Festival Internacional de Benicàssim 2013

Festival de Benicàssim 2013
Festival de Benicàssim 2013

For a festival once described as Glasto-del-Sol – with sun and sand instead of mud and rain – it’s somewhat ironic that, even at a fairly sweltering 30°C, it’s hotter in London this year.

Which isn’t going to stop 20,000 Brits stumbling about looking hot and bothered, of course. Playing spot the nationality on the beach at Benicàssim is laughably easy, and when the heat of the day forces those here under canvas to abandon their tents, every scrap of shade is taken up by bodies sprawled out, recovering for another “day” at the festival. A Spanish-style day, that is, which doesn’t start before 6pm and lasts through the night until 7am when stragglers are herded out the gates.

FIB (or just Benicàssim), draws fewer than half the 100,000 strong crowds that attend Spanish festivals Sonar, Primavera Sound and Bilbao BBK. Nevertheless it celebrates 20 years next year, assuming the rumoured financial worries turn out to be just that, and a dedicated following take a full week off to bask here in sun, sea, and sound.

Thursday, Everything Everything open their set of curiosity rock through thick swirling smoke, while headliners Queens Of The Stone Age tear into shameless rock-out numbers ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer‘ and the ludicrously catchy ‘No One Knows‘. When frontman Josh Homme raises his fist at the end, 10,000 hands raise in reply.

The boundless energy of Dizzee Rascal reduces the crowd to a grinning, sweating mess on Friday. Out in the punishing sun all day there’s casualties passed out on the tarmac, and when one girl gets in trouble at the front Dizzee stops the gig and has her hauled to safety. By now he’s well over his set time. “I can’t go off without playing Bonkers”, he says. Fortunately management agree, and the crowd pleaser gets another airing. Later, dubstep instigator Skream has the ground shaking under a rippling two-hour set of everything but dubstep – crunchy techno, chunky house, and some killer 90s old school hardcore pop classics.

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England’s north represents on Saturday, with the Courteeners, Arctic Monkeys and Kaiser Chiefs drawing huge, singing, sometimes even weeping crowds of ardent European fans. Elsewhere Bastille beat their drums melodramatically, and the China Rats, who caused mosh mayhem during their 11th hour stand-in for Bat For Lashes here last year, reprise their energetic, Undertones-inspired pop.

Dominating the final day are The Killers, always a vein of welcome ridiculousness during the 2000s’ potentially po-faced guitar band renaissance, who behind grinning frontman Brandon Flowers leap onstage to ‘Mr Brightside’ and follow through with hit after hit.

FIB is a very continental mix of indie rock and Eurocheese DJs, of massive acts tempered with breakthrough bands: Swim Deep’s whoops and cheekbones from B-Town, Temples‘ 60s time warp psychedelia, or hype magnets like Palma Violets and Chvrches. Spanish bands have a good showing too: Dorian’s percussive, dreamy post-rock, wordless metallers Toundra, and Svper‘s bubbling electro-pop. The young crowd, swelled by post-GCSE, post-A Level celebrants, sometimes gives Benicàssim the feeling of Benidorm with much better music. And while Spanish-English relations remain cordial despite Gibralta, so long as you can brave the heat (or afford aircon), who wouldn’t relish a festival with that foreign holiday feeling?

 

[Words, pictures and daily blogs from the festival originally published on Clashmusic.com and in Clash Magazine issue 90, September 2013]

Chilly Gonzales @ Cadogan Hall

Chilly Gonzales live at Cadogan Hall.

Auteur pianist, rapper, surrealist piano teacher, comedian and vaudeville entertainer, Chilly Gonzales is a fairly unusual proposition. Born Jason Beck, the Canada-raised, Europe-residing musician has collaborated with the likes of Peaches and Feist, and has recorded a dozen albums under numerous pseudonyms in various styles. While mainstream success has eluded him, two albums stand out: ‘Solo Piano’ from 2004 was exactly that, a record that demonstrated his exceptional skills as player and composer, while last year’s follow up ‘Solo Piano II‘ built on that reputation to greater acclaim.

