Sunday, 26 July 2009

All Tomorrow’s Parties (Warp Films) and Mogwai @ Edinburgh International Film Festival - HMV Picturehouse Edinburgh 24 Jun 2009

The All Tomorrow's Parties film is a collection of found footage. Hence there isn't really a director. Some of the footage comes from recordings of the bands playing live. Some is backstage footage taken by the performers themselves. A lot of it is taken by fans on handy-cams or camera phones. A small minority is even footage of Butlins or Minehead from back in the fifties. The video floats from band to band, including Grinderman, Mogwai, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Daniel Johnston and, bizarrely, comedian David Cross (who goes on a quest to confront his heckler) and topic to topic, including guerrilla performances, pool activities, acoustic sing-a-longs.

Due to its nature, a lot of the content clashes in style, or is grainy, badly shot or distorted. This gives you the distinct impression you're watching a video made by some mates on their holiday. But thanks to some great editing, scenes that would otherwise bore you are made more interesting by showing similar scenes simultaneously, like six couples kissing at once in a six way split. Or a guy chasing a duck around on the right of the screen while another guy chases a seagull on the left of the screen. And many of these are shown over the music of a live performance.

The interviews with bands, or with festival captain Barry Hogan, were rather casual, as they were carried out by other band members. Overall, the film gives a real feeling of being at the festival, both as a fan and as a performer. Instead of showing the festival in an artistic, introspective light, or in the sensationalistic, organised way that mainstream festivals are shown, the producers and editors have shown us what the festival is actually like from the point of view of the people that are actually there. Although I guess with only found footage to work with, they didn't have much choice.

After the film, Mogwai stepped out of the screen and onto the stage. The Scottish instrumental post-rockers curated the very first ATP, and keep coming back to play at the request of other curators, so when ATP announced a "secret Scottish headline act", we already had our suspicions.

The band are a tall, bald, centre stage bassist, capped lead guitarist/noisemaker to his right and another guitarist stage left. At the back of the stage are the big drum kit; and the keyboards, synths and electronic gadgets. Most of the tunes are entirely instrumental, and the few lines of vocals that are there are sung by the keyboardist and heavily processed beyond recognition; it just becomes part of the wall of sound.

Through guitar or bass riffs repeated for 11 minutes, beds of distortion and riding drums, Mogwai explore the boundaries between sound and noise, to the point where you're not sure if the melodies you are hearing are real or imagined; the byproduct of complex cross-modulation. The effect is entrancing, almost hypnotic. It may be difficult to imagine that a group of shoegazers are a great live experience, but the atmosphere of each song engulfed each member of the audience like they had put mood-altering drugs in the water.
Myke Hall

Friday, 24 July 2009

Seal - Edinburgh Playhouse 24 Jun 2009

(pictured) has come a long way since his 1991 self-titled debut album, most famous for the club hit Killer, a collaboration with Adamski. For Seal, genres are something that happens to other people. His songs can incorporate elements from rock, pop, soul, dance, house, R&B, all over the place. His biggest hit was Batman Forever soundtrack pop ballad Kiss From A Rose in 1995, but more recently he released and electro/dance album, System, and a covers album, Soul. Bizarrely, the covers, all of which are soul and R&B classics, seem to have brought him a new breed of young fans, making for an audience of adoring middle-aged women, people of all ages with a taste for the arty and eclectic, fans of club songs old and new, and young people discovering soul for the first time.

His set, of course, drew from all of his incarnations, but the strongest response was not to his classics, it was to the covers from the new album, especially A Change Is Gonna Come, written by Sam Cooke in the 1960s, and the James Brown hit It's A Man's Man's Man's World. He even made some of the covers into a mini-medley, playing one of his own songs during the mid-section, then returning to the cover to complete the song.

