Guest Post by Peter Smith
We have had the hottest day ever in Britain this summer, and last weekend was the hottest Reading Festival of all time too. Three days of 30C temperatures meant the default resting place for attendees was in the shade within one of the tents (stages) or basically in any bit of shade that could be found. That meant even bands that might not have attracted much of an audience found themselves playing to good crowds, which helped make it one of the best Reading Festivals I’ve been to in 15 years.
I don’t go to Reading really because of the headliners, but to check out new bands. However, this was for me also the best headliner roster for a long time (Post Malone excepted). Twenty One Pilots who co-headlined Saturday with Malone really shouldn’t work as a concept. Only two of them, a chiselled drummer and a jack of all trades frontman. A weird mix of rap, metal, pop, dub, a bit of gymnastics on stage, a climb up the lighting tower, emotional engagement with the audience… but somehow it all comes together live and draws a huge response from the audience. The albums are OK but you really need to see them live.
Twenty One Pilots
The 1975 are both old fashioned (some of the music could be 1980s pop, or even MOR) with the very contemporary – lead singer is a woke (in the best sense) frontman as well as an old-fashioned rock idol, adored by fans of both sexes, a Jagger for this age. They absolutely worked as the headliners on Friday, with great visuals, slightly too many monologues about the meaning of life, and they will be back I’m sure.
Along with Billie Eilish, who drew arguably as big a crowd as any headliner, and showed that she can absolutely handle a big stage and audience, these acts made the Foo Fighters seem a little … old? To be fair, I only watched a quarter of their set (3 hours!) but covering Under Pressure, bringing on Rick Astley and doing basically a greatest hits set all seemed a little less contemporary than the three acts above. Anyway, they went down a storm, so what do I know.
Part of my absence from the Foos was because I joined around 700 people in the Festival Republic tent for the last set on that much smaller stage and the best party of the event. I haven’t seen the Crystal Fighters before, and my goodness, they were dynamite. Basque / Caribbean dance pop with an anarchic edge, a crazy shaman-like singer plus two superb female vocalists – our 30-year-old friends were dancing, as were my friend and I who are (ahem) somewhat older. Not a pretty sight, but a great way to end the Festival.
Kudos too for the organisers. The toilets have improved beyond all recognition – even the blokes now have proper “buildings” with cubicles and sinks like you see at golf tournaments, as well as the traditional metal troughs! “Health and safety” have been improved too, with a “pen” to stop the mosh pit getting crazily crowded, and more thought about traffic flows. The main stage sound was the best ever and the huge video screens are state of the art – super high-definition, so during close ups of Royal Blood’s singer and guitarist, I could literally count the follicles on his stubbled chin!
So finally, my top ten relatively “new” British artists from Reading that you may not know. What are the odds one of these will be headlining in a few years’ time? We saw both the 1975 and Twenty One Pilots here in the smallest stage around 2013, (and did identify them as future stars) so the odds are pretty good on at least one of these becoming huge! Here is the list with a very brief description and some references for older readers – by definition, all were very good live, but do go and check them out on Spotify, YouTube or wherever.
The Larkins Strong songs from young Manchester indie band with touches of classic 90s pop - Reminds us of: Blossoms, Bastille, ABC, Duran Duran
Anteros Bouncy pop / rock with a dance vibe and a charismatic, capable and gorgeous lead singer Blondie, Garbage, Of Monsters and Men
Crystal Fighters See above ... Paaarrttyyyy! Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Chic
Sea Girls Classic indie with a rock edge, big tunes, emotional engagement with audience and I’d be amazed if they don’t get very big - Coldplay, Maccabees, Catfish and the Bottlemen
Sophie and the Giants Female singer with a big, soulful voice, and tuneful rock with touches of new wave - Florence and the Machine, Siouxsie Sioux, Adele
Vistas Melodic indie / punk with energy and commitment from Scottish threesome - The Strokes, The View, Courteeners
Basement Been around a few years but gaining momentum with their classic rock allied with grunge and punk edges - Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Biffy Clyro
Marsicans Intelligent pop / rock with harmony vocals and strong songwriting – The Beatles, The Feeling, Mystery Jets
Cavetown Young self-effacing Cambridge singer-songwriter, slightly drippy but engaging songs and performance - Isaac Gracie, James Taylor, early Ed Sheeran
VC Pines – “altsoul” artist with touches of poetry / rap, as well as a great falsetto, with a tremendous bass player and horn section playing chilled soul. Perfect on a hot afternoon! Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye, The Streets
Links to music/articles in blue.
