Tuesday, 27 January 2009

This Town Needs Guns

(This interview originally appeared in Oxford Music Scene)

Liz Dodd

It’s heroes this town needs, not guns: in a city that exports more home-grown talent than undergraduate degrees it’s easy to believe – as the national music press seem to - that anyone within spittin’ distance of the spires can pound on a hammer organ and be the next Radiohead. Not so for This Town Needs Guns, smoking hot tech-rockers who strive for musicianship that speaks for itself. Oxford Music Scene sat down with Stuart, Tim and Jamie in the Turf Tavern to talk touring, recording and The Oxford Effect.

OMS: This is a one week hiatus for you guys between tours: how were the last few dates with Jonquil?

Stuart: It was probably one of the best tours we’ve done for turnouts and things like that, certainly as a headline band. We were getting 50-100 people a night, which was pretty good considering it wasn’t a hometown show.

OMS: You’ve got a ‘homecoming’ Oxford gig coming up: do you see yourselves as a product of the ‘Oxford movement’ – the Foals, Youth Movies success wave?

Stuart: Pretty much every interview has been like, what’s with Oxford? You know, the only things that those bands have in common is that they’re the only ones that have got off their arse and started touring. It seems as though there’s this pattern that a lot of bands in Oxford take... whether it’s laziness or lack of commitment: bands play the same venues week in and week out, or they go play London. For some of them it will work out: they’ll probably end up with a major label and it’ll be great for 5 minutes – and then they’ll realize, crap, no one wants to buy our records.

OMS: Your album, Animals, is out this month. In a recent interview you talked about a ‘real’ sound for the album: what do you mean by that?

Stuart: We were talking about getting a big producer, but what’s the point? We knew what we wanted. We just wanted it to sound like... the sound like it was. Quite a stripped down record.

Jamie: We’d take out the monitors, which can’t always be done in some places, it just sounds a lot better. We get really excited about recording and sit there for an hour playing the same thing, to get it perfect... it’s like, this is driving me crazy, but when it’s done it’s amazing.

Stuart: The technicality of the music is such that if any sort of effects were employed you wouldn’t be able to hear the nuances or anything like that in the music... everything didn’t get drenched in reverb like some shitty post-rock record.

OMS: Is that what you listen for in other artists, proficiency?

Stuart: We’re into quite a range of stuff. I think we all get a lot out of musicianship: there’s nothing more disappointing than seeing a band live that sounds crap. We like music that’s emotionally based, or provokes some kind of emotional response from the listener. Although Jonquil have turned us on to the delights of Paramore...

OMS: And you guys, along with Battles, Foals, are switching people on to this whole area of tech music...

Tim: I think that it’s brilliant that people are listening to the bands that we love. It’s amazing to me. Some people have asked us in the past whether we think we might be a gateway band for other stuff, which isn’t something that I’m altogether sad about. I get really excited when people say they haven’t heard something, because for me, as a guitarist, the sound in, like, Owls is on another plane.

OMS: You’re not including any of your old, harder hits on Animals, though?

Stuart: Loads of people on this tour have asked us why there aren’t the older songs on the new album... it’s more that we’re pursuing new roots and trying new things and being a bit more experimental. Most people have understood that. We just want to get on to writing songs. We might have done better if we’d waited, not released records, until we had a back catalogue of awesome songs and then been like, ‘we’re shit hot’. But we just wanted to have fun... play some gigs with our friends and have a good time. Up until now we’ve always been guilty of having other commitments: now we’ve got a chance to go and do some pretty good tours and get ourselves out there. I don’t think we’re aiming for major label stardom, or anything like that - but at the same time... we could reach a pretty comfortable level.

The Automatic @ The Carling Academy, Oxford

October 2008

(This article originally appeared in Oxford Music Scene)

What’s that, coming over the hill? Is it by-numbers pub-rock clap-along British indie?

Well, not entirely. When The Automatic open tonight’s gig with eccentric single ‘Raoul’ (which, admittedly, I’d completely forgotten they’d written), my preconceptions about the headliners – whose reputation was largely built on the mysterious success of that ‘Monster’ single - vanish as quickly as my overpriced Jack’n’Coke.

