Fake it till you make it….

October 21, 2009 at 1:35 pm (Gigs, Music)

Hockey, Brighton Digital, Oct 1st 2009

Talk about ticking all the right boxes. If it wasn’t for their rather uninspiring moniker, it would be nigh on impossible to believe that the quartet of hipsters currently strutting around Digital’s tight stage like demented peacocks hadn’t been invented by some savvy A&R man in an evil lair somewhere.

Hockey as photographed by Rosy Johnson

Hockey as photographed by Rosy Johnson

Having begun as a two-piece sometime in 2002, Oregon’s Hockey have since doubled in size, honed their sound with former Talking Head Jerry Harrison, and have begun receiving rave reviews both in America, and more recently, the UK. Much of this is due to the their zeitgeist hugging and infectiously danceable 80’s style electro funk, and a recent touring schedule that has seen them rubbing shoulders with the similarly hyped Passion Pit and Friendly Fires. Tonight however, they are the main attraction, and a predictably young and sweat-sodden crowd has gathered, eager to see what the fuss is all about.

Dressed in what appears to be a Topshop dress beneath a ridiculously high collared leather jacket, and topped off with a fairly superfluous headband, lead singer Ben Grubin bounces across the stage like a hyperactive puppy as the band launch into ‘Work’. The band’s strengths as a live proposition are immediately obvious, with the hitherto laid back album track re-energised as a pounding, immersive floor filler. Not only do the band sound tight and focused, but crucially they are able to build on the basic arrangements of each song, extending and distorting their components through superbly executed instrumental breaks. Making full use of Digital’s shin-shakingly loud PA system, tracks like ‘Learn To Lose’ and ‘Wanna Be Black’ are embellished with addictively propulsive base lines and some fairly unexpectedly heavy riffs courtesy of axe-man Brian White.

The band seem keen to show that they are not limited to simply ape-ing their 80’s heroes, and display a fair degree of versatility for such a young outfit. Grubins dons a Dylan-esque acoustic guitar and harmonica combo for the country style ‘Four Holy Photos’, before lurching off into Studio 54 territory with a startling rendition of ‘3am Spanish’ which sounds alarmingly like Blondie covering ‘Eye Of The Tiger’. Indeed, while the shifting of pace and divergence of styles occasionally falls flat, such as the encore of ‘Everyone’s The Same Age’, for the most part they manage to pull it off. So much so, that by the time ‘Too Fake’ arrives to send us on our way, it feels like a final flourish of excellence, rather than the one big hit they can rely on to get the crowd involved. So another test successfully passed, and proof that if anything, Hockey are actually a more interesting proposition in the flesh than they are on record.  With album sales continuing to fall at an alarming rate, it’s a trait that should serve them well.

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Easy Does It (sorry…)

August 12, 2009 at 1:57 pm (Uncategorized)

Easy Star All Stars – Brighton Concorde2 – 05/08/09

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One of the main problems of being in a covers band, other than having ‘proper’ musicians constantly turning their noses up at you, must be the nagging feeling that all that applause, the accolades, groupies and free drugs, are really meant for someone else.

Sure, the crowds may flock to your gigs and sing along to every word, but at the end of the day they are someone else’s songs, and the feeling must remain that you are merely loaning their talent for a night, only to return to mediocrity in the morning. This, incidentally, is especially true for practically all of the reality TV created pop stars who are feted as gods while ape-ing ‘Light My Fire’ or ‘Hero’ on national TV, but find themselves promptly back at the deli counter at Tescos as soon as they try releasing anything that isn’t simply a tired re-hash of some hitherto forgotten Bananarama song.

X-Factor Covers - Music to everyone's ears

X-Factor Covers - Music to everyone's ears

The Easy Star All Stars are a different proposition however, and while you would have to class them as a covers band, both their choice of material and the way in which it is re-interpreted has made them an exciting proposition in their own right. I was first alerted to the band around six years ago when I heard their version of Pink Floyd’s Breathe billowing out of a flat window on a hot summer’s day and subsequently spent the best part of a year searching for what I believed to be either a fantastic remix, or at best a one off cover version.

Following the discovery that they had in fact covered the entirety of Dark Side Of The Moon and were to follow up with a dub version of another of my favorite albums, Radiohead’s OK Computer I realised that this was not just some reggae enthusiasts mucking about with other people’s songs, but a band dedicated to exploring some of the finest music ever made and extracting something fresh and vital from its depths. With perhaps their most ambitious project to date, a cover of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band recently released to further acclaim, the band now have a wealth of incredible songs to call on for their live show which stopped by at a muggy Concorde2 last night with palpable anticipation in the air.

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Taking to the stage with two of their own songs as a sort of warm up for the sing-alongs ahead, the depth and power of the band’s sound is immediately obvious. Warm bass lines coarse up through the floor and into chests where they nestle alongside booming drum beats from the back of the stage, while the top end is dominated by a squalling brass section that blasts out riffs into a beaming crowd. The whole sound however is somewhat dominated by Elenna Canlas’ synthesiser, which envelopes the entire crowd in a claustrophobic cocoon of echoing effects and ear-splitting stabs of gun-fire percussion. It is a technique that ensures depth and complexity to the group’s sound and really helps with some of the longer psychedelic passages particularly in the Floyd tracks, but at times it threatens to overwhelm some of her bandmates, especially as MC Menny More’s mic is far too low in the mix at the beginning of the set.

