Sunday, 31 May 2009

My Vote of Confidence / Operation Error / The Control / Bad Sandwich @ The Underground, Hanley May 29th 2009

Review by Dave Harrison

Photo by Leo Mazzocchio

Despite it being a wonderfully warm night outside in Hanley, people were still queuing up in their droves for tonight’s eclectic mixture of local and semi-local acts. Inside, the atmosphere was hot and sweaty, perfect for a close and intense gig for sure.

The first band to appear on tonight’s packed stage were My Vote of Confidence, a local band that has existed in various guises over the past couple of years, but finally settled on a line up and started to gig. Their sound immediately recalled the slower, chunkier sounds of Metallica circa the Black album along with some fantastic double guitar riffing from guitarists Stefan Spain and David Shingler that was very reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s trademark guitar duelling sound. As the set progressed, other influences also became apparent, from the pop punk aesthetics often associated with American teens to an almost Glam-stomp sound, exhibited well in their final song that I didn’t catch the name of, but reminded me very much of Sweet for some reason. Despite a slightly subdued audience reaction, My Vote of Confidence put on a tight, solidly played set of sometimes lengthy but always thoughtfully structured songs that gave a good feel of their overall sound and influences, and paved the way for the rest of evening well.

The next band tonight were Operation Error, a group that claims to have created a new genre, that of ‘progressive epic’. Now, normally when bands claim this sort of thing I immediately write it off as a load of rubbish, but in Operation Error’s case, I think they might actually be onto something. Second song ‘I am David’ showcased their massive snowballing Rock sound fantastically, with vocalist Steve bellowing ‘I am David, you’re my Goliath’ like the angry metaphorical child of Bruce Dickinson and Pavarotti over the most monumentally heavy riff this side of Mötorhead. That’s not to say their sound is pure needless brutality though: - The structure of the songs means that there is an almost emotional quality to the proceedings, ranging from a soulful melancholy before suddenly switching via an unforeseen tempo or rhythm change into a furious anger. If this all sounds a bit pretentious, then that’s because it’s difficult to pin down or describe Operation Error’s sound without somehow demeaning it. Their on stage presence was understated but intense, each member clearly into the music and concentrating hard to give it the gravitas it needs to compete with the frankly stunning vocals on show. This was all well appreciated by the audience who lapped up the set. Excellent stuff.

Despite all the hype that has surrounded The Control over the past year or so, tonight was the first time that I had seen them live and, without wanting to sound too negative, I was left cold by the bands set. Clearly though, my opinion was totally at odds with a good chunk of the audience who immediately started to cause a ruckus, jumping around and generally having a good time. The band themselves were also full of energy, pogoing about the stage with great urgency, lead vocalist Joseph Hulme especially pulling out some fantastic dance moves amidst the screaming and general chaos. The bands sound reminded me of a cross between the Smiths on steroids and ¡Forward Russia!, made especially potent due to a paced and energetic rhythm section that supported Rich Bratt’s fantastic Marr-esque guitar work superbly to create a whirlwind within the audience. Their set was fairly tight, but there were lengthy gaps between songs where nothing much seemed to happen, which in my opinion broke the flow of their well written and clever songs. The Control clearly know what they’re doing and how to get a good crowd reaction, but somehow it felt like tonight was a gig for the converted- the fans who had come to see The Control had a great time whereas the uninitiated looked on slightly confused for the most part.

The headline act of the night came from Bad Sandwich, a Brighton based band but with ties to Stoke-on-Trent through vocalist and occasional guitarist Quirky Brown (With which I’m going to take a wild guess and presume isn’t his real name). Their sound is described on their Myspace page as hypersexadelicdirtyfunkarockindiscocircus, I think it’s safe to say that I agree, as I can’t really find any other way to express the collision of a million influences into one act. That’s not to say they’re a messy band though, far from it in fact- Held up by the stunning rhythm section of Mat ‘Manyhands’ on drums and the funkadelic slap bass shenanigans of Daddy Cool (Slap Bass!), Bad sandwich create a Rock/ Rap hybrid perhaps reminiscent of early Red Hot Chili Peppers crossed with the 80’s style of Rap made popular by acts like Run DMC. More importantly though, Bad Sandwich were fun. A lot of Fun. Quirky Brown didn’t stop moving about the stage for the entire set, arms flailing constantly and feet moving as if he were standing on hot coals, clearly having more fun in their 45 minute set than most people have in their entire lives. Their energy and wild joy became infectious- by halfway through the set, the audience were cheering and dancing around and having a great time. A fantastic end to a marvellously sweaty and energetic Friday night.


