Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour and Abi Wade at ULU - 26 May 2011

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour (pic: Thomas Arnbo)

I’m mighty impressed with Abi Wade.

She’s sat at the front of the stage nesting a behind a cello. The audience that has wandered into the venue so far is mostly sat on the floor and talking amongst themselves.

It’s a tough gig.

However, Abi is a fascinating performer and a real multi-tasker. She sings. She plucks at the strings of her cello with the fingers of either one or both hands. She mostly eschews the use of the more conventional bow. Simultaneously, employing either a free hand or by wedging the object between her knuckles, she uses a succession of sticks and flails to act as percussion – bashing or stroking them against the frame of her instrument or across the strings as required. Meanwhile, her right foot is operating a small bass drum. Her left foot does not seem to be doing anything at all – it’s clearly not pulling its weight.

I must admit that I am more interested in Wade’s technique than I am her actual songs. These are keening, desolate affairs that conjure images of urchins sat on porches somewhere in the Appalachians. To be honest, such is the hubbub, it is difficult to hear her – I’ll try to trace some of her recorded work, if any exists.

Hope by Abi Wade

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour hail from Denmark and are a motley looking bunch. The guys in the band are mostly dressed in vests and casual sports gear. They are either stripped for action or else they have run out of clean clothing at the end of a foreign tour.

The band is tight and impressive, but they play very much second banana to singer Mette Lindberg, a woman who has evolved beyond having Big Hair to having Huge Hair. Great thick blonde ropes fall around her face. She looks like a mouse poking its head out of a haystack.

Mette knows how to work an audience – chatting throughout, loose of limb, always loping or jogging around the stage.

The band’s set still relies heavily on their first album ‘Fruit’. This is no bad thing because that record contains more bone fide pop hits and I-know-this-one-but-weren’t-sure-where-I-heard-it moments than you can shake a stick at.

The trumpet of Miloud Carl Sabri lends everything a swinging, almost New Orleans vibe. You can’t dance to this in the traditional sense, but you can certainly nod your head up and down and lurch wildly from foot to foot. Which I do.

Tracks such as ‘The Sun Ain’t Shining No More’ and ‘Around The Bend’ are frankly as good as you are likely to get anywhere. I had been feeling a little preoccupied and glum coming into this gig, but Asteroids Galaxy Tour soon chase the blues away.

For no apparent reason the band suddenly pull out a storming version of Men Without Hats ‘Safety Dance’. I leap around non-ironically.

The band finishes off with ‘The Golden Age’, a monster of a song which has been appropriated for the new Heineken ad, in which Mette and co also appear.

There is a side to Asteroids Galaxy Tour that is a little awkward and kind of un-cool. This is most unfair. They don’t get the kudos that they deserve for being a good time band that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face, a spring in your step and a catchy tune in your head.

This week I have seen a great band from Sweden and now a great band from Denmark. If this blog gets any more Scandinavian I’ll have to call it Kalla om Wyld or Hidkalde i den Wyld.

It’s got a nice ring to it...

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Niki And The Dove, Seams at Electrowerkz - 24 May 2011

Niki & The Dove (pic by John Dahlroth)

I love this venue. It’s a big black metallic box of mystery. It’s all dark and sharp and unforgiving. And the way in is never in the same place twice. Electrowerkz is as much a puzzling enigma as it is London’s home of industrial bleeps and bloops.

The place is largely empty when I Am Camera kick the evening off. I know nothing about them at all and subsequent internet searches draw a blank. What I will say is that the singer is so long-legged and striking that you’d know if she was in the room even if she wasn’t standing onstage with a microphone.

The band lay down a pulsing Euro-beat and the singer sways on her high heels and emotes in a fairly regulation fashion. Truth be told, the band are proficient rather than exciting, but there is a certain hypnotic quality to them and they are perfectly enjoyable.

When I first see Seams, my heart initially sinks. It’s one bloke balancing a pile of electronics on a flight case – generally a recipe for tedium.