Still, the first few songs are very well received, and provide proof not only that the band can really play (as they will demonstrate admirably throughout the remainder of the night), but that they can create formidable blasts of dub reggae from scratch that could well stand up alongside some of the genres major players in the future. For tonight though it’s straight into Sgt Peppers, with the album’s intro segueing into an a-cappella ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ to the crowds obvious delight. The atmosphere created by these relentlessly upbeat renditions of such well loved songs borders on that of spiritual epiphany, with the crowd, (a mix of pretty much any demographic you care to mention) swaying together, holding hands, singing into each others ears and generally behaving like heavily sedated worshipers at some ultra-hippy commune, but for me there is a nagging doubt that the new material doesn’t quite match up to its predecessors.

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Perhaps the songs are a little too familiar and have been covered so many times that some of the novelty has worn off, but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as much depth of thought going into the arrangements as those from Dubside, or Radiodread. Lucy In The Sky in particular just sounds flat and unexplored, and it is at times like this that the band merely sound like a very good covers band, rather than a musical entity in their own right. Certain tracks, a joyously hyper When I’m Sixty Four for example, are much better suited to a reggae interpretation, especially with MC Menny More returning from the wings to energise the crowd with his perpetual smile and natural charisma.

For the most part however, the Beatles material falls a little way behind the rest, and it is only with the opening chords of Paranoid Android that things really get going. The soft bass lines and gentle percussion married to Kirsty Rock’s angelic vocals lull the song from a raging inferno of distorted noise and confusion to a soulful lament, beautifully enlivened by perfectly executed horn section. Come the final ‘rain down’ refrain, of course, the whole crowd are crooning along softly, arms aloft, and radiating love back to the band in abundance.

Things pick up further as the echo laden keyboards, atmospheric lighting and swirling on stage smoke herald the arrival of tracks from Dub Side Of The Moon, still arguably the most popular of the band’s releases. The strength of the band’s Floyd covers lays in the potential for divergence from the original musical theme inherent in the song’s structures.

Tracks like Breathe and Us and Them contain elongated musical breaks which allow the band to veer off into all manner of dub/reggae/drum n bass avenues, before returning with a snap to the original theme, thus giving the band the opportunity to stamp their originality on each piece. Guitarist Shelton Garner even rips through an outrageous Hendrix-esq solo at the end of Money, while a touch of flute in the intro to Time sets the song off in a newly soulful direction.

From here, the band has the crowd in the palm of their hands, with classics from Dubside and Radiodread segueing into each other amidst blessed out lights and mass singing and dancing. To be fair it would be pretty hard to fail considering the strength of the material, but when you have people singing along to a three minute saxophone solo you must be doing something right.

Perhaps the big problem with covering Beatles numbers lies in the fact that they are, although undeniably brilliant, fairly simple pop songs. With little room for interpretation outside of sticking a reggae beat underneath the basic melody and occasionally employing a bit of MC-ing over the top, the songs sound more like obvious cover versions rather than the illuminating re-imaginings that characterise their handling of more intricate tracks.

This is demonstrated aptly in closer ‘A Day In The Life’, and the encore of ‘Karma Police’. The former actually works brilliantly, with the band making the most of the long orchestrated ascent following ‘I’d love to turn you on’ and turning it into a piece of threatening dubstep before dropping back into the original grove. Karma Police ends up sounding flat in comparison, mainly because it’s probably the closest thing to a simple three minute pop song on OK Computer, and as a result the band have little option other than simply play it through from start to finish.

That in itself is still enjoyable, and singing along to a fine cover band, especially one that invigorates everything with a hit of reggae-fuelled sunshine is always going to be fun. The genius of Easy Star All Stars however, is that they’ve learned to do so much more.

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A Sea-Change Within A Sea

June 5, 2009 at 4:27 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , , , )

The HorrorsConcorde2, Brighton04/06/09

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It must be pretty difficult to be a lead singer without an instrument.

Guitars almost instantly instil a veneer of cool over pretty much anyone who picks one up, so standing in front of a sweaty and expectant crowd with nothing other than a massive fringe to hide behind must be quite a daunting prospect. Singers have attempted a variety of stances/poses/gimmicks to overcome this issue, and most importantly give them something to do with their hands while performing. From Liam’s stock-still, hands behind the back, chin thrusting defiance, to the outright insanity that Iggy brings to a stage, the great frontmen always find a way of feeling comfortable in their own skin. The rest end up looking like Tom Chaplin.

''Shit, what do I do with these things?'

''Shit, what do I do with these things?'

Faris Badwan may not have reached the upper echelons of greatness as a frontman just yet, but there are signs that he and his band are taking increasingly large steps in that direction. That The Horrors are even being whispered about in this vein will come as a big surprise to those who (incorrectly) wrote the band off as a bunch of over-dressed Shoreditch art-school posers whose talent was inversely proportional to their hype.

