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Single Review: Night Engine – All I Got

 
By on Thursday, 24th April 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Night Engine were one of 2013’s one to watch, with a spectacular show at Liverpool Sound City, and for those that were there, an equally successful one the following week at The Great Escape. They released a three singles on limited coloured vinyl, each of which duly went on to sell on the secondary market for some stratospheric prices. Foundations duly laid, Night Engine have similarly ambitious plans for 2014, with an album release slated for the autumn, preceded by the single ‘All I Got’.

It almost goes without saying by now that Night Engine channel Fashion-era Bowie – a comparison primarily due to the remarkable vocal talents of Phil McDonnell: all camp authoritarianism and demonstrative vibrato. The band deliver slick, dark funk, with a hint of Strokes haughty garage rock, topped with the electronica of early Depeche Mode. On ‘All I Got’ McDonnell is apparently bemoaning the high expectations of a, shall we say, ‘acquaintance’. There’s talk of one night in leather, caged animals and flared nostrils. Oo-er missus. The band maintain a sleazy groove through the crooned middle eight; come the chorus they let it all hang out in a thunder of fizzy guitar and overdriven bass.

Night Engine truly deserve the plaudits they’ve gathered since their inception a couple of years ago. Theirs is arch yet danceable, disco-retro cool, with the whole Bowie factor adding to the novelty. If this single is anything to go by, the album should be one of 2014’s finest moments.

8/10

‘All I Got’, Night Engine’s next single, is out on the 2nd of June. ‘Wound Up Tight’, their debut album, is slated for a release in the autumn.

 

Reading 2013: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Wednesday, 4th September 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

Reading 2009 had me acting at my hedonistic worst, scouting the campsites for (in)eligible girls, sniffing around like some kind of deranged yet voyeuristic puppy on methamphetamines. Humping the legs of any passerby (not literally, but sometimes literally), staying up all night around the campfire making sweet harmonies to Oasis (who I found out had broken up while I was actually singing, post-festival) and getting to the front barriers, only to be disappointed by the diva-esque tantrum-age of Kings of Leon.

In 2013, I found myself holding back bile at the sheer volume of ass hanging from hot pants, avoiding moshpits until my most intoxicated state and all too often feeling like John Murtaugh from the Lethal Weapon films. I was indeed “Too old for this shit” and I’m bloody 21.

Something’s wrong.

Instead of engaging in vapid hedonism then, I ensured that the bands came first and foremost.

Starting Reading 2013 with Dry the River was always going to be relaxing introduction to the vibrancy and colours that Reading Festival had to offer. The problem was that while on record, the music is melodic and toe-tappingly gorgeous, in a live arena Will Harvey’s tones squeaked like rubbing plastic on grilled halloumi cheese. The orchestral backdrop they soar along to sounded out of time, and the performance was left sounding disjointed and a bit ugly. The songs are there and when they get it all pounded down to a tee, then they’ll have a live set capable of moving grown men to tears, as they are definitely capable of the majestic. Just not on Friday… (5/10)

Flame-haired maestros of funkadelia Night Engine took to the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage after the crowing folkers departed, and while I only caught drips and drabs of their set, they showed enough promise to live up to the NME starlet billing which they have attained with their incredible work ethic. (I also spoke to them later on about pears and other stuff.) (7/10)

Kodaline lived up to the Irish Coldplay billing our editor Mary Chang has labelled them with. I mean, ‘High Hopes’ is quite obviously Coldplay riffage, ripped straight from ‘Fix You’. They’re agreeable, of that there is little doubt and they are going to grow like a caliginous tumour or polyp on your arse. The crowd which swelled, ebbed and flowed out of the expanses of the tent was testament to how big they are going to be and with their puppet-strings tautly around the massive crowd, they manipulated the masses to mimic every word back. (6/10)

After having a screech at Kodaline, the first trek towards the Main Stage was upon my party of misfits. After a brief stop for some questionably foamy Gaymers and unreasonably priced Tuborg, we arrived at nostalgia central, population 15,000 pop-punkers who have in punk Peter Pan style have refused to grow up. New Found Glory took to the stage with an unshockingly shirtless Ian Grushka and whilst they may have a sizable back catalogue to draw from, the audience, bar the veterans of pop-punk, seemed to be largely oblivious to most tracks.