In the grand surroundings of Chelsea’s Cadogan Hall, Gonzales strides on stage dressed like an outré Noel Coward in monogrammed dressing gown and slippers, looking out from under slicked hair curled in ringlets. Mockingly soaking up the applause, he arranges himself at the sleek black Steinway standing alone on the stage’s bare boards and opens with the gentle caress of ‘Rideaux Lunaire’, moving in quick succession to ‘Othello’ and ‘Kenaston‘, three of the finest and most delicate pieces from ‘Solo Piano II’. Looming large above the stage is a screen upon which a camera projects the piano’s keyboard from above, allowing the audience to see in monochrome Gonzales’ gnarled hands flying over the keys. Sometimes the speed of his fingers gets ahead of the camera, producing a choppyness that seen alongside the piano accompaniment gives the impression of watching Metropolis.

If the audience thought this was to be a straightforward classical recital, they must be unfamilar with Gonzales’ work. Between peices Gonzales entertains with impromptu music theory lessons, asides, and anecdotes from how the music was written. Introducing ‘White Keys‘ – played with a venom not heard on the album, the left hand notes growling louder, ringing out under the beat of his feet on the floor – he explains: “When composing I sometimes have a problem I want to solve, or a solution I want to avoid” – in this case using only the white keys, as a challenge. An explanation of major and minor keys before ‘Major vs Minor‘ sees him giving renditions of relentlessly upbeat pieces like ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Frère Jacques’ in the style of funereal fugues. He recalls the day he realised that minor chords were the tones of the underdog: “Minor is Warsaw 1942; only kings and fascists use major chords.”

The stand-up comic in him dies hard – a lengthly aside on how arpeggios are a lazy man’s musical harmony turns into digs at Sebastian Tellier, Jools Holland (“no one wants to listen to boogie woogie”), Daft Punk, and that if you don’t like rap “…that’s fine. You can just not like rap, and be racist.”

On rapping, no Chilly Gonzales gig is complete without it (“I took my inner Larry David and exaggerated it”), and he delivers ‘Supervillain Music’ and ‘Beans’ from 2011’s ‘Unspeakable’ album in which he riffs in a chamber-rap fashion on the classic hip-hop themes of repping his skills and making mo’ money. Breaking out of the fouth wall, a woman from the audience accompanies him on ‘Bongo Monologue’, with hilarious results.

Gonzales’ mix of classical talent, sharp observation, Jewish chutzpah and a sense of the absurd provides a compelling two hours of music and sillyness. It’s not something you’d necessarily think to take your Chopin-loving grandma to, but judging by the rapturous applause, standing ovation and not one but two encores, she’d probably enjoy herself if you did.

 

Words and pictures first published in Clash Magazine issue 87, June 2013.

CSS @ Village Underground

Lovefoxx and the rest of the Brazilian five piece still have the same sense of fun after four albums as they did way back in 2006 when they released ‘Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above’, and when Death From Above 1979 were actually around.

 
[Pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]

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Adam Ant @ The Roundhouse

Adam Ant live at the Roundhouse, London, May 2013. Photo: Rachel Lipsitz
Adam Ant live at the Roundhouse, London, May 2013. Photo: Rachel Lipsitz

Adam and the Ant’s huge hits in the early 1980s – at one point he had eight records in the charts simultaneously – are indelibly burnt into anyone who remembers them. Children remember the flamboyant costumes, over the top videos, catchy choruses. Those old enough remember the hard-edged post-punk sound finessed with a touch of the new wave, the overtones of deviancy and sexual experimentation, the arch lyrics and the extremely fine cheekbones of the handsome Mr Ant (born Stuart Goddard).

What Antmania can be resurrected 30 years later? He slipped from among the most creative new wave popstars into irrelevance, battled mental health problems later diagnosed as bi-polar disorder that saw him arrested and sectioned for his own health, and disappeared. After 17 years away Ant returns with the sprawling 17-track album ‘The BlueBlack Hussar Marries The Gunner’s Daughter’, a bizarre, unruly, and sometimes inspired beast.

Playing the Roundhouse for the first time since supporting X-Ray Spex in 1978, tonight Ant sports the full regalia expected of him; gold-braided hussar’s jacket, feathered bicorn and various dangly adornments. Older now, with thick black-rimmed specs and a more weighty appearance than in his whip-thin youth, he could almost be a history teacher at a fancy dress party.

