Friday, September 29, 2017

Something Special

Facing a three-way clash on the Saturday afternoon at the recent End of the Road festival, I used Luke Rhinehart's The Dice Man method of making a choice and ended up seeing all of Bill Ryder-Jones, most of Nadine Shah but none of DUDS. I bitterly regretted missing out on the Mancunian band, whose 2016 EPs, Unfit For Work and Wet Reduction, I had heard on Marc Riley's show. However, on returning from the festival I found out they were playing in Brighton in a mere few weeks, so all was not lost.

That date rolled around last night and I went off to the Green Door Store expecting to hear the quirky guitars and skittering post-punk rhythms of their previous output. I was not disappointed: there was clear evidence in their sound of angular bands like early XTC and Scritti Politti; but what I was not expecting was how dynamic their stage performance would be and how their music seems to have moved on in the past 12 months. To begin with, they have expanded from a band of four to a seven-piece, incorporating vocals, two guitars, bass, drums, percussion, trumpet and cornet; also, they massed on the tiny stage all dressed in identical dark grey short sleeve shirts and trousers, making them seem like a gang and creating an imposing presence; and the sheer ferocity of the playing took the breath away.

With the expansion of the band, DUDS' sound has developed into a full-on dissonant No Wave experience. Incredibly tight, the bass, drums and percussion were a rhythmic assault and the discordant guitars and blasting brass gave no let-up: with no song longer than a couple of minutes, their brief and relentless - and encoreless set - left the audience exhausted and in no doubt they had witnessed something special.

They finished with No Remark, the opening track of their just-released album, Of A Nature Or Degree (12 tracks, 23 minutes). I picked up a copy at the merch stall afterwards and, chatting to the band, it came as no surprise that their music is characterised by short bursts of rhythmical energy when they cited The Contortions, Blurt and Wire as influences.

Of A Nature Or Degree is out now on Castle Face Records.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Day of the Hunters

A few Saturdays ago, residents of the village where I live were woken early in the morning by the roar of 4 x 4 engines and the clatter of horses’ hooves. Not unusual sounds in the countryside but it was the multiplicity of the vehicles and the mounts that disturbed the sleep of so many: the hunt had arrived. By the time I was out walking my dogs, members of the East Sussex and Romney Marsh (ESRM) hunt were gathered on local farm land, with hounds, preparing to hunt. They were not alone: a group of protestors from the South Coast Hunt Saboteurs were there to monitor their activities.

When hunting with dogs was made illegal in 2005, hunt associations invented trail hunting as a means of continuing to operate. Trail hunting involves hounds - still trained to follow live quarry - following an animal-based scent in areas where the presence of live quarry is likely. In its 2015 report, Trail of Lies, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) concluded that trail hunting is overwhelmingly being used as a smokescreen to continue illegal hunting. Detailing evidence from over 4,000 field reports by hunt monitors, the report said that most hunts were not even bothering to lay a trail and were encouraging hounds to hunt live animals and claiming any kills as accidents. The IFAW report concluded that “trail hunting is primarily a false alibi to avoid prosecutions of illegal hunting, rather than a harmless temporary simulation of hunting before the ban.” At its Annual General Meeting next month, the National Trust will vote on a resolution to end the practice of granting licences for trail hunting on its land. The proposers cite evidence that illegal hunting is taking place on the Trust’s land under the guise of trail hunting. You do not have to attend the AGM to support the resolution; I have just supported it by returning my postal proxy vote and all National Trust members can do the same by 13th October.

It goes without saying that fox hunting is ritualistic cruelty and this anachronism was rightly outlawed by The Hunting Act 2004. However, it seems that it is still taking place and the South Coast Hunt Saboteurs claim that the ESRM were cub hunting when they were in my village earlier this month - the riders were certainly wearing the tweed jackets associated with this type of hunting. Cub hunting is particularly barbaric: young foxes are flushed out of woodland coverts and hunted down by young hounds as part of their training. Even in the hunting world cub hunting is a sordid secret and is given the sanitised title of ‘autumn hunting.’

There was much discussion on our village social media forum after the visit of the ESRM. Of the comments criticising the hunt, some were from principled opponents of hunting but many were from villagers who were simply put out by the inconvenience of the hunt’s arrival in the village: noise, traffic and disruption. But hunting was always about authority and asserting the right to ride roughshod over ordinary folk. However, there was support for the hunt on the forum; people spoke of upholding tradition and the threat to long-established rural ways. And then things got nasty and the administrator closed and deleted the thread as comments from some of the hunt supporters had become abusive and aggressive; well, there you go.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

At the End of the Road

You know a festival is going to be bloody great when the Thursday evening warm-up acts are so good they could easily suffice as the final night line-up. The Wave Pictures/Slow Club supergroup, The Surfing Magazines, get things going nicely in the Tipi Tent with amiable Dave Tattersall’s frantic bluesy guitar work before we dash off to catch The Moonlandingz stomping it up all over The Woods stage. Back in the Tipi Tent Bo Ningen are utterly mesmerising: I have seen the Japanese noise monsters before but at Dorset's End of the Road the frenzy they whip the audience into is without precedent.