Yet the quality of their new material, the darkly atmospheric kraut-gaze of new LP ‘Primary Colours’, has seen critics falling over themselves in a search for new superlatives. As a result, the Concorde2 is full of fans old and new, intrigued to see how their new sound translates live. The make-up of the audience is a fascinating mix in itself. Heavy metal fans clad in Metallica tour t-shirts rub muscular shoulders with a troupe of fragile looking kids done up like a cross between Miss Haversham and Alex DeLarge while down at the front, a posse of what appear to be teenyboppers thcream and thcream until they are thick with each dimming of the lights until their heroes appear.

The Horrors, Brighton

The Horrors, Brighton

Once they do, it is straight down to business as the band launch straight into a feedback driven ‘Mirror’s Image’. Gone is the over the top on-stage theatrics, the scaling of every available wall and, to a large extent, the sartorial over-indulgence that categorised earlier shows. In fact there is very little audience interaction throughout the entire set, other than Faris lamenting Brighton’s seagull problem (‘I tried to have a spot of lunch earlier, but a bird stole it’).  It seems instead that the band have ditched some of the excesses of the past in favour of melting down elements of Neu!, The Jesus and Mary Chain and the entire ‘Nuggets’ compilation and spraying the results over the audience in a vast and complex wall of sound. To be fair they no longer need to rely on kooky wardrobe design or crazy stage antics to cover for a limited set list, and the fact that they are able to engross the crowd with a set made entirely of new material is testament to this.

There remain a few problems however, most notably the quality of the sound which all but blankets out some of their subtler nuances with a clatter of over mic-ed drums and piercing squalls of keyboard. The result is that Badwan struggles at times to make himself heard above the racket behind, especially on the tracks that don’t require much in the way of wide eyed howling. The superb Shangi-La’s ape-ing spoken word breakdown of ‘Who Can Say?’ for instance, is rushed and barely detectable when it should provide the focal point of the song.

However, as the band get into their stride, the arrangements tighten up somewhat, and with their singer providing a compelling focal point amongst the pounding psychedelic lights and incessant motorik throbbing, the whole experience becomes increasingly seductive. Coming across as a deranged cross between Syd Barrett and Robert Smith, Badwan stands, arms aloft at the front of the stage in a Canute-like attempt to control, or at least rise against, the crashing seas of light and noise behind him. Only in the fog of the Spacemen3 style ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ does he look a little lost, a high priest of desolation collapsing uncomfortably into a passable impersonation of a insolent toddler. But for the most part he owns the stage brilliantly, and no longer looks desperate to hide away behind his impressive mass of hair, or go charging off into the relative anonymity of the crowd.

The band storm through a hyperkinetic ‘New Ice Age’, with Faris’ cries (‘THE AGONY!!!’) reverberating round the venue, and driving those at the front into a pulsating shoal of sharpened limbs and thrashing necks. A beautiful, note perfect ‘Sea Within a Sea’ ends the show on wave after wave of blissful, undulating keyboard riffs that see the band off into the wings, before the crowd demands their reappearance for an encore.

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With a nod to their older fans, and a malevolent glint in his eye, Badwan launches into a power trio of hysterical, Cramps style gothic punk favourites from the first album, starting with a joyous, bouncing ‘Count in Fives’ that sees the front rows completely lose the plot. The largely spoken word ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’ elicits a similar response, before the classic riff of ‘Gloves’ builds to a suitably chaotic finish.

And with that, they are gone. Another test successfully passed along the road to fulfilling some of that early hype, and, one hopes, towards the emergence of the first truly captivating British frontmen to appear since a certain Pete Doherty.

Originally published in the Brighton Magazine

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The Great Escape Festival – Day 3

May 27, 2009 at 2:45 pm (Gigs, Music)

graetescape2008logo

Ah, if only more Great Escape venues shared their toilets with two-bit karaoke bars or similarly empty establishments, things would be so much easier. Komedia could be accessed through some organic juice bar, the Brighton Fishing Museum would provide a handy gateway into a number of sea-side clubs, and one could nip into the Mash Tun for a swift pint only to emerge in the spacious Corn Exchange and actually get to see The Maccabees. It would certainly beat all that queuing.

The Veils@Horatios

The Veils@Horatios

Sadly only one venue that I know of offers this particular quirk, but it is a serendipitous discovery that allows us a second view of the excellent Veils ***. Sadly Horatios end of pier charms are no match for the acoustics of the Sallis Benney Theatre, and the sound is too muddy and compressed to really do the band justice. The strength of their arrangements however, ensures they leave a lasting impression on the crowd. Finn Andrew’s voice is rich and powerful enough to fill any venue, and with the lead guitar lines taking on greater prominence the band discard some of the subtleties in favour of a harder, blues orientated set.