But he still has the spirit for it; leaping on stage he launches into the bluesy ‘Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter‘, before stepping straight into ‘Dog Eat Dog‘ – and back to 1980. The band bring a more ‘eavy metal sound to the music, while still delivering the characteristic tribal-style drumming, with two kit drummers just as he used to. He doesn’t hit every note, but in moments such as yodelling the chorus to ‘Beat My Guest‘ he sounds as vigorous as ever.

Over two hours with scarcely a break to talk Ant powers through new numbers like the ‘Hardmentoughblokes‘, a bewildering attack on faux film hardmen, the electronic-tinged and clearly personal ‘Shrink‘ which seethes with a sub-Nine Inch Nails intensity, and the smokey BMRC-esque ‘Cool Zombie‘. And there are the classics: ‘Stand and Deliver‘ sets the mood early on in the set, the crowd’s roar clearly audible. ‘Whip In My Valise‘ is still delicious, the spacey, flanged ‘Zerox‘ is searing. “I’m asked if I’m going to play my classics,” he deadpans. “’Course not, you want dubstep remixes don’t you?”, before tearing into the call to arms of ‘Antmusic‘.

But tonight is all about the crowd. Three heavily-set balding punks pass around a bottle of poppers, each eye adorned by a mascara cross; not one is under 50 years old. Another sports the kind of flour-and-water spikes last seen on grainy BBC footage from the 70s. In every direction are serried ranks of middle age, trussed in Napoleonic shirts and tunics, ribbons and hats. They know the words, they know the dance moves, they leap about and sing as lustily as any Regency highwayman. To be among such fans, all so far beyond the all-important 18-35 market segment, dressed to the nines bellowing “RIDICULE IS NOTHING TO BE SCARED OF” is to be humbled, and cheered.

Chvrches @ Village Underground

chvrches
Chvrches

In six months more people have demonstrated an interest in CHVRCHES than the C of E (or indeed, the Kirk) could ever hope for in this godless, heathen age.

Last weekend they played Alexandra Palace with Everything Everything and Two Door Cinema Club (reviewed), but tonight they face the challenge of a room full of hipsters in this brick Shoreditch temple.

The rites begin with the kickdrums of ‘Lies‘, foreboding bass tones that recall early Gary Numan, spiky harmonic stabs driving the track forward while Lauren Mayberry dons her dominatrix hat to instruct us: “You got to show me / Both knees, skin and bone / Clothe me, throw me, move me”.

There is delicious ambiguity in her lyrics. She radiates fragility, but is bold in her demands: “I can feed your dirty mind / Like I know, like I know what you want.”

CHVRCHES do more than aggressive beats and sexual undertones, however. ‘We Sink’ drops the bombast and places keyboard player/Maschine wrangler Martin Doherty on the mic, revealing an intimate voice from beneath the baseball cap on an almost plaintive pop song that rises from clattering synths. ‘Now Is Not The Time‘ wouldn’t sound out of place in a John Hughes film, all synthetic bells, lush strings and minor key cooing.

Doherty and keyboards/guitarist Iain Cook are fairly grizzled music industry veterans old enough to remember the ’80s, while Mayberry comes to the decade’s endlessly popular tones via the route of revivalism. Her stage nerves have slowly thawed, and as the Tron-esque grid of red lasers carves up the stage she stabs at them with her hands, joking that all those red dots would be a “nightmare for cats”.

They also laugh off their most unlikely recent internet hype – a cover of the Game Of Thrones theme. “You think you’re just taking the piss, and then next minute the internet melts down,” she says.

Not every track is a hit. CHVRCHES work best when the synths are distressed, dirty, with Mayberry’s voice an angelic foil. Nowhere better is this demonstrated than ‘Recover‘, which when it appears finally moves the crowd.

A spectacular slice of winning electro-pop that could inspire religious fervour in the hardest heart, its icy charm plays off against a throbbing bassline and Mayberry’s Glaswegian vowels, where she pleads “I’ll give you woan more chance / Say you can change our heart / Where you can teak what you need / And you doan’ need me”.

Closing with ‘The Mother We Share‘, the band returns for an encore – all smiles, no electro-posing here – for Lauren to deliver, as promised, her karaoke version of Lil’ Kim’s ‘Lady Marmalade’ rap, and Prince’s ‘I Would Die 4 U’, which in the moment could have been written for her.

