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Tycho, Printworks, London

 

Fun fact, on Thursday I learned that you don't have to be asleep to be part of a nightmare. In a word my experience leading up to and at the actual Tycho gig was awful. Keep reading if you’d like to learn why or stop reading and go listen to something good and have a snack. I personally recommend a lightly salted and buttered popcorn accompanied by last year’s release and collab by Karen O and Danger Mouse titled Lux Prima

The night began hydroplaning towards the Printworks to catch Poolside and Tycho over a terrain that could give the moon’s cratered surface a run for its money. London’s glassed streets resembling more a lens with petroleum jelly smeared over it rather than a driving surface, compounded its dangers as the night and fog filled my visor. Sound dicey? Child’s play compared to being nearly run off the road, twice, by the same driving school car. The worst was yet to come though.

I'd heard of both Poolside and Tycho but neither name held my attention long enough to give them each a proper listen. Recently however I was at Death's door (see White Flower article, and live!) and combing through my inbox. I decided to follow a link from a promoter and listen to Tycho's new album, Simulcast, which made an impression so I sought out catching them live. Upon arrival at the Printworks I'm told I can't park in the car park because that's not what it's used for. I'm then sent to media accreditation where I'm delayed for 20 minutes because they can't find my accreditation and can't use a radio properly to call for assistance. I'm then sent to the guestlist desk where they find my name and send me weaving through four lanes of metal barriers, through a metal detector and finally a pat-down/bag inspection. Hurdles cleared (or so I thought) I shed my wet riding gear, pack it into my bag and head to stage level.

I'm stopped just before mounting the stairs. 'You can't go up there, that bag is too big'. 'Fine' I say, it's a compression bag which I squeeze with mighty hands to the size of a deflated basketball, 'small enough for ya?' I ask. The guard nods but points to our helmets now. Although the Printworks don’t have a helmet policy, or a locker that will fit them, I’m told they must go in. For a fiver. With no liability on their behalf if anything happens to them. For those of you that don’t know a helmet is a life saving device, I argue, and if it’s dropped or hit it’s effectively useless. I'm not comfortable with negotiating it into an ill-fitting receptacle. The guard stands firm saying, I kid you not, I could rob the entire venue if I have this on my person. Furthermore, he asks, 'what if you had a store, would you let someone in holding that thing?!' 'Would I let someone not wearing a helmet into my store after passing through a metal detector and getting thoroughly frisked and searched?' I ask, 'yes'. Security: 'now I know you're lying'. Immune to reason or logic we spend another 15 minutes arguing in circles until I'm brought to management which gladly take the helmet into a locked office I can see, 'my Dad had a helmet and dropped it, he had to buy a new one, I totally get where you're coming from' says probably the first reasonable human being I’ve met at the Printworks that night. It might be worth noting that I’ve never had this issue at any other London venue. Get your shit together Printworks.

With two songs left in their set I catch Poolside. I don't mind because their performance was lacklustre and reeked of an identity crisis. Was it a tween movie soundtrack manifesting itself before me in human form? Was it elevator music? The last song, a new one, was a schizophrenic combination of a '90s zoot suit meets ska train wreck. They went off stage without an encore to the merciful relief of the crowd.

If you hate listening to music, Tycho is the band for you. Harsh, maybe? Unintentionally so however, which is more than I can say for their performance. Tycho is perfect for music’s underachievers; if you don’t like sifting through records with your fingertips lost in the sounds and smells of LPs and 45s you’ve found your musical match! Getting lost down the digital rabbit hole of music’s streaming algorithm not for you? Problem over, Tycho to the rescue. Hearing a tune and popping open Sound Hound to find out more about a song that’s made an impression on you or just even taking a friend’s music suggestion too much hassle? Forget listening to music, Tycho’s on deck and they’re the group for you! You don’t have to get anything and there’s no overthinking it either. It’s just there, like a toilet brush, useful probably but you’re unsure of how it got there or even came to be. Scott Hansen, by night known as Tycho, is a polished and tanned middle aged time traveling Ken doll standing in front of a band, giant projections of landscapes and behind a crescent of six keyboards producing musical sounds. He’s from the future where society’s risen above spontaneity, improvisation and creative music as a whole because they’ve already unlocked the Universe's mysteries. Spoiler alert we blow up. Are they good? Are they bad? I don't know, but I do know is they're just there standing in front of me moving like some sort of animatronic Pirates of the Caribbean or something. Who’d waste 30 quid on such a thing you might be asking yourselves? Good question: let me tell you.

