Oxjam Line-up: Part 2

Oxjam Cardiff 2014

If like me you managed to miss out on the Oxjam Cardiff Takeoff for 2014, then I think it’s fair to say that we missed out. I saw Dominic Griffin play not too long ago, and he (and his band) were pretty immense. On the night Dominic was giving half of the cash raised from selling his Yangshuo EP to Oxjam, and if you get a chance I strongly suggest that you invest in it. The combination of lush production and beautiful melodies give it an epic sound, which is strange given the stripped back nature of the arrangements.

We didn’t just miss out on good music though, we also missed out on the latest Oxjam line-up announcements. As if the line-up wasn’t already strong enough, there’s a load more awesome people that have been added to the bill. For those of us that missed it, the rest of the line-up is being formally announced on Wednesday. But in the meantime, here’s some people who are on there that are well worth checking out.

Rhodri Brooks has been pretty incredible whenever I’ve seen him in Cardiff. It’s easy to label any musical outfit as having an individual sound, but I genuinely think that Rhodri does. Both his solo stuff and full band efforts draw on elements of lo-fi, Americana and country. His sound is unique without ever going so far as to be twee or quaint, which so many bands end up doing when they go down the road of making country influenced music.

Since getting involved with the Oxjam stuff, I’ve seen and heard a lot of Albatross Archive’s material. They seem to be doing well for themselves since winning the big gig, and it’s not hard to see why if you see them live. The quirky piano lines, big vocals and what sound like spontaneous rhythms (but that I imagine are bloody well-rehearsed) make for a big sound, and their use of visuals also mark them out from the crowd. So I’m massively intrigued to hear how Richard Jackson’s solo show goes down at Oxjam. I’ve never had the chance to see him solo before, so this should be well worth going to.

So to keep up to date with what’s going down, the best thing to do is to like Oxjam Cardiff on Facebook, where you’ll hear the announcement as soon as it’s out in the wide world. And if you still haven’t done it, chuck 16 November in your diary and get involved with Oxjam. Great bands, even greater cause.

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4 gigs in 5 nights: a mixtape

Mixtape

I’ve had a storming rock n roll week since last Thursday, which has left me in the enviable position of not having enough of a chance to blog about any of the gigs that I’ve been too. So in homage to the mixtape, I’m putting a compilation together.

Whilst I still enjoy putting a CD or playlist together every now and again, it’s not quite as fulfilling as the sheer effort involved with tapes. I remember spending hours trying to seamlessly get songs to fade in and out of each other, or trying to juxtapose a quiet, thoughtful tune with an absolute belter.

Last Thursday it was great to head to Le Pub to check out Rough Music. They haven’t played a gig for quite a while, so despite being a Cardiff band, I’ve never managed to catch them live. They’re a pretty heavy band with punk roots, but the distorted guitars and screaming was always pinned back by a tight as you like rhythm section. Welcome to Shanghai is a pretty good indication of where they’re at, but having debuted some new material at the gig, it’ll be interesting to see how they take it forward.

Rough Music at Le Pub

Rough Music at Le Pub

On Saturday I ended up at Buffalo to see both El Ten Eleven and Nanook of the North. I’ve talked about how brill they both are a fair bit lately (here and here), so instead I’ll head straight into Sunday’s gig at The Moon Club. I haven’t seen such a varied line-up for quite some time. The night kicked off with Right Hand Left Hand playing probably the best gig I’ve seen them take on. Their instrumental post-rock relies on playing an unbelievably tight set, something that they always manage to do. The Moon suits them as a venue too, as it really gives the audience a chance to check out the band dynamics.

They were followed by The Jelas, who split opinion amongst the people I was with. I thoroughly enjoyed their 1990s lo-fi sound, which sounded a bit like a pumped up Pavement. The jaunty aspect was quite a clash with what came next. The Sleaford Mods‘ electronic beats sit quite under the radar next to Jason Williamson’s intense delivery. Despite regularly checking out hardcore bands, I haven’t heard such a ‘punk’ vocal delivery for quite sometime. There’s such anger and vitriol (and humour and profanity) in the delivery. It makes for quite a thrilling experience.

