The Joy Formidable @ Rough Trade East

The Joy Formidable. Photo: Brian Whar
The Joy Formidable. Photo: Brian Whar

Their debut album ‘The Big Roar‘ was aptly named: a formidable wall of searing, layered guitars, drums and front-woman Ritzy Bryan’s voice pitching between a shriek and a whisper. The three-piece from Mold in North Wales have been touring hard over the last few years in support of the likes of Muse and White Lies, writing on the road and only taking time out to record their follow-up, ‘Wolf’s Law‘, in the appropriately wild state of Maine in the Northeastern US.

To the sound of a wolf’s howl, the band stride on stage and launch into ‘Cholla’, the second new album track to get a release. Named after a sticky cactus, the searing riff at its heart is just as catchy, but the noise hurricane that characterised much of their first album has been tamed somewhat.

“Hello! Are you alright?” says Ritzy when she comes up for air. “Yes? No?” The typically uncommunicative London audience are, well, uncommunicative. “Well, nevermind. We’ll try and cheer you up.”

Indeed, why so serious? The tell-tale opening bass line of ‘Austere‘ drags a cheer from the crowd, despite the quality of the sound system – in what is, admittedly, a shop – more closely resembling your mates’ band playing in the front room through your home stereo. “Puppets and gowns/We’ll ransack this town,” she sings softly, dropping down to a single string of fuzzy guitar, beckoning the crowd forward before overwhelming them with a wall of noise. As the song’s rhythm decays into aggressive hacking at guitar, bass and drums, onstage the band are having a whale of a time. Drummer Matt Thomas batters his skins as if equipped with more arms than is usual, bassist Rhydian Dafydd has a quick jab at the cymbals for good measure, and the tiny lady with a fringe as razor sharp as her riffs leaps about irrepressibly, her huge blue eyes opening wide enough to be visible from the back of the room. In fact her whole face is a semaphore for each song, cycling through expressions from serene to pained to a rock ‘n’ roll bass face and back again.

Ritzy Bryant. Photo: Brian Whar
Ritzy Bryant. Photo: Brian Whar

It’s textured, layered, pummelling noise. They’ve been called shoegaze, apparently because they use loops and pedals, but really their sound conjures up the wail of Dinosaur Jr. or the Pixies more than floppy haired folk from Oxford. But, especially in such a small gig, what’s apparent as they tear through closing numbers ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade‘ and a tumultuous rendition of ‘Whirring‘ is how much fun they are having. How unselfconsciously they banter with each other and the audience, Ritzy offering her guitar to be struck by the front row during a feedback wig-out, Rhydian good-naturedly shoving her into the crowd as she leans too far off the stage, both accuse Matt of “not hitting the drums hard enough,” which could scarcely be less true.

“It’s so nice to see so many faces we recognise,” Ritzy adds. That people come back for more doesn’t surprise us at all. Their star is rising; it’s not if, but when.

 

[Originally published at Clashmusic.com]

Palma Violets @ The Boston Arms

Palma Violets
Palma Violets

This energetic South London four-piece’s reputation saw them on tour supporting Savages, 2012’s most hyped Joy Division impersonators, then get signed to Rough Trade without so much as a demo. Tonight, tickets marked for Steve Lamacq are among a pile of industry passes at the door; the venue is sold out. What have the Palma Violets got to explain the hype?

It’s garage rock – cacophonous drums, insistent bass, reverb-a-plenty and shrieked two-part vocals. Pete Mayhew’s organ offers respite and aspires to a broader sound some would call psychedelic, but too often here it’s lost in the mix. On stage Sam Fryer (vocals/guitar) and snarling, floppy-fringed Chilli Jessen (bass/shouting) bounce off each other, launching a blitz of guitar and strobe through a thick pall of smoke and reverb. It’s gleefully reckless; they don’t hit all the notes, they chuck themselves about. Fayer’s voice resembles Ian McCulloch in tone but without the Bunnyman’s finesse; every song arrives laced with whoops, yelps and screams.

Single ‘Best of Friends‘ has a winning chorus, Will Doyle’s catchy drum clatter of ‘Tom The Drum‘ stop-starts to raucous effect, while ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ could be The Modern Lovers, whose more boisterous organ and bass-driven moments the Palmas sometimes echo.

The gig descends into entertaining chaos: articles of teenage clothing are hurled at the band, a shirtless girl clambers onstage and barely retains her bra, full scale stage incursions ensue, and Jessen indulges in some reverse stage diving by walking into the crowd to be raised aloft and thrown back onstage.

Nothing different then, just a classic recipe executed well with the infectious energy and unshakable faith of the young. These four are living the dream right now. Let them.

In the works: Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr at Abbey Road Studios by Mark Kean
Photo: Johnny Marr by at Abbey Road Studios by Mark Kean

ALBUM TITLE: The Messenger
RELEASE DATE: February 2013
RECORDED: Berlin and Marr’s own studio in Manchester
SONGS INCLUDE: ‘The Right Thing Right’, ‘European Me’, ‘The Messenger’, ‘Upstarts’, ‘Sun And Moon’, ‘New Town Velocity’
FACT: In 1988 The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde told Johnny that if he didn’t sing he was “a chicken” – better late than never, it turns out.