I’m trapped in a sea of fans which are either grunting through burbbling throats that bubble and gurgle up guttural, "tycho, Tycho, TYCHO!" while clenched teeth and tongues twist unnaturally inside their mouths. The scene is more tourettes than cheers of enthusiasm. The sporadic and unpredictable echoes of "Tycho" shouted by fanatics come across as a demented by product of listening to the music instead of enjoying it, an illness like a side effect or nervous tick; a compulsion. I’m at the front and outside of the women, swaying with eyes closed as they’re relentlessly groped and sucked upon by their partners to these horrid beats, everyone is a minimum of 5’11 and taller. The dudes as you’d imagine are the type taking blurred out selfies and are ‘experiencing’ the gig via their phone screens. Nice one, music bro(s).

By song three I was ready to leave but by song six when Hannah Cottrell, aka Saint Sinner came onto the stage blasting us with peace signs, juvenile lyrics and her trout neck tattoo I was ready to PEACE-OUT, and so I did. No small feat mind you, the fanatics would not let me pass, to exit I had to shove, contort and yell at followers just to leave; you'd’ve had an easier time leaving the Church of Scientology. Unfortunately, I could not depart without reprieve, by the exit I got skull fucked one last time. A pair of erotic sentries were facing each other in frozen embrace with at least half a metre between them. Their eyes were closed, mouths open and tongues extended and touching all while remaining completely still. I was as frozen with horror as I was intrigue. Pretty much the grossest thing I’d seen all week, next to Tycho’s performance. I stormed out thinking about just how awkward AF and unsettling an experience I’d had all the way through. Have you ever seen parents kissing their kids on the mouth? Yeah, like that.     

I picked up my helmet but not before being accosted by the merch table dude, "Hey mate, you look cold, why not buy a hoody?" I looked at him puzzled, "I’ve walked out halfway through the gig because I couldn’t stand being there any longer and you think I want to commemorate this experience by buy a hoody as a lasting memory?" Perplexed he broke eye contact and I broke outta there.

Leaving was the best part of the experience. It had stopped raining, no crowd and no more Tycho. Don’t get me wrong, put it on in the background, it’s equal to white noise and equally as unobtrusive. The music holds the same weight as a dream and longevity of memory. It’s a corporate gig with generic applications that’re as safe as they are inoffensive, unimaginative and mechanical. This is why we don’t let robots make music, just saying. Can’t say the same about the audience. Fortunately, for you, it was the last show of the tour, so no need to look up dates or ignore my advice and put yourself through a gruelling experience, Musos' got you.

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Sarah Meth & Okay Kaya, SET, London

 

It’s pouring rain outside and so I’m not feeling particularly motivated to leave the flat, not only that but I do not want to be standing around in wet sneakers all night. I’ve gotta write a review for a gig and I’m already hearing my editor's voice in my head, ‘be more critical’, on the plus side I recognize the voice and it’s only one voice, count your blessings where you can gettem. Of course, he’s right. My work comes off fanboyish more often than not. Hard to blame me though when London’s music scene is steeped in talent. Tonight, though, I’m feeling like I’m in the right mindset to be more critical. I’ve had a shitty day with my stomach still in knots, my veins are rife with criticism coursing through them. I arrive at SET soaked having not even listened to the two artists I’m meant to review; the makings of this article will be a spray of friendly fire I think to myself. 

Sarah Meth takes to the stage, 15 minutes late, fury swells inside me. She doesn’t look concerned and this free spirit attitude carries onto her guitar which sounds (is) out of tune. She’s missing stringed notes when she plays and a general unconcerned vibe is in the air. I imagine the set I’ll be watching will come from a child that’s been hugged too often and told by overly encouraging and enthusiastic parents that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. So this, the fruit of their labour, is happening to me. I am, in fact, mistaken.  

Sarah starts off with her set ‘What Does It Mean’ demonstrating her strength as a lyricist;: 

"But the night reveals my body but he can’t handle my mind", followed strongly by a second as yet to be released single ‘Blue’ with equally vivid lyrics:  

"We cry cause the system ain’t right, the sirens don’t sleep tonight."   

Sarah’s voice radiates unwavering. Light and airy at times it floats towards the highs but is equally confident when plunging to the depths of moody and morose bluesy bass. It works, it all works. No drums, no problem, sparse audience, still okay. Much later after her performance on my way home I stream her single which drips production values and instruments not apparent in her stripped-down set but both experiences are equally as absorbing as they are rewarding. Her lyrics are sobering and leave you feeling having lived their story like an implanted memory. With deja-vu comes a strong feeling of empathy engrossing the audience as Sarah sings her final tune solo on stage. The hold on us is strong but is finally shattered when a single coin falls from somewhere coming at us like a freight train screeching through the joint. I snap back to reality only realizing then I haven’t taken a single picture.  