However, when the Reading stalwarts on their eighth pilgrimage to Richfield Avenue dropped the mammoth choral assault of ‘My Friends Over You’, in unison a horde of teens and steadfast fans put their legs together for a pop-punk bop to end them all. (If you don’t want to know what a pop-punk jump is, go here.) (7/10)

Bringing a different kind of movement to the Main Stage were
Bring Me the Horizon, the undisputed best metal band in Britain at the moment, following on from the titanic album ‘Sempiternal’. From the opening intro of ‘Shadow Moses’ (previous In the Post here) it was brutally obvious that Mr. Sykes had in one fell swoop gathered up the entire Reading crowd and placed them gruffly in his hand. ‘Shadow Moses’ was simply spellbinding, and the drop on the song was as ferocious as I’ve seen at Reading in my 5 years I have attended.

Whilst Chelsea Smile proved to be an anthem of epic proportions. Resplendent in the new England shirt, Ollie Sykes was the frontman who everyone at the festival was to beat, as he roared for the Reading crowd to ‘KILL EACHOTHER’. The band were full of energy, and the crowd reciprocated with some of the biggest circle pittage of the weekend. BMTH had set the marker. (9/10)

A marker in theatrical terms was about to be met, with a bit of a throwback to 1992 from Winchester’s finest wordsmith, Frank Turner (pictured at top), formerly of post-hardcore band Million Dead. As he wheeled out onto stage only after recently recovering from severe back trouble, there was a 50/50 mixture of jeers and cheers as Turner’s tribute to Kurt Cobain and their eponymous 1992 set was referenced.

Opening with probably the most fun live song Turner has produced, was the beginner of a barnstorming set that was a cornucopia of singalong-y goodness and while his most recent album ‘Tape Deck Heart’, is easily his deepest cut into Turner’s troubled psyche, every song seems to resonate with a bouncy happiness. The one disappointment of Turner’s near flawless festival set was the inability of the crowd to realise when to leap up on set closer ‘Photosynthesis’. Bar that extraordinary feat of sonic unawareness, Turner cemented himself as a staple of the British festival circuit now set to rise through the ranks, Biffy style. (9/10)

After a quick bevvie break, it was time for some proper nostalgia in the form of
System of a Down. The tunes were all there. Inevitably the band weren’t though. They belted out their propaganda laden tunes one after one in succession, and on stage, guitarist Daron Malakian may as well have just stood there with the vacant expression on his face with a big sign saying ‘cheque please’. To see SOAD in their pomp must have been truly fantastic, but with this lazy reunion, perhaps it’s better that the memories of SOAD remain simply that: memories. (6/10)

Following that were a band who there was no argument that they weren’t interested, came a band who grabbed the entire crowd by the scruff of their necks and shouted a massive “HEEEEEYYYYYOOOOOOO!” We are, of course, speaking of Green Day.

And boy did they say HEEEEEYYYYYOOOOO a lot. Like loads. Starting at just over 4 minutes over the set and continuing throughout the behemoth of a set they played which included a full play-out of their sophomore (what the fuck is a sophomore album) album ‘Dookie’. For a crowd mainly consisting of 16 to 25 year olds, anything from ‘American Idiot’ was greeted with jubilatory cheers, whilst ‘Dookie’ was greeted with a sense of confusion. Barring ‘Basketcase’ of course, this provoked a seething mass of revellers and crowd surfers. Billie Joe Armstrong has this habit of bringing befuddled youths up on stage as well, which whilst providing an unforgettable moment for on youngsters, manages to break up a song and really falls flat when the kid pretty much doesn’t know the words to the song.

