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Kendal Calling 2013: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 19th August 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

If one was to hold a competition to find the most picturesque view in festivaldom, what would be on the shortlist? Certainly the legendary vista of the entire site from Glastonbury’s stone circle. Perhaps the imposing aspect from underneath Primavera’s vast concrete solar monolith across the Mediterranean sea. Equally as impressive, in a considerably more natural way, is the view just past the entrance barriers into Kendal Calling. The grassy site stretches out down a gentle slope, pocked with multicoloured canvas. Billowy cumulonimbus hang in a vast sky graduated between royal and baby blue, whilst on the horizon sit the imposing peaks of the Lake District. Just into the distance, tantalisingly obscured by trees, can be seen the tents and stages of the arena itself.

The geographical fortune of Kendal Calling doesn’t stop there. Being located roughly equidistant between the conurbations of Manchester, Glasgow, and Newcastle upon Tyne contributes to a heady melting pot of accents from three cultures that, let’s be honest, aren’t renowned for being shy of a bit of a party. And Kendal seems to specifically for their requirements: there’s guitar music aplenty, sometimes with a distinctly ‘laddish’ slant, and non-stop dance music until 3 AM for those so inclined towards a bit of an uplifting boogie. Which, as it turned out, for one night only, was me.

Concrete Knives Kendal Calling 2013

The rest of my time at Kendal mostly was spent at the Calling Out stage, a modestly-sized tent featuring less well-known and more up-and-coming acts than the household names hosted on the main stage. The very first act of the festival were Concrete Knives (pictured above), given a cruelly short 30 minutes in which to get across their funky Gallic guitar-pop. They rattle through several from debut ‘Be Your Own King’, Morgane Colas apparently floating in a self-induced trance when singing. They’re a rare treat, funky, cerebral and humorous all at the same time, and I can’t wait to see them do a full headline set (5/5). Champs have a lovely, summery take on the songwriter duo; something like ‘My Spirit Is Broken’ is just the sort of keening, sweetly-harmonied ditty that you want to hear emanating from a warm afternoon tent (3/5).

Waylayers Kendal Calling 2013

Waylayers turn up the tempo somewhat. Theirs is the sound of guitar songwriting meeting Balearic beats and synths as on the anthemic ‘S.O.S.’, which is dancefloor-worthy even without needing a remix. Harry Lee has enormous physical presence, dominating both the stage and the little keyboard from which he generates any number of uplifting synth lines. His vocals are often the spit of Diagrams’ Sam Genders, while the music treads a similar path to other practitioners of the dance crossover genre such as Friendly Fires; the fact that ‘Fires’ was produced by Ewan Pearson of TGTF former faves Delphic is surely no coincidence. Are they still unsigned? Surely not for long (4/5).

Misty Miller Kendal Calling 2013

“I washed my hair for you / I shaved my legs for you too” – the first couplet of ‘Next To You’ neatly summarises Misty Miller’s brand of guitar-based feminism, and the enormous blues riff which explodes seconds later indicates how serious she is about it. This is properly dirty garage rock, as simple as it gets: two, maybe three chords, drums bashed as hard as possible, and as generous a dose of swagger from the eponymous young frontwoman as one could reasonably hope for. Nothing particularly complicated here, but a generous dose of attitude and a nice loud electric guitar go a long way, and considering Misty is still only 19 years old, this is a particularly impressive performance (4/5).

Clean Bandit (pictured at top) are an unusual proposition, with their uneasy blend of dance music overlaid with a variety of classical stringed instruments and some MCing – effectively an updated version of the Dads’ car stereo favourite ‘Hooked On Classics’. A couple of minutes into this year’s ‘Mozart’s House’ single, the beats stop completely and the strings play a few bars solo, before the inevitable four-to-the-floor kick drum reappears, and it all goes hands-in-the-air again. The MC mines the depth of cliché in his classical music references – staccato, pizzicato, they’re all there, sticking out like four crotchets in a bar of waltz. One can’t help but think that fans of neither genre are served well – do dance heads really want strings all over their music? And it’s a rare kind of classical music fan that thinks, “what this string quartet recital really needs is a nice 909 bassline!” Nevertheless, there is some virtue here – the twin female vocalists give good show, the whole thing could act as a decent, risk-free primer to the charms of dance music for débutantes, and overall it’s all pretty good fun – if you don’t mind a bit of cheese in your mid-afternoon sandwich (2/5).

