Sunday, 26 December 2010
All in all, it’s been a bulbous musical year. My eardrums seem to have been drowning in glitchy electro that’s incites languid head nods rather than dancefloor limb-flinging. Despite this penchant for mother-board made bleeps and blips, there’s was a deluge of staple guitar-based bands that produced the musical goods, particularly from north of the border.
Anyway, enough procrastinating. Here are the ten tracks that stuck their pistols to my temples and demanded repeat listening in 2010 (click each title for videos)…
Honestly The Beast – John Knox Sex Club
The locally concocted hype that enshrouds Scottish bands can be as off-putting as it is intriguing. So, there was something admirable about a band like John Knox Sex Club quietly stepping into the spotlight with debut LP Blud Rins Cauld. Part demonic throb, part melancholic weep, Honestly The Beast perfectly cross-sections the band’s uncompromising tendencies. The weep of violin juxtaposed against a wild-eyed scree of post-rock is an astonishing rumble that places this thrilling Glasgow outfit amidst the creamy crop of 2010’s best.
Aidy’s Girl Is a Computer – Darkstar
I fell hard for effects board wizardry in 2010. Seriously, I spent most of the year slavering like a doe-eyed teen over any beard-sporting, Macbook-slinging electro-cat that purred its way into my lugholes. Undoubtedly, Darkstar’s North was the head pickling delight of the year’s rhythmically slinky records; a careful concoction of textured soundscapes and emotive songwriting that uncovered fresh rewards on every listen . Oddly, standout number Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer was a strange anomaly on the record’s luscious musical pasture. Awash with textured electronica, the track’s voiceless sprawl of beat-fed repetition creates a hypnotising glare of pinball machine melody that’s impossible to shake.
He Would Have Laughed – Deerhunter
Even if it wasn’t written as a tribute to the sadly departed Jay Retread, He Would Have Laughed would still moisten the most hardened tear ducts. Immersed in a tide of cascading percussion and chiming guitar, Bradley Cox’s strained intone barely breathes amongst the opening notes of this transcendental haze. But as the track’s layers slowly peel away, his pleading crow begs its way to the fore as a wallow of self-pity that gnarls away at any remaining heart-strings. It’s a stunning arrangement that deserves wider airing, but considering how unappreciated much of Cox’s work is (partly down to his own relentless output), this will likely go down as another masterful effort that gets filed away without much notice.
Rachel & Cali – Damien Jurado
Picking a track from Jurado’s masterful LP Saint Bartlett was a tough call, but the ghostly aesthetic of Rachel & Cali just about scrapes it. Built on skeletal acoustic rhythm and Jurado’s echoic, agonised vocal, this shimmering cut is testament to pure songwriting – something 2010 has strangely lacked. Jurado’s always been skilled in picking at the bones of his past and a fug of personal retrospect blankets this lushly composed lament. As tear-jerkers go, you’re unlikely to have heard anything as brittle or honest in 2010.
I Built Myself A Metal Bird – Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra
A rampaging blast of Fugazi-like guitar, this was the stand out cut from Thee Silver Mt. Zion...’s widely overlooked Kollaps Tradixionales. Admittedly, Efrim Menuck’s jarring wail is an acquired, possibly unlovable, taste but here his ear-bleeding wail falls perfectly into place amongst the rapacious whirlwind of violin, riff and percussion. What he’s warbling on about, it’s impossible to say, but this is a serrated affair that cuts its way deep through your nervous system.
The Splendour – Pantha Du Prince
Another electro-bending hypnotist who flooded my ear drums this year was German-based producer Hendrik Weber. Riding under the moniker Pantha Du Prince, Weber’s third full-length, Black Noise, was a remarkably amphibian affair. The Splendour’s arid soundscape may not seem like the most immediate number on a record that contains the infectious Noah Lennox collaboration ‘Stick To My Side’, but unravel its endless layers and you’ll find yourself embedded in a gloriously rich velodrome of perpendicular rhythm.
New Ruin – Meursault
Despite the slavering attention it received elsewhere, All Creatures Will Make Merry (ACWMM) never really clicked with me. Live, Meursault are a formidable beast; yet for some reason that bombast never truly washed through their second full LP. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but ACWMM felt more like a step to the side than a step forward. But embedded within the album was a track that underscored Meursault’s live opulence. Built around a breathtaking framework of pulsing drum and cavernous effects, New Ruin strides airwaves like a gargantuan, massive in both sound and ambition. Carry on like this and Meursault could be frightening.
Girl Named Hello - Of Montreal
Let’s face it Of Montreal are a band made for fornication. Wriggling, pulsing, scratching, writhing, they frequently hit the G-spot of unbridled aural thrills. Girl Named Hello is no different. Trembling like the knees of an ageing sex pest in a backstreet brothel, this slickly coined dancefloor shuffler finds Kevin Barnes in curiously reflective mood. Sure, “If I treated someone else the way I treat myself, I’d be in jail” my not be the most intellectually stimulating line you’ve heard this year, but fed by a gyrating thrust of ass-slapping bass it’s probably the sexiest.
The Wrong Car – Twilight Sad
Where this came from, who knows. If Forget The Night Ahead was an unfocused affair, then these seven minutes see The Twilight Sad re-honing their lens with bombastic aplomb. The thing its, it’s not a new formula; Andy Macfarlane’s glum-pussed guitar still brawls alongside James Graham’s inimitable crow. But instead of churning out the same cave-friendly tumult of 14 Autumns…, this is a driving, seething affair that lacerates your synapses like a Buckfast-swilling barber.
Mexico Wax Solvent – The Fall
Led by the festering oscillations of 2010’s dirtiest guitar riff, this violent urban fuck of a track bears its teeth with typical Mark E Smith rabidity. The stand out on this year’s remarkable Our Future Your Clutter, Mexico Wax Solvent is the most obviously polished gem in the album’s cliff face of jagged, knuckle grating cuts. Not that it’s done The Fall any chart favours, mind; with Smith maniacally quavering about barbiturates, making rice with screwdrivers and governmental coups it was never likely to chime with the lightweight swarms. Still, this is one of the most exalting thumps of industrial post-punk clatter to detonate its way through my speakers in years.
Thursday, 23 December 2010
I’ve got to admit, I’d never really taken to Enfant’s enigmatic shtick. His unruly reputation always seemed like a perfect cloak for disguising some frustratingly underprepared and half-assed performances. Worse still, people didn’t just tolerate it, they loved it.
But in a 45 minute vacuum of snarling Gameboy throttling, Cameron Watt completely won me over. Gone was the introverted recluse of old; instead here was a stage-hogging showman scything his way through the shrapnel of pulsing, screw-loose electronica.
Sound-wise, Watt was absolutely relentless, pumping out sprawls of drum ‘n’ bass, happy hardcore and techno with breathless, scattergun gusto. In truth, it was spectacular: the kind of pulse-racing, electrifying show I’d never imagined Enfant Bastard was capable of.
For once, being wrong has never felt more right.
Monday, 20 December 2010
Since then Mitchell Museum have steadied the ship. Their illuminating debut album Peters Port Memorial Service was released to a tide of acclaim north of the border, while their live set has been honed into a well-drilled, hi-octane thrill of good-time sound. And, when those abstract predilections do shine through, they’re put to remarkable use – the self-produced video for latest single 'Tiger Heartbeat' is a fantastic acid-trip of beer guzzling robots.
We caught up with singer Cammy MacFarlane to find out what sort of impact the city has had on one of its most exciting new bands...
Since this chat’s part of DiS’s 10th birthday celebrations, let’s start with an on-topic question: 10 years ago what was on your stereo?