If only it could last. The majority of the set is constructed around stagnant, barked choruses and identical guitar twangs. Heart-wrenchingly, the band can do much more than lift off from formulaic mediocrity, and it’s here that you see them struggling to crash through the gluey hype one over-played single has smothered their career in. ‘This Is A Fix’, from the new album by the same name, is nerve-shreddingly fast: discordant guitars wrestle into a barely coherent wall of sound while the vocals, completely disconnected, limp and lunge over the surface. In terms of adrenaline it’s all very Last Shadow Puppets: closer ‘Light Entertainment’ is another pleasant surprise, piling riffs asthmatically impenetrable for a tighter, heavier dose of rock.

The shock conclusion of the night is that there is innovative talent at work in The Automatic. It bursts out, sarcastic and progressive, on some live tracks. But for every daring moment there are five back-catalogue hits of disappointing mediocrity, built around the number of opportunities for tame audience participation per song. That The Automatic have kept crowd pleasers well-apart and that darker stuff is making an appearance hopefully indicates a change of direction: this is a fix, but with the success of ‘Monster’ well behind them, it’s about time they showed us what they’ve got.

Liz Dodd

Sunday, 21 September 2008

THE ACADEMY IS... at The Carling Academy, Oxford

(An edited version of this review originally appeared in The Oxford Music Scene)

Remember when teenagers used to go to gigs to get messed up and wreck shit?

Nor do I, but I’ve heard stories. Stories that flush embarrassment and whither in the presence of the 400 shrieking adolescents who fluffed up their hair especially to sob innuendo at the three emo-core staples playing the Academy tonight. The Maine, We The Kings and headliners The Academy Is, three bands whose ability to provoke hysteria (or nausea) seems to increase exponentially with their set times and ratio skinny jeans : length of fringe.

Upstairs is near capacity by the time The Maine arrive to skip blithely through a barrage of tracks with one overexcited tempo change per number - harkening back, perhaps, to the days when boybands would stand up if a song modulated. We The Kings spring through an identical setlist: although this time we are exposed to an irredeemable cover of ‘Feel Good inc.’, Fred Durst-esque rap included. ‘I want to see you move’, shouts frontman Travis Clark. I want to see him burn.

Finally our headliners, deserving of some respect both for navigating through what must be gigantic piles of cash (courtesy of label mate Pete Wentz) and for not, as their predecessors chose to do, coming on stage to an inexplicable hip-hop sample. The Academy Is… manage to provoke as yet untold levels of hysteria: when front man William Beckett magnanimously breaks from writhing around in self-indulgent misery to pass out bottles of water his audience react like they were quaffing Holy Water from Jesus himself. Single Slow Down nearly provokes a stampede and, as if things couldn’t get any worse, the frontman from We Are Kings joins the band for a hug during ‘About a Girl’.

Fleeing the scores of fans clustering outside around the artist’s entrance, I struggled and finally hit upon the one redeeming feature of the gig. For the past week, some joker had managed to proclaim ‘The Academy Is… Sold Out!’ in large red letters over the front of the venue. The co-incidence, and resulting confusion, is literally the only good thing that came of inviting these three bands to Oxford.

Liz Dodd

JUBILEE at The Bullingdon Arms

(This review originally appeared in Nightshift magazine)

Between cheating death on the M5 and ducking exploding amps onstage, this hasn’t been an easy tour for Jubilee. They’re a band with an ethic: that despite the alt-rock goliaths involved – Aaron ‘Nine Inch Nails’ North on guitar/vocals, Mikey ‘Queens Of The Stone Age/Wires on Fire’ Shuman on bass and Travis ‘the new Lester Bangs’ Keller behind the scenes - this will never be a super-group. The statement pays off. By playing small venues and shirking promotion, Jubilee’s respective rock idols create an atmosphere in which they can – finally – get down to playing what they want to play.

Even the set, with a certain glorious petulance, refuses to be pigeonholed. Individual tracks pitch from gentle shoegaze to rocking Stone Roses: curve-balls sit alongside comfortable singles, and nothing here sounds like the day jobs. It takes three tracks to reach single Rebel Hiss, where sarcastic harmonies hold their own over a 60’s Britpop lick before dissipating into frenzied shreds and wheeling static. References flit past in the space of a tremolo – nods to the Beatles, Van Morrison and Eliot Smith. North pitches around the stage with the enthusiasm you’d expect a crowd of 80,000 to deserve; it’s infectious, energetic and overwhelming when there are a dozen of you.