But happily my preconceptions are misplaced. Seams is not only a personable performer, but crucially, he brings the beats.

Instead of the usual self-indulgent knob twiddling, Seams (real name James Welch) can build a tune and turn the by now thronging crowd into a happy pulsing mass.

The first track sounds like a distorted musical box. A later track appears to be based upon a slight scrap of piano music, looped and multi tracked. I like.

I know that I am in good hands with the headliners right from the off. The three members of Niki and the Dove stand in a row and blow through wooden bird callers. These are fed through various bits of equipment until the whole venue sounds like an aviary.

The first thing to remember about this Swedish band is that there is no Niki in the band. And no Dove either. Instead, we are mesmerised by the marvellous Malin Dahlström, who is a vision in face paint and big hair.

Her voice is astonishing in range and, waving her arms and grinning all over her face, she comes across as a Bjork who would rather free your mind (and your ass will follow) than Free Tibet.

Her two cohorts stand behind her, either laying down a wall of clanking percussion or funky slabs of dark electric disco.

For much of the set the band are joined by two masked go-go dancers who writhe and gyrate very s-l-o-w-l-y, as though they are running at half speed. It is silly and sensual and exuberant all at once.

An early highlight is the epic ‘Under The Bridges’ an anthemic dance track that mutates into a scrabble of random electronic noise. The dancers are now whirling hoola-hoops around their necks. Slowly.

There is a warm, organic feel to much of Niki & The Dove’s music. At one stage palm leaves are distributed to the crowd. The leaves are waved happily and turn this metal box of a room into a lush and tropical hothouse.

The band conclude with a thunderously drum-driven ‘DJ, Ease My Mind’. Malin smiles and dances. So do we.

So, to recap – No Niki, No Dove- but one hell of a show.

Download free track ‘The Fox’ here.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Florrie and Paradise Point at The Borderline - 14 May 2011

Paradise Point

This is the night of the Eurovision Song Contest Final. I thought as a result that this place would be as empty as a Lib Dem promise.

But no – As I walk into The Borderline I find the support act just starting up and a noisy and anticipatory crowd.

Paradise Point are a 2011 take on classic boy bands such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and even ABC. They surely must have been made in some manager’s laboratory – the last time such favourable DNA came together was about the time that a pair of prehistoric slime moulds thought it would be cool to cozy up and form a fish’s backbone.

What is amazing is how good this band is. Singer Cameron is a macho hunk in a pair of trousers that leave no doubt that he is very happy to be here. Is he excited? Well, when he turns sideways he could knock your pint out of your hand.

Next to him is Adam, a blond wisp of a guitarist in a stripy top and to the right a young bassist who looks magnificently cool and strangely familiar. My notes of the evening described him as a ‘Spandau Clone’ but further research marks him as even more special. Young Roman Kemp is the son of Martin and is the spitting image of his Dad. Hurrah for genetics! The family business is in good hands.

Basically, this lot are sex on legs and even if they weren’t actually any good they would still find it hard to walk on stage without being shrieked at.

Fortunately their music is excellent too. These are real pop gems – certainly 80’s inflected, but delivered with a whomp and panache that would put a lot of other acts to shame. ‘The Only One’ is a track that is going to get them a lot of attention.

I’m glad to see them here. If they play their cards right their next stop is the O2 Arena dodging volleys of young girls’ underwear.

The bald description of the headline act is discouraging. Florrie is the sometime house drummer for Xenomania acts such as Girls Aloud. Tonight is her chance to step out of the shadows.

She is certainly striking to behold – a sexy version of a prim, buttoned-up nurse from a Sixties Brit flick, a rail thin Julie Andrews with a touch of school mistress. The epitome of nice but secretly naughty.

Her voice is not the strongest, but she makes up for this with a set of percussively based songs with infectious rhythms that really get the crowd going. I am delighted that the second song of the evening is entitled ‘Call Of The Wild’ and is a bouncy drum ‘n’ bass flavoured thing.