CMF: In 2000 Dougie was listening Sonic Youth’s Dirty, Raindeer [drums, vocals] was regularly spinning the Smashing Pumpkins, I was big on The Eels and Kris [bass, vocals] spent his mornings listening to John Lee Hooker.
An eclectic mix from you boys. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. So, how do you think the city’s music scene has changed over the last year?
10 years ago we were just young kids living in fields and didn't really know much about any music scene. We were still playing in our very first bands and it seemed very exciting to be coming to Glasgow to play a gig never mind actually being part of a scene. These days jeans are tighter and haircuts are sillier.
Glasgow always quite a few jealous looks from other cities in Scotland - what do you think it is that makes the city stand apart, musically?
We think it is a bit of a fallacy that there is the Edinburgh /Glasgow divide in music. We've always had a good time when playing in Edinburgh and playing with Edinburgh bands in Glasgow. It seems more like a created tension to drum up some rivalry and hopefully a bit of inspiration. There are as many good bands outwith Glasgow as there are in it. Meursault from Edinburgh, Miniature Dinosaurs from Stirling, Fence collective from Fife, Copy Haho from Stonehaven for example.
Good point. But what kind of opportunities do you think being a young band, much like yourselves, in Glasgow gives a band?
We got a bit of a break winning the King Tut's [Wah Wah Hut] Your Sound competition when we first started out. Things started to pick up and we got a few shows down in London and some record label interest and generally a bit of a buzz was built around the band. Opportunities like this and the sadly now defunct The Mill gigs for new acts has really helped us out in the early days.
How much of an impact has Glasgow had on shaping your own sound?
Our inspirations come more from American and Canadian bands so we don't feel a massive influence is apparent to our music, but having lived in Glasgow for many years we are all very pale.
Not sure that’s just Glasgow affliction. Anyway, there’s seems to be an amazingly varied musical community in the city, but no real ‘scene’ to put a finger on. How important do you think this is in creating the thriving subculture that Glasgow has become?
There are lots of weird and exciting new sounds going on at any given time. Friends of ours involved in the Glasgow noise scene and are running their own label and releasing some very interesting stuff. There is also a thriving hip hop scene with Loki, Big Taj and Kobe Onyame. It's not just pale wee skinny boys singing about the rain.
So where do you think Glasgow sits in comparison to city’s like LA, Seattle, Manchester et al?
It's hard to pin down a particular point in time where the Glasgow scene has had such obvious influential effect like the Manchester Factory records era, but it has had various different success stories over a long period of time. It does feel that every now and then one particular Glasgow band gets picked for superstardom but there has always been a continuous flow of good music that is there for people to find.
Finally, in ten years time when DiS is setting foot in its twenties where do you think Mitchell Museum will be?
We'll be sitting in a slightly bigger van than we are in right now celebrating our tenth birthday, eating an oaties biscuit or whatever the futuristic equivalent will be. Hopefully we will an invite to your birthday party. If not, why not?
Sunday, 5 December 2010
So, let’s get the rough stuff out of the way first...
Edinburgh art/music venue The Roxy Art House has closed its doors after parent company, Edinburgh University Settlements (EUS), went bust to the tune of around £4m. Not bad for a charitable organisation. There’s a shovel of questions still to be answered, like just how did EUS survive so long haemorrhaging £300K a year and what the hell was ex-Hibernian chairman David Duff, a convicted thief, doing acting as an adviser? But for Edinburgh’s music scene, the repercussions of the Roxy’s demise are particularly weighty.
With one less venue, the city’s bands are simply running out of places to play. Over the last few years Edinburgh’s subculture has blossomed, thanks mainly to the full force of electro-beard outfit Meursault and a persuasive posse of online advocates. Given there’s around five dedicated, local-level venues left in the city, how much longer the scene will continue expanding is questionable. A single positive to the EUS disintegration, which has also slammed the gate shut at grassroots art hangout The Forest Café, is that it’s got various local luminaries riled and proactive (You can read some of their musings here, here and here). As the old adage goes: what don’t kill you, only makes you stronger.
One Capital-based institution making its way back into the fore is seminal caterwaulers Scars. The announcement may not be as keenly greeted as Pulp’s recent reformation, but after creating one of the Post-Punk records of the 80s, Author! Author!, the band’s return after 25 years should perk up those with an ear for jagged guitar stabs. So far only a ‘one-off’ reunion show with TV21 and Josef K/Orange Juice axeman Malcolm Ross has been announced (Edinburgh Picture House, 29 December), but presumably the attendance of a sizeable crowd will spawn a follow up tour in 2011. If not, then it’s a show not to be missed.
This month’s cockle warning news comes from the other side of the M8. Two prominent Glasgow bloggers Lloyd Meredith and Halina Rifai have compounded their musical noggins to launch Olive Grove Records. Billed as an ‘innovative independent Scottish DIY label’, Olive Grove’s inaugural release came from Indie-Folk sextet Randolph’s Leap, with the promise of much more to come. Here’s what Meredith had to say of the label’s reason for being: “We decided to join forces to create a label that gives an organic platform for chosen artists to release their material. Neither of us have gotten into to make money out of it, our aim is that any profits made are given straight to the artists. This might seem a bit nuts, but that's the plan.”
Talking of a bit nuts, Ally McRae, one half of stellar Glasgow promoters Detour Scotland, will be espousing his northern brogue all over the Radio 1 airwaves from January. Proving that Auntie isn’t quite as off the pulse as the employment of Edith Bowman suggests, McRae is taking up the reins of The Scotland Show from the departing Vic Galloway. By focusing on ‘under the radar’ music from around Scotland, the show seems perfectly aligned with Detour Scotland’s mantra of promoting the country’s best new music. A clearly delighted McRae said: “I'm beyond excited to be joining Radio 1 and taking the reins of a show that is so vital in promoting the vast amount of cracking Scottish music being produced from this wee country.” If you can’t wait a few months to hear McRae’s tones, you can check them out on Detour Scotland’s regular podcasts.
Fabled Glasgow venue King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut – y’know, the place where a certain Neanderthalic Manchester act was ‘discovered’ by Alan McGee - is playing host to a 70-band extravaganza early next year. Limply named New Year’s Revolution (seriously, who picked that title?), the 14-night soiree provides a stage for many of the country’s finest acts, including French Wives, Endor and lughole-raping scuzz punks She’s Hit. The festivities start on 3 January and, with the promise of four bands a night, it’s sure to bring an aurally impressive start to the post-festivity blues.
Further up the rungs of the Scottish music scene, Selkirk quartet Frightened Rabbit have hop-scotched their way from FatCat to revered major label Atlantic Records. Singer Scott Hutchison said: “It feels very special to be part of a label with such a great history and we're really looking forward to working with everybody we have met to this point. We also feel it's important to mention how great the past four years have been with FatCat and although it is time to move on we are greatly appreciative of the amazing job they've done.” It still feels strange to say it, but the F’Rabbit boys are now sitting in the same stable as Kid Rock, Plan B and Toni Braxton. The cynics will no doubt decry ‘sell out’, but let’s hope this next chapter in the band’s career is as listenable as the last one.
Proving that music in Scotland’s not solely owned by the Central Belt’s twin towns, Dundee promoter Robin Murray has set up his own label Verses to showcase the surprisingly high number of quality electronic acts the city has to offer. Verses kickstarts into life with an 11 track compilation containing effects-board inspired tuneage from the likes of Esperi, Edward Shallow and Nomogram. Murray explains: “Finding more and more young producers eager for an outlet, Verses began as a means to tie together a few loose knots... Electronic music is always on the margins, always underground working against the norm. Equally, the label aims to bring opposing viewpoints together just to see what happens. Finally, Dundee is always seeking to be heard over its bigger - but not necessarily better - neighbours.” Wonder who he could be talking about?