Channelling the Purple One’s amorousness, the darkness and noise of Depeche Mode and Tubeway Army and the Nordic loneliness that suffuses Robyn’s finest tracks, CHVRCHES weave quality influences into fine songs.

And, in the elfin, wide-eyed Mayberry, they have law graduate, award-winning journalist, intriguing lyricist, compelling singer and (inevitably) future infatuation of millions wrapped into one tiny package – at whose tiny feet the pop world will surely soon lie.

 

[Words and pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]

Viv Albertine @ Nambucca

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Achieving some degree of fame or notoriety while barely out of their teens, guitarist Viv Albertine, singer Ari Up, bassist Tessa Pollitt and drummer Palmolive forged in The Slits an uncompromising, all-girl punk sound. Refusing to blindly follow punk’s musical memes, debut album ‘Cut’ was infused with Ari’s love of reggae and portrayed the women on the cover as wild, naked and covered in mud – naked defiance towards society and the male-ego-dominated music business. After six years and two albums The Slits split in 1982. Albertine trained in film, made a career for herself as a director, got married, and had a daughter. You know, life stuff.

And then life stuff happened. In interviews Albertine has been fairly candid about how the disintegration of her marriage and re-evaluation of life as a fifty-something fuelled the creative process that produced 2010’s Flesh EP and last year’s debut album The Vermillion Border. “I buried Viv Albertine from The Slits, I absolutely squashed her,” she said last month of her 18-year marriage. But some things cannot be kept down.

Stepping on to great cheers, Albertine is resplendent in a short, sparkly black dress and knee high boots. “Do you like my boots? They’re Biba,” she says. “Can you see them at the back? No of course you can’t, don’t be silly,” she scolds the affirmations from the darkness, to laughs.

Re-learning her skills after twenty-five years, Albertine’s songs are disarming, deeply personal, often brutal and frequently funny. She is utterly without pretention and seems quite at ease on stage, despite decades of absence. Her guitarwork is jangly and ringing, atonal chords played right up at the neck. While she admits that she’s not the best guitarist or singer, her songs bare a compelling honesty.

On ‘Don’t Believe‘, written after the death of her estranged father, she contrasts the indubitable existence of the physical world with the vague promises of love and healing we repeat emptily to ourselves through tired, linguistic clichés: “Time does not heal, time’s not on my side/Time will tell you nothing, and time cannot fly/I believe in glass, I believe in heat/I believe in rust, in aluminium sheets/…but I don’t believe in love.” The rallying cry ‘I Want More’ speaks of both women finding fulfilment away from expectations placed upon them, but also as a gasp of realisation from someone waking up to middle age to find the ground has shifted underneath them. Even when she restarts ‘Life’s Too Short To Be Shy’ twice (because “I can tune my guitar but I can’t tune my voice”) the audience egg her on. “It’s OK, I don’t really care,” she says. “I’m definitely not shy any more.”

She ends on the wonderfully titled ‘Confessions Of A Milf’, a lyrically acid take on marriage (“A man needs a maid, a maid of his own/A maid needs a muse, and a room of her own”) that winds itself up into a mantra of frustration: “Cleaning, shopping, faking, cleaning, shaking, baking, fucking, faking…”

Quavering voice, music and lyrics that are not always easy listening, Viv Albertine 2.0 will not be to everyone’s tastes. But here she is, now 57, responding to life as she knows how, because she wants to, and without giving a fuck what anyone else thinks. Just as she did 35 years ago. And it doesn’t get much more punk that.

[Words and pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]

Gallops + Portasound @ The Lexington

Prog is back, armed with better synthesisers, more effects, and the most mental drummers on Earth. Gallops, Portasound and The Physics House Band tear the roof off The Lexington.

 
[Words and photos originally published at Clashmusic.com]

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Gallops +Portasound @ The Lexington

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It’s a bad day to be a drum – wrong place, wrong time.

If you’re a drum today, you are going to get your head kicked in, because it’s all about the drummers – a succession of progressively more meaty, more bristling, more intense human beat machines battering out complex rhythms to the point that even from the back of the stage the drummers upstaged everyone else. Gentlemen, take a bow.