By now I can no longer see the stage from the midpoint in the room it’s gotten so crowded. Relocating to the front of stage I’m greeted by Okay Kaya and her Trumpeter. She’s avoiding eye contact with the audience and fishing around her guitar case for her guitar strap. She’s now facing us recharging her confidence, she removes her jumper in true striptease fashion. The confidence melts away just as soon as it’s appeared as she’s strapping on her guitar and facing the crowd but it’s disarming and endearing. She audibly breathes heavily into her microphone wide eyed as if to joke that this is an intimidating experience for her, but I’m not sure it’s an act. Nervous stream of consciousness is pretty much littered throughout her set and I feel for her. Being on stage or even outgoing true enough are traits often associated with confidence but from my (own personal) experience are easily associated with being nervous as well.  I feel for her, I think she’s courageous. ‘So, these are some nice curtains’ she comments asking what the curtains are like at Hoxton Hall where she’ll be playing in May. Kaya, like Sarah, plays hushed set both vocally and instrumentally and also like Sarah is a strong lyricist. I want to keep hearing her lyrics which are as outrageous as they are transmundane (LOOK THEM UP, or better yet listen to her music many times).  She constructs her song lyrics like the children that wouldn’t use the instructions that came with their Lego, appropriating the pieces to manifest their imagination into physical being. Kaya’s grasp on vocabulary as a second language speaker is intrinsic; a tool repurposing her insides and outsides around her. It’s magical. I wish I could say more but I’ve maxed out my ‘Cerebral Per Diem’ – Kaya 

Moving away from the lyrical structure and focusing just on the sounds firstly, no percussion for either set and no effects, I didn’t miss either. It wasn’t exactly an acoustic set but some genre defiant beast. It was stripped down and raw, it felt real, it felt believable and approachable inclining the audience to experience both. It was, as stated previously, a very intimate performance. Preferring this to large venues there’s no better way to connect with the artist and their work. Everything about the sound was soft. Two amps, two musicians and the most hushed trumpet I’ve ever heard from five feet away. I could hear the strings being plucked instead of the sounds they produced, I heard the keys pressed and the exhales of breath from the trumpeter. The tones were all warm, gooey and soothing more lullaby than a song. This really stood out during Ka Meg a tune she sang in her mother tongue, If you’re unaware, as I was, Kaya is Norwegian. The Norwegian inflection in her voice slaps in songs like Psyche Ward and Ka Meg. Nagging connections between her and Nico really tugged at me, closing my eyes I was hearing echoes of 'Chelsea Girls' especially during 'Ka Meg' 

In the end both artists, their musical style, their lyrics, were a mix of reflexive narrations swaddled quietly in a poetic narrative. I left in a really good mood, much better than the one I’d walked in with. I’ve been listening to a lot of loud psychedelic tunes lately and live shows in particular so it was nice to break and switch it up by being drawn into a performance instead of being pushed back by what was coming off the stage. Both Sarah and Kaya have shows coming up in the next few months, dig a little and get yourself out there. 

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White Flowers, MOTH Club, London

Generally, by rule of thumb, flowers say it all. They’re often thought of as the brighteners of even the dreariest of times, be it soggy London days or failing health right up until the ultimate capstone, funerals.

Death be damned however I’m still poorly and propped up by pillows layered in bed sores that’re maturing nicely. I’m all Netflixed out but recuperating from some undiagnosed and possibly life-threatening illness, it’s the perfect time to catch up on music and emails. Fortunately for me these aren’t mutually exclusive. Ruthlessly I reap my inbox. As emails blur together one after another are culled until I come across White Flowers (@WhiteFlowersssss) outta Preston. I’m kicking myself for not seeing this message sooner because I’m instantly hooked.

I’m not sure if I’m floating through a fever dream or a cloud at this point but this dreamy noir duo is the UK's best kept secret, for the time being. Like breadcrumbs strewn upon a windy day their music leads me one way never fully letting me settle before committing to a change in tack; my musical bearings might be slightly skewed but this, however, doesn’t detract from the divine yet comforting unpredictability piping through my headphones. These layers spliced into their music add next level aural textures, seemingly they’ve pulled it off with an ease that’s as completely disarming as it is sophisticated and technically profound. I’ve greedily absorbed both tracks 'Night Drive' and 'Porta' before realizing there’s nothing left to consume or be consumed by.