With the festive season on the way, there’s a sackload of music-related Christmas parties going on around Scotland. Here’re five of the finest mince-pie munching shindigs for you to shake your sleigh bells to…
Song, By Toad Christmas Party 16 December, Charlotte Rooms, Edinburgh
Edinburgh stalwarts Meursault are propped up by lusciously toned Rob St John, Inspector Tapehead and Jesus H. Foxx in this sure-to-sell-out festive jamboree.
Eagleowl’s Christmas Party 17 December, Pilrig Church, Edinburgh
A Christmas party with myriad local bands and a Stars in your Eyes theme? Not exactly what you’d expect from Edinburgh whisper-folksters Eagleowl, but it should result in some fine pre-Xmas japery.
Kid Canaveral’s Christmas Baubles 18 December, The Lot, Edinburgh
Rammed to the brim with high-end Scottish tune merchants, including King Creosote, ballboy and impressive local janglers Cancel The Astronaut, this all day extravaganza promises mince pies, mulled wine and “a healthy dose of festive cheer”. Best get in quick for one of the hottest tickets in town.
Electra Fence Records Xmas Party 19 December, Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Glasgow
With illuminating indie-popsters Mitchell Museum billed alongside Seventeenth Century and Glasgow curiosities Behold, The Old Bear, this promises to be one hell of a Chrstmas cracker from worthy local label Electra Fence Records.
Olive Grove Records Christmas Party 22 December, 13th Note, Glasgow
This newly born label is getting in to the party spirit with a reel of Crimbo-speckled sets from local songsmiths Esperi, Randolph's Leap and RM Hubbert.
Anyone familiar with the pavement-gazing splendor of Edinburgh/Glasgow electro poppers Swimmer One is in for a compelling end of year treat. With solo-project Seafieldroad, band frontman Andrew Eaton has conjured up a heart-breaking beauty of a debut LP in There Are No Maps For This Part Of The City. Built upon a foundation of weeping piano, his extra-curricular activity is the polar opposite of Swimmer One’s coruscating textures. Introverted and almost entirely reflective, Eaton’s brooding intonation washes across a sea of mournful laments to create a soundtrack that’s perfectly attuned to winter’s lonely, dark nights. Probably not a Christmas party starter, mind.
There Are No Maps For This Part Of The City is out now through Biphonic Records
Edinburgh’s Alt-Folk acts may be hogging the limelight these days, but buried away in the city’s underground is a barbarous, experimental scene bursting to break out. And right at the forefront of this volumised revolution is Lady North’s skull-busting, Math-infused rattling. A torpedo strike of twitchy fingered time signatures and rampaging percussion, the apoplectic outfit conjure up bastardised rhythms that contort like Lazarus Gitu in an electric chair. They may still be cutting their teeth in the bowels of the city’s underbelly, but this young trio are already turning heads and bursting eardrums. Check. Them. Out.
You can catch Lady North playing Versus in Edinburgh on 25 November. They’re also supportingh Glasgow noise-mongers Bronto Skylift in Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh (12 December) and Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Glasgow (13 December).
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Of course, pop also has its anachronisms. Acts like Talking Heads and Orange Juice passed themselves off as all-embracing entities, but below their aurally pleasing shell was a cleverness of sound that lifted them far beyond the standard chart bound production line. And to this day intelligent pop is the chagrin of chin-strokers everywhere, unable to fathom whether it’s ironic, annoying or actually just pretty tootin’ good.
Over the Wall’s new longplayer Treacherous will no doubt infuriate these scraggily bearded stooges. Awash with parping brass and slinging more hooks than a 'Peter Pan' casting session, the debut offering from Glasgow-based duo Gav Prentice and Ben Hillman could easily be misplaced as a glossy, snow-white affair. But entwined within the record’s honeyed core is a talent for making complex melodies sound sweet and simple.
It’s been a few years since the pairing were first touted for greatness north of the border, based mainly on their energetic live showings and the sumptuous folk-pop lament ‘Thurso’. Spruced up with a coat of production polish, the track’s nostalgic swoon bookends the ten tracks that precede it here; representing a triumphant climax to a record that’s often rewarding but occasionally naïve in its presentation.
Opening number ‘Shifts’ sets a frantic early pace that’s ignited by Prentice’s brogue-stained wail “we only have tonight”. This pulse-raising explosion of drum machine and keyboards segues perfectly into the old age-avoiding ‘Settle Down’, where a snowstorm of epileptic chime is replaced by the rally cry “go break free, it’s not your responsibility” bellowing out like a call to arms for disaffected twentysomethings.
The theme of gawky-youth-cum-adult insecurity frequently rears its head - from ‘Don’t Listen To Them Son’s gleeful rollick to the lovestruck blows of ‘Angela’ - and for the most part fashions out a deliciously catchy affair that’s caked in typical Scottish retrospect. But, with tortured lines like “Jess and the others could see my willy and it was embarrassing”, ‘Two Nightmares’s guitar twanging shtick is a step too far. It may spawn an immediate chuckle, but this schoolboy immaturity reduces an interesting composition into the album’s one true lull.
For a band so focused on immediacy, it’s the less-accessible numbers that showcase the duo’s full range. Built on a foundation of blinking keys, ‘A History of British Welfarism 1945-1984’s guitar-stained crescendo is a sobbing joy of indie-pop histrionics. ‘Stages’ is just as segmented and equally dramatic, setting off on brooding piano wander before rising as an insatiable toe-tapper that could easily slot into Field Music’s more choral undertakings. So much for single track pop ponies; this is a band with a motorway of ideas.
If widespread adulation was the objective, then Treacherous has just missed the mark – the gulf between euphoric romps and obstinate cuts is too wide to be populous. But what Over the Wall have produced is a shining debut LP brimming with the sort of effervescent melodies Scotland hasn’t created since the early Eighties. Sure, it doesn’t fling its doors wide open for the masses, but then you only really need to knock and let yourself in.
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Photos: Su Anderson
So here it is. The first ever Radar gig in Auld Reekie. Our nerves tingling with excitement and just a little trepidation, we await the arrival of the music loving masses - and the Electric Circus’s impressively attired karaoke kings and queens.
The show’s felt a long time coming, but with a roll-call of Bronto Skylift, Capitals and effervescent tunesmiths Mitchell Museum we’re hoping the weeks of shameless plugging have been worth it.
Now the anticipatory strain’s finally lifting from our shoulders, Radar Prize runners-up Bronto Skylift (right) make their way to the stage. In our eagerness to get the gig going it quickly becomes clear we’ve not ticked off the most important item from tonight’s task list: earplugs. Damn. Combusting like a bomb of splintering glass in our lugs, the Glasgow-based duo rip through their set with battering ram intent.
A self appointed “euthanasia support group” (the noise will kill your granny, apparently), Bronto’s visceral blasts are underscored by Niall Strachan’s expert axe-handling and the extraordinary skin-pummelling of Iain Stewart. They might notch decibel levels of bands triple their number, but their rapacious din is far from incoherent; the delivery of red-raw cuts like ‘Danny Glover isn’t dead’ and ‘Cobblepot’ oozes Mensa-like intelligence as each track screwdrives through the audiences' craniums.