Factor into the set a frankly epic rendition of ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ and HEYYYYOOOOOOOs aside, Green Day conquered Reading Festival for the second year running. Congrats boys, now go and write a half decent new record, will you? (8/10)

 

Great Escape 2013: John’s Day 2 Afternoon Roundup

 
By on Thursday, 30th May 2013 at 3:00 pm
 

Header photo of Mikill Pane at the Fishbowl by Hannah Saul

To shake off the cobwebs / hangover / grossness of Thursday at the Great Escape 2013, an early start and breakfast at somewhere fancy seemed appropriate. My foolish decision to choose a croissant over a delicious panini, which my colleagues indulged in, was to be the first of my folly for the day.

Feeling unfulfilled and underwhelmed by my breakfast, I headed alongside Ollie from Top Button and Hannah Saul, TGTF’s resident videographer, towards the Fishbowl for my first Alternative Escape event of The Great Escape. In front of me were five fresh-faced lads from New Desert Blues. Their set proceeded to be a short showcase of what this band are all about, with a youthful exuberance in their music, their five-piece harmonies gracefully travelling around The Fishbowl.

The intricate guitars from their lead player proved the perfect augur for frontman Josh Parker’s brilliant voice. The tunes sounded big live, of that there was no denying, but when I returned home and had a listen to them on record it became clear that these guys were immensely talented. At the Fishbowl, there was an intense nervousness it seemed, but the impeccably dressed five-some with pristine instruments in hand managed to overcome these nerves to produce a thoroughly competent set. (7/10)

Following up from that were Night Engine, a band who our Head Photographer Martin Sharman raved about after their performances at Liverpool Sound City. Not only that, but I doff my cap to any band who play four gigs in the same city in 3days. It’s not record breaking stuff, but impressive nonetheless, especially with the level of energy and dynamism the band puts into its set.

At Above Audio, Night Engine did not disappoint. Frontman Phil McDonnell is a bastion of brash confidence, and their immensely funky bass riffs provided by Dan Deacon. It’s all quite faux-romantic material, with shades of one of their heroes Bowie prevalently appearing throughout. The entire gig in fact stunk of a late ’70s, early ’80s vibe which translated to the huge crowd brilliantly as heads bobbed in sequence. The tunes weren’t entirely memorable, but as a set, they gelled well and they stuck out as a shining spark amongst the indie scene at the moment. (8/10)

After a brief detour to buy the most sour sweet I’ve ever tasted (more on them later) we ducked into the Fishbowl again for some more Alternative Escape goodness, in the form of London rapper Mikill Pane, or as I see him, the black Example. Just listen to his new single ‘Good Feeling’ and tell me you don’t think of the silver-tongued rapper.

Onto Mikill though: an imposing fella at over 6 feet tall and not really what you expect at a venue like the Fishbowl, more akin to hosting guitar bands and such. But Mr. Pane makes the most of the packed crowd, shoehorned into the constraints of the venue. His call and return style of performance works brilliantly to a novice audience, and has the punters eating from the palm of his hand from square one.

Having cycled down from London (again, more on that later) his exuberance and high-energy in performance alongside DJ Odin was admirable and saw him earn a lot of fans amongst the naysayers. In fact, by the end the choruses were being belted out by the most timid fan, to the seasoned revellers. Harley Alexander-Sule of Rizzle Kicks was one of the amassed crowd, and just showed how Mikill Pane’s pop credentials are all there:

Friends with Rizzle Kicks – CHECK
Collaboration with Ed Sheeran – CHECK
Ridiculously catchy tune about cycling – CHECK
Endless call and repeat choruses – CHECK
The backing of Example and other pop juggernauts – CHECK

Smiles were worn by all around the Fishbowl at the end of Mr. Pane’s set but none wider than Pane himself. (9/10)

 

Liverpool Sound City 2013: Martin’s Day 3 Roundup

 
By on Friday, 17th May 2013 at 3:00 pm
 

Bands of the day: Goonam, Ilona, Night Engine

Venue of the day: Mello Mello

The previous two days of Liverpool Sound City 2013 had seen the music kick off around 6 PM, but as a special Saturday treat, the Korean delegation arranged a showcase at the Kazimier Gardens from the unearthly hour of 2 PM. As well as showcasing four of the country’s finest bands, there was a delicious and in-no-way-an-incentive-to-turn-up spread of native Korean food and drink. Marinated and barbecued pork, chicken and beef vyed for attention with the superb kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish flavoured with chilli, ginger and garlic. To wash it down was a unique cinnamon beverage with pine nuts floating in it, and for those that drink in the afternoon (me!), Korea’s version of dry sherry. All utterly delicious and free of charge. As if that wasn’t enough, there were goody bags packed with promotional materials and traditional Korean wave-in-one’s-face fans – not that they were much needed in breezy Liverpool. I’d like to think I would’ve turned up anyway, but who doesn’t find free food always seals the deal?