In the month that The Murder Capital release their debut album and it goes straight into the top 10, and FONTAINES D.C. announce their sell out show at Brixton Academy, it seems only right to highlight some of the other exciting alternative music making its way out of Ireland at the moment.
Starting off with some of the more experimental, noise led bands it’s clear that seminal Indie Irishmen and women My Bloody Valentine have had an enormous influence on the emerging scene.
Pick of the bunch for me is Percolator, who released their debut album Sestra in 2017 and are currently working on new material, if their Facebook page is anything to go by Sestra is an awesome album which blends MBV, Shoegaze, Krautrock and Stereolab and reminds me of the superb Gnoomes. I was hooked after one listen to Sestra, its brilliant. In a similar vein and equally impressive are Altered Hours, who released their debut album In Heat Not Sorry in 2016 and followed it up with an EP in 2018 On My Tongue.
Imagine MBV, a bit of industrial noise and Billie Holiday’s lush vocals over the top and you get Dubliners The Claque, whose debut single Hush was released in April this year. It’s glorious. If you like the sound of a band that combine elements of early Cocteau Twins, MBV, the Pixies and Portishead, then check out Just Mustard, who come from Dundalk. The band released their first album Wednesday in 2018 and have followed up this year with October and Frank. Noise with melancholy – I like.
If noise is your bag, you may want to check out Girl Band, who have no girls in their band and also come from Dublin. It’s not easy listening but it is very good. Debut album Holding Hands With Jamie came out on Rough Trade in 2015 and after a fairly lengthy hiatus two singles have emerged in 2019 Shoulderblades which was nestling on the BBC6 Music playlist for quite a while earlier this year, and the just released Going Norway. There is a new album on the way called ‘the Talkies’.
Another from Dublin are ‘Melts’. Less noisy, more Krautrock, rock and psychedelic, the band have released a handful of singles - Skyward from last year, and Echoes and Seesaw this year. The latter takes in Suicide and the Velvet Underground. It’s all good stuff. Having praised their single on social media and gotten a thank you from them I asked them to recommend some other talent from Ireland and they suggested fellow Dubliners Silverbacks (plus The Claque and Altered Hours).
Silverbacks have released five singles to date and their sound reminds me of Talking Heads, Television and Parquet Courts. Latest single Pink Tide is a cracker, slightly tarnished by the Big Country guitar outro, and their other singles are also well worth a try – Just in the Band for example
Two more promising bands from the capital are Bullet Girl and Sprints. Bullet Girl have had two singles out so far – the Undertones/Buzzcocks influenced Wasted from 2018 and new single The Rush released earlier this month. Sprints have had just the one single to date Pathetic, which came out in April. Pathetic is a promising Breeders like debut, although there is obviously a lot of scope for them to refine their sound.
With this sweep of talent I’ve only really scratched the surface of the Irish music scene, and apologies to those bands that I haven’t mentioned. In some cases it’s probably ignorance on my part as I may not be aware be aware of your band – so feel free to make yourself known!
Guest Post by Peter Smith
If anyone tries to tell you there is no good music coming through, or that rap, grime and trap is the only stuff out there, tell them to go through the list of over 200 artists playing the Reading and Leeds festival at the end of this month.
There is such a variety of acts, through many different genres, and plenty to engage those of us with somewhat more traditional rock-based tastes. So here are just ten that caught my attention as I started working out my Clashfinder schedule and how I can get round about 70 bands over the three days, which is what I usually manage.