Having listened to a stripped back electronic effort the night before, Sam Duckworth’s efforts are a bit of a contrast. In his last set in Cardiff as Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, he played the full set of Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager. There was a good article in the Guide this week on why bands playing their classic LPs live isn’t a good thing, and whilst by and large I agree, Duckworth neatly avoids the predictable aspect by mixing up the order and messing about with the drum n bass heavy backing tracks. In and amongst the lyrical naivety (he was after all a teenager, and a more talented one than me), there are some fantastic song arrangements. All in all, a strong trip down memory lane before he retires the Get Cape Wear Cape Fly monicker.

So now I’m off to recover and rest. But it was worth it.

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ArcTanGent: Maths can be fun

Tall Ships at ArcTanGent

Tall Ships at ArcTanGent

For the best part of a decade the tail end of my August was reserved for Reading Festival. I loved the fact that I could watch such a variety of modern indie and rock music with some great friends. But then something changed. A couple of years ago there were gaps in my festival schedule for the first time and I never went back.

This year I attempted to fill that gap by heading to ArcTanGent, a post-rock festival that’s particularly heavy on the math rock bands. It is cool for many reasons, but one of the big ones is the vibe at the event. The niche musical market of math rock all converges in one place. I lost count of the amount of times I heard bands say “This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to”. Bands mixed with fans, bands were fans of other bands. It felt like a celebration of good music. The line-up was incredibly well-arranged too – if you hit the instrumental math rock ceiling, there were plenty of other bands who brought a very different take on the genre to the party (AK/DK being a particularly fine case in point).

Baby Godzilla's cab goes walkabout

Baby Godzilla’s cab goes walkabout

I’ve already blogged recently about some great bands who played the festival and that I knew would be brill. Samoans and Olympians were predictably awesome, as were ttng and Tall Ships.

For me the exciting part about every festival are the new discoveries. Human Pyramids are an incredible concoction of post-rock and classical arrangements, with more members than you can shake a stick at. Their live show was unreal, with an incredible light and shade in what they produce because of the sheer number of instruments involved. They were an incredible live experience.

I’ve loved Appleseed Cast and Jeniferever for years, and EF fitted nicely into that bracket of ambient guitar, big drums and sparse vocals. They were an intense live band, so I would dearly love to see them take on a small club. El Ten Eleven were choc full of amazing musicianship and were a great live act too. Jealous Lovers Club are putting them on in Clwb Ifor Bach on Saturday, so if you’ve been bitten by the math rock bug I strongly recommend getting involved.

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Oxjam Line-up: Stronger than builder’s tea

Oxjam Cardiff 2014

So yesterday the first wave of Oxjam bands were announced for 2014. 16 November is a date to chuck in your diaries now, because there’s more good bands than you can shake a stick at. It’s all for the bargain price of eight pound if you want to see any band in any venue (down to a fiver if you’re only keen to go to a couple of venues). If you’re still not convinced, check out this awesome playlist they’ve put together.

I’ll be writing some more posts on the bands in the run up to the whole shebang, but in the meantime here are some good places to start:

The Gentle Good

The start of the new Gentle Good LP Y Bardd Anfarwol (The Bard Immortal) has echoes of King Creosote and Jon Hopkins’ Diamond Mine, with gentle music kicking in over some background noise. And that’s not where the similarity ends, with some really beautiful tracks and some great fingerpicking work. The latest album is an intriguing prospect as it’s a clash of two cultures, with Gareth Bonello singing about his experiences in Chengdu in my ‘mamiaith’ of ‘Cymraeg’ (or mother tongue of Welsh). I’m massively intrigued to see how it all comes over live, and I reckon it’s gonna be a winner.