Monday, 25 May 2009

Love Music Hate Racism Final @ The Sugarmill 21st May 2009 One Horse Race / The People Involved / The Fears / Heart of the Sun / Bleached WAiL

Article by Chloe West
Photo's by Scott Sharman

In five words describe your band;
One Horse Race: Fresh and sharp indie-funk
The People Involved: Original, Rock, Dynamic, Appealing, Fresh
The Fears: Indie Dance Dark Light Lovely
Heart of the Sun: off kilter, alive, fresh and logical.
bleached WAiL: Quirky aggressive and completely rowdy

Do you think the Love Music Hate Racism festival is important for Stoke, and why?
The People Involved: Yes it is important, many reasons why but one of them is that bringing people together through music has a lasting effect and has the power to shout out, to those who oppose fighting racism, which is a valuable and worthy cause.
bleached WAiL: Yes definitely. I think a festival like this would be important wherever it was held. Racism is an issue which isn't often addressed, and in many areas just accepted. An event like this can help show people that there are thousands of people who are coming together to put a stop to racism. It will also help put Stoke on the map.

The Fears: It's definitely a good thing for Stoke. It's an important message and an amazing cause for Stoke to get involved with. It's a good way for the people of Stoke to show that there is more to us than obesity and unemployment.
Heart of the Sun: Apart from sending a very important message across our society, musically it is broadcasting what Stoke has to offer in terms of up and coming bands. It shows that Stoke has the potential to have a fantastic music scene. Its time for society in Stoke to make their stand on racism as well. Having an event like this is an opportunity not to waste and I’m glad its being taken.
One Horse Race: The LMHR festival is important to Stoke because Stoke needs it. There are people who want to vote out of anger, and certain parties have offered themselves up as a mainstream, respectable alternative. They are not. We want to expose racism in politics and help Stoke maintain a passionate, compassionate approach to its problems.

Who dead or alive would you have headline a festival?
The Fears: Radiohead
The People Involved: Probably - Foo Fighters but I speak for myself on that not sure what the other guys would say!
One Horse Race: The ultimate festival headliners will always, always be Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers
bleached WAiL: The Bhundu boys. A brilliant band who could make you smile even if you had just had your shoes stolen, you had missed your last bus and you had lost your wallet.
Heart of the Sun: Rod Stewart... because he’s Rod Stewart........just fantastic.

Why should you win the LMHR Road To Britannia competition?
Heart of the Sun: I feel answering this one is a danger. It would be awesome to win as we personally believe in our music. Win or lose though, we are there for the cause and the fans. Any prize is just an amazing bonus.
bleached WAiL: We are leaving that question for the judges.
The People Involved: Because we are different, and different stands out - it's what this event echoes and is about! Most of our songs are about believing in yourself, to break out from the constraints of ignorant and prejudice people. Our sound suits the stadium size and we will fill every corner of the stadium with a huge rock sound that people will stamp their feet to, a symbol of stamping out racism. Oh and there's soooo many indie bands about like Arctic Monkeys etc at the moment - I think our music appeals to all ages who appreciate rock!
One Horse Race: We should win the Road to Britannia competition because we truly care- we have put effort in our own time into aiding the anti-racist cause, and we display this in our music, both through anger and the love for our fellow humans. We reject the doctrine of nationalism, and imagine a world with no countries where all humans are our brothers and sisters. Besides that, we think we're a rather good band.
The Fears: Because we're the best band with the best songs and I think we'd be a good band to show what talent actually exists in Stoke.

And who, apart from yourselves, would you like to see win the final?
bleached WAiL: We know One Horse Race, so we would be happy if they won.
One Horse Race: We'd like to see bleached Wail do well, because they're friends of ours and we really enjoy listening to them.
The Fears: bleached Wail
Heart of the Sun: I’m a big fan of bleached Wail after seeing them in the heats but it would be unfair to comment as I have not seen the others.
The People Involved: I think The Fears are fresh too - have a Morrissey vibe going on which is fantastic!