Prog is back. When math-rock behemoths Battles dropped debut album ‘Mirrored’ in 2007 they must have opened the a rift in the fabric of space-time through which poured generation-old ideas of lyric-less extended instrument breakdowns, extreme time changes, key-shifts and general proggery.

All of which live on in The Physics House Band, right down to the tight paisley shirts, array of vintage synths including a Moog, Fender Rhodes and Hammond, jazz bass played at approximately neck level, and esoteric track names like ‘Teratology’, ‘ObeliskMonolith’ and ‘Abraxical Solapse’. Three lads from Brighton, they play an incredibly tight set of cleverly arranged, heavy-jazz-prog-rock tracks from their debut Horizons/Rapture EP, from which the stand-out is ‘Titan‘, an arpeggiated piano-driven monster propelled by the stickwork of Dave Morgan, the first of this evening’s incredible drummers.

Portasound have been described as electro-pop, but considering that term also describes Little Boots and Madonna it’s fair to say it comes up short. With gleaming keyboards stacked on top of each other like iced cakes on a cake stand, they bring more electronics than either of their Blood and Biscuits labelmates playing tonight, blasting out acid-tinged basslines, wonky square wave stabs and bubbling synths underneath layers of guitar, held together and by the pounding precision brutality of drummer Graham Gaffney. Taking their name from the cheap Yamaha keyboard, Portasound’s best has a cinematic quality, like themes from never made sci-fi films. The crystalline breakdowns in ‘Polaris‘ sparkle (like C-beams near Tannhauser Gate, perhaps?), and the band is not afraid to let notes ring out into silence. The metallic, doom-laden entrance of ‘Procession‘ conjures images of some off-world prison colony, and the gradual, almost beatless build of ‘Ascension‘ is pure Vangelis. On the other hand the obvious, uninspired riffs from tracks like ‘Time Lost‘ and ‘Furore’ stray too close to Pendulum territory.

If The Physics House Band are jazz-prog and Portasound are electro-prog, then Gallops are the prog-funk of tonight’s triple bill. But not in a ’70s flared-trousered way. This is cybernetic syncopation funk, each layer of jangly guitar forced through the world’s biggest effects peddle rack, each keyboard drone and synth stab filtered and twisted and punched into the mix perfectly in time with the hulking, terrifying drum machine that is Dave Morait (fitting, for a band named after a drum pattern). New album ‘Yours Sincerely, Dr Hardcore’ is clever, subtle, almost prissy with finesse, but performed live the tracks become three-dimensional – faster, heavier, more raw, working the curious syncopated rhythms of tracks like crowd pleaser ‘Miami Spider‘, Morait drumming as if possessed, smashing stick after stick without breaking stride.

Avant-rock? Post-rock? Experimental? Whatever. Hawkwind this ain’t, but prog is back, and it’s never sounded so good.
 

[Words and pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]

Moulettes @ The Roundhouse

 

Bassoon – you don’t get many of those in bands these days. Moulettes are nothing if not the exception to this and many other rules – swashbuckling genre raiders armed with cello, double bass, violin, autoharp, harmonium, glockenspiel and more besides.

Riding the same alt-folk wave that has brought many other contemporary acoustic artists to the fore over the last half of the 2000s, Moulettes however stubbornly refuse to fit into even the most vaguely defined classification – perhaps the closest might be one of the choices of genre available to those with that venerable relic, the MySpace page: “melodramatic popular song”.

Multi-instrumentalists and singers Hannah Miller and Ruth Skipper front the band, alongside violinist Georgina Leach (absent tonight), Oliver Austin on various forms of percussion, guitar and voice, and Jim Mortimore’s double bass. As might be guessed from such a diverse set of instruments, this ain’t no three-piece garage rock band. Their sound is thick with three, four and five-part vocal harmonies, layers of played and plucked strings, guitars and that oleaginous, glissando bassoon. Songwriter Miller draws upon a wealth of influences: the folky prog-rock of the likes of Pentangle, the tones and intervals of Medieval early music, gypsy, klezmer, and the story-telling and dark humour of the folk tradition – even if musically they fall well outside what folk traditionalists could stomach.