The blame for our late arrival at Horatios can be laid at the collective feet of The Levis Store and the Great Escape’s text service, who have conspired to seduce us into believing that tickets for a ‘secret’ Babyshambles gig are available from Churchill Square. Needless to say this information is received just as we are approaching the pier, necessitating a frenzied and ultimately fruitless detour through a packed and muggy town centre.

Luckily for those who have missed out on tickets, the aforementioned gig is to take place on Audio’s outside patio. This leads to hundreds of fans lining the streets outside the venue, leaning precariously out of overlooking balconies, and cramming themselves into the adjacent Amsterdam Bar in the hope of catching a glimpse of their wayward hero. The band are a good hour late, but the waiting hordes are finally rewarded with a short set of fan favourites including ‘Pipedown’ and ‘Fuck Forever’ and get to witness Pete’s footballing ability first hand when he dispatches a football thrown up to him from the crowd with a well placed header.

Thankfully Audio is a little less packed out for the double header of The Soft Pack *** and Hockey ***** later in the evening. Unfortunately for the former, the sound levels within the cramped venue are not what they could be, and the more melodic parts of the band’s set are suffocated in a haze of compressed top-end thrash. As a result, The Soft Pack’s Modern Lovers meets In Utero era Nirvana stylings sound one dimensional and half formed, which is a shame as there is a faintly detectable suggestion of compelling guitar work running underneath it all. At least the guitarist provides some visual amusement, as he continually contorts his face into a passable impersonation of a Care in the Community kid in the midst of visiting his first prostitute.

The Soft Pack - Cum-face guitarist not pictured

The Soft Pack - Cum-face guitarist not pictured

Hockey, on the other hand, have no such problem. Their DFA inspired hyper-funk connects with the audience immediately and by halfway through their second song there is not one stationary set of feet in the whole venue. Smooth bass lines intersect convulsive guitar riffs, while the swirling synths coat the entire set in a soulful warmth that perfectly accompanies singer Benjamin Grubin’s vocals. Tracks like ‘Work’ and ‘Too Fake’ sound instantly familiar, while at the same time lending themselves perfectly to extended improvisations that ramp up the intensity. At this rate, they will be household names within a year.

From here it is straight off to the Concorde2 for a night of live dance music form two of Brighton’s finest. First up is Evil Nine ***** who have gone the whole hog and fully expanded into a four-piece live band, and proceed to take their music far beyond the limitations of their initial break-beat style. Throwing everything from Afro-beat to fuzz-rock into a huge melting pot of invention, they manage to combine dark, sleazy basslines and overdriven guitar with dub vocals and infectious pop hooks, laying them perfectly over incessant beats. The genius of it is that it doesn’t just feel like a pair of DJ’s who have roped in some mates to lend their set an air of heightened musicianship. Instead, they come across as a fully formed and tightly rehearsed band, working as a unit to produce something that is more than the sum of its parts.

Freeland brings the festival to a suitably messy close

Freeland brings the festival to a suitably messy close

Following this, we have Freeland ****, whose set is slightly closer to a conventional live take on his work as a DJ. Again, the line-up is augmented by guitar and drums, with Freeland himself strutting around behind a bank of keyboards like some rockabilly SS commander, and pumping up the crowd with his dance-punk vocal delivery. Whereas Evil Nine win the crowd over with exotic rhythms, panache and band interplay, Freeland elects to simply bludgeon them into submission with intense salvos of dark power, as unrelenting blasts of bass and strobe hammer the crowd into joyful oblivion. There is (slight) respite with a closing ‘We Want Your Soul’, which at least offers a recognisable refrain for the audience to shout back with, but for the most part this is a set done Freeland’s way; dark, dirty and totally unstoppable.

Final Thoughts

As we stagger out into the night and begin to contemplate a return to our bleak non-festival existence, there are a few additional observations which warrant a mention. These are:

1)      Honourable mentions to a couple of bands I missed for one reason or another. Including The Temper Trap (everyone I know who saw them said they were excellent), The Bombay Bicycle Club (constantly clashed with other gigs), The Big Pink (who cancelled), and Casiokids.

2)      Drinks prices. £3.60 for a small plastic bottle of Carlsberg? Really? I know you’re not making much on the door, but there was an occasion where we elected to go to a pub for a drink rather than watch some random band at Komedia as we simply couldn’t afford to drink there. We’re not all industry insiders you know.

3)      The organisation was, I think, better again this year. The head honchos seem to have realised that it’s probably best getting some of the bigger, headlining acts into the Corn Exchange, as it’s massive. Yes, there were still queues, but other than putting the band on the beach and the audience in the sea, there’s not much else that could have been done.

4)      There were some slight odd bits of scheduling however. Hockey played twice at two of the smallest venues in the festival despite being one of the more hotly tipped acts to appear, and separately ticketed bands should not be classed as part of the festival. Making people pay twice to go and see Kasabian may seem like poetic justice for having no taste, but it still seems a bit unfair.

5)      More bands in the daytime next time please. We like bands, and we like drinking in the day.