Its not a regular occurrence to see the Mill graced with radio and TV presence, but the Love Music Hate Racism Final commanded just that attention. With sixteen bands whittled down to the last lucky five, the evening promised to display a handful of Stoke’s finest. Swarms of photographers scurried about the venue, film crew hung from the balcony, as LMHR’s draping banners surrounded a packed audience. Radio Stoke’s Subculture broadcast live from the roof top tiles, and even managed to give my dear Dad five minutes of air time. But what was all this in aid of? Luckily for us, as I’m sure many are aware, our city has been given the honour of hosting the LMHR Festival at the Britannia Stadium this Saturday (May 30th), and artists sweeping far across the musical spectrum are set to play. Tickets for the shindig are only a tenner, which in my mind, for such plitheroe of local and national is an absolute bargain!

It seems futile to repeat what the rest of the Stoke Sound team have already said about each of the performers tonight, but collectively it can not be said that any set lacked quality. One Horse Race delivered an arty broken down sound, very reminiscent of the genre linked to geeky Oxford band Foals, and frontman Rhys showed much enthusiasm for the evening’s cause. I’m sure if the LMHR team ever needed a new member this guy could fill the role spot on! The People Involved however, rearranged proceedings completely with their heavier, grungy style, yet in some respects this displayed a more accessible range of songs, and their professional, mature talent easily has the potential for mass appeal. Third band The Fears again swerved the night into another direction with dancier, Joy Divisionesque music, and their fan base was clear from the off set, with many a t-shirt bearing their name. One woman in particular really got things going. I can’t be certain whether this lady had spawned any of the band, but she definitely deserves a mention, simply for being the keenest audience member of the night. More mums raving down the front please. Heart of the Sun took us to the rockier side of indie, with singer James’ growling vocals complimenting the best performance I’ve personally seen them play. As in their heat the band twisted pop princess Kylie’s ‘Two Hearts’ into their own, a quirky extra to their own numbers. Not the only band to incorporate a cover, bleached WAiL quirkily jammed the Pink Panther theme into their set, a light hearted yet skilful addition to their tight set. They’ve created a minimal skaish style with a strong lyrical angle. Certainly one to look out for in the future.

After some deliberation, the judges gathered on stage to announce the ultimate winners, with first prize going to The Fears. The lucky lads will be opening the main stage at the Brit for the festival on the same bill as Reverend and the Makers, and Mr Peter Doherty. Lucky indeed. Quickly filing back into sequence to reperform ‘Victim’, it rounded off an evening of fine talent from start to finish. To quote from The Fears themselves, Stoke isn’t all about ‘obesity and unemployment’; the music speaks for itself.


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Love Music Hate Racism Heat 5 Robin Soleimani / Vinesh / Ryan Whitmore / Tom Lockett / Peter Carney

Review by Steve Cooling

Photo by Simon Bamford

The ‘road to Britannia’ singer song writer heat saw 5 solo artists battling it out for a place on the Sugarmill stage at the festival. Although there could have been more of a turn out the pub was busy and there was a good atmosphere, with lots of support for those taking part. Each act had a 30 minute slot to impress the 2 judges and all the bar staff, who were voting on the winning act.

First to play was Robin Soleimani, an acoustic guitar player and singer. He had a good manner and seemed very comfortable on stage and was interesting to watch. His songs were melodic and upbeat, which suited his character. 'No sympathy' – seemed very much a pop song that could have been backed by a band or indeed sold to an agency. Overall I liked his performance and think his songs are enjoyable.

Vinesh was next to play, an electric piano player and singer. His opening song 'Love Shy' seemed to set the pace for the next 30 minutes. An excellent voice singing songs about love and life in an almost story telling fashion. It must be hard to keep a crowd visually interested when stuck behind a piano but his voice and songs tell you a story, and his music is melodic (almost hypnotic) that you cant help but listen even if it makes your mind wonder….. very interesting.