And my god, can they play. At some point, classically trained players of orchestral instruments must ask themselves where they might direct their talents outside the classical realm. The quality of musicianship here is tremendous (most of the band have been borrowed by the likes of Seasick Steve, Mumford and Sons, The Unthanks, The Holloways), with the tightest timing and clever composition weaving together ideas and rhythms, reinforced by the leading ladies’ powerful voices and, especially in Skipper’s case, theatrical tendencies.

Handclapping, finger-snapping and Skipper’s formidable beetle-crusher boots are all used as precision instruments, particularly on ‘Unlock The Doors‘, and ‘Sing Unto Me‘. ‘Requiem’ showcases a more proggy style with clever rhythm changes, but without ever becoming disjointed. ‘Bloodshed In The Woodshed‘ and ‘Cannibal Song‘ see them at their most darkly humorous, the former listing all the potential means of reckoning a jilted lover intends to deliver upon her man (“Trip wire/small fire/bathing with a hair dryer”), the latter a pre-dinner discussion with the narrator’s unfortunate soon-to-be ex-lover (“Oh, oh my lover/No longer will you love another”).

Hugely talented, imaginative composers and wildly enthusiastic performers, even during the slower numbers or when the occasional prog excess causes longer songs to drag, Moulettes are a real treat to watch and hear, and it would be a hard heart indeed that wouldn’t be moved to smiles and a bit of a jig. With a piratical swagger they carry off centuries-worth of musical booty and, like the sailboat that traverses their eponymous debut album’s cover, sail off into the rarely-traversed but delightful seas of Baroque-prog-folk-chamber-pop.

 

[Words and pictures originally published at clashmusic.com]

Moshi Moshi Hub Sessions @ The Roundhouse

Three more disparate artists one could not imagine: multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter James Spankie supported by a string quartet, the self-described “small fat Welshman” Sweet Baboo playing lovely, sardonic songs, and steel-pan drum legend Fimber Bravo, with Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip on keyboards repaying a favour from Fimber’s steel-pan appearances on One Life Stand. I ran out of memory cards in the end and just danced to Fimber’s rhythms. We got him back for an encore and he said “Give yourself a big hand, I’ve never had an encore in 20 years”.

 
[Photos originally published at Clashmusic.com]

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Laetitia Sadier @ The Water Rats

Laetitia Sadier, stepping out from behind the serried banks of Moogs and synths that for 20 years has made up the kraut-rock-dream-pop of Stereolab, played a short set of some of her solo material from two albums, The Trip and Silencio. Stripped back to guitar and voice, it wasn’t at all like Stereolab, but Sadier’s French accented, lush singing voice, wry humour and strident political lyrics are still as they ever were.

 

[Photos and words originally published at Clashmusic.com]

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Laetitia Sadier @ The Water Rats

Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab playing at The Water Rats
Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab playing at The Water Rats

What would be the collective noun for shoegazers? A drone? A wash? A ride? All suggestions applicable to Freak Scene, this roving, regular night of shoegaze and noise-pop whose name harks back to the longhair experimental bohemian undercurrent of the 1960s and 70s at least as much as the unrestrained fuzz-blast of the eponymous Dinosaur Jr track.

Originally from Poland, first act The Enters tear through some especially Ride-esque smears of tremolo-powered overdriven guitar threaded through with propulsive drums and extremely danceable basslines, leaving heads nodding excitably. Lionface are hard to pin down – a singer who sounds like Mariah Carey, perhaps thinks she’s Arethra Franklin, but who resembles Lucia Holm.

But it’s the Francophone double-hander that the people have come to see. Like a sort of Gallic The Kills, Deux Furieuses are two girls blasting out a minimal but certainly effective, jagged sound on drums and guitar. By comparison, when she comes onstage alone, Stereolab frontwoman Laetitia Sadier remarks that her set will be a lot less after all that noise. “But that’s ok, we’ve had a lot of music tonight already,” she says.

It’s strange to see Sadier stripped of all her accoutrements: not just the protective shield of Moogs and organs used to such great effect in creating Stereolab’s indefinable Krautrock-lounge-pop, but even the post-Stereolab trio she has put together for her two solo albums, ‘The Trip’ from 2010 and last year’s ‘Silencio’. She might even feel a little naked onstage, clutching a Fender Mustang which she plays left-handed. Reduced to just voice and guitar, her songs are spare and still, filled out only by Sadier’s instantly recognisable voice. Even when assaulted from all directions by the hum and drone of Stereolab, her lush, melancholy tones and penchant for minor intervals always scored through – even more so here.