With our eardrums adapting to life post-Bronto (it’s kind of like living with internal ear-muffs), Capitals (right) swagger to the fore clutching Apple-branded technology and an armful of ambitious pop tunes - plus an extra member on bass. For an outfit playing their first show on (adopted) home turf, there’s no shortage of confidence to their trade. Striding through a fulsome set without any sign of nerves, the Edinburgh-via-Inverness duo’s engaging tuneage is the perfect foil for dancefloor friendly rug-cutting.
Admittedly, the band are unashamed lovers of big, commercial hooks, but the neon stargazing of ‘A Spectre is Haunting Europe’ and ‘Hands Divided’ offers yet more intriguing fare. Here, Keir McCulloch’s glittery effects bounce brilliantly off frontman Angus Carbarns’ handsome intone, creating soundscapes that run the gamut between glossy pop and esoteric electronica. To think that this is their first show of any real significance is remarkable.
Coming off the back of a UK tour, Mitchell Museum (below) have been busy wooing the nation’s indie press (and the Financial Times) of late. So as the Glaswegian quartet step on to the stage tonight, we’re a smidgeon concerned tour-van jadedness could erode their traditionally mayhemic set. But, luckily for us, time out on the road has invigorated the band’s illuminating melodies. This is a Mitchell Museum we’ve never seen before: consistent, honed in and extremely well oiled.
Jaunting their way through debut LP The Peters Post Memorial Service (although threatening to impale us with a swathe of Phil Collins covers), the inter-band dynamic seems telekinetic, shaping a sound that tightens like a Hulk Hogan chokehold. Orchestrated by the zealous gesticulations of Cammy Macfarlane, tracks like ‘Tiger Heartbeat’ and ‘Room For Improvement’ swell into the room as a kaleidoscopic bubble of ebullient keys and percussion.
The sweeping gusto of ‘Take the Tongue Out’ is breathtaking, surging out at breakneck thwack while the band headnod along in eerie tandem. A cover of M.I.A’s ‘Paper Planes’ underlines their predilection for shimmering, unconventional pop, while ‘Warning Bells’ is a heartbreaking waltz of Modest Mouse-like splendour that singles McFarlane out as a unique and engaging frontman.
After a vivacious set packed full with giddy indie chimes, Mitchell Museum more than prove themselves one of Scotland’s leading musical lights. And as the curtain falls on our first Radar gig in the Capital, we’re left with a strange sense of satisfaction and a constant ringing in our eardrums (thanks to the Bronto boys). So, the big question is, when’s the next one?
[Bronto Skylift raise the roof]
[Onlookers keep a safe distance as Niall wields his guitar]
[Capitals glide through their debut gig to a rapturous reception]
[Mitchell Museum in action. Note drummer Raindeer sporting a Bronto t-shirt]
[Mitchell Museum make a few adjustments]
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
It’s been a long year in the life of The Twilight Sad. Album number two, Forget the Night Ahead, may have been released just over 12 months ago, but since then the band have lost bassist Craig Orzel, toured relentlessly and released one of 2010’s most remarkable EPs, 'The Wrong Car'.
On the back of their final shows of the year with fellow Scots Errors, we interrupted singer James Graham’s post-tour recuperation to talk new album, morbid lyrics and a possible career in Hip Hop...
How’s it going James, you recovered from the tour with Errors?
James Graham [JG]: I’m good thanks. Just coming down after the tour. Glad to be back home and not have anything planned until next year, gigging-wise, to be honest. It was only a couple of weeks but I think in my head I just want to get on with the new stuff and get the new album done and recorded.
I really enjoyed the tour, it was great to play. But when you know you’ve got songs that are really different from that last album it’s quite strange going from one head space when you’re writing new songs and then playing all the old ones on stage. It was a good laugh and we really enjoyed it and I think both bands did really well out of it.
Musically, you’re quite a different band from Errors – how did it come about?
JG: It was one of those ideas that came from being in the pub drinking and the next day you think ‘actually that was pretty good’ – unlike most ideas that come from the pub. I suppose it was on the back of them remixing us and us remixing them, so we thought it seemed a good idea. And because we are quite different, it did make it a different sort of night.
The contrasting styles worked quite well didn’t they?
JG: Yeah, when you’ve got co-headlining bands you’ll always tend to get some people there for one band over the other. But it seemed like most people were there to hear both bands, even though we are kind of different.
The Edinburgh gig was really strong – it’s probably the best I’ve ever seen you.
JG: Yeah but I saw a few reviews that were basically saying it was too loud for them. At one point there was a girl down the front who was greetin’ – I kinda hope it was to do with it being too loud, rather than the songs being rubbish.
Actually our photographer did mention there was someone down the front who looked like she’d been crying.
JG: Me and Andy [McFarlane] had an acoustic set at Oran Mor and there was a girl down the front singing every lyric a beat out of time. I actually had to stop mid-way through and say ‘Look, I don’t know what you’re doin’ but it’s no actually what am doin’. Can you stop this?’ I’m pretty sure I saw her at the Edinburgh gig so it could possibly have been her.
But I can never tell if it was a good gig or not. We’re not exactly the kind of band that interact with the crowd or anything like that.
Sound-wise you seemed a lot more direct than previous shows. Was that intentional?
JG: Aye, we don’t really take a breath and we just hammer away at it. I’m definitely not someone who likes talking to the crowd, anyway. I would rather just play the songs, then that’s it done. I think it will be completely different from the next time you see us again. We are going for something completely different.
Is this more in line with the remixes you’ve done with Errors and Mogwai?
JG: We’re not full on Basshunter style. It’s quite hard to say just now because it’s just demos but there’s definitely a lot more space in the songs. There’s not a lot of guitars, which is quite strange for a band that’s always used a lot of guitars. But everybody who’s heard the demos have reacted really well to it. The label [Fat Cat Records] are pretty excited about it too.
For us, it’s just time to try something different. There’re parts that are still us: you can’t really change my stupid voice and the song writing is always going to be done the way we’ve been doing it, but the instrumentation side has definitely changed.
So are you saying we can expect a more pop direction from the Twilight Sad?
JG: [Laughs] I wouldnae say Pop. It’s quite hard to describe at the moment but it’s a conscious thing we’re doing. We cannae just replicate the same things we’ve been doing – there’d be no point in doing the album if we were going to do that.
It’s been a tough year for you guys. The last album didn’t really resonate with the public like Fourteen Autumns... did and you lost your bassist Craig. Has this change of direction stemmed from that?
JG: The weird thing is that people who liked the second album didn’t like the first album and there were a lot of people who liked the first but didn’t like the second. As soon as we went into the recording studio, Paul Savage [co-producer] said ‘Just before I hear anything you’ve done, you should know for a fact people are going to say it’s not as good as the first one’. It happens with every single band. But we were really happy with the way it came out.
In America it took us to the next level. I never thought we’d be a band who could play to 1,300 people. I never really thought we’d be able to get to those kind of stages. Even in New York, we played the Bowery Ballroom. Different magazines seemed to take notice of us and that’s got us bigger audiences in different places
With Craig leaving, the whole album campaign was kind of jilted and we had problems with booking agents. There was definitely a stunted album campaign, whereas with this one we’re hoping it goes a lot more smoothly. We’re still friends with Craig. He just decided he wanted to live a normal life.
You mean it’s not a normal life in The Twilight Sad?
JG: [Laughs] Nah. I think he got fed up with the travelling and Craig didn’t write the songs. I think he found it a bit frustrating but that’s the way we write and there’s nothing we can change about that. Touring’s not for everybody, to be honest a lot of the time I just cannae stand it, but sometimes its can be the best thing.
Now you’re finished touring the record, what are you’re plans for the rest of the year?
