Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Breakout Festival - Brighton Racecourse - 26.09.2015

It's not often you associate Brighton with heavy metal & hard rock, but from going along to the Second annual Breakout Festival it's quite clear that they go together as well as ice-cream and beach walks (well, the type that leave you happy, tired, and somewhat deaf). It's also quite clear from having attended this years event that the organisers know how to operate an efficient band-packed event, and that the local scene is filled to the brim with friendly folk out to have a splendid time of it all. And by "all" I mean 14 bands for the outrageously low price of £27.50 (including booking fee), starting at 10:40 and finishing almost 12 music-soaked and fist-pumped hours later.

Opening up was We Deny, a quality pop-punk outfit that managed to pull people in through a combo of ridiculous amounts of energy for that time of the morning and a clear talent for catchy tunes. It was "light, but filling" in the best of ways, getting my feet tapping and face smiling before the first bite of coffee. Quite frankly, if you're under 25 and have even the slightest interest in being happy about things, then put this on your car stereo and just drive off to adventure.

And, whilst it was impressive being that happy at 10:40am, hats go off to Skint Circus for being so utterly pissed off at 11:20 when they rolled out their thick, sweaty, and highly energetic take on hardcore punk with breakdowns, beatdowns, and throwdown flying over the places almost as much as their singer did. Their lead guitarist didn't move much though, he just stood there in a suit jacket looking unnervingly cool. A band with that much anger has a lot to give, and I look forward to hearing more from them.

Next up was Seething Akira, a band who appear to have bridge the existential gap between Enter Shikari and The Midnight Beast. From their jolly intro of "Hello" to their rave-metal bouncing noise, this was everything you could ask for from a band that have one front man who looks like a young Alan Moore in a Lionel Richie t-shirt and another that you could envision your sister politely introducing to your mother. By song two they were both in the crowd, giving things a runaround - kicking off a moshpit conga line, sneaking a cheeky go on the bouncy castle near the stage, all the time accompanied by blood-pumping party revolution rawk. All of this meant that when they asked the question "Have you all had a nice time?" and gave the quippy "That makes us very happy" after the cheer, it came across as honest rather than affected, and just added to the fun factor that was washing over everyone. They have a single coming out, get it and then try to see them live.

The Gospel Youth had a tough act to follow, and their more laid back, radio friendly, alt-rock approach was a good switch of pace from what had come before. Touches of Gaslight Anthem, the odd bit of Fall Out Boy, mostly just solid rock played in a no nonsense fashion. Whilst their look was the most regimented and sculpted of the day so far they were perfectly willing to just let the music and the lyrics do the work for them, so whilst they didn't get much motion out in the slowly growing crowd there were clearly a lot of ears open taking it all in.

Another set, another change in style, something that seems to be the make of Breakout with a very broad range of the church of rock on display. By Definition were the next brotherhood on display, and they had come to give some very hard lessons on the benefits of blues based, groove heavy, slow and steady heavy rock. It was slow, it was steady, it was raunchy, and it was delivered with the restraint of a grizzly bear. Pretty much instantly everyone in the area started smelling of strong liquor and began tapping their hands, feet, heads, and assorted other appendages as the growling, swirling, bass-to-the-guts overload was hammered out.

Zoax were up next and rapidly pitched their tent as a screamo version of The Pixies with a heavy sound that saw more peaks and valleys than a bus going off the cliff in Wales. They also almost had the same visual impact on the stage at times, as all three of the guitarists were throwing their instruments around with so much abandon their mothers would have been worried someone would lose their whole head. Desperate to the crowd moving, their singer Adam stalked the pit like a demon whilst throwing his heart and lungs into every lyric. Not to sure on the safety of bringing a cabled mic into the thick of it, but no-one got hurt and it certainly added to the drama. Then he came over to the table we were sat at and he pinched my hat, so that's one to tell the Godparents once these guys make it big.

Then, for lack of a better term, Black Tongue happened. They just walked on stage, started playing something that sounded like five doom and death metal tracks all at once, hated everything in front of them for even existing for about half an hour, and then headed off. Occasionally they introduced a song with some horror movie sound track but other than that it was just "bang and gone". They even had a guest vocalist for one track that just walked on, screamed, and headed off. Like it, don't like it: they clearly did not have one fuck to give regards your opinion of what they did. Obviously the people who were into it loved it, whilst everyone else seemed a bit bemused. I'm assuming that was the intention. The only down side to their set was the sound techs not being up to task, as there was feedback and pops through out, which was a shame for an otherwise precision performance.

