Monday, 8 June 2015

Slam Drunk - words & pics from Slam Dunk South and more

Slam Dunk South ****1/2*
The Forum, Hatfield, May 23rd 2015
Pvris, Set It Off, Thy Art Is Murder, Shvpes, We Are The Ocean, Don Broco, Lower Than Atlantis, While She Sleeps, Architects, You Me At Six

Been a busy month. Many shows. 
Many bands. Many friends. Many cold frothy glasses of medicine.
Over the next 50 pages or so is a motley collection of iPhone pics from the pit and from the hip. Usually after many cold frothy glasses of medicine.
Along with the random word farts, hopefully the spirit, energy and joy of live rock music is captured. 

Well, kind of. 

Dive in...

So, to Hatfield. The second leg of what’s becoming one of the UK’s most important festivals. Definitely aimed at the younger end of the market, Slam Dunk has led from the front alongside other one-dayers like Hit The Deck, Takedown and a handful of others, but has grown a bigger beard and bigger set of danglers as it’s matured a little quicker than its notional siblings. The strongest line up to date boasts big names from just about every genre in  rock pantheon. From pop punk and ska punk to deathcore and pop rock, there’s a leader of every pack here today. While She Sleeps, Architects, YMAS, Don Broco, Less Than Jake, The Bronx...the list is as exhaustive as it is extensive, with the only problem of the day being who to actually watch and who to painfully forego. So, onwards and upwards...

Set it Off *****
Kicking off on the nightmare opening slot on the main stage are the frothy and teeny Set it Off. An impressively sizeable crowd has already gathered and dutifully loses its collective shit as front man Cody Carson leads the poppy, pleasant enough and creditably performed set of sing-a-long soaked, smile-inducing sass. A bit cheesy and high school-friendly at times but a tasty starter on the packed menu that gets the hungry young ’uns digging in greedily. As a starter, think prawn cocktail. But washed down with a Blue WKD. Burp. 

PVRIS *****
The hype around this lot is unrelenting and gathering considerable momentum. So, is all the fuss worth it? Well, if big power pop with an electronica-infused and a smattering of faux-heaviness is your thang, then it’s easy to see why all the column inches and pixelated prose have been spouted and expounded. They’ve certainly got the songs, the hooks and the energy. A feisty and charismatic front woman. And a fairly original sound. There are moments of Issues or AWOL Nation, but generally they’re on a path of their own. Pvs mvl. Vrviment.

SHVPES *****
Getting things started on the ‘heavy ‘ stage are another band with an oh so cvrrent vse of the letter V. Shvpes (formerly Cytota) And that’s pretty much all that’s terribly cvrrent. Their tuneful metalcore is far from unlistenable though. Ticks all the boxes. Well played, well put together and enthusiastically performed. A developing bvnd who will surely develop their sound as they continue to cook. Just need a bit longer in the oven. But palatably meaty.

Thy Art is Murder *****
Not really my bag. It may be deathcore. Or death metal. Or death of a salesman. Whatever it is, in reality, it’s little more than a bit of a din. Angry, gruff, sweary  ‘singer CJ McMahon has a go at pop punk (fair enough) , calls just about everybody in the world a cunt and wild boar  squeals, burps, roars, growls and screams through a heavy as a randy rhino’s balls set. There’s a lot of machine gun blast beats. Loads of downtuned riffage. Dollops of sub bass and a lot of finger pointing and of course, loads of cunting, fucking bastard swearing. As I say, not my bag. 

We Are The Ocean *****
So, it seems the former darlings of the post-hardcore/ladcore scene (if that was actually a thing)  from a few years back have been locked in a log cabin with a bong, an ounce of Lebanese or Moroccan resin, the complete works of Led Zeppelin, Free, Bad Company, 
Pendragon, Budgie and the odd T.Rex single. And, tell you what, the results are a proper grown up casserole of cock rock, prog, boogie, soul and good, honest hard rock. Led by gritty-voiced, snarling and sneering, gum chewing headbanging Liam Cromby, the Essex quintet produce a blistering, boisterous and big-balled set of proper bloody rock and roll. 

Not that most of the alcopop-swigging teenies gathered in front of the main stage seem to be totally captivated though. Nevertheless, a new found maturity, some sodding great tunes, smart grooves and frenum-tightening riffs hint that it won’t be long before this lot are headed for more grown up, and hopefully bigger, audiences.
Have no clue what an architecture of time is though. And certainly wouldn’t know how to build one. Pass that bong. Think we’re going to need it. Heady and hearty stuff.