The Heartbreaks Kendal Calling 2013

Whether or not it’s the fact that Morecambe’s The Heartbreaks are treating Kendal Calling as something of a homecoming gig, what with them being just a quick trip up the M6 away from home, there’s something in the demeanour of Matthew Whitehouse and co. that demonstrates that they’re not just making up the numbers here. They would end up playing three times in the same day, including an acoustic set, but the Calling Out stage set was as good as any place to catch them. Clearly steeped in the aesthetic of the swinging ’60s, in many ways The Heartbreaks are keeping alive the straight pop of the pre-grunge ’90s, with a sweet, upbeat songs about girls. There’s a clear Smiths influence, which is no surprise given the band’s enthusiasm for them, but they come across as far more joyous than the Mancunian miserabilists. If you’re in the market for slice after slice of optimistic guitar pop, The Heartbreaks are who you should be listening to (5/5).

A few minutes in the company of Willy Moon soon assuages any doubts that his underwhelming Liverpool Sound City performance was anything other than representative of the usual standard of his work. His set consists of vignettes of self-aggrandising cliché; he himself is an obsequious musical magpie that steals the shiniest but most worthless musical baubles. For example, a compilation of lyrics from recent album ‘Here’s Willy Moon’ tell their own story:

“ain’t coming back no more / yeah yeah / how you like me now / one, two, three, four / I got what you need / got a strange affliction deep in my soul / I wanna be your man / when I was young my mama said / I put a spell on you”

Make no mistake, the first time these musical ideas were invented, they worked, because they were new and exciting. But to simply rehash them and sell them on as one’s own work, isn’t just plagiarism, it’s insulting the intelligence of one’s audience. Moon has an obvious talent for performance, but a desperate hole where there should be some decent, meaty bits of song – pretty much all of which are under 3 minutes long, and some are under 2. Usually brevity in music is to be applauded, as long as what is presented is an original idea, concisely expressed. In Moon’s case, his are underdeveloped foeti of songs, birthed at too young an age, dressed up in the glitter of production to disguise their weakness (1/5).

Public Enemy Kendal Calling 2013

Public Enemy, on the other hand, have a lot to say, perhaps quite a lot more than can be easily understood on first listen by a white Yorkshireman. The show is highly theatrical, with Flava Flav making an appearance ages after things have got going; in fact it was three songs in, because the photographers were preparing to leave after the customary three songs, only to be called back by Flav because he hadn’t had enough of the limelight – the first time in my experience that an artist has called for more photographic exposure rather than less. And certainly the first time that terms have been overruled directly from onstage. Flav makes an impassioned tribute to the unfortunate black American teenager Trayvon Martin, to whom he dedicates his continuing to wear the clock around his neck. There’s entourage scattered around the stage, seemingly just standing there most of the time, but overall it’s a pretty highly-charged affair, set amongst what it could be said is a fairly inoffensive, apolitical bill. And there’s nowt wrong with that (4/5).

 

Liverpool Sound City 2013: Martin’s Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Friday, 17th May 2013 at 1:00 pm
 

More of Martin’s high-res photos from day 2 can be found on his Flickr.

Bands of the day: Concrete Knives, Wolf People, Melody’s Echo Chamber

Venue of the day: Screenadelica

One not-to-be-underestimated benefit of an event being held in Liverpool is the impressive situational architecture. I chose a hotel based entirely on cost and availability, and yet it boasted a fine view of the Mersey estuary and is continuously watched over by that Liver bird which is unfortunate enough not to have a sea view. There’s few things more inclined to soothe a music-induced foggy head than a bracing Atlantic breeze and a frozen berry smoothie, both of which are liberally on offer on the Albert Dock; head duly cleared, there’s still a few hours to kill before play recommences – a tour around the Tate Liverpool and a few frames of World Championship snooker fill the gap admirably.

There’s a distinctly Asian flavour to this year’s event – delegations from Korea (of which more tomorrow) and Taiwan are in town, and are plugging hard. Echo are the first Taiwanese band I come across. They’re technically excellent rock musicians, and enjoyable to watch, but there’s little distinctive personality to be discerned in this brief meeting. Perhaps they’re better at copying a western style than coming up with one of their own. Another slight disappointment is L.A. band Hands – pre-event research had revealed them to a promising, if slightly pretentious act; today, their sound is mostly lost in the cavernous Garage, and no amount of optimistic gyration from Geoff can save the day.

Concrete Knives Liverpool Sound City 2013

The second French band of the weekend are Concrete Knives, and they continue the French theme of pure excellence. Theirs is a delightfully retro jumble of danceable grooves, funky breakdowns, and singalong choruses. Morgane Colas deadpans into the microphone, breaking into precise little dance moves when the occasion demands it, her slight frame booming out a powerful vocal, dominating the delicious noise the band pumps out. Despite (or perhaps, in an oblique way, because of) their Normandy roots, the band sing and title their songs in English, with just the right amount of evocative Gallic accent to spice their singing with a romantic otherness which suits the material perfectly. Most of recent album ‘Be Your Own King’ is played, climaxing with the swaying Truth, its loping beat building into a kitchen-sink crescendo which brought that rare, unique hair-stands-on-end moment which always happens at some point at a music festival. They played a second set later in the day to a dusky Kazimier Gardens, which managed to be even more funky impressive, with the entire crowd dancing and whooping by the end. These are the band of the festival for me.

