The Virulent Experience

At Conway Hall

Foolish People is a banner under which a collection of artists create immersive art. The Virulent Experience is the first of their pieces that I’ve been aware of, and they will definitely remain on my radar.

What if you thought that mankind was broken? What if you thought you could fix it?

The year is 2040. Human emotion is safely controlled. Your candidacy is appreciated in bringing us into this new world. Your presence confirms your consent. Remember, you consent was given, even if you do not remember the fact.

What if the fix was flawed? What if you could give people freedom?

The Virulent Experience is an interactive theatre cum installation. Conway Hall was perfect for it, right down to the dank in the basement. I was unsure what to expect or even how to paraphrase their description. Now having been I am still having trouble describing what I have witnessed without spoilers. It was definitely an experience.

All other memories and experience prior to receipt of the Welcome Pack are suspect, and may be remnants of Induction implantation.

The Virulent Experience was like a guided tour meets the Stanford Prison Experiment. When there are four walls the only thing left to break is your brain. It was an immersive glimpse into a scenario which unfolded all around you. With the characters spread across a douzen rooms with colliding agendas and narratives.

The scenario unfolds three times of an evening with each conversation giving a glimpse into a greater whole. I found myself being more captivated and compelled to find out the details the more I probed. The rest of the evening had my friends and I discussion what we had witnessed and where our paths had diverged. I’m reminded of Mercury Fur in its singular continuation, except the stage is whichever room you choose to be in.

You are free from Bandwidth limitations. You may experience however and whatever you wish.

Having gone I have more questions than answers. There was a strong sense of narrative and purpose. There is only so much that can be witnessed in a single visit. I have witnessed what happens, but much of the why and how elude me. Yet, every step was with purpose.

This was a very polished production. My only disappointment is that I went towards the end of the run and I won’t have the chance to go again. Foolish People are definitely on my watch list now, and I look forward to what they have prepared for us next.

The Virulent Experience sadly ends this Friday, but I look forward to Strange Factories their first feature film. Its in post-production now and is slated for sometime next year.

Reading Festival Highlights – Sunday

Alberta Cross

I joined a group of friends to see Alberta Cross. They are a fairly laid back blues rock with a strong sense of momentum. I’m not likely to go out of my way to see them again, but I did enjoy their show and may check them out again when in a mellower mood.

2:54

Along with Savages on Friday, 2:54 is the other band new to me that I’m going to keep an eye on after the festival. Building and occasionally brash without being overstated, this indie act made an impression. Their front-woman was striking and commanding of the audience’s attention whilst their music ebbed and flowed between loud and soft.

Gallows

I saw the first half of the Gallows‘ set. They are a well respected hardcore punk act for good reason. A bit too straight up for my tastes I avoided the brawl, but they were good to see. Having recently changed singers doesn’t seem to have reduced their appeal. Although, when your lyrics start to reference things like the 4th of July its time to question your credibility as a British band.

Foo Fighters

The Foo Fighters were the headliner act. They couldn’t really be anywhere else on the bill. Even them playing earlier in the weekend at Leeds seems as though it would be out of place. It’s a shame I don’t care that much. I like some of their material and they’re hard to avoid, but really I wasn’t there for the sing along. I meandered between the stages to see what was on, but I ended up watching most of the Foo Fighters.

Dave Grohl is a good frontman and the band were really tight. They had all their show pieces worked out and were definitely entertaining. But I find most of their stuff benign at best. That said, I did sing my heart out to Everlong and had secret wish for them to play Stacked Actors (if the did I missed it in my exploration). It was a good end to a good weekend, but my preference seems to be for small bands. The way in which big bands work the crowd, whilst an art in itself, isn’t really my thing. The Cure didn’t suffer from this as they were all music and very little persona. Yet, for that very same reason they would be less suited to playing in the Sunday slot.

Its a tough slot to fill as the site tends to get more crowded as the weekend progresses. That’s a lot of people to please. They may not be my favourite headline to play that slot (Radiohead or Muse might be it for me), but they played it ably. And with charisma to spare.

Reading Festival Highlights – Saturday

Green Day

[youtube http://youtu.be/45ZdYYYjKoc]

Green Day were the surprise guests this year. They are a well practised live act and put on a good show. Mostly they were there to have fun, this led to Billy Joe getting the audience to chant back to him a little more than I would have liked, but there was a great atmosphere.

Seeing them live does highlight how different their new material is and I found it less engaging. But when they open with Welcome to Paradise and play some old classics as well as have fun with their new material, I can’t complain. Besides, they we’re first on the bill, its not like they clashed with anyone.

Introducing

I only caught 30 seconds of Vengeance and the Panther Queen whilst moving round the site, but my curiosity was piqued enough to look up who they were after the fact. I’m not quite sure to make of their eclectic stoner-tech-metal come shout-along style, but I have had My Ebola stuck in my head since discovering it.