Ryan Whitmore an acoustic guitar, harmonica playing singer took the reins. It’s hard to get visions of Bob Dillon out or your head whenever you see someone singing and playing guitar with a harmonica on one of those stands hanging round their neck. I’m sure I even heard a line in one song that said ‘the times they are changing’ (or was that the beer). His style and songs were interesting with some well worked out guitar parts. He seemed to sing real songs about real life. 'White faces in the snow' is a good example, about people who are suffering the ill effects of alcohol! He had a very full sound often missing with acoustic players, probably helped by having a 12 string guitar and very polished songs

Tom Lockett playing a semi-acoustic guitar was up. 'All at sea on the river' stood out for me as being his strongest song. A quieter singer who may well have benefited from being turned up slightly, had an enjoyable voice and whose music would be ideal for a relaxing Sunday morning (or after a night down the Old Brown Jug). A rarity was getting solo’s which you don’t always get with an acoustic, although I would have liked to hear his guitar either through an amp or with some effects on. A mellow and enjoyable set.

Peter Carney was the last act to play and was an acoustic guitarist / singer. He by far had the best sounding guitar of the night and played it with passion, there was some nice fills. He kept people entertained with his lively style and banter, although it was a little like Oasis, but he was entertaining .

The winner from tonight’s heat was Ryan Whitmore.

Robin Soleimani
Vinesh - no link available
Ryan Whitmore
Tom Lockett
Peter Carney

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Love Music Hate Racism Heat 4 The Riots / Heart of the Sun / bleached WAil / Maybe this Friday 13th May 2009

Review by Simon Bamford
Photos by Maffi

The evening saw the four bands, The Riots, Heart of the Sun, Bleached Wail and Maybe This Friday competing for what turned out to be, surprisingly, two places in Thursday 21 May's final. Having announced the very deserving Heart of the Sun as the winner, organisers signalled from the balcony to inform that the equally deserving Bleached Wail would also have a chance at playing the opening slot at the Britannia stadium at the end of the month. The last minute decision gives us five bands in the final The Fears, The People Involved, One Horse Race, Heart of the Sun and Bleached Wail. It’s going to be close thing! The line up will provide us with a great night of local talent battling it out in front of a BBC film crew. The doors will open promptly at 7.30 with the running order being decided on the night, so make sure you’re there early. All the bands sets will be filmed so get yourselves down there and make some noise for what is undoubtedly a great cause and a fantastic opportunity for the bands and the City.

The Riots opened the night with their particular version of driving bluesy rock. They have a bruising, visceral sound that is menacing at the edges. Their songs bounced round the room with a thuggish pulse. They are a very fine band but tonight they were up against some stiff competition. Next on Stage were Heart of the Sun. This was the first time I've had a chance to listen to this band and I have to say I was impressed. James Blake is a frontman who has the potential to mature into something out of the ordinary. The audience screamed appreciation and the band engaged them in a thrilling set of energetic songs. They have the skill to carry off a cover of a Kylie song '2 Hearts', effortlessly blending it into their performance. Not an easy task I imagine. Bleached Wail followed with an extraordinarily tight performance that received the biggest crowd reaction so far. The loud popping of a bulb in the stage lights mid song (Ginge will try anything to get his new lighting) didn't distract the lads from delivering what was for my money the most polished set of the evening. Their version of the Pink Panther theme was fantastic, vocalist / guitarist Gus exhibiting some great guitar playing. By this point the band were on fire. After the closing number the excited audience shouted 'we want more' as they left the stage. So did I. Maybe This Friday finished off the evening. Lois Stevenson their singer certainly looks like she should be up there. The band played confidently backing her tuneful vocals with conviction and precision. Their sound was punky and upbeat, they were having fun. I thought they had a chance of taking the night’s prize, but it was not to be.

Don't forget, The Grand Final at The Sugarmill, Thursday 21 May, 7.30, to support your favourites and if you want to be on the telly.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Love Music Hate Racism Heat 3 The Setup / Lost Scenes / One Horse Race / Eaton Park 12th May 2009

Review by Charlotte Lunt

Photo by Scott Sharman

The third heat of the Love Music, Hate Racism promised to be a guitar heavy clash of indie bands.

