The Horrors turn to impress, something they failed miserably to do. The band assembled themselves in their twiggy-legged way, but what was that I could see? Colour?? Oh yes one of the Horrors had decided to break the mould of conformity and was brazenly sporting a patterned shirt! They started up a murky dirge of looped chords as the crowd eagerly anticipated Faris’s arrival. Ten minutes later, the music was still the same boring fuzz and when the frontman finally decided to make his not so fashionably late entrance he couldn’t even sing! His voice was cracked and could barely be heard over the guitars, which some wise sound engineer when hearing his wrecked vocals had turned up. What can I say? Yes the second album is pretty good but CD rather than live listening is advisable.

Oh dear, another let down was the rather tragic self-important performance of Donovan, allegedly a great singer from the 60s/70s, though judging by the quality of his twee poppy songs it was hard to see why. He enlightened his audience with gems of name dropping crap (“The Beach Boys, Beatles, oh yes I knew all of them”), constantly trying to enhance his own prestige but failing to back it up with any credibility. *disclaimer- this seems to be an entirely subjective opinion as he had a large audience of attentive fans old and young, I just discovered I really wasn’t one of them!*
Evolution headliners Delphic just couldn’t compete with the noise restrictions hampering the Baltic stage and gave a bit of a lack lustre set, but the festival was an entertaining mix of artists, styles and events, at times very very good and at others very very bad.