Representing the kind of  poetic, polemic, and curiously swinging hardcore that seems to grow in London, TRC bounded on with the goal of kicking up a riot and ensuring everyone had fun doing it. It was shouty, it was bouncy, it had riffs and energy you could listen to for days. It also had the line of "If you've got some energy, do it. If not, then get to the gym" and the request for the pit to get "a bit like strictly come dancing". The thrash-ier bits were intense, and all over, it got everyone up for a good time that showed the old school have still got it.

Shunning the simple pleasures of music, like tune or melody or even apparent structure, Heck (aka Baby Godzilla) landed next and dropped out a lot of sounds in about half the time you would think it humanly possible. Some might call it mathcore, or extreme jazz, or "all the notes ever, sometimes twice", or "Cream force-fed Napalm Death from birth"  but mostly it was just an exhilarating exploration of what you can do when you say 'no' to almost every rule ever. I'm not going to claim to understand it, but it was compelling and enjoyable like some intricate puzzlebox, especially with the bands determination to hammer their instruments and play them anywhere other than the stage. It was also impressive to watch as there was no-one obviously holding the songs together, but regardless of how far everyone flew off in which direction it kept on coming back to one central point, Oh yeah, and they hate microphone stands. I saw three of them laid waste in the first track alone.

Martyr Defiled hit the stage next, playing something that sounded halfway between death metal and blastbeat-based hardcore. Sadly the performance almost instantly got hit by bad sound, so nothing came across with as much bite as it should have, in the first track. The sense of terror was further eroded by their vocalist sounding so amiable and friendly when talking between tracks, as someone who sounds that devilish when singing, should not instantly strike you as someone you would share cocoa with. It was technically proficient but the performance side wasn't theatrical or passionate enough to really grab up and hold you in its fist.

Finishing up the last of the daylight were The Qemist, a raging slab of power is pitched halfway between The Prodigy and Pendulum, but with enough of their own sound to not sound like a dodgy knock-off. From the off they had everyone bouncing to their uplifting sounds and welcoming stage presence. A couple of the callouts and platitudes to the crowd may have been a tad bit cheesy, but everyone was smiling too much to be offended and they all knew it was meant well. Still, you can't argue with the crowd and they managed to get a huge response as everyone rocked out to their rebel party anthems.

And then night was upon us, and as the stage lights kicked in We Are The Ocean took the stage and played something halfway between alt-rock and dad-rock. It was good for what it was, including a brave attempt at Dazed and Confused (a fifty year old song for a crowd that was mostly under twenty five), it's just that it was too much of a change from what had gone on before through the day. The crowd dwindled visibly, the cold started to suck at people's energy, and though there were moments that landed some response from those left behind, they never landed well enough to convince me they were the right pick for that point in the day.

When Sikth got on stage there was a resurgence in numbers, mostly from the bar, as this was clearly a band that a lot of people had been looking forward to see. Whilst I wasn't aware of the band before today I can clearly see why people like their brand of prog-metal: it's loud, it's fast, it's filled with virtuosity, and it's almost certain to piss off your parents. It was also a highly energetic and frantic performance, which got picked up by the crowd and resulted in a lot of bodies thrashing around & building up a sweat. Personally I liked the spoken-word piece the most, as it was totally unexpected and yet fitted in perfectly with everything else before and after, and a fair chunk of the audience dug it as well. For a band doing their first gig of the year in September, they had clearly been doing more than just practising their tunes. If you are of the progressive music persuasion, then grab a ticket to whenever they play within travelling distance of you.

The day was drawn to a close by Deaf Havana and their brand of alternative rock, which sadly seemed to miss the mark of what the crowd were after in a similar vein to We Are The Ocean if the madly diminished audience was anything to go by. Those who stayed had a lovely time, listening to some heartfelt tunes and rocking singalongs, but for a lot of people it was either time for bed after an incredibly long day in the sun or just not their thing after the prog-metal blowout that had hit them before.

Still, with that much range and at that price, you can't have everything your way. However, you can have an incredibly well-organised and perfectly sized event, completed by a pleasant crowd and utterly pleasant staff.  They was also the bonus of all the bands hanging out in the audience, so you could be both encouraged that they are actually real people who got up and did it, as well as get the chance to go up and say "thanks for the music". Book your tickets for 2016, because it's going to be worth it.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Overkill Over Analysed

A wise man once said of rock music,
          "Don't analyse it, man. Don't try to understand it, just enjoy it at face value". 