Well established local favourites The Setup had the dubious task of being first on tonight, which was no easy task as disappointingly the audience was a little thin on the ground. Even so, this didn’t appear to deter them as they presented a set of rounded indie rock, combining expressive melodies and harmonies. Their second song ‘Souls’ was a real ‘lighters in the air’ moment allowing singer Ivan Malin’s sonorous vocals and animated performance to draw the crowd in. This intensity continued throughout their set with each song showing a different dimension to their song writing, utilising effects and loops in the more accessible ‘Robots’ and in the bass driven ‘Live’ with it’s unpredictable melody. The final song, which I didn’t catch the name of, was a soaring track littered with breaks in rhythm and judging by the performance a favourite of the band. All in this was a solid performance, and a band I will definitely see again.

Lost Scenes may well be quite a new name on the local scene, but having seen them in their previous guise it was nice to see a set of original material from the guys. The most striking aspect to Lost Scenes is the Kelly Jones doppelganger vocals of Daryl Latham, which are almost disconcerting at times. Whilst it would be very easy for the band to exploit this and develop a generic sound, they haven’t chosen this route. Introducing ‘Illusions in Vienna’ an intense and angry song with lyrics that are spat out, followed by ‘Demons’ an anthemic track that it is easy to imagine audiences singing back at them they prove this point. Whilst their music isn’t challenging it is also not over simplified and is delivered with a confident performance by each band member. The band appeared to be happy to let the music speak for them tonight as their performance didn’t demand visual attention, but getting good feedback from the crowd it is clear that Lost Scenes have a good fan base and will undoubtedly go on to recruit more along the way.

Five-piece One Horse Race crowded the stage, looking both very thrilled to be participating in tonight’s show, and it must be said a little nervous. From the outset they put in a lively performance with frontman Rhys and guitarist Sam often vying for attention. Bantering with the audience in between songs and being the first band of the night to engage with the LMHR message behind these gigs, they clearly loved every minute of it. With punchy delivery, good use of melody and a hint of The Cure in their layered guitar riffs there is a distinct New Wave feel to their music. If points were being awarded purely for enthusiasm and effort then these guys would be scoring highly. Bravely unveiling two new songs to their attending fans they showed that they are not afraid to take risks, and whilst they had a couple of technical hitches and Rhys might not have the most melodic voice, they are clearly passionate about their music and definitely one of the more original indie bands around at the moment.

Eaton Park were the final band of the night. With a long career already under their belts they were instantly at ease and tried to coax the reluctant audience to move closer to the stage. After an instrumental introduction they progressed on to Oasis tinged lolling indie rock ‘The Lost Souls’, a tight song with clear and distinct vocals. Dedicating their next song to Stoke City, they proved they can certainly belt out a song as they delivered a mature sound. Light-heartedly checking that the audience were still giving them the attention they deserved, they asked for someone to join them on stage to play tambourine. This proved to be the most animated song of the set, as their newest member was relishing his moment in the limelight. Raising the bar with ‘Sally’ a true rock n roll number the audience started to really engage with the set and there was some hectic dancing going on behind the sound desk.

Having attended all the heats so far in this competition this for me would’ve been the hardest to judge, thankfully however I was not in this position. The judge’s deliberation went down fantastically with the audience as One Horse Race were declared as the winners.

The Setup
Lost Scenes
One Horse Race
Eaton Park


Scott Sharman Photography

The Sunshine Underground @ The Sugarmill 7th May 2009

Review by Chloe West

Photo by Gigjunkie

So who are The Sunshine Underground? Forming in Shropshire and flourishing in Leeds, the four piece broke on to the national scene with debut album Raise The Alarm back in 2006. Two years after their last tour, Sunshine are selling out venues left, right, and here in Stoke’s centre, which brings us to a delightfully rammed Sugarmill. Unfortunately (or more fortunately) I only caught the tail end of support act Boy Crisis, as they ploughed through recent single ‘L’Homme’. Hotly tipped by a certain new musical establishment, the track itself is a tight pop record, but live it’s more of, ahem, a crisis.

