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Live review: The Hockley Hustle 2009

28 Oct

The Hockley Hustle is a city-wide music festival held in Nottingham across more than 20 venues

Reviewed for LeftLion.co.uk

After fuelling myself with an obligatory bacon cob from the ever-lovely Homemade Cafe, I headed to Lee Rosys Tea Room for coffee accompanied by music from Folkwit Records. I caught a charming set from Marc Block and the Breezes, who furnished the early afternoon crowd with warm, harmonica-filled folk with deliciously subtle dark undertones.

Whilst wandering down Pelham Street I was caught off guard outside Cape by the Nottingham School of Samba, an awesome community project who lit up the street with thumping rhythms and broad smiles. Any Hustlers suffering the after effects of Saturday night would have been well and truly shaken into a more lively state, and the group pulled a pleasingly large group of onlookers from the Hustle crowd and regular folks alike.

Down to the Pit and Pendulum, which was filled with the glorious post-rock vibes of Beyond This Point Are Monsters, as well as frankly more audience than it could comfortably handle. Reverb, crisp, complex guitar work and fleeting moments of discord abounded, with the boys from Derby building each song through constantly morphing shapes and sounds up to epic, crunching crescendos.

Still at the Pit, I managed to catch a glimpse of Alright The Captain! before having to scuttle off to pastures new. Having only just recovered from seeing them play a week or so ago, I was happy to be plunged into their enveloping math-rock, chock full of huge noises and complex structures, once again if only for a short while.

Oh my, good grief and holy crap, what a sight was Shaws. Being a big fan of soulful singing sensation Nina Smith, I was excited that she was being showcased by the BBC Introducing.. stage – turns out I wasn’t the only one. The crowd was so huge I barely had room to sip my beer and there were people desperately trying to cram their way in throughout her whole set. It was worth the big squeeze though as she was on sparkling form, with her pristine, porcelain vocals permeating through the chilled grooves of her full backing band. Definitely one to watch, and I have a feeling I’m going to be glad that I got to see her before she gets whisked away by a major label.

Nipping back down Pelham street I was drawn into the Pit and Pendulum once again by the ethereal, ambient sounds coming from Brighton lads Monsters Build Mean Robots. As well as marking a personal first for me – seeing two bands with monster-themed names who play epic post rock in the same afternoon, completely by accident too – they played an encapsulating set of slow-burning, steadily building numbers with heartfelt, tentative vocals and even managed a full-on audience singalong at the end.

Back to Shaws to see Captain Dangerous who served up frantic indie rock laced with violins and keyboards, and who are some of the cheekiest chappies I’ve ever clapped eyes or ears on. With the charm and chaotic energy of your favourite 6th form band but the tightness and polished performance of accomplished professionals, they laid on a relentlessly fun and enjoyable set of poppy, rapturous yelp-rock tunes.

Without realising it my feet somehow found their way over to Dogma, because it appears that I am now utterly incapable of missing a set by Rebel Soul Collective. And thank goodness, because they were on the best form I’ve seen them as they bounced, thrashed and stomped the crowd every which way they pleased to their unique mix of soul, jazz, rock, electro and anything else they feel like chucking in to the mix. Everything clicked, the band looked ecstatic as did the crowd of manically dancing fans.

After a sizeable break for my feet and ears I headed over to Broadway, where I was just able to catch the tail end of Ulysses Storm. By the time I got there the crowd was in an adoring frenzy as they pumped out intensely funky, bluesy numbers.

Having work the next day I decided that it might be an idea to call it a night, but as I made my final descent down Pelham Street I was caught again, this time by the fiery gypsy jazz sounds of Maniere Des Bohemians emanating from the Bodega Social, and was unable to continue my journey without one last stop. Having amassed an unbelievably riled up crowd they had the walls dripping with red hot fiddle playing, jaunty accordion sounds and had the audience almost literally swinging from the rafters. It was perfectly debauched sight with music to match, and a spectacular end to a ridiculously fun day and night.