That man was Lemmy of the mighty Motorhead, a band famed for having released possibly the greatest and most well known Heavy Metal track of the last 30 years: The Ace Of Spades. It is a song that has been used to sell things from cars to snack food, a song referenced as a go-to 'look at the long hairs!' sting, and a song they consistently play as the second to last track at each of their shows. It is a great song, but it has overshadowed the song they consistently end on: I refer to the lesser known, often overlooked, and the literally show stopping Overkill.

But why is it such a great song and what is it about it that makes it such a perfect way to end an hour and a half of concert? I wanted to put this into words, because whilst it may look and sound very simple, there is a hell of a lot going on that deserves closer inspection.

First, the intro. Starting on a solid, speedy, hammering drum rift which essentially stays the same through the whole song, we have 16 bars of pure, primal pounding. Nothing flash, kick drums and cymbals laying down a 4/4.  Then the first guitar kicks in for another 16 bars, a bass riff sounding more like a rhythm guitar and made of two notes being hammered away with more boogie than you can find in some pop-'funk' albums. Next spirals in the lead guitar, diving down and joining the bass for another 16 bars of raw rock and roll with a similarly limited set of notes in perfect accompaniment: simplicity given form and drive, an announcement of the power trio in it's most on target glory. To paraphrase Sun Ra: anyone can play it, only a genius can write it. The tune continues, almost without variation, through the first verse and chorus.

"The only way to feel the noise is when it's good and loud"
A straightforward observation on the live music experience, but the usage of "noise" bringing a truth to the levels involved at a Motorhead performance and of the oeuvre of Heavy metal as a whole. Also "when it's good and loud" carries the mixed meaning of the music being of a high standard and the pure quantity of output having a positive quality all of it's own. This is not simple language, this is simple words used as poetry.

"So good I can't believe it, screaming with the crowd"
A line that captures the duality of the concert goer in that you experience it as an individual whilst feeding off everyone else there. It also gives permission to let it all go, to just express emotion in an incoherent level, a rock and roll tradition from the bobby-sock era reborn and given validity. The usage of "I" is important though, as it also bridges the gap between the performer and the audience, bringing them in as a whole. This is a unified experience, the singer working with the people who have come to listen and be an active part of what is happening. The line is critical, as it binds everyone together.

"Overkill, Overkill, Overkill"
A word by itself, perfectly expressing a multitude. Excessive, over what is required, but carrying a certainty of completion with it. Could everything until this point have been laid down quieter, slower, and with more complication? Yes, but it would not have been as good.

Under a minute in and it's time for the first bridge. The backline keeps things as before, but the guitar jazzes things up a bit - however, importantly, not too much. The core sound is still there, the tempo and attack has not restrained or reset itself. It's the musical equivalent of a minute's straight dash, exhausting but exhilarating. And then the second round begins.

"On your feet you feel the beat, it goes straight through your spine"
Motorhead have, on many occasion, held the official title of "worlds loudest band" so this is quite possibly a literal statement of what the audience is experiencing on a purely acoustic level. But the second section also expresses the release and euphoria many feel at such times. The tendency to foot tap to a beat, the urge to do things when highly motivational music comes on, and the endorphins release associated with music as a whole.

"Shake your head"
A clear reference to headbanging, the hallmark of heavy metal fan appreciation, and an extension of the original 'rocking out' that accompanied the earlier hard rock and heavy rock from which Motorhead came (and were the source of the term, as per the "Motorheadbangers" collective noun for their fans).

"You must be dead, if it don't make you fly"
Testament again to the euphoria gained from the live experience, but with more of the synthesis of the event. What will make you fly? Both the music and the engagement with the music. Also a brag as to the uplifting and inclusive nature of what is going on. Only the dead won't be excited by this song, but it is an un-rarefied experience open to all.

"Don't sweat it, Give it back to you"
There is no need to worry, the band will give unto the audience as well as the audience giving unto them. Again, the experience is not one way, or even two way. This is a group effort - a social event.

"Don't sweat it, Give it back to you"
Seriously guys, we're all going to have a great time.

"Overkill, Overkill, Overkill"
Further restatement of the overall impact of what is happening, and the set up to the second bridge. This time the lead guitar is a bit more wild, a bit more free. But still the backline is locked in tight, unbreaking at the minute and a half mark - then be rejoined at the two minute point for another couple of rounds of the main hook, before the final set of lyrics

"Know your body's made to move. Feel it in your guts"
No instruction on how you should move, but pure license to move in any manner you want. By now you should be lifted, you should be elated, and on a primal level you will be acting how you see fit. Action is the key, to what end is down to the individual.