Galaxy Express Liverpool Sound City 2013

The music was just as memorable. First up were Galaxy Express, a hard rock power trio whose song titles come translated into English but they actually sing in Korean. No matter, it’s all about the energy with these guys; they know a thing or two about throwing shapes, slinging their vintage guitars all over the place, thrashing their way through their set at top speed. There’s a great deal of skill on offer – anyone remotely interested in rock music should give these guys a listen. Even though I haven’t a clue what they’re on about (a point which holds true for all four Korean bands, for obvious reasons), theirs is a fine, attention-grabbing set.

Goonam Liverpool Sound City 2013

Goonam are brilliant. First of all, the music is just perfect for the laid-back vibe of the afternoon – the lazy rhythms and mock-Hammond organ recall early ’90s Acid Jazz output, the ideal accompaniment for swaying around in the weak early afternoon sunshine, knocking back Korean fortified wine. But the star of the show is the eccentric, perma-grinning bassist ByungHak Eem. Attired in a woman’s yellow-with-black-polka-dots blouse, heavy black shoes that are literally falling apart at the seams, and sporting a fine example of the classic Chinese emperor beard style, Eem’s presence lends the whole set a quite rare frisson of surreal excitement. His stilted explanation of how he came to play with lead singer Ung Joh is described in a charmingly naive accidental haiku:

We meet in karaoke
He sing well, I love him
We make band

There’s a deep vein of subtle, deadpan humour running through everything Goonam do, making it easy to get right behind them. Eem really is the star of the show, his beams lighting up the stage, his theatrical bass-as-machine-gun genuinely amusing. Memorable stuff.

Apollo 18 (pictured at top) are a bit more conventional – another hard rock trio, mostly instrumental this time, they don’t quite have the same amount of accessible personality as the previous two acts. What they do have is high levels of extremely intense noise, which comes as a bit of a shock to the system after the chilled out Goonam. Not quite my cup of SuJeongGwa, but if shredding is your thing, Apollo 18 are worth checking out.

To wrap up the Korean invasion are Gate Flowers: possibly the most intriguing of all the acts today. They’re another guitar-rock band, but far more mainstream this time: a bit like a heavier Counting Crows, and at times the guitarist’s wah-wah technique adds a touch of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The songs are very competent, and the singer’s bizarre hand movements and “anti-singing” technique are captivating in their own way, but I can’t help but think that if they were British or American they wouldn’t particularly stand out as ones to watch.

After Gate Flowers finish their main set, the crowd are hungry for more, so they kick into a cover of ‘Paint It Black’, at which point the stage is invaded by members of the three previous bands, who proceed to plug in and jam along. As the stage becomes more crowded, things get messier, with singers sharing every available microphone, guitar solos played whilst hoisted on someone else’s shoulders, and our friend Hak standing on a speaker waving an empty sherry bottle and mugging for the multitude of video cameras surrounding him. A drunken outdoor Korean rock supergroup party jam – not something that you see every day.

