Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Friday, 6 May 2011

DFA1979 @ The Forum

Hands aloft, singing every word like Moses has just arrived with them etched onto a stone tablet, the crowd surges and lunges towards the stage. You half expect them to begin talking in tongues. As the lights get brighter and the music gets louder, the sweat pours. The resurrection has begun.

It’s been six years since we’ve heard anything collaboratively from Sebastien Grainger and Jessie F Keeler, but it’s clear from their ever-so- nearly sold-out appearances at the Forum (of which this is the second) that the fans have stayed loyal – praying, watching, waiting. As the lights go down, the roar is almost as deafening as the sound that’s going to follow it. A girl standing next to me raises her arms to clap her approval, revealing a tattoo of the group’s logo (the band members with elephant trunks) on her wrist. For a little known hardcore dance-punk band from a backwater in Canada, with only one full-length album and a particularly acrimonious divorce behind them, that’s no small accomplishment.

As Keeler later points out, bands that sell out The Forum usually have hours worth of material to draw from. DFA1979 play their entire discography, manage a bit of audience matchmaking, and sample Michael Jackson in just over an hour, including an encore.

But what an hour it is. Each riff, as massive as a skyscraper, crawls under your skin and makes you want to thrash and fight and punch and fuck. The pounding drums bring out some kind of deep primeval urge in the crowd, who bounce and sway and fall as one, like a sweaty human centipede, or cells wiggling in a petri dish. And then come the keyboards, crunching and fuzzing with feedback, as heavy as if Metallica and Slipknot held a thrash-off. It never lets up. The intense, arsehole-tearing wall of sound is what I imagine soldiers listen to in Apache helicopters when they’re getting ready to nuke something. If I had to psych myself up for a bombing raid, this and Slayer would be first on my playlist.

And then, no sooner has it begun, it’s over. Battered and confused, blinded by strobes and assaulted by speakers, the crowd stands shellshocked. They may not have cured leprosy, but DFA1979 rose from the dead, converted the non-believers and pacified the faithful. They’re probably backstage right now turning water into wine. Amen to that.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Camden Crawl 2011

Osama bin Laden may have been shot in the head and thrown to Davy Jones’ Locker, K-Mid and P-Willy may finally have had that snog on the balcony, but really, the bank holiday was about one thing and one thing only: The Crawl. Combining all that’s great about festivals (the desire to drink cider at 10am and, you know, bands and stuff) with actual toilets and a convenient ride home, North London’s finest institution turned ten this year. We celebrated by getting drunk and seeing some music. Once more unto the breach dear friends…


First up is Veronica Falls at Dingwalls. Their Primitives-esque tunes and adorable boy-girl twinkliness make us feel all mushy, and best of all, singer Roxanne’s red dungarees remind us of climbing trees, riding bikes, and the time our Mum let us play in a massive puddle of mud. Hearts warmed, and bowl cuts ruffled, we hop, skip and jump our way to the Black Cap for Eagulls, a slightly spikier proposition. Their non-hardcore hardcore may not have appealed to fans of the night’s final act, Cerebral Ballzy, but their sound is still ear-splittingly loud enough to crack a few pint glasses. Passionate, angry and delightfully jangly, the band take the best bits of The Las, The Smiths, The Sex Pistols and even Maximo Park, and channel them through sing-along tunes. Not your average punks.

Any eulogies for the death of hardcore are premature though, as we find ourselves faced with the sheer hilarity of Ballzy. It’s always hard to know if they’re joking or deadly serious, but whatever the case, the Brooklyn skaters are having the time of their lives. Bursting onto the stage with a swagger only New Yorkers can truly pull off, their multicoloured shirts and songs about puking, pizza, being rad and killing cops, make us feel like we’re thirteen and angry at the world. Despite their energy, the set falls a little flat though, perhaps because the long thin room feels a bit vacuous, and there isn’t really enough space to get a convincing pit going.


We start the day with a sense of déjà vu and another encounter with Ballzy, this time at the Red Bull arena. The fresh air must have revitalised them, as they seem less stale, more able to energise the crowd, and most importantly, louder.

Perhaps they’ve been taking tips from OFWGKTA who have the crowd whipped into a state of frenzy before they even take to the stage. As chants for their arrival fill the arena, it’s clear that the hype machine is in overdrive, and not only because Nick Grimshaw has been tweeting about them all morning.

It’s only their second ever gig in England and the pressure is on, but thankfully they don’t let us down. From the minute they bound on stage wearing balaclavas and spy coats, all bets are off. These guys are hands down the festival’s highlight, entirely justifying every column inch. Voices like DMX and Ol’ Dirty combine with dance beats, sick, weed-soaked lyrics (“Fucked a pregnant bitch and told my friends I had a threesome”) and Black Flag attitude to create the punkest non-punk show we’ve ever seen. There’s crowd-surfing, fights with bouncers, a stage invasion and a suicidal leap from the speaker stacks, as well as a moshpit that threatens to swallow Grimmers whole.