But let’s start with perhaps the weirdest act on the bill …
Poppy (sounds like everything from Shirley Temple to Slipknot)
Poppy is the “Andy Warhol of the internet generation”. Or maybe not. She is a young US singer, who hides her true self behind a “character” she plays, Poppy, a Barbie-type creation with an annoying little girl voice. But her album Am I a Girl is a surprisingly effective Lorde/ Taylor Swift electro-pop mix, and the 25 minutes of ICU on Spotify could almost be Brian Eno. Then Scary Mask starts out like the Carpenters, before turning into Slipknot… your guess is as good as mine in terms of what on earth she is going to do at Reading and Leeds! She’s on the metal / rock stage, so that might be a clue.
Anteros (Blondie, No Doubt)
If Anteros don’t make it with their own very enjoyable 1980s style pop/punk, then they can certainly do well as a Blondie tribute act. Lead singer Laura Hayden is also a model and could give Debbie Harry a run for her money in the looks department, and she can sing too. Songs are more than acceptable substitutes too ...
Cassia (early Vampire Weekend, Talking Heads, Graceland period Paul Simon)
Northern trio with a distinctive afro-beat sound, very summery, tuneful, and with occasional depths to the songs that certainly make them ones to watch. Their debut album exceeded my expectations and is one of the highlights of 2019 so far.
Kawala (Simon and Garfunkel, Jack Johnson)
This north London duo blend skilful harmonies, acoustic guitar and folk/pop tunes, but with touches of more contemporary rhythms and vibes to make a very pleasant noise that avoids MOR but will be great on a warm afternoon, we suspect!
Sophie and the Giants (Florence and the Machine, Maccabees)
Sheffield based indie pop with huge choruses, strong tunes and fronted by Sophie who has a great Florence (of Machine fame) type soul-tinged emotion-filled rock voice. This band really sounds like a major act in waiting – one song going viral will break them.
Sea Girls (U2, Bombay Bicycle Club)
Not girls at all – four fairly normal looking blokes form London, in fact. We saw them on the Introducing stage at Reading last year, but their material since them shows growing confidence and maturity. The basic approach is classic “indie”, but they embrace big, almost U2-like choruses now, and are clearly aiming for stadiums rather than niche venues.
Twisted Wheel (Libertines, The Enemy, Oasis)
This Oldham rock trio formed in 2007, but have been away for a while. Back together with their ramshackle indie-punk, they have energy and limited sophistication, but hey, we need a bit of this alongside “the new Warhol” and so on! This could be brilliant or a disaster at the festivals…
Æ MAK – (Pet Shop Boys, Bjork, the Unthanks)
Fascinating Irish band, brainchild of Aoife McCann, with two female front-people singing in complex folk-like harmony (note the use of open fifths). The music is more electronic pop than folk though, with other influences (e.g. African), but the quirky vocals give them a pretty unique sound. They deserve to go global, really, and YouTube suggests they can cut it live, too.
Stand Atlantic – (Blink 182, Foo Fighters, Green Day)
Australian pop-punk with charismatic and talented front-woman, Bonnie Fraser. Chunky pop choruses with big rock guitar, but some sophistication (and Fraser) lifting them above the mass of similar bands.
Cavetown – (Nick Drake, Isaac Gracie, Ed Sheeran)
Already huge on Spotify, Robbie Skinner is Cavetown. He is a young Cambridge singer songwriter, with nice under-stated voice and intelligent lyrics, and he can write a catchy chorus too. Mother is a professional flautist and father is Director of Music at Sidney Sussex college, Cambridge University… it’s in the genes, you know.
Remind us of: the Cure, Joy Division, Death Cult/early Cult, early U2, Killing Joke, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, David Holmes, Echo and the Bunnymen, Public Image Limited
Links to songs in blue
The Wikipedia definition of ‘Post Punk’ describes it as ‘a broad type of rock music that emerged from the punk movement of the 1970s, in which artists departed from the simplicity and traditionalism of punk rock to adopt a variety of avant-garde sensibilities and diverse influences’. 40 years on there is now an exciting new wave of post punk, and at its heart are the Murder Capital.
The band come from Dublin, and have very much become the doyens of the press, critically lauded even before they released anything based on their electric live performances. Their first single release was ‘Feeling Fades’ which made its debut early this year, subsequently followed by ‘Green and Blue’, ‘Don’t Cling to Life’ and just last week ‘More is Less’. Their debut album ‘When I have Fears’ was released on Friday, and has garnered a heap of critical praise.