Nanook of the North

I saw Nanook Of The North play an acoustic set in Gwdihw not long ago, and they played a really beautiful set (more details about their awesomeness here). They play some great ambitious but thoughtful rock music, and I can’t wait to see their full live set complete with massive sounding guitars again. As I mentioned in the original blog, Panda Eyes is a good place to start with them, but if they have an EP for sale it’s well worth shelling out for some more. You can also check out Sweet Jubilee on Bandcamp.

Scriber

In my last post about Scriber, I described his material as being like Conor Oberst’s Bright Eyes, but his stuff easily stands on it’s own two feet. Get ready for some intricate guitar and some intimate vocals. Whether he plays a solo stripped back set show or with other musicians, I  guarantee you’ll feel moved by the end of the set. If not, then you have a heart of stone. Check out this effort on Bedroom Live.

So that’s eight quid well spent and I’ve only talked about three acts. We’d all best get investing.

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To be or not to be hardcore: Bodyboarding Sountracks and Punk Rock

Extreme sports films have a long history of using great tunes to get the most out of their footage. Punk and surfing properly started getting cosy in Taylor Steele‘s groundbreaking Momentum, which helped to spread SoCal punk. It’s well worth watching this great documentary on 90’s US punk, as narrated by the legend that is Tony Hawk.

When I was 13, my twin brother decided he wanted to surf. So I decided that I would bodyboard, not really knowing what that would mean. Turns out it would mean that I would use it as an excuse to travel to almost any country with a shoreline and to listen to some incredible music.

When I was first getting into bodyboarding the films were poorly edited, so I didn’t watch another until I went to a surf club film night in uni. We ended up watching No Friends‘ Recognize the Enemy, complete with Refused, Jimmy Eat World, Smashing Pumpkins, Aphex Twin, Depeche Mode and The Strokes. And it was Snapcase who opened the door to me to the heaviest side of punk, as did Hatebreed on Roadhouse.

So on Tuesday I ended up at Clwb Ifor Bach to see Deez Nuts, a band with a very elegant name. Elegance only matched by JJ Peters’ support turn with Louis Knuxx, who’s catchiest number was the classily titled ‘Tits’. Deeply intellectual. Which is all a bit of a shame, because behind the rapping was some pretty cool electronic melodies.

But it was TRC who took me back to the days gone by, with a crushingly heavy set. In light of this article for Thrash Hits, maybe it’s a good thing that I couldn’t understand a word that was sung (or screamed). But if the lyrical context is out the window, there’s something visceral about going to a gig where the band sound like they could rip your head off and use it as a football.

So the bands on the bill were the anti-Bob Dylan. Completely non-socially aware but heavy as hell. If your taste in music is all about brutality and you can give or take ethics, then TRC could be right up your street.

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The People’s Music: Public Enemy and Joanna Gruesome

Perfect Pussy at the Deaf Institute

Perfect Pussy at the Deaf Institute

On Friday I missioned it up to Manchester to watch Joanna Gruesome and Perfect Pussy play Manchester. My mate Jamie and I had a bit of time to kill and ended up at the People’s Museum in Manchester, which charts the spread of democracy in the UK. It’s an incredible place that points out how some people have been more equal than others, whilst all the while highlighting the work of some visionary people in public life, and also some good people in the music industry.

The Fight Against Racialism via The People's Museum

The Fight Against Racialism via The People’s Museum

As an American, Chuck D wasn’t mentioned in the museum, but he’s been highlighting race issues in the music industry and beyond for a long time. It’s been 25 years since he first rapped about his disdain for Elvis, who was massively influenced by black musicians. It reflects where society was at (and is still?) that it was only when a white man played rock n roll that it reached a widespread audience.

So despite the fact that most of the music I like has its roots in Blues via Led Zeppelin and the Stones, most rock gigs are hardly ethnically diverse. The audience in your run of the mill gig is suspiciously white, male and pale.

Public Enemy at the O2 in Bristol

Public Enemy at the O2 in Bristol

In Public Enemy, Chuck D has the platform to confront race issues. Last Tuesday I saw them play Bristol’s O2 Academy, and they blew the place apart. They’ve often been seen as the rock fan’s Hip Hop band, and with their full band and big sound, there is a heaviness to their music and a power in their rhetoric.