First published at TheBrightonMagazine.com

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The Great Escape Festival – Day 2

May 27, 2009 at 2:44 pm (Gigs, Health) ()

Holy Fuck

Holy Fuck

Day 2 of the Great Escape and it’s an early-ish start at the King and Queen for an afternoon that kicks off with Guilford’s Tommy Monroe **. Looking like the freshly exhumed corpse of a 1970’s Bowie impersonator dug up and reanimated in Shoreditch, his vocal histrionics cut cleanly enough through thrashed acoustic guitar, but the substance fails to truly captivate. His repertoire does include a song entitled ‘Giraffes’ which is a good thing. The following number entitled ‘Lah Di Dah’, less so.

3 Seeds in Paris

3 Seeds in Paris

Tommy is followed by Three Seeds in Paris *** who own the relatively small stage with all the panache of seasoned performers, and you expect, require a wheel barrow to transport their collective bollocks from gig to gig. Even the most cursory scan of their lyrics is pretty inadvisable however, and the whole thing veers dangerously toward style over substance pub rock, but they are tight enough and cocky enough to invite further interest. If they can stop shunting their lead guitarist to the back of the stage and the depths of the mix, they could be an exciting proposition.

This is more than can be said for Sheffield’s Spires **. Other than a monster of a drummer who comes off as half club bouncer and half school bully, the only part of their show to create any interest at all is the stuffed owl that adorns the front of the stage, and when you’re being overshadowed by taxidermy you know you’re in trouble.

Spires, essentially

Spires, essentially

After a short break to re-fuel, it’s off into the squalling rain to the Sallis Benney Theatre for New Zealand’s Veils **** for which there is a massive queue. With the delegates pass finally coming into its own, I am granted entrance to a truly mesmerising show as lead singer Finn Andrews unleashes his incredible verbal assault into the intimate, scarlet-tinged auditorium. Backed by what appear to be an angel, a surly schoolgirl bassist, and a lead guitarist that is somehow both bitingly sharp and warmly resonant, the group receive a rapturous reception. The one slight nagging doubt is Andrews’ uncanny vocal similarity to Jeff Buckley, which is eerily spot on, but with songs this good I’m past caring.

The Veils

The Veils

Next up on a quite excellent bill for the theatre is hotly tipped Micachu and the Shapes ***. Having seen their performance at the Concorde2 supporting Late of the Pier last February, I failed to see what all the fuss was about, but on today’s showing the hype is beginning to seem justified. At times coming across like a deranged skiffle band, their low-fi ethos extends to the keyboardist using upturned wine bottles for percussion, while even the drummer, who is working with a full kit, sounds like a toddler smashing away at a selection of his mother’s saucepans. Underneath this fuzzy chaos however lurks a creative mind with the complexity to work through several time signatures per song, and produce a wildly disparate selection of sounds from just three band members, while still fitting in killer pop hooks. Like a small child harbouring a terrible secret, Micachu is at once cute, beguiling, precocious and terrifying and only a series of technical difficulties prevents this show from being an unadulterated triumph.

Micachu and the Shapes

Micachu and the Shapes

The dismay engendered by the size of the queue for Casiokids at PoNaNa’s is topped only by the disturbing revelation that both The Golden Silvers and The Big Pink’s shows have been cancelled at Komedia. With precious little time to get anywhere and back in time for Holy Fuck ***** at 10.15, we decamp to the William 4th for a pint in preparation for the coming onslaught. And what an onslaught it is too. On the surface, Holy Fuck come across as four of your coolest mates who’ve been mainlining Neu, The Chemical Brothers and science textbooks on synaesthesia for a few years and then brought their esoteric collection of vintage analogue equipment round to yours for a jam. This spirit of experimentalism provides the perfect spark of creativity to ensure the band’s songs never outstay their welcome, while the musicianship and drive of the live bass and percussion keeps everything taught and focussed. The perfect band for the moment, and a great example of key elements including lighting, sound setup and venue converging to create a wonderful whole.

It’s hard to see what could top them in all honesty, and any band playing the Corn Exchange at midnight this year seem to be encumbered with the elevated expectations of a crowd who have queued for over an hour in the cold to be granted access. The scenes at the door and in the snaking shivering queue verge on the ridiculous as the patience of punters is tested by the weather, their bladders and people attempting to push in. Under the circumstances it’s hard to see how any band could live up to this kind of build up, but Metronomy *** give it a good go.

Bolstered by the addition of a full live band, Joseph Mount’s electro pop is easily meaty enough to fill the venue to the rafters, and each song is delivered with technical panache and infectious energy. If anything the live set is almost too perfect a reproduction of the band’s recorded work to truly thrill the crowd, but for the most part they are eagerly receptive. Arms are raised aloft in joyous salute, hair flails around to frenetic beats, and lyrics are shouted back with vengeance, which for a size of crowd this big is an achievement in itself. There’s even a pretty large and totally unexpected mosh circle near the front that sucks in innocent bystanders and churns out goggled eyed, sharp elbowed whirling dervishes which probably says more about the barely contained frustration of the queues, than the band themselves.

Holy Fuck pop in to spin some tunes afterwards, but for the majority it’s off into the night for further adventures and the promise of more to come tomorrow.