Lower Than Atlantis *****
A hugely busy schedule for the always entertaining and ├╝ber-honest pop rockers seems to have blunted Mike Duce’s normal spit and spite this afternoon. Although they manfully plough through the prime fillets from their fabulously catchier-than-chlamydia eponymous last long player, something doesn’t appear to be turned all the way up to eleven. Saying that, the biggest crowd of the day so far has gathered in a drooling and enthusiastic throng doesn’t seem to give a rodent’s anus. All the biggies from the album are given an outing and the adoring crowd, bounce, mosh, jump, jiggle and sing back just about every syllable. Duce’s radio pick up on his acoustic fails during an aborted attempt to perform the always goosebump-inducing Another Sad Song from among his fizzy-drawered  acolytes, but he brushes it off and the deservedly popular boy-next-door band crack on with a couple of old faves (Beech Like A Tree and the S.T.D. paean Deadliest catch)
before ending with the brilliant Here We Go. For clearly tired lads, they do a bloody good job. 

Don Broco ****1/2*
Next up on the main stage are the loveable perma-grin wearing and inducing Beds bad boys Don Broco. And from the off, it’s clear they’re here to party. Aren’t they always? Having been largely locked away for aeons concocting the next chapter in their manual of how to take over the world by seduction and being just bloody nice blokes, they’ve emerged on the run-up to the launch of their long-awaited new album Automatic to start the foreplay. And a typically boisterous and beautifully played set hints at what’s to come. New choons, Automatic, Fire and What You Do To Me from the album that are already out in the public domain are smoothly assimilated into the bill of fare alongside all the existing party tuneage with a wildly moist and aroused young crowd already fluent in the lyrics (albeit nowhere near as clever, smart or neat as their previous librettos). There’s even room for a Bad Rabbits/Hot Chocolate/RHCP soul explosion mash up new tune Superlove which is about as far from fan favourite Thug Workout as spit is to lube. We get the walk, the wall of death, the sass, the sing-a-longs and more bouncing than a fat lass’s buttocks on a trampoline before the final call to arms of You Wanna Know wrings the last energy and drop of Jager bomb infused sweat from the spellbound and smiling masses.

Architects *****
Closing the ‘loud’ stage tonight are Britain’s very best heavy band. Architects. Having seemingly finally to have found themselves after wrestling with demons, identity issues, cancer and crises of confidence, the Brighton quintet, tonight are bringing down the curtain on the most successful stanza of their career so far. The absolutely spellbinding Lost Forever//Lost Together album chapter is coming to an end. But this evening, in front of thousands of baying and loved-up apostles, it feels as far from a wake or a pyre-lighting as one could imagine. In fact, it almost feels like the launch of a new ship before the old one has even been brought into dry dock. The ever-articulate, ingratiating and charming Sam Carter leads the ‘celebration’ from the front. A totally controlled, powerful, but expressive and emotionally charged set truly sets them apart from the chasing pack. It’s raw, challenging, visceral, thought-provoking, testicle twisting genius. A good handful of tracks from the last album are interspersed with older favourites, prompting frenzied sing backs, collective shit being not just lost but sent into orbit and, of course the bizarre nihilistic but neck hair erecting sights and sounds of thousands of collective throats roaring YOU FUCKING PIGS in unison, unity and unbridled affection. What a band. What a show. What a way to start the next chapter.

The rest 
And so it ends. And what a day. The vibe couldn’t have been better. The rain more or less stayed away. Of course, there weren’t enough bogs; it wouldn’t be a proper festival if there were. I got to see most of the bands I wanted to. Caught some I didn’t expect to. Missed some I’d really wanted to (couldn’t get near the attic for either Baby Godzilla or Fort Hope). Drank far too much cider. Danced too much for a man my age. Met up with so many great buddies and bands and met some new friends too. All-in-all, a total triumph. And a marvellous celebration of everything that is right about rock music and the wonderful, weird, whacky and whacked-out people who love it. Long may Slam Dunk continue to support, celebrate and inspire the musicians and fans alike.

PS. Knuclepuck were alright. But although While She Sleeps were immensely popular and their set was tight, explosive and raw, poor Loz’s vox were really straining and just hope he regains some of the napalm-soused face-melting power he used to possess. Missed The Bronx, Gallows and a bunch of other great bands. Caught about half an hour of YMAS and must admit, did mouth along to more of the words than I’d ever admit to knowing. And I’m going to have one hell of a hangover in the morning. Cheers.

