10 years ago
Well, we’re finally reacclimatising to life back in the UK – a week of instantly hot showers, reliable transport, cheerful Germans, gloriously eccentric and fun Scandinavians, free O2 parties, Roger Östman’s famous jackets, Chinese for breakfast… and of course – enormous sausages. It’s all over and it’s back to London life. (Or Tunbridge Wells in some cases)
But before the glow dissipates and is digested by the plankton of regular pondlife in London, we thought we’d pass on a little of what we saw that really worked, and a little of what didn’t, from our slowly sinking lil-i-pads. (Geddit?)
So to begin – There was only one real complaint other than Chris having to sleep in a girl’s pink wooden cot (thanks airb’n’b, the flat was actually brilliant apart from that!) Yes, the only thing – and it was better this year than last – was clicktracks/backing tracks/loops and the effect it has on live music. For all the richness that’s gained from having those extra colours on there that are on the record, something is lost in the digital strangling of the realtionship between the musicians. At all the gigs we saw (at least in Chris’s case) where there was something metronomic going on, the musicians were focussed almost entirely on the click rather than each other.
This hit home most dramatically when watching the otherwise ace Icelandic artist Ásgeir Trausti. Within 10 seconds of him playing Roger and Chris looked at each other and pretty much simultaneously said: ‘I’m gonna love this’. A warm, textured soundscape and a voice that sounded like it had been distilled from some ancient tree bark. It could have been great – but there was not a single moment in the set where the band looked at any one of their band mates: no feeling of celebration, or ecstasy, or panic, or anger, or drive – all of those things that can make a gig really alive. It’s not that they aren’t great players, they were all serious musicians – the drummer in particular. No, it was more that they were shackled to that bloody loop, and it killed the vibe.
To be fair to them, they did come back with two unrestrained corkers to finish, and it didn’t put us off looking for more music from Ásgeir afterwards; but it did sum up the frustration that was there for us a few times, where great bands put replicating the sound of the record above the excitement of relying on each other to fill in the gaps.
So that said, here’s what we did like!
There were several moments for me, I was really blown away by Jack Savoretti (who I’d shared a taxi with)’s grarwling voice and I love the mountainous mineral water tone of Farao (and Forces, a song about an avalanche in a northern Norwegian town)
But both of them were hindered by their venue (in Jack’s case) or sound (in Farao’s) – not their fault, and superb performances nonetheless. But if two things stole the show for me it was Antimatter People and Penny Police.
Watching Antimatter people (Picture lifted from the Antimatter People facebook page – get on there and discover your new favourite band- www.facebook.com/antimatterpeople) was like imagining how it would have been to have seen a young David Bowie get genetically combined with Albert Hammond JR and then have him beamed into cool jeans and leather jacket and front Pink Floyd. The last song – and I’m furious I don’t know the title – was a masterpiece. Yehan Jehan’s guitar playing is … well… you can’t describe it. He’s just the real deal. He’s bathed in class – everything he does is so in control of the chaos. He strode elegantly around the stage as it flooded with a mixture of classic analogue 70’s magic (including some Jethro Tull nods and a class performance from his co-front man on the left – apologies that I don’t know his name) and modern modern soundscape. The time changes, and the sudden changes of mood… well… you see, you can’t describe it with superlatives in case it ruins it for people, and because none of them are anywhere near finished getting better yet. I guess the only way to say it is that some of us as artists start on square one and get better as the years go by, until we don’t. With Yehan, he’s started on a square without a number. He’s not where he’ll be, but by eck he’s already there! I knew him when he was about 12, and he would leg it back from school to a bedroom full of pedals, amps, a turntable and a stack of 50’s, 60’s and 70’s vinyls his film music composer-father had drip fed him since he was 6. It’s an education mixed with in-the-genes quality that will take him all the way – mark my words. Bass player and drummer were tight as a navy zip – just a great band. First time in ages I’ve been excited about a band making an album that’s going to be musically, conceptually and songwritingly ace from start to finish.
Penny Police was a decidedly Nordic affair – our good friend Steffen Foltmar who manages Boho Dancer had tipped us off that we should get to see them (and Asker from Boho was also playing in the group) and though we couldn’t stay for the whole set, it was enough to fall in love with the sound. All the dark and the hope that we’re coming to expect from our favourite Danish acts – ‘I Do Care’ had me tearing up – I can’t really explain it…. singer Marie just had such a humanity coming out of her: in the tone of her voice; in the expression on her face when handing you the tagline. The band backing the lyric up was so classy – some brilliantly rasping Wurlitzer, and Asker on his trademark mallets and tambourine combo; and then Marie clasping an omnichord like a digital angel with a harp in Bowser’s castle. We had a lovely email exchange today, and we’re gonna do all we can to get the guys over here late this year, or early next – we’ll keep you posted!
Fave: Probably the one genuinely mind blowing band I saw at Reeperbahn Festival this year was the Austin Tx music collective known as East Cameron Folkcore http://www.eastcameronfolkcore.com/, who were playing at a small club venue (Terrace Hill) perched up on the 5th floor of the World War 2 concrete behemoth known locally in Hamburg as The Bunker. As my gig buddy for the night Bussman remarked, it wasn’t so much a band as a movement, and I had to agree with him really. This description on their Facebook page sums it up really:
“This 11-piece (or oftentimes more) band delivers songs of substance for the downtrodden and misunderstood outsiders of society. ECF performs authentic, American music at its most raw and simple definition: a blend of wide-ranging sounds combining folk, blues, rock, country, jazz, bluegrass and punk that articulates the varied background and influences of all the players. It is a sound that is as familiar as it is totally new to the ears, and it is all their own.”
I would personally describe them for UK listeners as a cross between Bellowhead and The Levellers, with a bit of Springsteen thrown in, so you can pick the bones out of that! Watch out for them on the UK festival circuit next year…
2nd Fave: Barbarossa at Prinzenbar – another standout gig from a man definitely on the move, James Mathe aka Barbarossa, which the Italian speakers amongst you will know means “red beard”, which he most certainly has. Think Terence Trent D’Arby updated with a more contemporary electronic soundtrack.