First published ay TheBrightonMagazine.com

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The Great Escape Festival – Day 1

May 27, 2009 at 2:42 pm (Gigs, Music) ()

Check shirts and day-glo sunglasses? Sticky, sweaty half naked throngs of kids eagerly vying for position? Relentless drizzle?

DeadKids-Greatescape2008-LR01

It must be the start of the great British festival season. And what better way to ease yourself in than a 3 day jaunt around your home town complete with a seemingly endless supply of beer in plastic glasses, more hot new bands than you can shake a stick, at and your own (or someone else’s) warm bed to crawl home to at the end of the night.

Now in its 4th year, Brighton’s Great Escape festival has evolved into Europe’s top showcase for new musical talent, and sees industry insiders and fans alike partake on a mad dash around the city’s pubs and clubs in the hope of catching the next big thing, or for some inexplicable reason, The Charlatans. The myriad complexities of the events timetabling (some bands playing more than once, last minute cancellations, secret gigs etc) causes plans to be made and then hastily scrapped and re-arranged at a moment’s notice, lending the festival a surreal, madcap edge.It is somewhat akin to attempting an orienteering course combined with a pub-crawl, with an A&R man in one ear and Zane Lowe’s mp3 player in the other.

Zane Lowe in one ear, an A&R man in the other

Zane Lowe in one ear, an A&R man in the other

We begin our evening at Audio to check out the rather dubious sounding Video Nasties ** who actually sound quite promising in the first couple of minutes, all sea shanty organ sounds and building atmospheric guitars. However said keyboards are promptly obliterated by the time that their first proper song announces itself through a medley of wild curly hair, intense vocals and crashing drums. The band do show signs of inventiveness in the numerous breakdowns that pepper each track, but the hardcore thrashing around in-between starts to get stale before their half hour slot is up. They do have a bassist who looks like one of the Goth kids from South Park however, so all is not lost.

'Goth Kids dance to express pain and suffering'

'Goth Kids dance to express pain and suffering'

Next it’s off to the Honeyclub for a horribly under-promoted Maps***, who play to a fairly bemused crowd, half of whom are expecting someone else entirely. Those that are here to see James Chapman’s live ensemble are equally bemused, mostly as he appears to have done away with all that lush, sweeping electronic loveliness, and appears to be trying to cave their heads in with some sort of warped hardcore techno. Traces of well loved songs such as ‘Back+Forth’ and ‘It Will Find You’ are still vaguely present, but they are now beefed up almost beyond recognition with chest rattling drum beats and a cacophonic wall of synthesisers. It’s actually pretty impressive, but for the time of day and size of venue, it fails to really engage the crowd in the way that perhaps a more accurate representation of his work on record may have.

It is now not only very muggy, but also very wet outside but undeterred, we fight through the feeling of being suffocated by a damp dog and charge ahead to Komedia for a bit of Everything Everything ***. It is probably safe to say that the band have heard the odd Futureheads record, but they also have a way with a tune that belies such lazy comparisons and sets them out as an interesting proposition in their own right. They have the whole jumpy lead vocal call and response trick down pat, and each song rolls along under the momentum of near continual changes in tempo and style. It often sounds as though they are playing 4 different songs at the same time, but for the most part their tightness and timing makes it all work. New single ‘Photoshop Handsome’ showcases their skills perfectly and leaves the crowd both contented, and eager to hear a bit more, which is exactly what you want really.

Fearing the first major queuing experience of the night we rush down to Hector’s House just in time to check out… a really bloody big queue. Sadly there will be no Hockey for us tonight (maybe we’ll have more luck at Audio on Saturday) so it’s off to the nearest venue, The Ocean Rooms to check out The Baddies.

Unfortunately they sound and look rubbish so it’s quickly off to the pitch dark of the Sallis Benny Theatre as we have remembered that the previously clashed with Mirrors**** are now open to our eagle eyed scrutiny. The theatre’s shadowy recesses are perfect for the band’s brooding synth heavy atmospherics. Most of the usual 80’s influences are present, from their regimented Kraftwork-esq stage presence, to the dark pulsating undercurrent of bass that keeps each song ticking over with metronomic precision. Crucially however, they haven’t forgotten to write melodies to weave in and out of such backdrops. The end result pitches up somewhere between Duran Duran on a massive comedown and Cut Copy with stoic British bleakness replacing antipodean sunshine. It gives their performance a sense of beautiful melancholy, and finally settles the question of whether robots have feelings.

Mirrors-001

Mirrors

At this point we decide to attempt the Maccabees homecoming headline slot, and head the short distance to the Corn Exchange with a good 45 minutes to spare. The scene that awaits us is reminiscent of a soup kitchen during the great depression. Tired, sodden queues of people stretch off into the distance, all the way into the Pavilion Gardens, there are heated exchanges at the door, and a general air of hopelessness surrounds the situation.

The delegates queue is almost as bad, so we decide to cut our losses and head for the delights of Filthy Dukes **** at the Ocean Rooms, via a pit stop at the Market Diner. With precious other options available at this time of night, and the Concorde seeming a small eternity away, the Ocean Rooms is packed out with a motley assortment of wastrels, and for those too mashed or disorganised to get to the Maccabees early, the Dukes are just what the doctor ordered.