It’s all over before you want it to be – the band’s sheer enthusiasm gestured towards a few more oddball covers, or at least a stage dive (although North reliably informs us that the after party is chez Thom Yorke) – and the band are off to surprise the next fifteen people. Jubilee’s tour is an entity apart from their upcoming album, which will feature guest spots from Dave Grohl, Trent Reznor etc. This is a small scale, EP promotion set-up: the band have downscaled their per diems and sleep in a transit van, subsisting on little more than their own enthusiasm. Refreshingly, it’s got nothing to do with who they know – for once, it’s all about the music.

Liz Dodd

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

THE GO! TEAM: Interview

The Go! Team is no ordinary band. It started out of mastermind Ian Parton’s kitchen in Wales, where he recorded the debut album Thunder, Lightning, Strike from samples. The band then snowballed into a live entity, picking up members left and right until Parton had the line-up to match his samplerific recorded material. There’s a terrific hotchpotch, bratty energy in the band’s work, driven forward by brash sirens and immense percussion, and reproducing it on stage takes two drummers, several guitars, a keyboard, and a hell of a lot of stamina.

“There are songs where someone in the band would need a rest before the next song,” says the band’s frontwoman, freestyle rapper Ninja. “For me, when you’ve got three mad songs together, it’s killer with all the singing and dancing. But if you’re in the Olympics and you’re running a race or something, just because you’re tired it doesn’t mean you’re allowed to stop. You have to keep going, like I started at this level, so I have to continue at this level till the end of the show. I’m not allowed to be tired, I’m the gang leader and I’m leading the crowd into having a great time. When they see me dance, they want to dance.”

Ninja was declared the fifteenth coolest person in the world by NME a few years ago. And cool she is; her speech is fast, extremely confident and articulate: a lot like her onstage rhymes. Her enthusiastic voice draws you into the conversation just like it draws you into the Go! Team’s music. Just like the music, she’s vibrant and boisterous. And just like the music, she defies categorisation. Born to a strict middle-class family and expected to train as a doctor, she shocked her relatives by becoming a musician. If she had to classify the band, what would she say?

“I used to call every week and be like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a word! How about... rainbow pop funk!’ ‘I’ve got another one! Okay... Electrunk!’ I used to call up every week with these crazy terms and everyone was like ‘You’re being silly.’... I think a lot of people just take elements of what they liked when they were growing up and turn it into what they like now. “We take elements of a lot of different decades, but it’s been made into something completely new. It’s not music from the 80s or 70s or 60s, but because of all of those influences, and because of the world we’re living in and the technology we have now, we’re making something completely unique.”

She prefers performing at universities to playing at bigger, more open venues. “I think we’re quite well known within the uni crowds,” she says. “And in America, as well, college students seem to love us. I think we just have a lot more fun - older crowds, you come out and you feel like they’re waiting to be impressed. But young people just want to be carefree and have a great time, and it’s going to be a great crowd. If it’s all uni stops on our next tour, then it’s going to be

Last year the Go! Team’s uni gigs included the May Ball at Trinity college. “Oh yeah!” Ninja exclaims delightedly when we mention it to her. “I remember! It was really strange, like, I don’t know, I’m a North Londoner, and I feel like as a Londoner I’m normal. The Cambridge ball was like another world, it was just loads of posh kids who were all like ‘oh my gosh, you guys are so fantastic’. We went to the food table, we were going around in our jeans... A couple of us went up to the fruit table and this lady came up to them and went ‘What are YOU?’ They came back to the dressing room with, like, half an apple, and told me and I said ‘Oh my god, I swear, if I was there and she said that to me...!’ She looked at them as if they were travelling monkeys or something, because they were in jeans and stuff, and she shooed them away from the food table like squirrels. Quite rude, but we saw stagediving and people there in really expensive ballgowns flying above a sea of hands, it was hilarious. When you just walk in there you can smell the privilege. I mean, we saw it at Warwick university as well, you could make the privilege into a fragrance and spray it on yourself and walk down the street and people would turn their heads.”

Creative force Ian Parton is also behind the Team’s videos, which are as kaleidoscopic and chaotic as their music. “Ian used to make documentaries and he’s really into Super 8 cameras,” says Ninja. “He’s mainly in control of the videos. He’s got loads of ideas about how he wants things to be seen. And just like the music is kind of quite choppy and cut-and-paste, the videos are like that as well. It’s got quite a vintage, retro feel to it, because we don’t go for the glossy videos.”