Florrie occasionally flirts with a guitar, but acquits herself really impressively on a stand-up drum kit. She bops around it, bashing various bits of percussion and having a high old time.

Her set gets better as it progresses (‘Left Too Late’ is a cracker) and to my ears the act that she most closely resembles is Scandinavian DJ/popstress Annie – and none the worse for it.

Tonight has been an educational reminder that there is a genuine difference between pop-inflected rock acts and the pure uncut mother lode itself. This is Pop with a capital ‘P’.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Atari Teenage Riot, Kap Bambino, FOE at Islington Academy - 12 May 2011

Atari Teenage Riot

I’m in the venue early to catch the only act that are tonight whom I have not experienced before. I’ve been promised great things.

FOE is the nom de pop of Hannah Clark, joined here this evening by two heads-down thrash guitarists and a drummer. The resulting sound is very far removed from her recorded work, which is mostly keyboard-driven.

The major appeal of FOE, to my ears at least, is her wonderful snotty and bratty voice. She doesn’t sing as such, but rather talks/raps in measured fashion over the wall of guitar noise. It works very well.

I had been prepared for songs such as ‘A Handsome Stranger Called Death’ and ‘Tyrant Song’ but it was only checking again later that I satisfy myself that she played them, so unexpected is this performance.

Clark hunches and slouches in a big black leather jacket emblazoned with her band’s name. You wouldn’t forget FOE even if it wasn’t spelled out.

Kap Bambino are a simple concept that is marvellously executed. Blonde haired singer Caroline Martial capers and screams, while Orion Bouvier stands behind a desk of electronic knick knacks and lays down an onslaught of rapid deafening trance beats.

They are the best band in the world at getting an audience going. Martial engages with the crowd at all times, waving her arms, bouncing up and down and ceaselessly skipping from side to side of the stage. Your eyes follow her and it’s like watching a tennis rally.

The energy that they whip up would power a Dreadnought. When a rare slower interlude occurs Martial merely spins round and round on the spot like a dervish before collapsing gracefully on the floor. Seconds later she is up and bouncing again, flinging herself into the crowd to be carried aloft through the throng. She never rests, she never misses a beat. It’s exhausting and magnificent.

If Kap Bambino are uplifting, headliners Atari Teenage Riot are as uncompromising and gruelling as ever. You’d expect nothing less.

ATR’s entire ninety minute set is played out under blinding strobe lights. Every song is essentially a three word anti-establishment slogan shouted over and over. Whenever there is a momentary lull, the words ‘Atari Teenage Riot’ are screamed out and a microphone extended to the crowd.

Subtle it ain’t, but they have always been like this – a punishing ordeal that would bring international outrage if perpetrated on the inmates at Guantanamo but which the audience here tonight class as entertainment. We’ve paid our money, we know what we’re getting.

Band leader Alec Empire looks a little less chiselled than in the past. In his black vest he stands centre stage and continually urges the crowd, forward, forward.

The enigmatic Nic Endo is much more evident than previously, leaving her music console to take lead vocals on roughly half the songs. Her face is a white mask of makeup, a bolt of lightning transecting her eye.

The third member of the team is CX Kidtronik, who tonight sports a giant pair of welder’s goggles with a red light strapped to the side. He is aiming for a futuristic Cylon effect but actually looks rather silly. He performs the MC role vacated by the death of Carl Crack, who sadly never came across a drug that he didn’t like.

Atari Teenage Riot are unrelenting. By the end of their set I’m feeling really disoriented and ill and I’m not the only one – there is a medic in attendance and he seems to be doing good business.

I stagger out at the end, deaf and dumbfounded. Atari Teenage Riot still bring the pain, but it has been Kap Bambino who were the real pleasure.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Camden Crawl - 30 April 2011

This is the 10th Camden Crawl. The idea is well over a decade old, (it began in 1995), but it discontinued due to apathy for a few years. It was re-launched with much fanfare, big bands playing in tiny venues and what felt like a massive overselling of tickets. It was not a particularly enjoyable experience.