Hildemay are a hardcore band from Kent that I have a feeling that I may have seen before. They are just about to release their debut album and have made enough of an impression that they may stick in my brain.

Enter Shikari

[youtube http://youtu.be/7SRRExSiAds]

I’ve seen Enter Shikari a couple of times before at Reading and not a time since has been as fun as the first. I really like the way they push genre boundaries and Common Dreads as an album. However, they seem to have found a sound leading to them becoming a bit samey and jumping on the dubstep bandwagon.

I had trouble getting into their set with the new material they played. Maybe I’m just less familiar with it. I did enjoy them finishing up with Juggernaut, heavily reworked, and Zzzonked, but overall I didn’t really connect with them this time.

Florence + The Machine

[youtube http://youtu.be/g1Q5a9Rvzk8]

Its good to see that Florence still has her personality. I’m not really a fan of the new material and I only went along out of curiosity as to what her show would be like. She has long made it to pop star status and performed well, but I think its a shame her career has gone that route.

There was some beautiful, heartfelt acoustic live performances that she did prior to releasing Lungs, but this stripped down nature has been lost to the machine. Whilst musical directions change it was all about the show and the crowd loved it, its just not my thing any more.

At The Drive-in

[youtube http://youtu.be/12veSNXIfos]

This is it. At the Drive-in was the deciding factor on me getting a ticket this year. And they did not disappoint. Cedric is as quirky and energetic as ever, the band was tight and the crowd loved it.

For a cult band defunct for about a decade we knew a lot of the words. They played a good mix of their newer and older material. I really enjoyed their set. My only disappointment was that although Cedric’s spirit of old remained Omar, the guitarist, played tunefully completely losing the discordant chaos that be brought in a previous lifetime.

Reading Festival Highlights 2012 – Friday

Three days of music, good weather (mostly). This is some of what I saw and what I thought.

Future of the Left

The Future of the Left are a recent discovery for me. I encountered them through Fever Fever who have recently been a support for them. They were better than I expected and a good start to the festival.

Sardonic, witty and at times aggressive FotL have taken me from knowing one song to wanting to explore their back catalogue.

Hadouken!

Ok, I like Hadouken. Coming out as a fan was received with cries of “what are you, fourteen!?” (The answer is no.) But they do make good music. The first album is full of social commentary and the stuff since, well… At least its that kind of cross-over that stops it being generic.

They were better live than I expected. I was thinking one in the morning would be a better slot for them than one in the afternoon. That didn’t stop the crowd for getting going, but that may have been chemical suggestion.

Savages

Savages are new to me. One of the joys of three days of endless music is that you can wander around and see what takes your fancy. The driving bass and drums with moody vocals and ethereal guitar caught my interest. Reminding me of a less aggressive Cold in Berlin and having just recently released their first single this may be a band to watch.

Scroobius Pip

This was the third time I’ve seen Scroobius Pip play live this year. The alternative stage makes sense for a spoken word artist, but he seemed out of place with his whole band. Not that I’m complaining, he is a delight to watch.

Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles are one of those bands I’m never sure whether I like or not. I’m pretty sure they played a good set, through. It was intense and unrelenting. They made 40 minutes seem like 20, I take this to be a good sign. But I’m still not sure if I’ll ever listen to an album from start to finish.

Paramore

This is the second time I’ve seen Paramore. I was interested in how the band would perform after losing two of its founding members in an unpleasant way. Haley Williams is a good front woman and they put on a good show, but they didn’t feel like the band I saw before.

I’m sure the band will continue to do well for itself, Haley does have a cult of personality about her and lineup changes will not affect that. However, I’m not convinced of the writing power or the cohesion of this new lineup. Strangely, their first album comes across as the most mature and I hope the band doesn’t descend into teenage angst sophistry. Time will tell.

The Cure

The Cure were really good. Robert Smith was a quiet front man and they just played and played. With such a large back catalogue it was all good material, some of which I’d forgotten how good it is.

Refused Live 12th August 2012

At The Forum

Some bands live, die, and leave their legacy behind them. There are bands you wished you could have had the chance to witness, but assume it will never be. Refused have been broken up for near 15 years, and when I heard that they had reformed I had to see them.

Their last UK tour had them pulling at most a 100-200 member audience. But The Shape Of Punk To Come has become a cult album. Having the a dynamic and experimental approach to hardcore their influence has been wide spread, yet no one else seems to have pulled it off.

I would have travelled far and wide too see them, but London suited me fine. I waited for the box office to open and the tickets sold out in the time it took for me to enter my credit card details. Fortunately a friend got a spare. The demand was great enough for them to add a second date. The fact that their audience has grown so much, whilst they have been disbanded, is testimony to their quality and the power of word of mouth.