JG: We’re just finishing off the demos and are talking to producers right now. Basically we’re just finding out where and when we’re doing it. This time we’ll be using a producer instead of Andy just producing it. We want some sort of outside influence, someone we definitely trust and respect. We’ve got that Mogwai tour in February and the record definitely needs to be finished by then. Then it’s back into the whole cycle again.
Touring and touring and touring?
JG: Yep, touring and damaging our livers, falling out and nearly breaking up. All the joys of being in a band.
So do you think the new record will be the next step up for you? Perhaps you're the next Snow Patrol?
JG: Eh…no. I was listening to the demos the other day and, again, the subject matter is still quite dark - it’s not going to be happy-go-lucky. Some of it’s quite brutal – listening back I was thinking ‘F***, people are going to think I’m a weirdo’ but people already probably think that so I don’t think it matters.
Has the inspiration for your lyrics changed as the band’s evolved?
JG: I put it not quite so elegantly the other day: The first one was about other people being dicks. The second one was about me being a pure dick. And the third one is ‘we’re all dicks’.
With every album we’ve always started on the lyrics and know what way it’s going. This time it’s more like the first one, where it’s focusing in on other people and relationships between people. The second one needed to be about me going through a bad space because that’s what was happening and it made the songs more honest. For this one, it’s about other people – and not in a good way.
There’s never really going to be a happy song with this band. I’ve got a lot of people that I think are dicks. There are too many dicks in the world for me not to. In fact, that’s what the album should be called: ‘There’s too many dicks in the world’.
You were recently named by a certain Radar hack as his favourite Glasgow band of the last ten years. How does it feel now people are speaking of you in the same breath as Mogwai and Arab Strap?
JG: It’s very strange, very strange. It’s even stranger now that we’re friends with these people as well. I still think of these bands in that way, so it’s pretty amazing to be classed in the same category as these guys - especially as I looked up to them when I was growing up. It’s probably one of the biggest compliments we could have.
Do you feel like you have a responsibility to help new bands out, now you’ve ‘made it’?
JG: Honestly, I don’t really know any. I’m not someone who goes to gigs and says ‘alright guys, how you doin’?’. I prefer to float in the background, watch them and maybe say to someone that I like them. I’m too busy sorting out our band at the moment. I can’t really imagine us being nurturers – we’d probably be quite a bad influence.
One thing that people can take from what we’ve done is that we’ve done it our own way. We’ve always stuck to our guns and we’re not a band that’s been on the front of magazines or on the telly. We are where we are right now through a lot of hard work.
What do you want to achieve with the next record then?
JG: Just the same as we’ve done before, really. If things happen they happen, if they don’t then there’s nothing we can do about. Now we’re kind of making a living out of it - don’t get me wrong we’re not rich or anything, but we’re getting by. As long as it’s still interesting to us and we’re making music we’re all really proud of we’ll keep going.
I don’t want to be the nearly men where we’ve put so much hard work into it and just fall flat at the last minute.
That suggests you have an idea of where you want to be?
JG: If we’re going around the world and selling out venues of 200 people that’s cool for me. I just want to be able to keep doing it and know that what we’re doing is good and not just completely self-righteous. I always look at Mogwai and see how they’ve done their career. They’re big everywhere they go, sell out gigs and are well respected. That’s probably a good place to aim for.
Your crowds are definitely increasing with every album, maybe fame and fortune isn’t that far away?
JG: I don’t think we’ll ever blow up, but if we can slowly build our fan-base and still be thinking we’re pushing what we’re doing musically I’ll be happy. Then after that I’ll start my Hip-Hop/R&B solo career.
Is that the career path we can expect from a content James Graham?
JG: Definitely. When I’ve found the happy side in me. I’m actually quite a happy guy but I just focus on the dark side for some reason. If you look at all the best Scottish bands, they’re definitely not The Fratellis anyway. Aye, one day maybe I’ll write a pop classic. I’ll have to get someone else to sing it. I can’t imagine a pop classic with my voice.
Monday, 25 October 2010
Photos: Su Anderson
Roxy Art House, Edinburgh
Friday 22 October 2010
When art and music collide the most satisfying results often come from the unexpected. In January this year, Edinburgh’s Hidden Door festival threw up one of the most surprising cultural clashes; juxtaposing a labyrinth-like art installation against the craggy sounds of the city’s alternative music scene. So successful was the arts-based soirée, it’s made its return less than a year later.
Now a three-day marathon of sights and sounds, the opening night of Hidden Door 2 is a curious fusion of art connoisseurs, booze hounds, scraggy beards and high-heeled shoes. It’s this capacity to cater for the entire socio-cultural strata that’s the festival’s unique selling point; bringing people together its raison d’être.
The multi-stage installation in the Roxy’s main hall is a fascinating construction of rigidity and abstraction, a perfect setting for Sunday night’s five-band collaboration. As a space for music it’s almost claustrophobic and the deafening math rock of Glasgow trio Tokamak blitzkreiging from stage four only heightens this state of enclosure.
The seamless switch to stage five for Lipsync for a Lullaby segues into a swell of instrumentation that rings out like a tenderised Hawk and a Hacksaw. From here The Foundling Wheel (pictured, right) brings a serrated edge to the evening. Jack-knifing rancorous circuit board effects against an undercurrent of melody, this bombastic one-man show ends with the first visible sign of hipsters dancing.
Down in the umbrella decorated basement lurks the pious testifying of John Knox Sex Club. The Glasgow sextet are on boisterous form, rampaging their way through a set charred with ragged wind-battered cuts that’s as persuasive as frontman Sean Cumming’s on (and quite often off) stage preaching. It’s powerful, demented stuff that’s as visually arresting as the art hanging on the walls.
Back in the main hall a drummer-less American Men are MacBooking their way through an ambient sprawl of down-tempo electronica. Lacking any real bite, the trio are a little off colour so Radar makes its way to the indoor garden for a final spot of serenity. Devoid of piss, pills or plastered neds, our grassy patch is a calming sanctuary unheard of in traditional festivals. It may not be music and it may not be art, but you know what? That’s probably the point.
[Visual art is integral to Hidden Door]
[The John Knox Sex Club]
[The John Knox Sex Club]
Sunday, 24 October 2010
Tom Marshallsay, aka Dam Mantle, is at the fulcrum of Glasgow’s thriving experimental scene at the moment. Armed with a swathe of coruscating beats and illuminating effects, the Kent-bred bedroom producer is the conduit between the city’s indie-cool hipsters and nocturnal noise mongers. Already receiving justifiable exposure in the UK’s more on-the-pulse publications (including these very pages), the intricacies of Marshallsay’s origami-styled electronica is as beguiling as it is pulsating. Mark our words, Dam Mantle is an electro hero in the making.
In full atomic flow, DIVORCE are always an ear-bleeding proposition. The Optimo-signed quintet’s gut-spilling punk may not have transferred verbatim to last year’s debut EP, but it still stabbed harder than a buckfast slurpin’ ned round the back of your local 24hr Tesco. Central to the band’s appeal is the demonic growl of Sinead Youth; a prowling, possessed figure who possesses one of the city’s most unique, spine-chilling barks. Backed by a thunderous clatter of guitar and drum, DIVORCE boast a serrated edge that’s unrivalled by anyone on the Scottish live circuit.
Mitchell Museum’s (literally) gas-canister fuelled early shows often trembled on the precipice between maniacal brilliance and idiotic annoyance. But this year’s debut LP, Peters Post Memorial Service, changed all that; perfectly capturing the quartet’s unhinged disposition while showing a tuneful backbone that finally hollowed out the over-indulgence of old. The Glasgow quartet’s wonky, submerged melodies may still ring out like Flaming Lips’ Haribo-guzzling rugrats, but a new found snarl to their sound suggests this is a band on its way through an upward trajectory.