"Rock 'n' roll ain't worth the name, if it don't make you strut"
A key line, possibly the most important and certainly worthy as the finishing statement. This is Rock & Roll, pure and simple. This is Blues, bubbled through fifty years and mutated through a Marshall stack, but it's rock and roll - and it needs to make you feel good. This is a gauntlet thrown down to others, this is a testament to everything you have heard in the show and it is the final closing endorsement of all previous markers highlighted in the song. Right here, right now, this is how rock and roll makes you. Anything else is a shame - accept no substitutes.

"Don't sweat it, get it back to you
Don't sweat it, get it back to you
A re-enforcement of the above, a final sing along of passion, a final one word chant that carries volumes with efficiency.

Lyrics sung, we have the finale. The guitarist is let loose, unrestrained but still running with the pack, darting around the unstoppable force of the drums and bass. They have done so little but it has filled vast voids, given the six-stringer the backing needed to highlight and carry it's work. Then the first tempo change, the first deviation from the last 180 seconds of breakneck rocking. Things slow, the notes are fewer, the cymbals are pounded in the classic marker that it is all done. Slightly over the regulation 3 minutes for a pop-song, but still on form for a classic.

But wait, it was a ruse! The drums start again, the same loop and the same pressure. We are literally back to the start of the song, as all the parts fill in again for another round. A second rush of steam, although with a more intense guitar lead from the off. Unleashed, unbound, unburdened by needs for words. You know everything there is to know about what will happen now, there is no need for communication as all there is is understanding. The band are off, the audience are off, it's pell-mell to the real finishing line! One last huzzah, one more minute of life at it's best. Then over, done, spent.

...Not really. It's called "Overkill", not "just enough". The pounding starts again, the engine now running on empty. The band gave it their all, the listener gave it their all, how can anything else be dragged up? Well, it is rock and roll so we best get going with it even if we are running on fumes. The bass and the lead are more urgent, still working the core tune like sirens going off. Rabid and exhausted, the song almost doubled in length from anything that previously seemed the requirement. And then, finally, a ridiculous five minutes after it all began, the actual conclusion of the song that has left you shattered and unable to go any further.

Although, with the live version - it does. The band leaves the stage, but their instruments continue though strength of pure feedback, the music no longer needing to be anything but literal force and presence. The wash over the crowd is total, nothing can be heard other than the aftermath of what has come before, a post orgasmic chill that can continue under its own existence, an adrenaline rush given musical form. You have survived, you have experienced - and you are going to have it ringing in your ears for days, as the concert, the rock and roll explosion, continues to be a part of your life from there on.

Ace of Spades is the classic, it's is the jab that startles and delights, but like all "one, two" combos, it is the second blow that floors you - and that does the real work.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Bad Magic - Motörhead

If a 69 year old man with a walking stick walked up to you in the street and yelled "Victory or Die" in your face you would. most likely, be worried. When Lemmy does it at the start of Motörhead's twenty-third album it just sends a shiver down your spine and locks you in for fourty-two minutes of high-speed rock and roll. That the album entered the charts at Number 10 in the UK (and similar high ranking elsewhere) is a testament to both the recognition that the band have achieved for being one of the true underground legends of rock and roll. and of the raw quality of the album itself.

Of the songs there is not much more that can be said than "the worlds finest speed-freak rock-and-roll", which is like saying "Mozart just did good classical music" or "Jimi Hendrix could play a tune". It's four-bar blues through Marshall amps, songs about love and sex and death and everything in between, and you're supposed to feel it rather than intellectualise or 'understand' it. Fundamentally if this video doesn't put a smile on your face and make you go "that's me when no-one is looking, that is!" then don't bother (and, possibly, radically reassess your ability to enjoy life).

On top of that the stand out tracks for me were Fire Storm Hotel, which was AC/DC with the engine in the red, Electricity, which sounded had their 80's era proto-thrash grind, and Teach Them to Bleed that has so much boogie to it you could see Elvis giving it a shot. There was also Till The End, the slowest of the collection and also the one most likely to bring a tear to your eye because it seems to be the lyrical explanation of Lemmy's stubborn refusal to take a break and not die on stage. The finishing cover of Sympathy For The Devil is also rather good, and shows off the raw musical talents of the whole band. Who knows, maybe Keith Richards will show up at one of their shows and join in on it; after all Brian May joined them for Overkill and does guitars on The Devil for this album so anything is possible.

Whilst it's pointless to argue if it's their finest album (tradition says it always either "the first one I heard" or "Ace of Spades") it's mighty addition to their catalogue and, given Lemmy's recent health problems, if it's the last one they play live it will be a fitting final blast.