Ilona Liverpool Sound City 2013

In between sets of Korean music, I headed for a swift break to Mello Mello, the location of Thursday’s triumph from The Oreoh!s, and dispenser of the finest beer of the festival, a heavily-hopped American-style IPA. At 6% ABV this beer is a special treat, and no sooner had I tucked into my half, the realisation dawned that there was another special treat in the room. Ilona is a Bulgarian-born, London-based singer-songwriter, who stands out from the enormous crowd of similar hopefuls by being tremendous fun to watch and listen to. Being sparsely accompanied by mentor and co-writer Tony Moore is an advantage here, as it lets the natural character in Ilona’s voice shine through. And what a voice – sumptuous and sultry at low volume, powerful and beautifully-toned at normal range, with a buzz-saw intensity rasping through when the song demands it. As for the songs… recent release ‘Love is Stupid’ is clearly gunning for the Radio 2 crowd, but it may be a little too hackneyed even for that ultra-mainstream demographic – by the time the third chorus comes around, I’m switching off. And don’t get me started on the cheap video. Elsewhere, the set is jolly enough to hold the interest, but her Alannah Myles-style voice is crying out for something of the quality of Black Velvet (if she wants to stick with the pop-rock genre), or maybe, since she comes across as Marina Diamandis’ feisty younger sister, something quirky and electro. Either way, it has to be acknowledged that this is very early days for Ilona, and her collaborators are doing their best with limited means to promote her talents. A performer dripping with potential.

Willy Moon Liverpool Sound City 2013

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Willy Moon since reviewing his debut single “I Wanna Be Your Man” in our 10 for 2012 feature, and declaring, “If those dance moves translate well to a stage, he’ll be an unmissable prospect live.” However, the sad truth is that he turns out to be the greatest disappointment of the weekend. It doesn’t help that he’s 40 minutes late, in a roasting hot venue, making the crowd restless and perturbed before a note is played. And when Moon arrives, it becomes clear that his set consists of a handful of stunted backing tracks, overlaid with live drums and guitar, and his gyrating karaoke. More worryingly, he appears to have no personality whatsoever, struggling to string enough words together to thank the audience for sticking around in the equatorial heat, let alone provide a compelling reason why we all should have gathered here in the first place. The final straw is the deep streak of misogyny running through the performance – the two other musicians are women, with the drummer particularly scantily clad in a fishnet top, and he regularly gurns leeringly at them, sometimes mopping his sweat-caked brow on the guitarist’s shoulder. They must have the patience of saints. When the best thing about a music performance is the drummer’s jiggling breasts, you know something has gone seriously wrong, as evidenced by the room steadily emptying as the show progresses. Moon needs to completely rethink his stage show, get some proper songs, proper manners, and a proper personality, otherwise people will increasingly come to view him as a hollow charlatan.

Night Engine Liverpool Sound City 2013

Night Engine, despite only having released their début single (‘Seventeen’, on lovely limited edition red vinyl) just a couple of months ago, have already managed to conjure a reputation for being the next big thing. The Shipping Forecast is hot and humid, and technical problems delay the start of the gig; thus the atmosphere builds feverishly before even a note is played. But when the band finally kick off, it becomes apparent that Night Engine are good. Actually, make that very good indeed. This is sharp, elegant, guitar music with an irresistible, pristine groove from the exquisitely tight rhythm section, overlaid with splurges of fuzzy synth. Phil McDonnell is a disturbingly intense presence on vocals and lead guitar – his selection of glares and stares as the music ratchets up the drama simply add to the intensity of the performance. But it’s not all serious – there’s a gleeful joy in the grooves that prevents everything collapsing under the weight of its own portent. The obvious stylistic reference point is Bowie’s early-80s funk-influenced output; there’s elements of Chic in the clean stabs of electric guitar, and perhaps even Kraftwerk in the metronomic accuracy of the rhythms. But most of all, they simply sound like Night Engine, which for such a young act is an astonishing achievement.

And that, give or take a humdrum Delphic performance here, or the ubiquitous ukulele covers band there, is that. Liverpool Sound City is a world-class place to discover new music, new friends, and new beer. There’s talk of it becoming as important as SXSW on the international music scene, and I see no reason why that should not be the case. That said, SXSW is, by virtue of being on another continent, an event with a completely different promotional demographic, meaning Sound City is an event with few real competitors, despite several other regional music festivals happening around the same time. Add to the mix the superb venues and the warm welcome experienced by every visitor to Liverpool, and you have quite a fine event indeed, and one which deserves to go from strength to strength. See you there in 2014.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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