A thirty-year career that began as a teenager with The Smiths has seen Johnny Marr develop as a six-string for hire with – among many others – Talking Heads, Electronic, The The, Oasis, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. But his new album ‘The Messenger’, previewed for Clash at Abbey Road studios, will be the first to bear his name alone.

“I hadn’t really decided on a fixed line-up until near the end. I didn’t want to put it out as if it had a band vibe, because it’s more personal than that. It’s just me really,” says Marr.

His last solo effort in 2003 was ‘Boomslang’, as Johnny Marr And The Healers, which received a mixed response. “I didn’t really know what I was doing then, but I was speaking collectively for the others. On this record I’m speaking entirely for myself. It feels totally different, like the start of a few solo records,” the softly-spoken Mancunian adds.

Mixed by Frank Arkwright, with whom Marr remastered The Smiths discography for re-release last year, the tracks seem steeped in influences from the bands that Marr has worked and written with. ‘European Me’ is threaded with Smiths-esque fingerpicked guitar, the opening chords of the tender ‘New Town Velocity’ recall Electronic’s ‘Get The Message’ (one of Marr’s favourites), while ‘Sun And Moon’ rocks the lo-fi attack and snarl of The Cribs, sounding like a strong single.

johnnymarr-clashmag-full-shrunk

But they’re also very much pieces of Marr, as songwriter and singer. Lyrically the album swings between political and social comment and tales of youth and devotion: “If anything the narrative through the record is about growing up in this country. I think ultimately it’s quite hopeful because I’m that kind of person.”

But while bandmates Zak Starkey and Edgar Summertyme (with a little help from Ms. Hynde) may have managed to strong-arm Marr into taking vocal duties, he’s not going emo: “I’m absolutely not interested in being the frontman in a band that bares my soul or feelings in song. Siouxsie Sioux, or Ray Davies, or Howard Devoto don’t sing from some weird, schlocky, sentimental place. What’s wrong with singing from the brain?”

[Originally published in Clash Magazine issue 81, December 2012.

Soulwaxmas @ Brixton Academy

Soulwaxmas. Photo credit: Matt Wash
Soulwaxmas. Photo credit: Matt Wash

Soulwaxmas – the name hints at the calling-card humour of Stephen and David Dewaele, the globetrotting Belgian brothers behind electro-rock live act Soulwax and mashup artists 2ManyDJs.

It’s been 14 years since Soulwax’s breakthrough electro-tinged rock album ‘Much Against Everyone’s Advice‘, and 10 years since 2ManyDJs pretty much invented mashup with their genre-blending album ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Part 2‘, in which they went to extraordinary lengths to clear more than 40 tracks with copyright holders, creating an album-length mix of snatches of records cut up and stitched back together.

Now in its sixth year, their annual Soulwaxmas festive European tour sees the boys dispense a heady Belgian brew of techno, electro, and full-on party madness from both their guises, with support from fellow traveller James Murphy of DFA Records, Erol Alkan, and Hellmix among others.

Dressed in their signature immaculate suits for the occasion, as Soulwax the brothers are joined by Stefaan Van Leuven on bass and drummer Bent Van Looy to bang out an hour of percussian-heavy, bass- and keyboard-driven electro rock.

The electro-madness of the naughties seems a century ago now, when biting saw waves seemed to be present on practically every record, and Soulwax fall into the group that includes Death From Above 1979 that mix the rockist with the danceable. Maybe there’s a sense that this wave has passed as the fifth jagged electro build-up in a row ripples out across the crowd who leap about illuminated in the searchlights and lasers, hands in the air as the beat returns. But the band constantly reinvent and bring new twists to their tracks, as they did on their dance-erized ‘Nite Versions’ remix album, and big hitters like ‘Another Excuse‘ have the crowd gladly admitting: “It’s a mistake that we’re making/that we’re making”.

Erol Alkan keeps things lubricated between sets, but it’s when they return as 2ManyDjs that Brixton Academy really takes off.

Armed only with their consoles, a considerable back-catalogue of extremely intoxicating dance remixes, and a video projection backdrop that announces the record using cartoonish animated versions of record sleeves, 2ManyDJs step forth to drink the festive crowd under the table. The opening cocktail of acid house classics ‘Humanoid‘ and ‘Mentasm‘ (complete with vast, grinning aceeed face above the stage) leads through Mr Oizo’s techno hand-puppet Flat Eric wearing a fez, Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’ accompanied by undulating naked cartoon Bowies, The Rapture, walking Eiffel Towers, and the inevitable and roof-raising Soulwax Remix of MGMT’s ‘Kids’.

Dashes of one record are dropped into another, setting up the best flavours of both and mixing up memorable stabs and hits to create something new that is neither one nor the other. It’s a great trick, and it keeps on working.

With a final salvo of Run DMC’s ‘It’s Tricky‘ the brothers bid us a happy Christmas, and an explosion of glitter, confetti and broad smiles burst out across the auditorium. As the first night after the predicted apocalypse predictably failed to materialise, Soulwaxmas still shows us how to party like there’s no tomorrow, even when there is.

 

[Originally published at Clashmusic.com]