I grew up on a staple diet of post punk with a bit of Goth thrown in here and there, so listening to the album has been an interesting experience. It’s almost been like revisiting my past and waking old memories that I’d previously tucked away.
The original post punk influences are very clear on ‘When I have Fears’. Opening track For Everything could quite easily be mistaken for ‘Horse Nation’ by the Cult or ‘One Hundred Years’ by the Cure. It’s a powerful start that’s complemented by the thrashy More is Less which seems influenced by IDLES, who the band have previously supported on their tour.
The pace slows with Green & Blue, which evokes Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘All my Colours/Zimbo’ and Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’, and then slows further with the excellent Slowdance I and beautiful Slowdance II and On Twisted Ground. Within this section there are hints of U2 and the Cure from their Faith album, particularly on On Twisted Ground which is reminiscent of ‘All Cats are Grey’.
Feeling Fades ups the tempo, still within the Cure territory, sounding like the Hanging Garden from ‘Pornography’ with shades of Killing Joke thrown in. Don't Cling to Life sounds like a cross between Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Transmission’ mixed with fellow countryman David Holmes’s ‘I Hear Wonders’. An element of David Holmes’s ‘The Ballad of Sarah and Jack’ from the same album permeates How the Streets Adore Me Now before the album closes with the menacing Love Love Love which could easily have found itself on an early Bauhaus or Sisters of Mercy album.
Overall it’s an excellent album and the placing of the songs give it a wonderful structure. If I’d heard this as a teenager I’d have it on repeat and loud, just like I did with the bands that have clearly influenced this record. As it is I find myself returning to it regularly, and it gets better with every play.
The band are touring extensively in October. I’ve not seen them yet but it will be interesting to see how they sound live compared to record. As mentioned above they’re supposed to be superb live, so if you can get to one of their gigs do so. I’d also recommend checking out some of the other new wave of Irish bands – the likes of the Melts and Silverbacks for example, as there’s some seriously good stuff brewing there.
Reminds us of: Oasis, the Stone Roses, the Damned
Links to music in Blue.
The first time I heard ‘Shakermaker’ by Oasis I was blown away. I’d been steadily falling out of love with guitar music for a couple of years at that time, but hearing that I was seriously impressed. A great tune, well written, oozing with swagger. I’d hoped that they’d make a great album after that, and so they did with Definitely Maybe, which I put on the other day and thought that it still sounded wonderful.
I was reminded of that Shakermaker moment in May of this year when I heard Stupid by the Boho’s for the first time. There are definite similarities between the two bands in terms of production and overall sound, as well as that sense of confidence that comes out and says ‘we know we’ve made a great song here’, although they don’t seem to be benefiting from the same level of hype that Oasis had when they first emerged.
Having merrily feasted on ‘Stupid’ I wondered if they could get anywhere near to that standard again with their next release, but reassuringly they have. Already Dead came out at the end of June and it’s also a cracker.
The band come from Liverpool and have been around for about 3 years. Lead singer Finn Power has the distinction of being John Power of Cast’s son. Similar to another of the North West’s great bands the Stone Roses, it would appear as though the bands’ early output is pretty forgettable compared to these latest two singles. As with the Roses, Stupid and Already Dead represent a significant evolution in the same way that Elephant Stone and the first Stone Roses’s album was.
‘Stupid’ starts anonymously with a muted guitar refrain before launching into a powerful riff, soon accompanied by a very confident vocal that absolutely revels in its scouse roots. It’s an immense song that culminates with a wicked riff. Already Dead follows a similar pattern, with the guitar and vocal sound really giving the band character and identity, with a Led Zep like break in the middle. Stirring stuff.
It will be interesting to see how the band develop over the coming months. By all accounts they toured nationally with Cast late last year, but since Stupid came out I haven’t seen them play a single gig outside of their native Liverpool. If that continues I can’t see them building up a massive fan base, which is a real shame. Musically they’ve set the bar really high with these two singles, and hopefully the quality of their output will continue in the same vein.