Some Dukes. Being filthy

Some Dukes. Being filthy

Seemingly intent on cramming every dance sub genre into each of their songs simultaneously, lead singer Tim Lawton soon has the crowd in a delirious frenzy of flailing arms and massive grins. While I’m not entirely sure they that they’re real Dukes (one of them has a baseball cap on), they certainly are filthy. ‘Come on Brighton, this is a nasty one!’ shouts Lawton as the band career into their final tune. The crowd don’t disappoint, and neither, thus far, has the festival.

First published at TheBrightonMagazine.com

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10 Marketing Slogans Lost in Translation

May 11, 2009 at 1:36 pm (Business)

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The advent of mass communication technology has revolutionised the way that companies approach their marketing strategies, and has given even the smallest of businesses a platform to tout their wares to all corners of the globe. It is no longer just the major corporate players that have to think about how their products can be marketed overseas, and as a result, the use of business translation services has skyrocketed.

However, while the decision to expand operations abroad is an exciting one, those wishing to branch out into foreign markets should remember a couple of important points.

Firstly, marketing products or services abroad requires some knowledge of the cultural values of the country you are dealing with, and companies should tailor their strategy accordingly. For example, when BMW and Mercedes started a major drive to break into the Japanese car market, they found that Japanese customers preferred the steering wheel to be located on the left, or wrong side, as it was seen as a status symbol.

Proof, if it were needed, that money cannot buy taste

Proof, if it were needed, that money cannot buy taste

Secondly, it is not simply enough just to use a literal translation of your slogan, or resorting to a phonetic equivalent of your company’s name. Coca Cola tried this approach when marketing their drink in China, choosing Chinese symbols that sounded similar to their brand name. The result, ‘Ke-kou-ke-la’, translates roughly as ‘Bite the wax tadpole’ and resulted in a costly search for a more appetising alternative.

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It is worthwhile ensuring that it is the actual message that you are trying to communicate which gets translated, rather than just the individual words. If not, you are almost guaranteed to ensure that your message is lost in translation, and at worst you may well end up confusing or insulting the very people whose business you are trying to attract, as the following examples prove.

1.   Ikea
The Swedish furniture magnate also ran into problems in Germany with its Gutvik bunk beds. While English shoppers have long since been amused by quaint sounding furniture names such as the ‘Toftbo’ bathroom mat or ‘Babord’ shoe rack, the pronunciation in German, ‘Gut Fick’ meaning ‘Good F**k’, had far more sinister undertones for a children’s bed.

The 'Gutvik' bunk-bed. Not for children.

The 'Gutvik' bunk-bed. Not for children.

2. Bacardi
The Cuban company attempted to export some Latin flair to European markets with their fruit based ‘Pavane’ drink. Unfortunately its exotic charms were somewhat lost in Germany where it was easily misheard in busy bars as ‘Pavian’, or ‘baboon’.

3. Colgateimages
The world renowned oral health company caused a minor faux pax in France with the introduction of its new ‘Cue’ toothpaste. In France, the word ‘cul’, or ‘ass’ is pronounced with a silent ‘l’, bringing a whole new meaning to Colgate’s 60’s slogan ‘The Colgate ring of confidence’.

4. EXXON
Oil giant Exxon began life as Standard Oil, and decided upon the abbreviation of ‘ESSO’ (or S.O) for marketing purposes. However a court order ruled that the company had an unfair monopoly on oil production and ordered it to be split into 34 separate entities. Jersey Standard grew the quickest, and eventually needed a new name to reflect its international status. They settled for ENCO, only to find that their new name translated phonetically to ‘stalled car’ in Japanese. The logo was finally changed to EXXON, and has been referred to as ‘The sign of the double-cross’ by environmental activists ever since.

Exxon - The sign of the double-cross. Courtesy of Greenpeace.

Exxon - The sign of the double-cross. Courtesy of Greenpeace.

5.    Honda

The car giant has had to perform a sharp U-turn in 2002 when it sought to export its new ‘Fitta’ vehicle to Europe. Unbeknown to the Japanese, the word ‘Fitta’ is a very old and extremely vulgar term for female genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. Thankfully the mistake was rectified and the car renamed the Honda Jazz in Europe. What customers would have made of a car named after a woman’s vagina complete with the tag ‘Small on the outside, but large on the inside’ is anyone’s guess.

6.    Sumitomo/Toyota
Even abbreviations can cause problems for companies looking to go international. Sumitomo’s attempts to market its ‘Sumitomo High Toughness’ range of steel pipes was somewhat hindered by the appearance of the acronym ‘SHT’, which was plastered all over the pipes themselves and related advertising. Similarly, the Toyota MR2 ran into difficulties in France where it was known as the MR Deux or ‘merde’.

The Toyota MR2. One crap car, apparently.

The Toyota MR2. One crap car, apparently.