Best Friends Liverpool Sound City 2013

My first venture into the Kazimier itself, which turns out to be a superb old-school auditorium with delightfully odd black-and-white handmade woodwork, is for Sheffield surf rock four-piece Best Friends. In the interests of full disclosure, in advance I decide I’m predisposed to feel an affinity for the band because the lead singer shares my surname of Sharman, but there’s plenty more to like about them besides that. There’s an endearing warmth to their ocean breeze of fuzzy guitars and circular chord sequences that charms the crowd and enchants the neutral observer. Wasting Time, with its memorable riffs and football-terrace chorus demonstrates just how tuneful their arrangements can be, but elsewhere there’s a sour undertow of dissonance that prevents everything getting too sickly, like a slice of lime rammed into a bottle of lager. Take your Best Friends to the beach.

Wolf People Liverpool Sound City 2013

The Kazimier, with its slightly tired retro ambience, is the perfect environ in which to experience Wolf People, who, from their first note to the last, transport everybody to an incense-fugged basement club in west London, circa 1971. Theirs is the world of paisley kaftans, flared jeans and beards; their sound is that of the classic folk-prog-rock power quartet, guitars intertwining – sometimes harmonising, sometimes octaving, sometimes complementary, sometimes in battle. Vintage fuzz tones abound, guitar solos are long and unashamed, the rhythm section grooves like a bastard, and the lyrics… whilst there’s a possibility that they’re not about goblins, wizards and faire maidens, by rights they really should be. Wolf People are one of the finest rock bands I’ve ever seen, and a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in the influential late-60s/early-70s psychedelic scene. A song like the superbly-named ‘When the Fire is Dead in the Grate’ encapsulates practically an entire genre in one brilliant many-movemented beast. A great opportunity to experience one of rock music’s finest hours for those who missed it the first time around.

Still in the Kazimier is the third and final French act of the weekend: Melody’s Echo Chamber (pictured at top) trade in beautiful, dreamy ditties in the vein of classic French chanteuses such as Francois Hardy, updated with modern arrangements; there’s bits of electronica in there, some found noises, and a persistent, driving guitar. Sometimes they descend into beat-infused chaos, but always maintaining the pretty, ’60s-tinged melodies. I should have stayed for the whole set, but Melody’s lament at missing Unknown Mortal Orchestra got the better of me so I crossed the road to catch the end of their performance. I’m not sure whether my expectations were unfairly high, but the subtleties of their act were either lost on me, or not present at all, comprising as it did long episodes of Ruban Nielson rocking out on his Fender Jag-Stang and not a great deal else. Possibly a deep-seated familiarity with latest album II would have helped decipher it all, but at this late hour none of it seemed very impressive.

To Screenadelica, and what is basically an unused low-ceilinged office building housing a music poster exhibition, with a stage seemingly plonked in one corner. The ceiling is of low, broken tiling, the lighting is exposed fluorescent tubes which conspire to bathe the room in an unflattering, green-tinged blankness. Such a disconcerting environment makes a perfect post-apocalyptic backdrop for the heavy rock bands which are in residence all weekend. An impromptu meetup with Mary and John of this parish meant we all had the good fortune to catch a mental set from Arcane Roots. You never know where you are with these guys – one minute they’re all sweet, delicate vocals over a charming, chiming guitar line – but in the blink of a distortion pedal later, they’re shredding your face off and roaring down your throat. Comparisons with Biffy are unenviably inevitable, but Arcane Roots do carve a niche all of their own, and their directness and energy is a welcome change from the more cerebral fare on offer earlier. As an aside, what gives with what bands are playing and wearing these days? All the pop acts are wearing rock band T-shirts (viz Bastille, Ilona et al.), and the rock acts are wearing suits and shirts and playing Fender Telecasters. When did a Tele become a heavy metal guitar? How I long for the days of the bepointed Japanese Superstrat to return. Perhaps a fashion revival waiting to happen?

It falls to Future of the Left to finish the night. It’s past 1am before they even start setting up, which may be why Andy Falkous is even more grumpy than usual; the sardonic wit which often lifts their uncompromising set is buried deep under a layer of gritty condescension tonight. Even though on record their well-crafted, often surreal lyrics lighten the heft of the music somewhat, tonight subtlety is exchanged for impact, which matches the raucous crowd’s mood perfectly. The Thatcher-baiting is getting old now, however – if this is the future of the left, then it looks and sounds very much like a repeat of the past couple of decades – and the ensuing yawns are too emphatic for your correspondent to resist. I retire home to rest in peace.

 
 
 

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