Live review: Souvaris / Sincabeza / Alright The Captain!

16 Oct

Souvaris, Sincabeza and Alright The Captain! played at The Chameleon on Friday 16 October, 2009

Reviewed for LeftLion.co.uk

Two bands from Notts, one from Bordeaux, no singers, a metric ton of very loud noise crammed into The Chameleon’s tiny loft and some mild resulting tinitus; it was a night of mad math-rock to satiate nutty rockers as well as the most avid music geek.

First up were Nottingham lads Alright The Captain!, who dove headfirst into a set of thumping, thrashing, intricate creations. They showed off a wide range of talents, taking one song from light-hearted ska to heavy metal by way of guitar-pedal-mashing madness, and incorporating the kind of time signature and tempo changes that meant that anyone trying to be a casual head-bopping listener looked like an idiot. Perhaps it was the low lighting in the Chameleon loft, but at times their guitarist seemed to be moving his strumming hand faster than the eye could see – it’s a good thing he wields his guitar for the good and pure forces of rock ‘n’ roll; if he turned his talents to the dark side we’d all be fucked.

Up next were Sincabeza from Bordeaux, who produced a wall of guitar noise speckled with synthesised sounds, held together by some of the tightest and insane drumming this reviewer has ever seen. They were comprised of a guitarists-come-keyboardist, a bassist-come-keyboardist, a guitarist-come-keyboardist-come-trumpeter and a mental drummer – and I know, anyone would think I was starting an erotic novel with that sentence! But their multi-talented lineup fared well and filled the loft with cohesive, discordant and engaging energy. It’s a difficult thing to engage an audience with no singer, especially when half the band was facing away from the crowd, but their explosive instrumental metallic math-rock was enthralling.

Headlining were Souvaris and I must admit, even the music geek in me struggled to keep up with these guys (yes, I’m a geek rather than a nutty rocker, can’t help it!). They threw out varied, interesting and audience-screwing beats that forced you to pay close attention, which is what this genre is really all about. It was a glorious cacophony, a wall of dense, well-organised noises which pulsated through the flood and right up to your chest. Souvaris make you feel a strange sense of achievement in your musical appreciation of them; if you can tap your foot in time to their constantly changing beats you feel as if you should win a prize. And if you ever want to see a gig end on a truly epic finale, see this band.

Live review: LeftLion Presents… Circus Extraveganza 2009

6 Oct

A shed-load of bands played all around Canning Circus for LeftLion Presents… Circus Extraveganza on Saturday 3 October 2009

Reviewed for LeftLion.co.uk

LeftLion's Circus Extraveganza

Every now and again I am reminded of the reasons why I decided to stick around in Nottingham when I finished uni; Saturday on Canning Circus encapsulated nigh-on all of them. Trying to cover the music at the Circus Extravaganza was honestly a little daunting, but feeling overwhelmed by the amount of talented bands and musicians that I just HAD to see is one of the happiest problems I’ve ever had!

I started with a couple of coffees in the Sir John Borlase Warren, dosing up on caffeine in anticipation for what was going to be an epic and exhausting day. The first notes to tingle my eardrums came from the guitar of Steve Pinnock, whose dexterous, jazzy finger picking was a lovely start to the day. After a suitable intake of caffeine I headed over to the Running Horse where I got to catch a set from Nina Smith and her genre-mashing band of musicians. It was an entrancing mix of acoustic guitar, electric bass, a beatboxer providing beats and a frighteningly vast array of oral sound effects and Nina’s lilting, soulful vocals that blended beautifully to create a truly unique sound.

Following Nina was acoustic folkers Northern Monkey, who dealt out a set of classically British foot-stomping folk whilst the band members’ children ran riot around the pub.

After I’d had my fill of folkey goodness I walked over to Seven hoping to catch a few songs from the lovely Lisa de’Ville, but unfortunately I missed her. From past experience, however, I can say that she would have been as emotive and engaging as ever. I did, however, get to hear a few songs from Rapunzel M.A.P.; just a girl and her guitar, singing with a dewy, honey-dipped voice and telling stories of love, loss and holograms.