‘The Trip’ was a small and beautiful thing which while tinged with sadness (channelling the emotional impact of her sister Noelle’s suicide) was never maudlin despite its personal themes. The cover of Les Rita Mitsuoko’s ‘Un Soir, Un Chien’ is played as bubbling French disco on the album, but here stripped back to its smallest core the lyrical double meanings appear: “Quand tu l’as décidé, tu m’as laissée/Et je suis resté attachée/Et moi je resterai/Quand même.”

Sadier’s songs on ‘Silencio’ return to the more strident political themes for which she is known. How little has changed in the 20 years since her scathing criticism of power in the likes of Stereolab’s ‘Ping Pong‘, ‘Outer Accelerator‘ and ‘Nihilist Assault Group‘ – something she acknowledges as she allows herself a little bitter laugh introducing ‘Rule of the Game‘: “This is about how we have let the financial markets rule our lives – remember that one?”

It’s a quick set but memorable, holding this audience rapt and silent, mesmerised by the Shah’s voice, her intriguing Frenchness, her strident philosophy, and perhaps the sound of mellotrons and Moogs playing only in their heads.

[Words and pictures published at Clashmusic.com, February 2013.]

The metamorphosis of Chapel Club

Chapel Club at Birthdays, Dalston, London, August 2012

 

Chapel Club are hot right now, but not as hot as this club. It’s so hot in here that the air is thick with moisture, making the results of flash photography look the Victorians’ weird efforts to capture ghosts on film. Like a hotel maid, club staff lay a fresh towel alongside each musician’s instrument – cheaper than air con, I suppose.

Chapel Club have gone through something of a metamorphosis. Gone are the tight trousers, cropped haircuts, serious expressions and downbeat lyrics of their previous incarnation as post-Editors, Interpol-esque guitar-wranglers. Here at Birthdays the superheated crowd await the new sound that singer and lyricist Lewis Bowman has described as, in a candidate for Understatement of the Year, “pretty different”.

To whoops from the crowd come the opening strains of ‘Scared’ – gentle strands of echoing synth and filigree guitar spun together, a crescendo that drops with a bassline that is nothing short of a groove.

It’s a summer record, drenched in reverb and delicate synth lines that tumble like blossom in a heat haze. “When I was only young/To me the world was mine, in which to go have fun,” sings Bowman sweetly. “Now I am fully grown/I’m not saying I’m happy but/I’m not alone.” It’s not every day a pop group channels St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. “I know that you might be feeling a little scared/But it’s nothing to be ashamed of”, he croons, striking a note with everyone in the room – old cynical gits, young idealistic fools, and all points in between.

Under the pitch bend and glissando bass of ‘Sleep Alone’ the skins are battered in the approximation of a hiphop beat while Bowman – whose vocal range is impressive – caterwauls over the top. ‘Jenny Baby’, a song apparently and inexplicably about Jennifer Lopez, is a wash of acid lines, throbbing bass and deep, dubby drums.

Versions of ‘Surfacing’ and ‘The Shore’ from their debut album follow, refashioned to be bigger, bassier, beatier and more danceable in keeping with the new material.

Bowman’s crew cut aside, synthmeister Michael Hibbert, Liam Arklie on bass, guitarist Alex Parry, and drummer Rich Mitchell now sport flowing locks, t-shirts and loose-fitting clothing. The sound is heavy, dubby, druggy, clubby. People are dancing, everyone is sweating. What have the band being doing in Los Angeles? If they could bottle it, they’d make a fortune. Everything’s got baggier. Were they locked in a room listening to Ultra Vivid Scene, Slowdive and the Happy Mondays?

Sometimes a band has tracks just made for opening or closing sets. Wrapping up tonight is ‘Good Together’, a fairly epic ten-minute drum and bass work out whose rising and falling arpeggios echo the sentiments of Bowman’s lyrics, as two people tumble in and out of love. Around the four minute mark it dissolves into an extended deep house instrumental broken up with snatched, echoing samples of Bowman’s voice. Blissed-out pop music with big rhythms. The lights come on, the crowd left wanting more.

 

Originally published at Clash Music, as were my photographs from the gig.