A quote from Mary Wollstonecraft at the People's Museum

A quote from Mary Wollstonecraft at the People’s Museum

Racism isn’t the only issue the music industry’s been fighting against. Since the first gig I went to when I was 16, I’ve seen the sexism that’s inherent in rock and indie circles. At the ripe old age of 16 I saw my first ever gig at the Big Day Out in Milton Keynes. I remember seeing a woman getting fondled as she crowd surfed. Unsurprisingly, men still vastly outnumber women at the gigs I go to. It was good to see Joanna Gruesome confront sexism in a recent Drowned in Sound article. The subsequent Facebook comments reflected Lewis’ law – “Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”

Joanna Gruesome at the Deaf Institute

Joanna Gruesome at the Deaf Institute

On Friday I saw them play Manchester’s Deaf Institute as they supported Perfect Pussy. Joanna Gruesome brought the melodies, but they mixed them with discordant guitars and big drums. In contrast to Chuck D, Alanna McArdle seems uncomfortable with the in-between song banter, but as soon as each song started the whole band excels. They’re full of movement and ambition, and Sugarcrush was the perfect song to punctuate a great set.

Perfect Pussy eschewed a sound check and turned everything up to 11. Theirs is a punk rock set and make no mistake, complete with stage presence and shouty vocals. The beats are fast and the whole set is delivered with a frantic urgency that is quite frankly, bloody thrilling. The vocals are a bit low in the mix, but are still a big part of a cacaphonous sound and big performance.

So if you’re wondering if music can change the world, have a listen to these bands before you make up your mind.

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Scriber plays a blinder

Scriber at Gwdihw

Scriber at Gwdihw

With some bands you just get the wrong album at the wrong time. I’d been told many times that I should fall head over heels in love with Conor Oberst‘s Bright Eyes, but when I got around to listening to Lifted it made the Get Up Kids sound like Motley Crue, and I found it too emo even for my post-hardcore sensibilities.

The thoroughly ambitious Digital Ash in a Digital UrnI’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning LPs changed my mind though, and his influence can be seen in a new generation of introspective troubadours.

Scriber, a.k.a. Joshua Price seems to be a musician from the Oberst school of tender melodies and vulnerable vocals. Before his set, we were treated to the Albatross Archive, whose EP I gave a listen to a few weeks back. Their songs are a bit darker live, and they have some great visuals that focus on a young man’s mission to space. Their arrangements are sparse, but the songs sound full, with Richard Jackson’s vocals seemingly referencing both Morrissey (the drawl) and Thom Yorke (the emotion). They’re well worth checking out.

Scriber plays a mix of full and efforts and solo tracks. He delivers an incredible a capella effort (Leave the Light On), which is pretty brave considering the chattering behind the music that takes place in the background of any venue. The song structures give ample space for the vocals and sparse guitar to make the most of the emotive material, which makes for a very touching live show.

In the hunt for some new material to soundtrack the time when your lower lip shakes? Invest in some Scriber.

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The Kinks v The Beatles

George Clinton: Parliament / Funkadelic

George Clinton: Parliament / Funkadelic

My name’s Dyfrig and I have a confession – I don’t really like the The Beatles. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a lot of what they’ve done. Helter Skelter sounds so vital that it could’ve been recorded yesterday and Blackbird is beautiful in any era. They paved the way for 90% of the music that I like. But that’s the problem. The bands I love all took their ideas and developed them further. I’m an anachronistic so and so.

But weirdly enough I’ve never had that issue with The Kinks. I love the edginess of the guitar in All Day and All of the Night, complete with the discordant guitar solo that’s turned up to 11. Lola still strikes me as a massively brave song to have written. We’ve since begun a new millennium, and writing about an experience with a transvestite just isn’t something that happens in pop music.

So it was a lovely surprise to find that Ray Davies was playing a set at Jazzaldia. It’s not every day you get to check out a living legend right, especially for free?