F*X G*T D**TA
If it seems like Glasgow’s awash with textured, glitch-friendly soundscapes at the moment that’s because, well, it pretty much is. In a similar, if not identical, vein to Dam Mantle, the mutated beats and patchwork 8-bit electronics of Rickie McNeill (otherwise known as F*X G*T D*TA or the easier to pronounce Fox Gut Daata) are beginning to percolate the nation’s airwaves. Often pounding out like funk friendly hip-hop played through a Gameboy, McNeill’s hot-stepping compositions combine effects board wizardry with a knack for dance-floor friendly tuneage. Fox Gut Daata may not produce the most mainstream friendly cuts you’ll hear this year, but they’ll almost certainly be the most inventive.
Tagged as Glasgow’s latest bastions of jangle-friendly pop, French Wives have a lot to live up to in a city steeped in melody making tradition. Fortunately, the fledgling quartet possess an artillery that more than justifies the swooning adjectives gushing their way from local press quarters. Infectious of sound and purposeful in delivery, May’s resplendent single 'Me Vs Me' is a charging, dance floor friendly throng of instrument that subtly tips its hat to luminaries like Orange Juice and Franz without riding their coattails. Every inch their own band, it’s this headstrong sense of sonic identity that’s become French Wives’ greatest strength.
Jacob Yates & the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers
Better known as the frontman of deceased ghoul-rockers Uncle John & Whitelock, Jacob Love is reigniting his bone-shivering brand of sludging rockabilly. With only a few gigs under their belts the embryonic sextet are still finding their feet live, but early cuts 'Merry Hell' and 'South of Heaven' promise much; blistering the ear sockets like white hot pokers spawned in the debauched heart of a Maryhill council estate. Tinged with the street preaching madness of an early years Nick Cave, Love’s gritted storytelling and red raw delivery is truly one of the city’s most exhilarating thrills.
John Knox Sex Club
As creators of wild-eyed cuts that could blow the roof off an airtight presidential bunker, John Knox Sex never stray far from Twilight Sad comparisons. But the quintet’s delicately coined psalms probably owe more to Mogwai’s rousing undulations than the post rocking throb of James Graham’s troupe. With a rasp that knows its way around the west coast brogue, frontman Sean Cumming’s delivery on debut album Blud Rin Cauld ranks one of the year’s most accomplished vocal performances; flickering effortlessly between contemplative bard and boisterous town-crier. And with a stream of rich, arable instrumentation running fluidly underneath, John Knox Sex Club seem destined to be the next doom-harbouring act to burst from the city.
Another southerner making a splash in Glasgow’s underground is unsigned indie-tronica foreman Julian Corrie and his Miaoux Miaoux solo project. As a locally renowned producer who’s already worked with a slew of upcoming Scottish artists, Corrie’s own esoteric adventure is finally beginning to bear fruit. By mixing ambient, nocturnal grooves with his understated intone, the nest-flying Londoner produces a textured and soulful blend of transient electro-bent pop. And his creativity doesn’t stop at the effects board; the sleeve of Miaoux Mioux’s illuminating last single ‘Knitted’ was lovingly crafted by the needles of a Maggie’s Cancer knitting group. A melody maker with a conscience – what isn’t there to like?
Over The Wall
Over The Wall are far removed from the archetypal Glasgow indie band. For one thing, there’s only two of them, but where other blatant wannabes pilfer from the nest of Franz and Belle & Sebastian, this trumpet-blasting duo seem determined to furrow their own, unique pathway – which this year included a sound-tracking a theatre show in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Their live outings are hyperactive, almost uncontrollable, events that fuse hook-spilling pop with exuberant showman patter. Blushing to key-chiming stomps and tear-stained laments, the band’s debut LP, Treacherous, drops this month and should finally push the pairing into the limelight.
So relentless is the slew of hyperbolic adjectives shat out by Scottish bloggers these days, most tips for the top need to be consumed alongside a shovel of sodium chloride. But with visceral quartet She’s Hit the purple prose spouting posse have definitely hit the button. A spewing throb of clanging guitar and bombastic percussion, their nasal art-punk endeavours sneer out like The Fall sodomising The Cramps at their most ragged. Still wet behind the ears, they’re only one split single (halved with Jacob Yates’ Pearly Gates outfit) into their fledgling career but, given the strength of their blistering live outings, She’s Hit will outlast the blogosphere’s hype.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Despite (or perhaps in spite of) this hardened appearance, Scotland’s biggest city is also its most creatively blessed. With talent washing through the pores of its ten constituencies, Glasgow’s tradition in the arts is well celebrated; being honoured European Capital of Culture back in 1990 is still bellowed about proudly by many a staunch local.
Since the late 70s, music’s played an increasing part in solidifying the city’s reputation as a hive of ingenuity. It all started with Alan Horne’s lauded Postcard Records – an aggressive DIY label which for a short time flew ‘the sound of young Scotland’ flag for Edwyn Collin’s fledgling Orange Juice and new-wave poppers Aztec Camera, as well as Edinburgh post-punks Josef K. And from there, Glasgow’s musical conveyor belt just kept on running.
In the 80s The Jesus & Mary Chain, Primal Scream, The Vaselines, BMX Bandits, Teenage Fanclub and The Pastels all gestated in the bowels of city’s underbelly. The next decade showed no sign of let up; Chemikal Underground was born and The Delgados, Belle & Sebastian, Bis, Mogwai, and Arab Strap (although originally from Falkirk) made their way to the forefront of the Scottish music scene.
In the ten years since Drowned in Sound’s birth, the city has continued to reel out bands: Franz Ferdinand, Aereogramme, The Twilight Sad, Life Without Buildings, Camera Obscura, Danananackroyd, Errors, Glasvegas... you get the picture. Even right now, the city feels like a never ending well of sound. As the cliché goes, there really must be something in the water.
So, where does it come from? Well, it’s a prickly question that’s practically impossible to answer. Honing in on one specific element, or combination of elements, risks overlooking the tapestry of factors – economics, culture, venues, labels, promoters, bands, appetite of gig goers – that have been stitched together to form a burgeoning subculture over the last thirty years.
“It sounds stock but Glasgow is a boring city to live in for most of the year,” says Errors’ Simon Ward, wrestling with his own thoughts on the city’s rich musical lineage. “The weather is crap, so making music is just something to do. There is still a well established DIY community in place, although I think this has fluctuated in its strength over the years.”
One notable aspect of Glasgow’s music community is its strength in numbers. But these aren’t bands working under a united banner, hoping that one of them makes it so the rest can jet-stream alongside. This is a varied, almost antithetical mesh of artists plying their trade in shared spaces while creating widely differing music.
“There are lots of scenes in Glasgow, but this is because a lot of people live here,” explains Ward. “I think the geography of the city has a lot to answer for. The city centre area feels small and compact and since this is where almost all the venues, pubs and clubs are it becomes inevitable that bands and artists from different scenes will meet and form new bands.”
Geography aside, Glasgow has a number of edges that leverage it above other Scottish cities. Venue-wise, it offers bands almost as many floors to play as Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen put together. And with the heart of the Scottish media rooted in the city, it’s only natural the gaze of the musically inclined is drawn there. But Glasgow’s biggest plus lies in the singular attitude of those involved in all quarters of its multiple music scenes.