The sun was shining brightly at the Garden Stage at lunchtime the next day but Julie Byrne was being a bit precious about some sound problems and played only a truncated set. This was a shame as her album of delicate folk, Not Even Happiness, has been one of the most played at our house this year. A bit later on the same stage, Ryley Walker had no such problems and delivered a blistering set of freeform folk jazz. His band, particularly the bassist, were full of energy and I suspect Walker himself was full of “pints of beer the size of your arm” that he expressed his love of. Over in the Big Top, Aldous Harding’s gothic folk was captivating but the lure of Parquet Courts was too much as their Modern Lovers/Velvet Underground New York sound drifted across the site. Mac DeMarco was the Friday night headliner but I found it difficult to concentrate during the Canadian singer-songwriter’s set as my mind kept drifting back to the band I had just seen in the Tipi Tent. Housewives, a young South London five-piece, were late replacements for Mdou Moctar, who could not appear due to visa problems. They played a bewilderingly intense set of experimental music that left the audience reeling. Their disrupted time signatures and sonic weirdness was one of the best things over the weekend and I can only compare their performance to This Heat, who I saw at the ICA in the early 80s.

Saturday dawned with clear blue skies and a shimmering heat haze and Sinkane, with their blend of afrobeat and reggae, got us all dancing. But I had a horrible dilemma hanging over me: with Bill Ryder-Jones, Nadine Shah and DUDS all playing at the same time I was spoilt for choice. In the end, I caught all of Ryder-Jones' set before legging it up to the Garden Stage to catch most of Nadine Shah; I missed DUDS but, fortuitously, they are playing Brighton later this month. Bill Ryder-Jones was immaculate: playing intimate, tender songs on the largest stage at the festival takes some guts but, mixed with powerful slacker anthems such as Two to Birkenhead and Catherine and Huskisson, he pulled it off - must be time for a new album, though, Bill. Three albums in, Nadine Shah is firmly in her stride: Holiday Destination, which made up the bulk of her set, is a jagged slice of post-punk anger about the xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment that seems to define the modern world. By the time I got into the shade of the Big Top stage, I realised that the heat of the day had caused me to visit the cider bus a few too many times. Let’s Eat Grandma were two teenage Kate Bushes let loose in the music cupboard and were very entertaining. Saturday night wrapped up for me at the main stage with Ben Bridwell’s Band of Horses, the perfect band for that twilight moment at a festival: in the fading light, spine-tingling melodies and harmonies rang out across the site on numbers such as St. Augustine, Is There A Ghost, No One’s Gonna Love You, Funeral and, standout track from this year’s Are You Ok? album, In A Drawer.

I was woken on Sunday morning by the patter of tiny raindrops on my tent and, from then on, the drizzle never really went away. But if clothes and boots were damp, spirits were not. A band completely new to me, Nova Scotia’s Nap Eyes, were a delight on the Garden Stage. Their lo-fi guitars and post-punk drums were the perfect canvas for Nigel Chapman’s weary Lou Reed vocals. Nadia Reid’s folk was mature and hypnotic but she still has to sell a lot more tea towels and tote bags to be able to bring over more of her band from New Zealand than just guitarist Sam Taylor. The Tipi Tent was a lock-out for teenage (mostly) girl band Girl Ray, and deservedly so. Their infectious indie-pop melodies lifted everyone’s mood and their set was as fantastic as their album; Don’t Come Back At Ten must be one of the tracks of the year. I was eating my final Goan fish curry of the festival when The Jesus and Mary Chain came on but their white light drew me down to The Woods stage. The resurgence of the Mary Chain has been one of the highlights of the year and the once contrary band now seem like elder statesman of alternative rock. Jim Reid oozes effortless charm (“I hope we’ve been able to cheer you up a bit”) as brother William and his guitar are lost in a Spectoresque wall of sound. Nine Million Rainy Days was apt, Just Like Honey was timeless and the opening line of the closing song was perfect for the captive audience at this superb festival: “I love rock 'n' roll/And all these people with nowhere to go.” I wouldn't be anywhere else; I have already bought my ticket for next year.