My first impression was that Ray’s voice is no longer supple enough to do justice to the youthful vigour of the early Kinks material. His is by no means the only voice that’s been affected by age (Bob Dylan’s modern day efforts are an acquired taste). I thought Ray might benefit from taking the Johnny Cash route of adapting material to suit his voice, but the blues intro to You Really Got Me is absolutely atrocious.

The whole set is delivered without any between song banter in the native tongue of the audience (Basque or Spanish), and Davies talks about the band en masse rather than individuals, so you never get the sense that the set is a collective effort. Session musicians of the world unite!

Which is all in stark contrast to George Clinton, who shares the spotlight with his bandmates. Harmonies abound in both the vocals and guitar work, all of which is massively impressive. Funkadelic still sounds vital 35 years later, and we’re all treated to a late night funk and soul odyssey.

So whilst I wouldn’t recommend seeing Ray Davies live, the early Kinks stuff is timeless and well worth checking out. But I warn you, stay away from anything of the (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman era. It might put you off the Kinks forever.

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Invest in festivals: 2000 Trees

Frightened Rabbit at 2000 Trees

Frightened Rabbit at 2000 Trees

About a quarter of a million were at Glastonbury, but for me and a few mates, 2000 Trees was our first festival of the year. I went to Reading religiously for over of a decade, but there’s something awesome about attending a festival that’s that much more intimate, focussed and less corporate.

Camp Reuben, a place for Reuben fans to hang out, started after the band broke up before they had the chance to play the festival. So there’s something very cool about the fact that Jamie Lenman (Reuben’s former frontman) played a set at this year’s shebang. His first solo LP is a double album, with a folk disk and a crazy math-rock/metal/post-hardcore effort. He didn’t focus on the folk efforts, which is a shame as there are some stormers on there, but his set went down a treat.

To my mind the band of the weekend were Delta Sleep. Their music has always been incredibly ambitious, but their new material manages to marry that ambition with the melody of their poppier efforts, like 16:40 am (which you can download for free on Bandcamp). Their new album will be released later this year, and I can promise you that from what I’ve heard, it’s worth investing in.

I saw Tall Ships twice in the space of 3 days having seen them at Clwb Ifor Bach on Thursday. In Cardiff their sound was absolutely massive in intimate surroundings. I’m a big fan of club gigs, but there’s something amazing about hearing a big crowd sing along to the anthemic Vessels, a song that’s as full of character and as unique as it is catchy.

I love the way that Tall Ships manage to include layers of sound in their music, and there’s something equally impressive in the way that Public Service Broadcasting use samples and visuals in what they do. Without their own kit the visuals don’t pack the same punch as at their own gigs, but it’s a great live performance. There’s a great post on the Album Wall that looks at how they might develop their sound, and I can’t wait to hear how that turns out.

Festivals are having a tough time of it, with austerity curbing the cash that people are willing to shell out to go to festivals, so it’s well worth supporting festivals while you have a chance. There’s a stellar line-up at Arc Tan Gent, 2000 Trees’ sister festival. If you’re a fan of math rock, it’s well worth purchasing a ticket, meeting like-minded people and checking out some quality bands.

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Albatross Archive: Off beats and Big Pianos

Oxjam Cardiff 2014

Battle of the band style events are weird things. To me, live music brings people together because of a shared love of a band, so that element of competition has never sat well with me. But whilst self-righteous idealists like me might pour scorn on them, they do give bands the opportunity to take their music to a wider audience and a bit of a platform.

In this year’s Big Gig, Cardiff trio Albatross Archive were judged to be the most awesome, and there’s defintely something unique about their sound, with some lovely off-beat rhythms and intricate piano and energetic vocals in their track In the Dark. It contrasts nicely with Perfect is Dull (my favourite track from their Little Litter EP), with its lilting melodies and gentle electronic ambience.

They’ll be contributing to a round at Oxjam’s Music Quiz in the Full Moon on Wednesday, and then supporting Scriber (who plays some pretty stunning pared back music himself) in Gwdihw on 31 July – ideal opportunities to check out some pretty strong music.

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