“Glasgow has an enthusiasm for music; it’s what draws a lot of people here and, when all goes well, you can expect a fervent and expressive audience,” explains Camera Obscura’s Carey Lander. “It’s more resistant to pretentiousness than many cities. It has a different sense of cool and seems less distracted by musical fads... it continues to hold its own and remain important to people from all over the world. I’m proud to live in a place that is a point of musical pilgrimage for lots of people.”
Not so long ago, a young Aidan Moffat would regularly make the 20 mile trek from Falkirk to further his musical learning in the city's cavernous venues. And after Arab Strap signed for Chemikal Underground, making their live debut at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, he quickly cast anchor.
“I was always drawn to Glasgow: it’s the only real choice for musicians outside the city itself. If you’re in a Scottish band, you probably want to move to Glasgow,” Moffat reasons. “I’m not sure that I ever saw playing in Glasgow as a measure of success, but I had absolutely no desire to play in Falkirk, there just wasn’t an audience for what [Arab Strap] wanted to do.”
Arab Strap’s migration west is a familiar journey for many Scottish bands born outside the city’s inner-ring. In an increasingly globalised industry, it’s difficult enough being heard above the cattle market rabble of PR spiel. To ignore Glasgow’s calling, with its hub of media, labels and audiences, is pure suicide.
Scott Hutchinson, frontman of Selkirk outfit Frightened Rabbit, explains the city’s pull: “Growing up in a small town in Scotland, I always associated Glasgow with music, and not simply Scottish music. It's where I had almost all of my contact with live bands until I began touring. It's almost mythological when you come from somewhere like Selkirk and, as such it, seemed natural to go there to start the creative process. I still find it one of the most exciting cities in the world.”
One band that escaped Glasgow’s clutches is The Twilight Sad. Scooped up by Brighton’s Fat Cat label after just three gigs in the city, the Kilsyth-born band were shipped out to America to cut their teeth in unfamiliar climes. But, as singer James Graham puts it, the band are still heavily influenced by the city.
“I don't know exactly how big an impact [Glasgow] has had but I know that without [Mogwai, Arab Strap and The Delgados] I wouldn't be doing this,” Graham explains. “We've been lucky in that we've been able to work with and become friends with those bands and they've helped us and supported our band over the years by giving advice, working on our records with us, getting us pished and taking the pish out of us.”
This guiding hand from Glasgow’s old guard is a story you’ll hear time and time again from the city’s young pups. There’s no sense of personal protectionism amongst its musicians; just a desire to make music, and make it well. It’s the perfect blueprint for sustained success.
Where the city sits amidst musical heartbeats like LA, Seattle, London or Portland is difficult to gauge. Even its most renowned bands have little of the commercial appeal it takes to front the pages of magazines racked around the world. But given its population (just over 500,000), the number of globally approved acts it’s turned out in recent times is, frankly, staggering.
“Glasgow, and Scotland as a whole, has always made a disproportionate contribution to culture for a country of its size, we seem to be a very small but very creative nation,” says Aidan Moffat. “I think there’s an air of authenticity about Glasgow that London sometimes struggles to find. A lot of music down there is very London-centric and just doesn’t really translate to anywhere outside the M25, whereas us lot from up North tend to look at, and aim for, the bigger picture.”
So with their impenetrable west-coast brogues and utter lack of pretension, why do Glasgow bands resonate so readily with people around the globe?
“They’re a bit drunk and haven’t washed?” ponders Moffat. “I really don’t know – only an outsider can answer that.”
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
But for those of us who stood jaws agape in the wake of their rafter rattling live shows, where heart pounding zombie-blues bludgeoned against the rolling hillbilly drawl of Jacob Yates, UJ&W’s blood spilling corpse still haunts the memory. I’ve a friend who still swears they’re the most exhilarating band Scotland’s ever produced. Fankly, it’s almost impossible to disagree – there really was nothing quite like them. That UJ&W remain so unknown outside Scotland is moot; they were, and always will be, a band with more important things in mind.
Sunday, 17 October 2010
The bond between Scotland and the USA stretches back over 300 years, when scores of tartan-clad immigrants braved the Atlantic in search of a better life. Since then, our Western cousins have enthusiastically tightened this ancestral knot; retreading and rejoicing the steps of their lineage while almost singlehandedly fuelling our tourist industry.
Curiously, Jonathan D. Haskell, the man behind swooning Los Angeles outfit Seven Saturdays, has no Celtic heritage to call upon; no tales of family fortune at immigration doors to tell. Instead, Haskell’s Scottish love affair evolved from a schoolboy’s need to know about our favourite mythical beast:
“I remember in elementary school having to do a ‘country report’ and, of all the places in the world, I chose to do mine on Scotland,” explains Haskell. “I'm sure at the time I just wanted to read about the Loch Ness Monster and maybe bulk up my report with various illustrations on the creature, but that overarching interest never really faded.”
A move from the Hollywood Hills to Edinburgh in 2006 helped Haskell clear his head following the breakup of his former band, Angeles Drake. Describing Auld Reekie as his “dream place”, Haskell discovered sanctuary in the city’s historic ambience where his creative sensibilities were amplified by the sights and sounds around him.
“[In Edinburgh] I was basically doing nothing but walking and exploring everywhere, and drinking of course, but I began to get excited again about doing something musically. I actually started writing songs again, with vocals and words,” he says. “But when my money ran out and I returned to LA, that sinking feeling of dread returned. I simply couldn't jump back into the LA music scene as just another shitty, unoriginal band.”
Fed by a fear of stagnation, Haskell focused his newly-inspired energies on a solo project, Seven Saturdays. The expansive instrumental symphonies he was producing were a significant step away from Angeles Drake’s Coldplay-infused rock. Unsurprisingly, this gigantic stride into the unknown was accompanied by bouts of self-doubt.
“When I played the demos for my girlfriend when the whole project was taking shape, I remember asking her if she thought anybody would be into a band based around the Fender Rhodes and acoustic drums.” he recalls. “She and I agreed that it would most likely be a self indulgent flop."
Rather than flop, Seven Saturdays has high-jumped Haskell into the spotlight. Evoking gushing adjectives from the likes of Stereogum and Drowned in Sound, his eponymously titled debut EP has drawn comparisons with French relaxants Air and Brian Eno’s more ambient dalliances. It’s just the kind of spur Haskell’s confidence needed:
“Critical praise of sorts is validation of years spent working at this - I would be lying to tell you that I didn't care at all,” he confesses. “The good reviews last in my head for a few hours, and then I'm back online working, booking, promoting. It's just one part of the machine that tells me I must be doing something right."
Freely admitting he has no interest in pursuing glossy pop aesthetics, Haskell’s eyes are fixed on musical fulfilment. Yet, the subtle film noir nuances and cinematic lens of his work discloses a hankering for more optical stimulation.
“Visuals, film and lighting all play a big part in the live show,” says Haskell. “To me they're equally as important as the music because I'm trying to create a sensory experience for the audience. I want the audience to feel like they're in the middle of a globe encompassed by amorous noise and moving images. Like audio suffocation.”
This claustrophobia is a fundamental plotline in Haskell’s wordless compositions. Seven Saturdays is undoubtedly music for the urban recluse. It’s the sound of someone ill-fitted to the bustle of inner city life; ablaze with antipathy towards its monolithic skylines and congested pavements. But somewhere along the line, Haskell has made sense of his surroundings.
“LA is like a vacuum. It sucks you in and grips tightly, making everything and everywhere else seem unimportant,” he says. “It's very hard to leave. But once you do, you notice a renewed sense of peace immediately. But again, musically, I have really found my place in Los Angeles. Somehow the harsher this place is for me, the more I put into my music. I guess I like making pretty sounds in such chaos.”