To the Red Lion, and the rock ‘n’ roll stylings of Terminal 5 Experience. Classic pub rock that would make your Dad thoroughly happy!

Trying to cram Notts music staples Rebel Soul Collective into the Red Lion was something akin to Meatloaf trying to get his pins into a pair of hipster skinny jeans, but nonetheless they filled the pub to bursting point with funky rhythms and energetic, tight-as-hell sonic madness. They never fail to slap a smile on my face, and it’s always fun to notice your feet moving of their own accord halfway through a song.

Next on the agenda was The Ropewalk, and Hhymn. I was excited before they even started playing owing to the huge array of instruments that littered the stage (an electric ukulele, cello, double bass, two trumpets..), and I wasn’t disappointed. They seemed happily at home in the crowded, warm ambiance and their vaguely melancholic yet hugely powerful chamber pop resonated through the top floor.

Back to the Running Horse to catch the end of exciting youngsters Swiines’ set of quintessentially English indie rock…

…leading into a bizarre and intriguing show from Luxury Stranger, whose lead singer looks like a cross between Robert Smith and Gene Simmons and fronted the stage with a look of confidence mixed with mortal terror. Gothic sensibilities, chanted vocals and wonderfully dark tones made for a strange but enjoyable end to the live music part of my day.

Finally, I staggered into Moog for some end-of-the-night, might-as-well-make-a-twat-of-yourself dancing, to Hexadecimal’s set of breakbeat and electro goodies, and when Moog stopped serving, I decided that it might be an idea to call it a day…

On the cold, slightly wobbly walk home, after a full day and night of stunning music, real ale and many marvelous revelries I realised that what had just transpired was a rare and brilliant thing, and one that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the country. If I had my way this would happen every month, so here’s hoping the Circus comes to town again!

Full photo gallery at LeftLion.co.uk

Live review: Rebel Soul Collective EP Launch

25 Sep

Rebel Soul Collective, Green For Go and Lisa de’Ville played at The Bodega Social on Friday 18 September 2009

Reviewed for LeftLion.co.uk

In celebration of the release of their new EP, the Bodega Social was treated to an evening of spectacular music from Rebel Soul Collective and friends.

First on was Nottingham’s soulful songstress Lisa de’Ville, whose pristine vocals echoed across the room as she slinked through a set of emotionally charged songs, sometimes cutting, sometimes achingly heartfelt. With her acoustic strumming backed by electric embellishments courtesy of an accomplice, the tone was taken from fiery and forceful, through ethereal and darker, haunting territories to shy, vulnerable and delicate. It was a thoughtfully constructed set, with a colourful pallet of passionate emotions.

Next was Green For Go, who’s unique brand of bass-driven alternative rock caught the audience somewhat off guard before enthralling them with heavily punctuated, highly dance-able rhythms and catchy melodies. Clean, layered tunes with crisp vocals descended into dense guitar fuelled melancholia, before picking up into punchy, upbeat indie madness. Their tunes are heavily punctuated, full of layers and melodic vocals, very noisy and a little chaotic, and combined with a cracking stage presence they made for a hugely enjoyable act. They put on a blinding show that was tight as hell, and you could tell that not only were they clicking musically but that they were having a smashing time on stage, with excited energy spilling off onto the dance floor.

Rebel Soul Collective live at the Bodega Social

Finally came Rebel Soul Collective, clearly buzzing off the release of their shiny new EP and raring to beat the crowd into dance-induced submission. Their insanely contagious multi-faceted mix of funk, soul, jazz and rock with an extra helping of synths would be enough to get even the mopiest of dreary hipsters up on their feet, and occasional gems such as a drum, bass and cowbell solo meant that anyone looking out into the audience was met by a sea of smiles. There were multi-part vocal harmonies, funky wah-wah guitars, infectious rhythms and glimmering synth sounds along with sporadic trumpet solos, all wrapped up in a glorious blanket of beautiful chaos. This is a band that will not stand for quiet appreciation; they demand, nay deserve, that you dance like a tit and leave their gigs soaked in sweat and beer. Thank heavens it was a Friday night.