Seal's voice is flawless, perfectly replicating the rich, slightly gravelly, exotic tone of his records with practised ease. His stage presence is quite cool, but when he starts pandering to the screaming women and shaking his hips, it all gets a bit Rex Manning and tacky. This is a guy that's cool enough to earn the title "genre-spanning", but he can sometimes act like an 80s has-been.

The backing music is a a mixture of pre-recorded synths, violins and some backing vocals, and live guitar, bass and drums, played by a rather energetic backing band. The guitarist and backing vocalist towers over his array of pedals for creating every kind of guitar sound under the sun. The bassist plonks some sweeping chords on a heavy digital synthesizer for the intro before sprinting to the front of the stage and laying down essential basslines when the song kicks off. Both of them have so much energy that at times it feels like they're trying to steal the show. When Seal climbs the steps of his elaborate stage set-up to sing from above the drum kit, the bassist takes advantage and sprints around the front of the stage, rocking out like its his show. The drummer is eternally calm and never misses a beat, despite having to play to pre-recorded rhythms for the majority of the songs. This combination of live and samples allows them to create the complete sound of the album tracks, while still keeping the live component to the songs that brings them to life.

While a lot of his tracks on his first few records use a variety of varied instrumentation, the live effect comes over more a fishing net of interlinking sounds spread out over a sea of synthesis. We were all fish caught in his trap.
Myke Hall

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Carrie MacDonald and Chutes @ Acoustic Sunday Supplement - Electric Circus Edinburgh 21 June 2009

Lets start with the venue. Electric Circus is Edinburgh's newest live music venue. It hides under North Bridge, occupying the space left by the closure of the nightclub Massa. A far better use of the facility, I'm sure you'll all agree. Better still, the live music is being organised by Solen Collet of Cabaret Voltaire renown, and even in its infancy the venue has seen some great names already (FOUND, LoveFoxxx from CSS, Jesus H. Foxx, The Vivians to name a few).

On this particular night the first performer was solo act Carrie MacDonald (photo by Leith FM). Carrie is a singer and acoustic guitarist. Although she has a distinctly Scottish name, her voice is rich with far more multi-cultural influence. While the tunes still have Scottish folk ground level, she covers love songs and ballads, r'n'b and funk, and imaginative pop without stretching too thin. Indeed there's times when you're expecting a American rapper to join in for the midsection, or a blast of brass horns over the chorus.

While Carrie was complaining that her performance would be stunted by some heavy drinking the previous night (see, told you she was Scottish), her voice didn't crack once as the higher notes were hit strongly and powerfully. The only casualty was a cover song she had planned, which she had to give up on, in favour of a song by Lady Gaga that was easier to play.

It may also be worthwhile mentioning that there are a rack of TVs behind the stage at Electric Circus. This night it was showing the 60s psychedelic pornographic french film Girl on a Motorcycle, with something wrong with the feed making all of the pictures look... sort of blue. So when the first two members of Chutes came on stage to perform a beautiful acoustic song the eye of the crowd was somewhat drawn to, as the band would later describe it themselves "Marianne Faithfull getting pumped".

The feel of Chutes songs, when the full five piece take the stage, is untarnished by the transition from electric to acoustic. They still produce the feeling of metropolitan expanse and the themes of troublesome relationships. They're still reminiscent of REM, Interpol and Joy Division. The use of brushed drums, acoustic guitar, and sometimes even mandolin doesn't lose any of the magic, it just presents it in a different way. The bass is entirely unaffected as the player switches between electric bass, slimline electric double bass and MicroKorg: presumably this instrument change is to make the basslines easier to play as all three instruments seem to produce the same warm, rounded deep sound.