The crowd was eager and excited to see the band. There was a level of cheering far beyond what was typical. The anticipation built as the background loop slowly rose in volume. After what seemed an eternity the band took to the stage. The lights flashed and immediately they went into Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull.

It was an intense and dynamic set. It was good to see them enjoying themselves. Reunions seem to be a bit of a trend at the moment, and its good to see that they remain true to their original spirit. Dennis, the frontman, prefaced Summertime vs Punk Routine with the statement that he thought they were still relevant. An important piece of context before screaming ‘Rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in’ in the chorus.

The rebellious spirit remained. Both the support and Refused made a point of mentioning controversy over Pussy Riot. Really, it was just a good show. Everyone sang along to New Noise and the finale of  Tannhäuser / Derivè was immense.

Lydia Lunch and The Big Sexy Noise Live 1st July 2012

At the O2 Acadamy Islington

Das Flüff

Das Flüff are a dark, sexy synth rock act. Fronted by Dawn Lintern with an image like an intense Alison Goldfrapp at a funeral. Seductive as if on a razors edge. The talented guitarist and keyboard player remaining in the background. The limelight focused solely on the voice harbinger of a darker time.

The Cesarians

The Cesarians were the band with the largest lineup of the night. And what an eclectic set of instruments and looks there were amongst them. The band consisted of a 1950s rhythm section of bass and drums. A gothic punk brass section  dressed in black, a hipster violinist and a 1920s pianist. This energetic, instrument swapping enterage was fronted by a man channelling Brian Ferry mixed with Jarvis Cocker.

This large lineup allowed for some large dynamics within the band. From serene and singing to a level of aggression that its refreshing to see in a band without a guitarist, they had it all covered.

Lydia Lunch and The Big Sexy Noise

“We are The Big Sexy Noise and we sound like this”

You can’t get more direct than that for an opening. Brash but understated guitarist and a good drummer joined Lydia. They have lost their keyboard/saxafonist since their last tour, but it didn’t really need it. If anything it added to the low-hi filth that accompanies their songs.

Sexy and to the point. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll about sums up the band. The gig had been delayed twice, but it was worth the wait. The rendition of Your Love Don’t Pay My Rent was more direct and vitriolic than in the studio. She made a point of insulting all the men in the front rows. Maybe this is why she doesn’t have wider appeal? Regardless, the crowd loved it.

Hop Farm 2012 Saturday 30th June

I do love music festivals. Especially on a nice summer’s day. Where every hour is Pimms o’clock and the atmosphere is relaxed. Hop Farm is a small indie festival just outside the M25. Going for the weekend would have been nice, but impactical. A day trip, however, seemed too good to pass up on.

Patti Smith

Patti Smith was amazing. She was increbably comfortable on stage; understated and composed. Nothing about her stage presence detracted from her delivery.

From Dancing Barefoot to Gloria the entire set was compelling. Although the set may not have been the most diverse it flowed nicely and Gloria, the finale was brilliant.

It would have been nice to see Patti Smith the 1970s, but its good to see that time has not detracted from the intensity of her delivery and performance.

Gary Numan

Gary Numan put on a good rock show. Joined by a full band the older material was far more aggressive than in the studio. He was a brash yin to Patti Smith’s understated yang, despite them both being good performers.

Unfortunately, they clashed. In hindsight perhaps the billing for Maximo Park and Gary Numan should have been reversed. However, it is hard to gauge the popularity of a musician who, as the program stated, is known ‘for living in a cupboard in The Mighty Boosh’ with relatively few albums for the length of his career.

As a result I can’t tell how timeless his rendition of Cars was. What I did see was good. The versions of Metal and Are ‘Friends’ Electric were hard hitting and impressive. Festival sets can be disappointing, but this left me wanting more, so I would consider it a success.

The Headliners

Bob Dylan headlined the main stage. He is a fantastic songwriter and it was impossible to pass up the opportunity to see him live. There is no other place he could have been on the bill, but his live reputation is deservedly mixed. Whilst  the musical talent of both him and his band did shine, his style of songwriting is there to serve the lyrics. His voice, however, is shot.

After a few incomprehensible songs being unable to connect with the material I left to see the other acts. We settled on Peter Hook And The Light.

Peter Hook is the bassist from Joy Division and New Order, which is merit enough to catch my interest. We caught most of his set. None of the headliners were too inspiring, but there was some solid material and his style meshed most closely with my tastes.

Whether he was unsure of himself as a singer or the music itself I am unsure but he spent the entire set hiding behind his bass guitar, despite barely playing it. Even for the Joy Division songs that he had written he sang and little else.