Live review: Parklive 2009

2 Sep

A tonne of bands played in Vernon Park for Arboretum Records’ all day music festival Parklive

Reviewed for

Even though I was only able to catch the latter part of the festival, Arboretum Records’ all day Notts-music-fest ‘Parklive’ delivered enough rock, soul and funk to last me well past the weekend.

I arrived just as Hhymn were finishing their set of chilled, acoustic multi-instrumental numbers, and was able to hear snippets of a mandolin, a ukulele, a double bass and guitar along with laid back vocals. Next were Lois, who with their infectious indie pop tinged with synths and an undercurrent of classic rock made me sad that we were in a tent rather than enjoying their music in the sunshine. Definitely music to make you smile! After that were Old Basford, who gave the audience a driving set of proper, engaging rock n roll stompers with growling vocals and howling guitars.

I then took advantage of the break in proceedings to get some food, courtesy of the lovely folk from Homemade cafe, who had ventured out from Pelham Street to furnish the audience with burgers, paella and hot dogs in their usual insanely big portions; yummy as usual. Fittingly, my paella was followed by a set from Fat Digester – honestly! – who served up an impressive lineup of saxophones and brass with their trio of vocalists, with their excellent mix of jazz, funk and soul creating a danceable, energetic sound.

Parklive 2009

Next up was another dose of funk from Rugged Sound System, whose sound was an interweaving mesh of melodic singing, lyrically flowing but cutting rap and inventive percussion and rhythm, along with wah wah guitars. It was a tight performance of a multi-faceted fusion of hip-hop, funk and rock that made for a rich sound and an engaging set.

Finally came The Apples, who turned the festival from a family-friendly romp to a packed-out mini rave. The atmosphere was amazing; everyone on their feet, enthralled by the combination of saxophones, brass, double bass and samples expertly spun by the two DJs. They played through a blinding set of jagged beats, jazzy melodies and raucous solos which was a perfect marriage of live beats and melodies with scratches and samples. They delivered everything that was expected so I won’t say too much, except that their finale was insane – you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name Of played funked-up, with saxophone, trumpet and trombone solos and scratch DJs.

In all, a brilliant day and night full of great music and a positive atmosphere, and all for free! Roll on the next Arboretum Records event.

Live review: The Kull / The Cult of Dom Keller / Cuban Crimewave / We Show Up On RadaR

24 Aug

The Kull, The Cult of Dom Keller, Cuban Crimewave and We Show Up On RadaR played at Rescue Rooms on Friday 21 August 2009

Reviewed for LeftLion.co.uk

In an evening that exemplified why Nottingham’s independent music scene is so very impressive and varied, the audience at Rescue Rooms on Friday night were treated to a foursome of some Notts’ finest musical talents.

Kicking off the night were one-man-show We Show Up On RadaR. Playing a solo acoustic set, Andy Wright looked rather exposed up there by himself, but showed a charming vulnerability with tentative vocals, subdued guitar work and a drawn demeanour which became more animated as the set progressed. With whimsical subject matter (my favourite being a song about ‘a sparrow with manic depression’) tinged with a hint of melancholy, he captured and lulled the audience.

Next up was 3-piece powerhouse Cuban Crimewave. The first words I wrote about this band were ‘power’ and ‘energy’, and I was stuck with just those two for around 10 minutes whilst I tried to fathom just how so much noise could come out of one bass, a drum kit and a singer. With inventive, tight beats that make you get off your arse and pay attention, the most sound you’ve ever heard come out of a bass guitar and a writhing, mad-as-badgers singer, these guys are anything but standard. Every aspect of this small band stood out to make for an awesome live show.