While the lead guitarist proved he has a gorgeous voice in the opening section of the set, seeing the the full band play shows the need for their lead singer. His everyman voice and very believable delivery is great for portraying the claustrophobic atmosphere of the segment of the human condition they've chosen to explore with their dark indie, and while the band aren't likely to cause you to smile and hold hands, shed a tear or mosh furiously, they have are the experts when it comes to songs about small pleasures, disappointing conclusions and irritation.
Myke Hall

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Thermals - Sneaky Pete's Edinburgh 16 Jun 2009

Due to a bizarre hang-gliding incident (no, I'm serious) Pavilion couldn't play this support slot. In their stead, the four-piece Sketches came on stage. Sketches' heart-felt love songs pull a lot of influence from epic indie. They are like Frightened Rabbit or The Twilight Sad, but with a smile on their faces. Each song is punctuated but chimey, delayed guitar riffs and a scattering of falsetto vocals. Driving choruses with lots of drum fills, pulsing basslines and euphoria contrast simpler downbeat verses. This would make really good acoustic rock, but builds into strato-rock very well too.

To say The Thermals (pictured) burst onto stage would be an exaggeration. In fact they had to snake their way through the crowd to even get to the stage, such is the set-up of Sneaky Pete's, which has gotta be one of the smallest venues the band have ever played, surely. How its attracting international touring bands, I have no idea. Must have one hell of a Booking Manager. Anyway, I'm getting side-tracked.

The Thermals are like grunge with a smiling face. All lo-fi grimy guitars and strained vocals, but with a feeling somewhere in the brighter colours of the mood ring than acts like Nirvana or Alice in Chains. With an alt-rock growl matched with a pop-punk hooks. The lyrics are abstract and slightly anti-establishment. They're basically designed to make you think, without hammering a message into your head. The Thermals show is definitely kinetic: through volume, dance, and sweat, all three members advance through the set like a charging cavalry; the drummer clearly drawing much more joy than should be allowed in public, as he stands up and cheers after the speedier songs and his more daring drum fills. Actually, he's new in the band, and I have a feeling he was a massive fan and is currently experiencing his dream come true.

The high energy blast of guitar chords and punch of the bass matched the high energy performance of the band, which included them trying their best to move back and forth on a stage more equipped for... well, to be honest, it's not a stage, its just part of the dancefloor. But it just meant that every single member of the crowd, which seemed to consist mostly of music journalists and hipsters, were dancing right along with them.
Myke Hall

Friday, 10 July 2009

Jack Peñate and The Invisible - The Bongo Club Edinburgh 16 Jun 2009

The Invisible’s music benefits from a pool of musical talent, all of them were session players until they gelled over the creation of what was to be singer/guitarist Dave Okumu’s solo album.

Tonight’s sound is far from that of a singer songwriter accompanied by bland backing drones – it’s a dense, well executed chunk of coolness. The rhythm section is funky, the technology (keyboard and laptop) is integral rather than ornamental and the guitar is almost apologetically virtuoso, used sparingly enough to get excitement out of the tired old instrument.

Songs recall Hot Chip and Radiohead’s more fuzzily disjointed moments with opener OK a brilliant example of ‘new music’ done well. Despite a somewhat static live show they seem destined for bigger stages.

Mr Peñate must have hand picked his support for the night – at first listen to the Tonight's Today single there’s a "lets make it dancey for the sake of it feel" that might cement any aversion to his music caused by the amiable but frothy content of the early singles like Torn On The Platform. It’s not the case though – the line up is rudimentary, no blips or bloops, just plenty of invention.

The first thing that strikes when Jack bounces onto the stage is that he is a happy man, “It’s nice to see humans again, I’ve been in the studio for about a year and I miss the human touch,” he beams and then proceeds to charm the Bongo Club in his own way (“you’re sweaty and grimy, not like Liverpool last night - I like it”) and giving brief backgrounds to his songs.

The night’s showstoppers are a new song of homage to the Mexican death festival (Let's All Die) and an earlier song, Give Yourself Away. These two show that there is more to the man than annoying hats and Scouting for Girls-esque schmaltz - he’s actually got a knack for original melody and insightful lyrics – here’s hoping he can recover his reputation from the snobs and people give him a second look.

Kane Mumford