Months pass, illness (just barely) overcome, and I’ve got no joy when it comes to tour dates or new tracks. I’m left relentlessly messaging promoters to no avail when suddenly two dates are seemingly announced out of nowhere. One you’ve missed at the MOTH this past Friday, the next you’ve still got a chance to snag. Just before 10pm Katie Drew and Joey Cobb ascend onto a shadowy lit stage making their debut. The lighting scheme changes for the first time this evening, a different tone is struck. It’s obviously orchestrated but I relish these theatrics. A dulling of our visual senses in favour of sound. Deepening tones shrouded in the new and mysterious ambiance envelops us as much as it does their music. The onlookers compelled draw nearer. They’re the third act of the night in a line-up of duos but it’s the first time I’ve heard applause by way of disruption rather than chatter from the audience. We’re not really left a choice, the velvety tones expand around us sucking up the air in the room, it’s any wonder how Katie’s voice and keys find their way weaving through Joey’s strings both manage their grip on us without faltering. It’s a performance as solid as they come. I’m not left disappointed and neither is anyone else.

Although their set withers away White Flowers won’t be wilting any time soon. Although their moody tones are dark and brooding, they’ll brighten any room or stage they’re situated near. Next Show is March 4th at Rough Trade East, if you’re in London stop by and waft in a breath of the freshest music out this year thus far.  

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Algiers, Stereo, Glasgow

 

Stereo is nearly full by the time the stage is set for tonight's show with the band’s instruments and four red vertical strip lights. When the lights are dimmed, they provide a feeling both warm and menacing, something that the band will seek to also achieve in the performance of their songs. 

Algiers, touring in support of new album There Is No Year, have been described as post-punk, gospel, soul and experimental noise. They are all and none of these. They manage an original trick of being neither a fusion nor a confusion of the various styles that they draw on. There is an amazing balance in transitions between the beats of a metallic Motown and the angry energetic protest of gospel punk. The lyrics are shot through with both dread and hope. Nothing here is meant to be wholly comfortable.

Lead singer Franklin Fisher’s voice soars then wails on ‘Dispossession’ backed by an almost dissonant chorus from the others. Bassist Ryan Mahan irregularly pops dance moves between keeping a throbbing industrial beat pulsing throughout the proceedings. A lead guitar is swapped for a free-jazz saxophone break. Yet, the set never loses its way. ‘Unoccupied’ is one highlight that gets all the crowd moving. It is a prime example of a great swinging beat that is undershot by industrial noise and '80s synthesizer power chords which the band craft into something both danceable and frightening in equal measure. 

This is music for dislocated times. It has sing-a-long choruses and soul beats flipping into noise breaks and back again. The band have touched an essence of uncertainty in the modern world and the audience can be sure they have heard a bit of the broken truth of it tonight.

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Rockaway Beach 2020, Butlin's, Bognor Regis - Part Three

Image:- Steven Velentzas (@captainstavros)

Sunday's sunshine enticed us out for a stroll along the front to admire the waves pounding in and to visit a couple of the local pubs as yet untried (with relative success) before Butlin's once again managed to entertain us, this time with go-karting.

Musically the day started off less promising with both Hull's Life and Bristol's Heavy Lungs seeming to fall from the same mold - talented musicians unfortunately fronted by entitled singers. Life's bassist in particular looks set for bigger and better things. Neither band should be faulted for their energy but Life's singer's histrionics (a kind of Jarvis-on-speed without humility) were off-putting to say the least. The excitement of the day may have got to him but me-me-me gets tiresome quickly.

International Teachers Of Pop, another act discovered via Marc Riley, were musically a different kettle of fish. Having been getting into the swing of things since Friday they were clearly as one with the audience. Unfortunately their novelty act schtick wasn't that appealing after more than a couple of songs, nice people though they seemed.

Deciding to take it easy after dinner we opted to miss Brix & The Extricated, although we did pass Brix waiting to be extricated by taxi when we left the hotel to see The Wedding Present, back for their second time at Rockaway Beach. I'd not known they were on the bill and it came as some relief to see their reliable name in the festival booklet. Amazingly they're another act the good Captain was new to. David Gedge and his current band may not have one him over with their competent playing (marred only occasionally by Gedge's guitar sound being too low) and reasonable banter (with enough nous to realise all the Butlin's jokes had been made by this point) but they were as fun to experience as ever as far as I was concerned & generally kept the pace up with only a few slower numbers interspersed.