Taking the stage next were The Cult of Dom Keller, who in total contrast to the previous two acts furnished the audience with a set consisting of only three songs of driving psychadelia chock full of reverb and feedback. Their long, intricate jams are the antithesis to the standard 3.5 minute song, and it’s not often that you hear music played like this anymore. Their set was intense, musically accomplished and slow-moving but certainly not laid back, and was technically complex without being self-indulgent.

Finally came The Kull, whose dark alternative music was the perfect closer to a night of such varied artists. With a dense line-up including three guitarists, their sound was rich and epic whilst maintaining an intricate feel with each instrument contributing distinct elements to the music. They were eerie, haunting and powerful with a tight rhythm section driving their set forwards, and dark without being depressing. There was a potent vein of angst running through their music yet it wasn’t melancholic – there was energy and abruptness throughout every song. An excellent end to an impressive night of local music.

Live review: M Ward

30 Jul

M Ward played at Rescue Rooms on Sunday 28 June 2009

Reviewed for LeftLion.co.uk

I have a confession to make: before last night I wasn’t a fan of M Ward. In fact I’d heard very little of his music and was only going because a friend of mine convinced me he was great, and subsequently didn’t turn up. So I arrived at Rescue Rooms with more than a mild feeling of trepidation at having heard only a few songs (none of which particularly knocked me out) and not knowing any song names, album titles or even what the guy looked like. But my worries were quickly whipped away by a coursing wind of gravelly vocals and crunching Americana.

M Ward

You can tell a lot about an artist from the attitude of their audience and honestly I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more dedicated crowd of adoring fans. However, with his energy, passion and sheer talent this adoration is actually very well deserved.

He played a varied set, starting off with the backing of a full band, but such was his musical modesty that I couldn’t work out which one was him for the first song or two. I befriended a super-fan at the bar who told me the song that had me stomping along like a nutter was a fuzzed-up rendition of Fool Says, a crushing mix of uplifting lyrics and bitter cynicism. His music has tinges of blues and country – but not in the way that makes me want to punch most country musicians in the face.

This initial burst of excitement was followed by a middle interlude of solo acoustic songs that began with a stirring cover of David Bowie’s Lets Dance that stilled the heart of every person there and was enjoyed in reverent, hushed silence. From there he played through a selection of heart-wrenching numbers, showing off his inimitable way with words and his beautifully pure yet growling voice.

After welcoming back his band, they closed the show with a second set of foot-stamping, jubilation-brewing stompers that sent the crowd nuts and left everyone, myself included, feeling satisfied, electrified and energised.

For a gig that I felt no excitement for beforehand I left feeling ecstatically in love with music, and with respect for an artist that had thrown my misconceptions under an all-American 18-wheeler and reminded me how brilliant it is to sometimes be wrong.

Live review: Frontiers / The Amber Herd / Made of Leaves

3 May

Frontiers, The Amber Herd and Made of Leaves played at The Maze on Thursday 30 April 2009

Reviewed for LeftLion.co.uk

First to the stage were Made of Leaves, a five-piece with a refreshing approach to song writing and a manner that was both engaging through their music, and aloof through their performance. They featured three guitarists, creating a dense yet surprisingly complex wall of noise that hit hard, then slowly engulfed you in sound. Playing a set of tight, dynamic, powerful tunes full of layers and intricacies, they came across as an eloquent English answer to the American, Minus the Bear. With their thoughtfully constructed songs and quiet energy, you could tell that these guys are as serious about songcraft as they are about performing a great live show.

Next were The Amber Herd, who brought a different tone to the night with a lively and spirited set. Obviously passionate and full of energy, these guys really put a lot into their live show. With solos played on a fuzzed-up acoustic guitar, a nice electronic element from their keyboard player, and songs ranging from upbeat indie to heartfelt ballads, they projected themselves as a band who like to keep things fresh and always moving forward.