I am glad to have seen versions of Transmission, She’s Lost Control and Love Will Tear Us Apart curated and performed by one of the original writers, but Peter Hook’s voice lacked the power of Ian Curtis. The renditions were good, but they lacked a certain edge. The only direct negative I can give is that I was disappointed to see Love Will Tear Us Apart turned into an upbeat pop anthem (despite it being mostly faithful).

Combichrist Live 28th June 2012

At The Electric Ballroom

Combichrist is the brainchild of Norweigan singer and EBM producer Andy LaPlegua. I’ve been a fan since the first hook I heard and after catching them on their last tour was happy to see them again. Joined by a full band their brand of aggressive dance music does not disappoint.

Second on the bill were Surgyn. Taking inspiration from vanity and pharmacology they are the Bioshock EBM band. They had a solid sound and a definite stage image but lacked a certain edge. Despite both members playing keyboards and singing there were moments where they risked playing DJ. There was potential for theatrics to match their melodrama, but the band failed to make the stage their own.

Relatively new to the scene, part of me wants to keep an eye on them. Give them a chance to gather scars and experience. I see potential if the band develops as they mature.

Third act was Jayce Lewis from South Wales. Mixing industrial with a strong synth element it was a little hard to tell what their sound was meant to be. Simple, but interesting, drums mixed with a percussive guitar and the occasional layers of percussion by the singer created the foundation of their sound. With the sound of the keyboards and the bass above and below they had all bases covered.

They did have a definite rock band feel, but at times it seemed as if the singer was trying a little too hard and that their electronic core was being drowned out.

Its good to see a live band evolve and Combichrist have returned with more kit than ever. Three drummers, two of which switch between drums and synths and a guitarist join front-man Andy LaPlegua. Despite all the extra instrumentation the band remains faithful to their albums, but with the layers of percussion adding another dimension to the sound.

Opening with just one accompanist Andy and the pre-records conducted the crowd into movement. As the show progressed the other musicians joined them, each bringing their own energy with them. Despite a mostly predictable set list it still felt fresh. A good mix of new and old material was played and there was a phenomenal amount of energy projected by the band. Touring off album allowed the freedom for more older material, particularly from What The Fuck Is Wrong With You.

The band dynamic was fantastic. The drummer was very stylistic and impressive. He bantered during the encores, kept throwing his kit around and was literally carried from the stage, still trying to drum at the end of the show. The guitarist was a little showy and the synthesists played with quiet intensity by comparison. All the while Andy was yelling and working the crowd.

After two encores we knew our shouts of ‘more’ were going to be unanswered, except for the sardonic rendition of Sinatra’s My Way playing into the dispersing crowd as we left elated.

Katzenjammer Live 23rd May 2012

At XOYO

Katzenjammer is four girls from Norway making mad and energetic folk pop. They are incredibly upbeat and are hard to dislike. It was the kind of gig that left you with a smile on your face for the rest of the night.

[youtube http://youtu.be/-kbdCDeKSoI]

The opening act, Ben Caplan, was a solo singer-songwriter from Canada. Just him, his guitar and is impressive beard. This time without his band, The Casual Smokers, he took to the stage and caught the appeal of the crowd. His humour and good songwriting won us over and had us singing along before the end of his set.

I didn’t catch the name of the second act. He was a soul singer with a good voice and a talented, if very understated, guitarist. Unfortunately I didn’t find them very engaging and it served as a chance to go to the bar.

Katzenjammers entrance was unpretentious. The entire night ran very smootly, not a soundcheck in sight. Simultaneously showy and understated, the band lacked a front person. Or rather they rotated. Between them they played guitar, bass, drums, ukulele, glockensiel, trumpet, harmonical, piano, acordian, banjo and more that my amazed mind can’t remember.  As if this wasn’t enough they were constantly swapping instruments and all singing simultaneously.

Even if renditions of songs like Demon Kitty Rag were less frenetic than in the studio the band themselves were not. There was a constant energy and air of fun about the entire show. We were encouraged to chant ‘in Norwegian’ to which a bemused Norwegian in the crowd commented that it was nonsense.

Charming and charismatic, you can’t help but react to their infectious rythmns. It was a damn good set and I hope they visit again.

[youtube http://youtu.be/3f8IPjm_-nc]

Strive

The future is all around us. Its in the air; we live and breathe it. Each day it shifts in and out of focus. There are brief moments that I feel I know what I am doing. There are others I am lost.

There are times I feel I’m heading in a direction I want. There are other I feel myself drift away. Day by day I strive to head only where I want. Sometime I make progress.

There is a sea of distraction within an ocean of possibility. I can create and I can consume. There will always be something new.

There are options. Most boundaries are illusory. The path is just poorly lit. There is drive and there is ambition, but without bounds focus is sorely lacked.

Another day brings another distraction. Always on the move. I make what I can of this world. I take what I am given and return what I can.

I am callous and confused, but I strive.