Not so this year. The organisers have learned their lesson and, broadly, no band is playing in a venue that is too small for them. There is virtually no queuing. The problem is this – in the year that the Crawl is run right, the numbers of people attending are dramatically reduced.

I hope that this is due to a sensible ticketing policy and not due to the recession, but it is very noticeable that the Crawl is substantially less busy this year. If this was not anticipated, the future does not look too rosy.

Those that are not here are seriously missing out. Not least on some of the tiny fringe shows during the daytime.

The Camden Arms has an exhibition of silk screened rock posters (which are ace) and is also playing host to two tremendous bands.

First up we get Great Ancestors, a spiky yet tuneful hardcore outfit who tear through their set as though their livelihoods depend upon it. Maybe they do – the singer is here prior to working an eight hour stint at a Camden bar. He’s not happy about it.

The second helping of afternoon delight is the wild and untamed Sauna Youth, who are less a band than a cartoon explosion with arms, legs and microphones sticking out of a cloud of dust. Somewhere within the flailing limbs, wrestling with mates and general mayhem is a red hot punk band. ‘Bone Lawn’ is one hell of a tune.

I take about a hundred photos of the singer and I think that he actually appears in about two of them. The other pictures are of the gap where he was standing a split second ago.

I trot off to the Electric Ballroom to catch the Japanese Voyeurs. While they have undoubtedly toughened up and improved since I last saw them, their dull grunge doesn’t do much for me and I head up the road.

Divorce are three Scottish girls who look as though they’d be handy in a scrap and a drummer who may pass his time moonlighting in 1970’s Scandinavian ‘Special Interest’ movies. They are a phenomenal band, with huge metallic Sabbaff riffs, frantic drumming and a singer who is on and off the stage bent double in apparent agony. They are everything that I love in a band and I recommend them very highly indeed.

Unlike Visions Of Trees, who I catch at the Black Cap. This duo plays an unremarkable brand of euphoric trance music. They may well sound good on record and when remixed, but they do nothing for me live.

However, I then see The Good Natured at The Monarch and my spirits are restored. What a voice Sarah Macintosh has! Looking like they have just tipped out of the Blitz club in 1981, the band has hair that looks like it has been assembled by Frank Lloyd Wright rather than a hairdresser.

Macintosh has a unique take on the whole ‘singer invading the audience’ thing. Instead of leaping about, she parades slowly and elegantly throughout the venue, her arm raised as though beckoning a party of tourists to follow her.

The songs are epic Eighties flavoured pop songs and are instantly catchy and memorable. I’m certainly seeing this lot again.

I poke my head round the door of the Barfly to see Cate Le Bon. Her brand of very Welsh psychedelic folk is an acquired taste that I thought that I had acquired. I was wrong – she’s certainly interesting, but there is rather a strangled cat element to her voice tonight and in deference to the frantic pleadings of the people I am with, I let her get on with it.

I pitch up at Dingwalls for the last knockings of the execrable Kong and prepare to treat myself to the guilty pleasure of the reformed and re-invigorated Ultrasound.

Age has not only not dimmed them, they sound better than ever. Or else everything else has diminished in their absence. It is so good to hear the combination of great crashing guitars and beautifully sung epic songs. They are still preposterously overblown but absolutely great. I throw my head back and bawl along with ‘Stay Young’, ‘Same Band’ and ‘Floodlit World’. They are so powerful they almost blow you out the back of the venue. Magnificent!

That’s me done for the Crawl this year. I had hoped to come both days, but the bastards who run First Capital Connect have decided that a Bank Holiday Sunday is not a day on which they wish to run trains into London.

I’ve enjoyed myself more on the Camden Crawl this year than for quite some time. Long may it continue!