Headlining the night were Frontiers, who played a stunning set of straight-up indie rock with style and bags of crowd-pleasing energy. Frontiers have a stage presence that is just the right side of arrogant, and their passion for playing live is clear – they started out looking oh so serious, but by the end they couldn’t help grinning! The songs were inventive, punchy and had some excellent drum and bass breakdowns, which tumbled in to choppy, echoing choruses. With catchy hooks that stayed ringing in my ears, great musicianship and a wonderfully melodic sound, I could see why they’ve been having such airplay success recently (a 19-week stint on BBC East Midlands and nationwide coverage on 6Music), but from seeing them live, I know that Frontiers are a band that no one will be forgetting any time soon, and they’re not to be missed.

Live review: In Isolation / Los

20 Apr

In Isolation and Los played at The Maze for Notts In A Nutshell on Sunday 19 April 2009

Reviewed for LeftLion.co.uk

It’s a true testament to a band’s integrity and passion when they can play a sparsely attended gig and still pour everything into giving a great performance. On Sunday night, The Maze was treated to two bands with just this attitude: Los and In Isolation. Although the night was intimate to say the least, both bands gave it their absolute all and played their socks off for a small but enthusiastic audience.

Los, a three-piece from London who mix a grungy, punky sound with a hint of blues and glorious punchy vocals, started their set with a gorgeous aural mess of feedback, distortion and madness before diving in to a string of songs with so much raw energy it was almost impossible to believe there was only three of them. Their vocalist and frontwoman Helen Sargent powered through the set with passion, gusto and had the most soulful voice I’d heard in a long time, whilst the guitarist and drummer drove each track along with tight, angular beats and truly inventive riffs. With a sound that deserves to bounce around packed-out venues and fields full of fans, Los may well be one of the UK’s most exciting yet unappreciated live bands.

In Isolation then rocked the stage with their blend of indie rock and 80s new wave, delivering an accomplished and energetic performance full of melodic riffs, Echo And The Bunnymen-esque lead guitar and an overall aura of cool (helped by their bassist, who spent half the set leaning casually on a pillar away from the stage!). Judging from frontman Ryan Smith’s charismatic performance along with the band’s skilful musicianship this was clearly a group with experience on their side, who played a difficult gig with conviction, vigour and passion.

Live review: Dog Is Dead EP Launch

7 Apr

Dog Is Dead played at The Bodega Social on Tuesday 7 April 2009

Reviewed for LeftLion.co.uk (additional: this is the first article I ever wrote for LeftLion!)

Although the majority of the audience which nearly filled the venue made me feel especially old (and I’m not!), Dog Is Dead’s EP launch night at The Bodega Social left me with a manic grin and a shiny new addition to my favourite bands list.

They opened with a tongue-in-cheek, organ-backed rendition of Greig’s Morning, lights low, the crowd hushed in anticipation. Then the lights went up and they exploded into life, catapulting a perfectly formed bolt of saxophone-led indie-pop madness that hit everyone right between the eyes. They had catchy melodies, wonderful three way harmonies – and holy crap these guys can sing, think The Hollies meets The Clash – complex and unpredictable structures and blistering, jazzy saxophone riffs.

Dog Is Dead - photo credit Dom Henry

And they’re ballsy to say the least – cheeky sax solos encased in indie-pop tunes, unabashed audience singalongs, and even a bit of attempted crowdsurfing – but they pulled it all off. They’re young enough to get away with almost anything, but if you didn’t see them you’d never believe their ages such is their musicianship and tight performance.

Standout songs of the night were Boardgames, a song I didn’t quite catch the name of but sounded something like Disco Lips, a brand new track not even their most avid fans had heard, and the spectacular highlight and set closer, Clockwork. I caught up with the band afterwards, and they were quite rightly pretty speechless, saying only that they had a great time and hoped everyone else did too.

Brilliant song writing skills, blindingly engaging live charisma, and a performance that was as tight as a duck’s arse. Combine that with an overall sound that you can’t help but dance to (or at least nod your head to if you’re a mopey twat), and you’ve got a band that are surely destined for great things. And to top it all off, they’re all under 18. Bastards.