Closing out this year's festival were 2019's Irish indie wunderkinds Fontaines DC (or "DC Fountains" if you're the Captain). Placing them in the final slot had apparently rattled a few cages, at least on Twitter, but in the end it avoided the scenario from the night before where a bright young act very nearly handed an older one their cards.

I've warmed to the group's album, having initially baulked at the spelling of it's title and the crowd tonight obviously contained a lot of fans of it, being as large as any seen in past years for far more established acts. As far as I know the quintet haven't toured a great deal since its release (happy to be corrected on that point) so this show likely provided more than just me with their first experience of the band live.

An assured and competent show was duly delivered, free of any technical issues and with excellent volume. There just wasn't much real interaction with the crowd (although generally this was a very low chat event across the three days) and something of the album's energy was missing. The performance never got to the plodding stage but neither did the material feel as inspiring as on record. Still, it meant for an early night.

A mixed bag this year then. The efforts of the team behind the event were clearer than ever with the added signing sessions & vinyl sales tables and making the John Robb interviews more visible was a wise move, whilst the camp's new pool complex is a compelling feature for those with the energy to get up and down the flumes. Musically, however, it felt like the weakest line-up of its existence (but then most festival's apart from it had crap bills last year so these things happen). No announcement yet of any acts for 2021 but there was a lot of Teenage Fanclub being piped into the restaurant and along the pathways of the site so who knows ...  

Thanks are also due to the lad in the maroon Napapijri running about on the morning of the last day & digging around in the kids' sandpit - cheers for giving us a laugh as we speculated on what you'd mislaid.

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Rockaway Beach 2020, Butlin's, Bognor Regis - Part Two

Image:- Steven Velentzas (@captainstavros)

Saturday dawned grey and blowy so clearly it was the best day to check out the excellent new swimming pool and flumes, improved no doubt by the lack of children (waiting up to 50 minutes to climb upstairs to the highest slides in peak season sounds awful).

Having got that fun out of the way we repaired to see Dutch trio The Sweet Release Of Death. A mix of Sonic Youth & Argentina's Capsula best describes their sound. A loud, propulsive and enjoyable way to start off today's live offerings.

Captain Stavros is a great advocate of the work of Our Girl & for me they were one of the very few acts whose Flying Vinyl disc was worth keeping hold of. This evening though the Brighton trio's sound strikes me as no more than pleasant. More bite is what I seem to be after in many cases this weekend and the indie on offer in their set isn't really grabbing my attention so I step out for some air after a couple of tracks.

Our main stage sojourn tonight kicks off with Peter Perrett, not far off the same vintage as John Cale from the night before. An articulate & amusing lyricist whose set on Marc Riley's 6 Music show last year was one of the best of 2019, he has a great number of punchy songs in his repertoire. Unfortunately he doesn't play these in the first part of his set & I'm left yet again trying to explain an act's relevance to The Captain as we mooch back down the stairs.

Next up though comes what, with hindsight, was the best act of the weekend and I'm not even a fan. Nova Twins' play funk metal, in the main, & that's one sub-genre I've never liked. They do though play it loudly and extremely well (their technical ability is fantastic). Singer Amy Love is genuinely pleased to be playing on a stage in a venue she's been to a number of times on childhood holidays and that pleasure is evident in the exuberance of her and Georgia South on bass (no idea who the bloke on drums is). I manage to stick around for most of the set, just to experience the volume & distortion and it's safe to say they do the job required of warm-up act very well. Perhaps too well in fact.

For tonight's headliners are The Jesus & Mary Chain, reformed in the past couple of years and with an overlong comeback album under their belts. Jim Reid falls foul of the urge to be ironic about Butlin's (managing to equate the place with "Stalag 17") and it's also their bad luck to have poor guitar sound for much of the show, rendering William Reid's guitar solos practically silent. I last saw the band on the Destroyer showcase tour in the '90s in the aircraft hanger that is Glasgow's SECC, a venue far too large for them & so tonight is intimate in comparison. Back then though it was already clear they'd shot their bolt in terms of audience baiting antics etc. and tonight was a reminder of how many of their tunes speak to you as a gloomy teenager but in middle age turn out to be plodders. The final straw is Jim's attempt at a joke prior to the encore "we'll go off for a half cup of tea" - just man up and either say a beer or don't mess around with a break in the set at all. Much of the crowd aren't in a state to care anyway so why not plough on? 

When the band speed things up and the sound technician improves things guitar-wise a bit this is probably a vintage performance from the JAMC as they are now but they were close to being blown offstage by the previous trio. Not feeling the need to stick around for an hour until Steve Lamacq gets behind the decks to unleash some lame musical world cup or other we call it a night.

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