Eyeing up a UK tour within the next 12 months, Haskell is looking forward to making a return to the place he calls home. It may have been four years since he last stepped on Scottish soil, but one memory keeps the country fresh in his mind: “The unmistakably miserable weather,” he deadpans. “God, I love that.”
The Roxy’s underground cavern is the perfect setting for an Enfant Bastard EP launch. Decked out like an amphetamine freak’s rave pit, the poker hot lighting seared against the room’s blackened curtains gives tonight a distinctly claustrophobic, almost suffocating, edge.
Before Enfant makes his entrance there’s a notable undercard of experimental dignitaries to rouse the incumbents of this increasingly space-less venue. First up is enigmatic throatsmith Wounded Knee, otherwise known as Drew Wright, with his gut-born brand of loop pedalled a capella .
With a sound that’s impossible to pin down, Wright tongues his way around a 15 minute skit of brogue-stained intonation that teases out compelling African rhythms. Calling for a "revolution of everyday life", it’s not Wounded Knee at his most politically ferocious, but the thick canopy of reverberating chant still lures the crowd in like salivating moths to a burn of neon light.
The discordant nature of tonight’s roll-call is underlined by Bit Face’s appearance on stage. This one-woman tide of chip-tune bedlam batters away the hypnotic state woven by Wounded Knee; lobotomising the crowd with a surge of abrasive techno that rattles the rafters of the Roxy's shellshocked hall.
It’s high–octane, grey matter screwing stuff, that has limbs thwacking to electro palpitations and the ring of Nintendo-ised chimes. At times it’s unmistakably derivative, with a couple of numbers flying worryingly close to the ‘big box, little box’ bones of Hard House, but by the time the Glasgow girl downs her Gameboy the boom of applause is glowing testament to her well-honed craft.
Next to the floor is local noise mongers The Leg (a last minute replacement for Kylie Minoise), who come out fighting as a two-piece cauldron of drum and guitar. Wielding their motoring anti-song racket, the duo are at full throttle from the off, clanging their way through two-minute long numbers that jar their way into the lugholes without restrain.
But The Leg’s main failing has always been consistent inconsistency and it’s the lack of a killer punch that, ultimately, brings down tonight’s set. The opening brace’s red raw throb flows into a stodgy middle section that lacks any cohesion and smacks of try-hardy avant-gardism. Despite being resuscitated by a final fling of abrasive, throat-slitting clatter it’s difficult to shake the feeling that this really should have been something so much more.
With lights down low, Cameron Watt arrives on stage in typically low key fashion. Under the guise of his electro-bending moniker Enfant Bastard, Watt cuts a mysterious figure; a guarded presence that embodies the polarising factions of the Auld Reekie scene. Yet, as if in spite of his awkward reputation, he’s in sprightly, almost gregarious, mood here tonight as he reels out small talk to the waiting masses.
Plugging his latest release on SL Records, the regally entitled 'Master Dude', Watt steps slowly into the set; almost afraid to interfere with his circuitry of bleep-inducing gadgets. But from the moment he strikes a warning shot of ‘I f***ing hate you’ into the Roxy’s airpspace, mayhem descends. Enfant Bastard has arrived.
The gargantuan blasts of scattergun electronica shooting from the speakers splinter like shrapnel in the eardrums. If electro-shock is Watt’s intention, then he does it with the precision of a psychiatric doctor, neurologically assaulting the crowd with wave after wave of hyperactive, decibel-frothing cuts. Not that those at the front care - they’ve already submitted to the electronic onslaught.
Running the gamut between rumbling Drum ‘n’ Bass and epileptic Happy Hardcore, this splice and dice masterclass is an exhilarating thrill to ride. Every beat feels insistent, as if compelling feet to cut loose, while Watt, now wholly ingrained in the room’s euphoria, feeds the frenzy with arms aloft and fists-pumping the air. It’s almost ridiculous to say it, but this feels more like clubland than the efforts of an enigmatic experimentalist.
How this autobahn atmosphere transfers to record is anyone’s guess. But tonight that really doesn’t matter. Cameron Watt is no longer making music for chins to be stroked; this is music that demands to be danced to. And the funny thing is, you know he loves it.
Despite clashing with Scotland’s efforts at upstaging football’s reigning world champions, Edinburgh’s Liquid Room is rammed with pale-faced indie urchins tonight. The reason? Two of the country’s most intense acts are moments away from plying their hearing-aid busting trade in the venue’s freshly re-constructed stage.
Billed as a duel between a duo of amply busted blondes, the titillating pre-gig posters prove disappointingly off-kilter. Still, when you’re talking about a pairing as cacophonous as The Twilight Sad and Errors, it’s difficult to quibble over misleading marketing. In fact, there’s a tinge of a relief it’s a lingerie-free show.
After two weeks on the road, Errors are struggling to shake off the tour bus cramps. The slow methodical opening notes of 'Bridge or Cloud?' filter out wearily, like the aspirin-seeking fumble induced by a morning after. But once the mechanics of their idiosyncratic machine get going, the Rock Action-signed quartet shift into a frenetic pace.
Although difficult to pin down on record, Errors live are a much more transparent experience. Math dalliances run down the band’s spine and educated time signatures noodle through every number. Simon Ward’s inter-song bouts of laconic self-deprecation may suggest they’re all too ready to play the fool, but this is a band that demands to be taken seriously.
Tonight’s action is spellbinding; rattling to the sound of discordant, cowbell-stained cuts while drummer James Hamilton pummels skins with marathon man ambitions. At times the retrograde synths float dangerously close to hands-to-the-heavens dancefloor cheese, but when the brazenly ambitious 'Mr Milk' is bruised into the mix such annoyances are easy to forgive.
Swaying together in krautrock hypnosis, Errors’ patchwork of guitar, effects and drum tighten to the point of rigor mortis, setting limbs in an epileptic trance to 'Salut France!' and 'Toes'. As this perspiring pit of a venue will testify, it’s the sound of a band pushing to its peak.
You could argue The Twilight Sad are making their descent from Errors’ destination. Forget The Night Ahead, last year’s follow up to the much lauded Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, failed to click with the music buying droves and their troubles were compounded by bassist Craig Orzel’s sudden departure. Suddenly a sullen band just got morbid.
But the Kilsyth quartet are a resilient mob and new songs 'The Wrong Car' and 'Throw Yourselves Into The Water Again' prove there’s enough fuel to light their excruciatingly loud furnace. And by firing into the former with the violence of a midnight mugging, James Graham is hell bent on denying eager obituary writers their ‘should have been so much more’ soundbites.
Tonight, The Twilight Sad are merciless: deafening in volume and unnervingly precise in execution. As Graham’s aggressive, often indecipherable, intone growls its way around 'I Became A Prostitute' and the absorbing 'That Summer At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy', a congealed mass of noise shudders behind, quickly making its way through the floorboards.
The problem with Graham’s demented stage-prowling is that the band’s vastly improved musical ear tends to be overlooked. Instead of pulverising venues straight down the middle, they’ve added an all-consuming air to their performance; as if they’ve finally mastered the art of filling a room. Of course, this is still gargantuan, ear-raping stuff, but now it’s executed with steely purpose.
While few numbers here are drawn from album number two, tonight’s roaring reawakening suggests a more fitting long-player may not be far off. Closing with a ferocious, claustrophobic rendition of 'And She Would Darken The Memory', The Twilight Sad are becoming what we always thought they could be: a band to be scared of.
Photos: Su Anderson
Sunday, 10 January 2010
First published here