And that’s the Go! Team’s aesthetic in a nutshell: no gloss, just Frankensteinian, unconstrainable mayhem. Long may it continue.

Saul Glasman

Monday, 1 September 2008

SLIPKNOT - All Hope Is Gone

Let’s be honest: Nu-Metal died a mangled and dishonourable death somewhere around the new millennium. Its blackened soul fell through an emo-shaped fissure and wound up in hell. For that particular moment in music, All Hope Is Gone. But at least Slipknot are providing the entertainment: the be-masked nine seem pretty comfortable playing to the converted damned – All Hope Is Gone is by-rote Slipknotastic – but, whatever the album title may make you believe, they’re not going down without a fight.

‘Let’s pretend we’re not at the end’, the couplet that underpins soft-black-metal ‘Vendetta’, encapsulates the album’s motif. Slipknot’s scene may have crumbled, but by packaging political lyrics with riffs heavy enough to interest hardcore fans, and familiar enough to draw in old Maggots, they’ve stirred up more press attention than they deserved to get with the old ‘abandoning the masks’ stunt. Punishing tracks may seem commercial if Dying Foetus is your regular poison but, for the Maggots, this is a violent lurch away from approachable rap-metal. They’ve even gone political: ‘Gematria’ (The Killing Name)’ layers political vocals – the oft repeated ‘America doesn’t care’ – over thrashtastic drums. Without, incredibly, sounding like emo-core lost at an Obama rally.

This is a dark album – as befits what is, effectively, a requiem. Part Cradle of Filth, part Meshuggah, gothic guitar tremolo and descending discordant base lines spasm into shuddering riffs before diving back down, if you’re lucky, into a hook that you can get your head around. Corey’s doing his best one-man Napalm Death impression, leaping from on-key melody to guttural vocalchord shredding, and coming over all sensitive on, yes, power ballad-esque ‘Snuff’. Thankfully, power ballads aren’t Slipknot’s new direction, just the odd ill-advised (but surprisingly fitting) pitstop. When they really try to escape the box, as with highlight Butcher’s Hook, it’s complex tempo Math Rock rather than soaring piano wankery.

‘I’ll never survive, but I won’t be born again’, Corey bawls in ballad-esque ‘Dead Memories’. There’s a confident grace in Slipknot’s latest: they’re not exuming the body of a genre that was only briefly exciting as an alterative during era Backstreet Boys, but they’ve not veered off on an illadvised dance-meets-prog road. The kids have grown up and left home, and it’s given the band a chance to turn up the volume. Buy the album: pay your respects and move on to somewhere darker. Slipknot are waiting for you.


Liz Dodd

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


Never kick a gift horse in the mouth, or so received wisdom goes. Trent 'NIN' Reznor dropped The Slip on his cyber audience this May, only months after masterminding the Radiohead style release of purely instrumental album 'Ghosts I-IV', and did so with the pithy 'this one's on me'.

Something of an overall retrospective, The Slip pulls out tricks Trent's been using from Pretty Hate machine, through the Quake soundtrack, all the way to Ghosts IV-V. Breathless vocals trade with punctuating riffs, techno-beats give way to double-kick bass, and vice-versa. Where the album gets interesting - and where it takes off from the With Teeth and Year Zero era - is the en vogue prog-rock musings that make up the second half.

There's no concept here - as there was with future-horror 'Year Zero'. That's not a bad thing. The album is a palette of atmosphere bubbles, something that speaks to Reznor's strengths in its ability to lurch from the engaging - 'Discipline' - to the contemplative. The album's post-rock experimental second half is skin-crawlingly disconcerting - maybe it's because it sounds like the Twin Peaks soundtrack - as you're plunged from thrash through approachable techno to something that sounds a bit like Radiohead on a really bad acid trip. Dotted with strange samples swelling out of a cold, Space 20001-esque space ship lift off, and closing with inhuman screeches, The Slip is every bit as pessimistic a nod to the future as Year Zero - or anything by Godspeed You - just without the agenda.

Sounding like the moment at the end of a horror movie when the survivors peel what's left of the zombie invaders off and lurch out into the sun, The Slip is unfriendly, schizophrenic and maudlin but, like pessimism in general, it's contagious. Reznor’s magnanimously given fans and critics alike the slip - and it was worth the wait.


Liz Dodd