Not to worry though as the headliners were thankfully not so shambolic. Coming on to new material is always risky business, but the crowd received it heartily, although their appreciation fully kicked in with the dirty opening of ‘Commercial Breakdown’. This appreciation was most obviously seen in the scuffle which broke out mid way through top tune ‘The Way It Is’, tearing spectators apart as bouncers ambled through the crowd. Good old Stoke eh. Anyway, enough of petty matters, the important issue is the music itself, which more literally, is an assault upon the ears. In a good way of course. The new tracks show a matured, darker, broodier direction for the band, pushing all the quality elements of Raise The Alarm onwards and upwards. A fine example of this is a number called ‘In Your Arms’ which begins with the well known funky bass riffs, but folds into a loud layered epic, with frontman Craig Wellington making full use of his echoing vocals.

Previously associated with the emerging ‘nu-rave’ scene at the time of their debut, the band’s new tracks finds them far from comparable to the formerly aligned Klaxons and their bandwagon. Not with music like the grungy ‘Coming To Save You’ or the delicate ‘Any Minute Now’ anyway. Ending with no other than ‘Put You In Your Place’, its kick up the arse lyrics make it an anthem for many a Friday night, and an apt finish to this one too.

The new album is due out at the end of the summer.

The Sunshine Underground


Thursday, 7 May 2009

Love Music Hate Racism Heat 2 The People Involved / The Control / The Seconds / Jo-ee-T May 2009

Review by Lisa Wilding

Photo by Maffi

The second night of the Road to Britannia Heats started with a modest sized audience. In spite of this, the first band up; The People Involved, were not deterred. This Leek based band took to the stage from the start with a solid, tight sound. The fact that they have been together since 2005 was glaringly obvious in the skill and co-ordination of all the band members who produce a well rounded sound that has been in the past compared to Coldplay, Foo-Fighters and Mansun. Similarities aside, this band performed with an enthusiasm that was catching as the audience warmed to the performance. From punchy, rock with hints of Metallica guitar to slower tempo tracks, this band showed that they are not a one trick pony but have a diversity and maturity that most bands can only hope to aspire to. Dark, brooding basslines, soaring guitars, solid drums driving the rhythm and a frontman, who as well as provoking allusions to Coldplay's Chris Martin, provided a strong, melodic vocal and great interaction with the crowd. These guys rocked...end of.

After a short break, during which the crowd had swelled considerably, The Control took to the stage. From the enthusiasm that greeted the band, it was clear that they have a loyal following who quickly turned the dancefloor into a mosh pit with stage diving from one particularly brave member of the audience. Having seen front man Joe limping his way through the audience with the aid of a crutch earlier in the evening (a broken leg apparently!), it was with much amazement that I watched him strut and twitch his way across the stage. Comparisons to Joy Division's Ian Curtis were not difficult to see. The simplicity of their songs is deceptive; common chords reminiscent of the punk era were entwined with quirky phrasing and a great use of space as well as the full blown guitar laden tracks. The performance was awash with energy, as apparent in the music as well as the members. All in all, a watertight set provided by a confident and highly entertaining band.

Following The Control was never going to be easy, primarily as the crowds that attended their performance left to seek cigarettes and alcohol on the rooftop terrace. However, this didn't deter The Seconds from putting in a credible and authentic performance for their set. Where The People Involved and The Control bounded about the stage, this band left the performance to their music. Likewise, the stillness of vocalist Matt Walker commanded attention, not boredom. Comparisons to the Arctics and Oasis are unavoidable, but combining those influences with their own composing skills and performance produces a band that were more than able to stand up and be counted beside their competitors. As more people returned to watch the band, the energy of the performance lifted and was much appreciated by the audience. There's a lot of potential and room for growth with this band as I'm sure time will tell.

The final act of the night couldn't have been more different to the three indie/rock bands that preceded it. Jo-ee-T arrived on stage with only a laptop, two synths and a microphone for company. His music is a mad combination of acid house and electronica (a very convincing cover of Kraftwerk's Computer Love stood up to the original) and is created courtesy of said laptop and synths. His energy and movement on the stage was that of five men easily. As though knowing that he had to engage the crowd in a different manner to the previous acts, he cajoled and hollered at the audience which echoed his cheers and whoops with more of their own. His partner in crime, DJ Fresh (whose influences are the old skool dance from “back in the day”) took to the stage for the last two tracks of the set; Embers of Entropy and I Am the Law resulting in a powerful combination of rap (courtesy of Fresh) and hyperactive acid beats courtesy of Jo-ee-T. With this performance, the concept of live music is turned on its head as Jo-ee-T and Fresh proved you don't need a guitar and band members to entertain the masses. He made some new fans that night.