Arcane Roots *****
Oslo, Hackney, Friday 22nd Saturday 23rd May 2015

First Night
Hackney is a shit bunker. Let’s be honest. No amount of pop up shops, fixed gear bikes, no-socked  beardies and pho bars will ever make it anything else. It’s rubbish. There, I said it. However, it is the setting for two hugely important nights in the career of one of the very best bands in the land. Two nights to round off an intensive and gruelling UK tour. Two nights with two different sets. On the Friday, pretty much a run through of the astonishing Left Fire ‘mini’ album from 4 or 5 years ago cut with quality cuts from the equally brilliant Blood & Chemistry album and a couple of new ones thrown in. From the off, Andrew Groves and co tear the place apart. And the enthusiastic, appreciative and sweaty crowd love every second. The band are note perfect but this is no slavishly dot-for-dot, indulgent muso fest; oh no, this is raw, emotional, important, soulful, joyous, integrity-drenched genius. Simultaneously ripping the flesh from our faces and caressing our soft bits. The perfect balance between technical virtuosity and heartfelt expression. There are few bands who can amalgamate the raw power, the fragility, the melody, the bombast, the light, the shade, the tightness and the expression in such a spellbinding way. Very few indeed.

Second Night
Surely they couldn’t? Could they? It is too much to ask to improve on what, last night was nigh-on live perfection. Well, they’ve only bloody gone and done it. Seriously. Publicising tonight’s menu as a fans’ special, Messrs Groves, Burton and Wrench (the amazing last minute stand in sticksman for this tour) put together a set that is seriously from another planet. No, fuck it, from another parallel universe. Everything is, well, just perfect. The playing, the interplaying, the vocals, the emotion, every squealy and pinch harmonic, every razor-sharp time signature diversion, every missed beat. Everything. Groves even treats us to a beautiful homage to BB King, further cementing him as one of the great contemporary  guitarists who’s not afraid to play his instrument rather than just use it a s a blunt downtuned riff cudgel. An impassioned speech half way through proceedings confirms that the lads know they’re in the midst of something pretty special too. And they proceed to shower the heaving crowd with gifts aplenty in the form of coruscating new tunes, slotted into a mesmerising and masterful collection of almost embarrassingly perfect contemporary rock music.Tonight, Arcane Roots have produced, not the nigh-on perfection but absolutely stunning, engaging, bowel-shifting, heart-melting genital stirring perfection.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim *****
Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, Thursday 28th June 2015

They don’t get out much. But tonight, Sweet Billy Pilgrim are out and proud to support their dazzling latest long player Motorcade Amnesiacs with a show in the bowels of Hoxton Square. A decent sized crowd of industry types, accountants, not-so-young professionals and serious looking discerning, beard-stroking musos are gathered to worship at the pulpit from where garrulous, deliciously dry and ever-charming front man Tim Elsenburg conducts his preaching to the largely converted.

The new album is given a fair airing and the new songs, although shorn of the studio layers, instrumentation and massive production, sound absolutely bloody splendid. Wearing their multi-inflences clearly on their wizard’s sleeves, the six piece live line up counjor up Steely Dan, Captain, The Kane Gang, Prefab Sprout and even moments of Tool: the result is a refreshing, comforting but wonderfully original creamy cocktail with traces of raw, powerful spirit not far form the lips. Elsenburg seems to be enjoying himself throughout and shows genuine emotion at the spine-tingling, tear-jerking  multi-harmonic crowd participation in the spellbinding Blue Sky Falls. A truly gorgeous evening in the presence of a truly gorgeous and clever genre-defying band. Amen.

Rolo Tomassi *****
Our Black Heart, Camden, Tuesday 2nd June 2015

Let’s keep this brief. No one does what Rolo Tomassi do. No one. Their fucked up, thought-provoking, intelligent melange of metal, jazz, neo-classical, ambient, experimental, mathrock, mathcore and electronica either flicks your switch or it doesn’t. For the record, I’m firmly in the flicked switch camp. And tonight, I’m not alone. 

A sold out Black Heart fan oven is absolutely rammed with fellow supporters and followers of the oft weird but always wonderful Sheffield five piece. Tonight is the second date on a four date dart around some of the capital’s smaller and sweatier venues to get behind the launch of their stunning new album Grievances. And although short and sweet (if you can call being eviscerated and having the top of your bonce brutally drilled into sweet), the gathered disciples are treated to a perfectly balanced set of mayhem and melody, brutality and beauty, vitriol and virtuosity. And, in short, it’s brilliant. 

Now, here's what the blog would look like if it wasn't designed in shitty HTML in Blogger:

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