As we gasp for breath and shunt ourselves back onto the High Street we can still hear the band’s roadies begging people to stop partying: “Please get off the stage. We don’t want anyone injured. We still have a lawsuit pending from that gig in Belgium…”

Elsewhere, (on account of a programme misprint) we catch Benjamin Francis Leftwich, smooth of tongue and fresh of complexion, at the Forum; Flats – earth-shatteringly loud in a tightly packed upstairs venue; Treetop Flyers – all dandy hats, beards, double denim, truckers' caps and romance-at-the-rodeo four-part harmonies; and then, of course, Graham Coxon.

Indie’s foremost Alan Bennett lookalike takes to the stage a little late, but he’s so well loved by the crowd (who have earlier partaken in a rowdy sing-along of 'Parklife') that he could pretty much roll up whenever he fancied. Wearing his trademark stripy t-shirt, he roars through material old and new, veering from tight pop punk to post-punk, and even throwing in a bit of electronic-backed agit pop. Despite being described as ‘our generation’s greatest guitarist’ by Huw Stephens, he grimaces his way through chord changes and looks at his band in relief as he manages them, making it clear that it’s something he works hard at. Buzz saw don’t come easy.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Interview: Is Tropical

I’m not sure London has ever witnessed a band that divides opinion quite as much as dance-punkers Is Tropical. As famous for their mask-wearing and their insistence on standing with their backs to the audience as they are for their blissed out, synth-driven jams, as far as we can tell, you can either dig on their mysterious lo-fi vibes, or think they’re aloof, pretentious dicks. There really is no middle ground.

They've been knocking around the back streets of East London for quite a while now, but the world finally decided it was ready for Is Tropical back in early 2010 with the release of their debut single ‘When O’ When’ / 'Seasick Mutiny' on Hit Club Records. Spending the summer on tour with Mystery Jets, Klaxons, and The Big Pink, the band left a trail of confused-looking indie kids all over the country, and aroused the interest of legendary French indie label Kitsuné, who released the band's second single late last year.

Just as they're poised to play the massive Kitsuné meets Ponystep party over at Heaven this April, I talk to them about Justin Bieber, pounding fists and how they need to invest in some nit combs…

You seem to be having loads of fun doing what you're doing. Why are other bands so bloody miserable all the time?

We found a prescription book about two months ago so we're blithely working our way through that. But really, how could you not have fun travelling around and seeing your mates and being drunk in airports? It's impossible.

What's the best thing you've done lately?

A photo shoot with our mate Tom Beard. We got detained and nearly arrested by travel cops, but ended up getting out of trouble 'cos Tom did some wicked yo-yo tricks. Oh, and on the way home we decided to baptise each other in the Thames.

Once and for all – why the masks? 

Because being in a band isn't about making a series of lifestyle choices or statements. It's about making music and trying to play it live without your work being overshadowed by what trousers you're wearing.

Don't your management get all angry and pound the tables about the fact you still insist on covering your faces? Nowadays bands are supposed to be completely accessible at all times. You know, on Twitter and all that – telling us what they had for breakfast, or what the last sandwich they bought was.

Sometimes I Skype our manager and send him an animated gif of his own fist being pounded on the table. It seems to keep the wolf from the door.

What did you have for breakfast? What was the last sandwich you bought?

Alien head bong hit. Cheese and pickle.

You've previously squatted in places like the Toilet Factory. Are you guys more rooted now?

Yeah. Stoke Newington is the HQ, but it's like a permanent hotel. All of our mates come and stay on the floor for months on end because we figured out a way to get hot water. Even the rent game is a dangerous and exciting lifestyle, you know.

You guys are playing the Kitsuné Maison party on the 24th April. Who from the label should we be checking out right now? Or who are you looking forward to playing alongside?

Yelle are great. You should check out the new band The 23, too. I heard they’re quite good.

What else have you got coming up? Are you playing any festivals?

Our summer is currently being mapped out, but I’m sure we'll be out and about. So far all that's confirmed are some European ones that I can't spell.

You've previously said you think that this is currently a great time for pop music – would you see yourselves as fitting into a pop-style mentality or do you see yourselves as more subversive?

Pop music is the most subversive of all. People can rip the shit out of it all day and still, it keeps on creeping on, annexing and absorbing, relentlessly progressing in the face of what seems to be the cannibalisation of all that is culturally holy.

In that case is Justin Bieber our generation's Sid Vicious?