The end of the evening saw The People Involved announced as the winners of this heat. Jo-ee-T also came out on top with the promise of a set on the dance stage in Delilah's bar at the Love Music Hate Racism event on 30th May.


The People Involved
The Control
The Seconds


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Love Music Hate Racism Heat 1 The Rittz / Rumour has It / The Decision / The Fears 5th May 2009

Review by Dave Harrison

Photo by Simon Bamford

Tonight was the first of four heats for the Love Music Hate Racism Battle of the Bands competition being run by various members of the Stoke community. In a way, this competition could be construed as merely a run up to the much larger event happening at the Britannia Stadium at the end of the month, but to say that would be to cheapen the talented bands that played tonight and will be playing over the next week in order to gain a place in the final, held on the 21st May.

First to take to the Sugarmill stage were The Rittz, a young band from the Stoke area. Their set was generally strong, kept especially tight by Drummer Matt’s thumping beats and metronome-esque timing. In an apparent flash of pure genius, the band even managed to slip in a cover version of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face into their set in a style so indie it was as though it had never been a dance floor filler. Their set was well received by the crowd, although they were hesitant to join in with the proceedings- Perhaps because of this, The Rittz’s performance felt a little bit flat, as if the band weren’t particularly enjoying themselves on stage; indeed, the band only seemed to perk up during the cover version, almost as if they didn’t feel totally confident in their own songs. Another criticism, although more personal, is that despite their tight riffing and good songs I found their sound to be rather derivative, in that it is basically the same strain of indie rock that’s been bandied about for years now and it’s starting to wear thin on me. That said, The Rittz were a fine example of that sort of music and deserve the following that they are quickly gaining.

Taking to the stage in brightly coloured vest tops, short shorts and headbands a la the 118 men, second band Rumour Has It were clearly making the most of playing at the Sugarmill, bringing their fans and jumping around the stage like possessed kangaroo’s. With guitars. And fake moustaches. Unfortunately, this on stage exuberance didn’t carry into their music, instead being a rather shambolic punk metal crossover, complete with feedback ridden guitar work, American accented singing and OTT double bass pedal action. The crowd, presumably comprising mostly of their friends, were having a good time though, joining in with the singing and generally dancing about, at one point even attempting to create a circle pit, although with only a handful joining in, it lacked some intensity. The band were obviously having a brilliant time onstage, and top marks must be awarded for effort, but unfortunately, their music was far too messy for the judges on the balcony to consider them as winners for the heat.

Next on were The Decision, a young three-piece bringing their 60’s tinged Arctic Monkeys-esque indie to the stage with an obvious passion and intensity that propelled their fairly standard sound to giddy stratospheres. Guitarist and singer Ben in particular had come out fighting tonight, bringing his peculiar yelping vocal style out more prominently than in recordings and becoming more powerful and exciting because of it, and thrashing about on his guitar fearlessly, pulling out almost Hendrix baiting solos and riffs left right and centre. That is not to say drummer Liam and bassist Rob weren’t on form, keeping a tight rhythm section for Ben’s increasingly complex guitar lines to run off. The crowd reacted well to their set, which included a new song that went down well, showing off a darker side to their sound. Unfortunately, their set overran, meaning they could not finish with fan favourite The BIB, but nevertheless The Decision tonight were a young band on top form, and it was exciting to witness because of it.

The last band of the night were The Fears, a five piece who bought their Joy Division inspired brooding indie sound to the stage. The crowd was less energetic towards the band, perhaps because the band themselves were generally older than the other bands and therefore they didn’t have such a rabid teen following, but the audience was receptive to the energetic and tight set they played. Clearly not put off by the thinning audience, The Fears played as if The Sugarmill was in fact a packed Stadium, rising to the occasion very well indeed. It was showing that their extra years over the other bands had given them more confidence on-stage too, presenting themselves as astute professionals. Their songs rolled along nicely and at pace, their half hour set flying by quickly- a sure sign of a band confident of their own abilities and sound.