Justin Bieber is our generation's Bobby Vinton.

Finally, have you ever caught a tropical disease?

There was a time last year when we all gave each other head lice every two weeks.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Erotic porcelain, anyone?

Think, if you will, of porcelain. You’re probably picturing your nan’s mantlepiece, creaking under the weight of those disgusting clowns you’re hoping to duck come will reading time. You’re probably not picturing hooded youths beating a man to death, Snow White looking on shyly at Bashful’s hard on, or Humpty Dumpty getting his brains scrambled by the riot police. But then you’re probably not experimental porcelain artist Barnaby Barford (if you are then sorry)

Since graduating from the Royal College of Art back in 2002, Barford has been modifying a mixture of new and antique porcelain to create sculptures that make us reassess the nature of commemorative figurines. In his hands, a 19th century peasant boy becomes a 20th century teenage thug in a hoodie, and rustic maidens dancing on a bed of roses start brandishing guns.

Porcelain is no longer saved for best, but becomes an everyday tool in the artist’s cannon, something that can help them make a political or social point, or simply tell a tell of unrequited love. His 2008 series of works, which was filmed by Channel 4 for a short film, was entitled ‘Damaged Goods’. In it two porcelain figures, divided by class and separated by a shelf, try to find love in a bric-a brac store. Bless.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Epstein

Following in the wake of Mumford, Flynn and Stornoway, urban farmer types The Epstein are doing things properly. Their pop-folk EP, ‘I Held You Once’ was formed in cottages, hallways and an old radio concert hall in Bremen, over several pots of tea, while dogs snored, fires roared, and the 16 track whirred in the corner.

Unsurprisingly for a record that has been so spread out, across land and sea, city and country, the sound is as expansive as they come.  Cinematic and enigmatic, it sounds like someone standing on a hill, looking across a valley at the miles of emptiness surrounding them and then, taking a huge breath of air, screaming out their inner most demons. Expelling all those feelings of inadequacy that soak their sheets at 5am.

And what is it that’s keeping them awake? It’s not the sound of sheep bleating, but the city, somewhere between Oxford and London, that they’ve carved out as home. Noisy, light filled, chaotic. If it’s not the bright lights from the airport keeping them up, it’s worries that they’re not going to be heard among all that competition. As they mournfully intone on ‘Another Band Has Gone’- “Will they listen to me in Soho/ Before I head on home for the bedside light?” And that’s if they can make it home on time. They’re also paranoid about missing the ‘midnight ride’. Which isn’t a freight train out of Kentucky, but the last tube.

Not that they should be too anxious. Previous plaudits have included ‘Editor’s Choice’ in Rolling Stone Magazine and BBC Radio 1’s ‘Introducing Album Of The Week.’ And they’re off touring the country and tearing it up on stages at festivals across the land. They’re doing something right, and that something is making heartfelt and vast blockbusters that defy you not to want to stroke their hair, soothing them that everything is going to be just fine. 

Friday, 25 March 2011

Found Sounds: Big Deal

Pay attention! Big Deal are showing us around their record collection...

Big Deal is the duo of Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe, East London-based garage wooze-rockers whose twanging guitars (sometimes acoustic, sometimes electric) intertwine over their lazily melodious voices like two birds swooping and soaring over a nest.

Their songs are all about the yoof of today and have snappy titles like ‘Homework’ (“Can’t do my homework, can’t concentrate, it’s ruining my grades, I can’t think straight”) and ‘Talk’. All in a boy-girl Summer Camp meets Tennis style. Whatever the one word ditty, it’s guaranteed to have that simple, cutesy, teen-drama heartbreak thing nailed down.

Here are the tracks that they reckon are a big deal…

Rolling Stones – Wild Horses

Alice and I watched Gimme Shelter recently and the scene with them in the studio recording this stuck with us. They were just so moved by the music they'd just made, which could come across as arrogant or self-absorbed if it weren't so perfect.

Foo Fighters – Everlong (acoustic version)

Better than the original in many ways. The song takes on another life that is much more cutting. His vocals are so tender that it makes you feel like you know him, like a friend is singing to you.

My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes

Heavy without any drum sounds. If you listen closely there is a kick buried in the mix but aside from that it manages to be just as heavy and moving as anything else they ever did, without the full band sound.

Smashing Pumpkins – The Boy

A very MBV-sounding Pumpkins song, taken to a more classic rock/pop place. Simple vocals sang by James Iha with a really interesting chord progression. If we ever get a drummer we want one like Jimmy.

The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane

Another example of how perfect something can be with such simple elements. I was tempted to put the Cowboy Junkies version instead as it has this great moody thing that comes in at the end, but this one is just so cool. Sounds like the perfect summer day.