After a short period of rumination, the Judges presented The Fears as the winners of the first heat of the Love Music Hate Racism battle of the bands. As consolation The Decision were also given a slot on the Sugarmill stage at the event. The night overall was well organised and all the bands put on a good show, keeping the audience entertained for the 3 hour duration, The final decision made by the judges must have been a tough one, what with each band presenting a good show. With tonight a success, here’s hoping that the other three heats will be as interesting as this one, and present more of the Stoke music scenes best talent.

The Rittz
Rumour has it
The Decision
The Fears

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Wrongpop 20 @ Fat Cats Mauskramp / M.S. Thomason / Amateur Assassins / Bad Guys

Review by Charlotte Lunt

Image courtesy of Wrongpop

Last night saw the long awaited return of Wrongpop after its 5 month hiatus and now re-housed at the Pussy Boutique (Fat Cats). With many familiar faces it was good to see more than a few new one’s in attendance, indicative both of the quality of the night’s acts and the allegiance that Wrongpop has.

The evening’s proceedings were more than appropriately kicked off by Mauskramp and their self defined “bad tempered rock ‘n’ roll”. With instantly infectious beats provided by John Matley and the distorted guitars of Richard Underwood and Dave Hamer, they have a sound reminiscent of the influential electronica of 80’s producer Daniel Miller. Sounding simultaneously minimal yet complex they seem to a band where ‘showing the working out’ is as important as the answer, and there is clearly an element of perfectionism in their music. Mauskramp could not be accused of producing light-hearted music and they definitely pack a punch with an atmospheric mesmerising performance, which was savoured by the assembled audience.

Next up was the local hero M.S. Thomason who performed his debut album ‘Under the Birch tree’ in its entirety. Taking to the stage and asking unnecessarily for the audience’s patience he began ‘We were kings’. As always Matt played a stunning set, with each track being enthusiastically received by the audience. Relaxing into the performance and counting down the songs he gave the impression of this being a slightly cathartic marathon, and yet every step was relished by those listening. Finishing with ‘Perfect little Soul’, and leaving the stage to cheers and shouts for more, there was a definite glimpse of accomplishment and rightly so. Speaking to Matt later in the evening he confirmed that this was indeed the last outing for some of these songs so if you want to listen to them, I strongly recommend you buy a copy of his album.

Proving that one of Wrongpop’s trademarks is eclecticism, Amateur Assassins stepped up with an eye opening and ear popping show. Offering irregular stop-start rhythms at the hands of drummer Mike Walsh and the disembodied vocals of Mark Walsh, they are the polar opposite of the previous set. Their second song ‘I will crucify you’ is introduced with tongue firmly in cheek as “our religious song” and is delivered with barking snarling vocals and a somewhat possessed display by Mark. Amateur Assassins music appears to walk a knife edge, which at points makes me question whether this is meticulously rehearsed, or improvised, neither of which would be a bad thing. After a brief moment of re-composure the band launch onto their last number which is more insular in performance with all members facing each other, until the climax to their set was the smashing of a guitar.

Hugely anticipated and hyped band ‘Bad Guys’ were the night’s headliners. Being famed for trashing venues, making unscheduled performances and generally living up to their name, there was a distinct feeling of anticipation and trepidation as their set got underway to their own chants of “bad guys, bad guys”. With vocalist Stu pacing like a caged lion in front of the stage and guitarists PJ and Dave providing a visual spectacle on the stage wearing trademark spandex leggings and sweat bands, they delivered an onslaught of raw punk noise. Clearly this is a band whose stage show is as important as their music, as they walked into the crowd, rolled around on the floor, climbed on drum kits and almost assumed alter-egos. At one point Stu performed a song whilst sitting on the shoulders of the evening’s promoter Steve Clarke.

Although some would argue that they are ‘keeping it real’, the performance seemed slightly contrived, and they are either a very cleverly constructed parody of the stereotypes that abound in the music scene or they are truly a post modern sensation. Having said that their set was over all too soon, possibly due to an earlier altercation in the proceedings, and as they left the stage there seemed to be feelings of confusion and dismay, and many conversations sparked about what we had just witnessed.

With such a rollercoaster of an evening, and even though in more glamorous surroundings Wrongpop has in the space of a few short hours reminded us what we’ve been missing and most definitely come crashing back to it’s rightful place within the local scene.

It’s good to have it back.

Amateur Assassins
Bad Guys