7.    Locum
Sometimes even the most innocent advertising campaigns can result in trouble. Locum, a Swedish real estate company specialising in healthcare buildings, wanted to wish all their English clients a happy Christmas and so sent out these lovely cards with the ‘o’ of Locum replaced with a heart. As you can see, the ‘L’ quickly becomes an ‘I’ in this instance for anyone with a dirty mind. Imagine hanging that one up at Yule-tide.
ilovecum8.    Pocari Sweat/Coolpis
On a similar theme, two Japanese soft drink companies tried exporting their wares abroad. At least Pocari Sweat fooled some consumers into thinking it was some new-age remedy made from the perspiration of the lesser spotted Japanese Pocari.

orig_coolpis

Thirsty?

9.       Electrolux

While some of the mistakes above may fall into the category of ‘unlucky’, others appear at first sight to be unforgivably stupid. Take Swedish manufacturer Electrolux. Their slogan ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’ caused great hilarity when it was used to market Vacuum cleaners in America. However it now appears that the company were fully aware of the double entendre and used it to gain media attention.

10.    And finally….
Just to reiterate the point that context is important, a drug company from the states tried negotiating their way around the translation minefield by simply using pictures to sell its medicine in the Middle East. They tried to simplify their message as much as possible and created three pictures to put their point across. The first showed a man with a headache; the second depicted him taking one of their pills, while the third showed him smiling and apparently better. The only thing they didn’t take into account was that their target audience would read the ad from right to left.

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On homeopathy

April 22, 2009 at 4:35 pm (Health) (, , , )

”If you open your mind too far, your brain will fall out” – Tim Minchin

bsse20002As families continue to feel the pinch as a result of the current economic slowdown, a recent report by the Wall Street Journal has revealed that one of the first cutbacks Americans are making is in health care. The report, published late last year, indicates that almost a quarter of Americans are cutting down on visits to their doctor, while 11% are buying fewer prescription drugs as a result of the financial crises.

At first glance this situation appears extremely worrying. If the figures are to be believed then millions are being denied vital health care, and with drug companies currently raising prices in an attempt to claw back lost earnings, the problem will only get worse.

However, there is growing evidence that more and more Americans are instead turning to cheaper alternative treatments. One of the fastest growing and most controversial of these is homeopathy, a 200 year old system of medicine that is fast becoming as popular as proven alternative treatments such as osteopathy and acupuncture.

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Acupuncture - A scientifically proven alternative therapy

On the face of it, homeopathy appears to be the ideal solution for those with one eye on their bank balance, and the other on their wellbeing. The treatment works by using trace amounts of naturally occurring animal, plant and mineral extracts that are diluted in water and taken orally. As a result, the remedies are not only significantly cheaper than traditional drugs, but are almost universally free from nasty side effects.

Supporters claim that homeopathic methods can be used to cure a huge range of injury and illness from migraines and colds to HIV and cancer, and the treatment has received glowing endorsements from such titans of science as Bill Clinton, Jennifer Aniston and Pamela Anderson. Even the queen of England is a fan. Yet homeopathy continues to have vociferous detractors who claim it is at best a dangerous placebo, and at worst a modern form of witchcraft cynically marketed by charlatans with no regard for their patients safety. So who is right?

Insert own amusing caption here

Insert own amusing caption here

Most of the claims made in favour of homeopathy concern minor ailments that are often described as ‘self-limiting’ conditions – medical problems that the body can cure by itself if given time. This has caused critics to joke that homeopathy can cure a cold in seven days, whereas if left alone it can take a whole week to clear up, yet many people swear by homeopathic methods, arguing that it aids the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Elaine Young, an asthma sufferer living in Florida, maintains that homeopathy has been responsible for a remarkable turnaround in her health. She said ”A few years ago, my asthma had got so bad that I was no longer able to work. I was on oral steroids and my doctor’s prognosis was dismal. My homeopathic doctor was able to prescribe an individualised remedy and said that my immune system was “derailed”. He said the remedy would get it back on track, and miraculously, my asthma just went. That’s the only way I can describe it.’’

Critics however have argued that such benefits are purely the result of a placebo effect, wherein the act of taking the medicine tricks the brain into believing it is cured regardless of the active ingredients contained. Some homeopaths disagree with this explanation, while others maintain that while it may be true, the reasons for a patient’s improvement are unimportant and all that matters is the end result.

arnica-gel3Ethics aside, this can be an extremely dangerous way of viewing medicine. It may be all well and good convincing the body that it is no longer suffering from a migraine or stress related rash, but what about more serious conditions? It seems incredible that health professionals should try to cure problems such as a broken arm or chronic back pain without any physical interaction with the part of the body affected, yet this is precisely what some homeopaths have suggested. One of the most common remedies suggested for back problems is a solution containing Arnica, a plant in the same family as the humble sunflower that has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. However, multiple studies on the use of Arnica in homeopathy have found it to be no more effective than a placebo, which is fairly unsurprising when you consider that Arnica is actually poisonous and should not be taken internally unless diluted to such an extent that none of the chemicals from the plant remain.

This leads us to another criticism of homeopathy, which is the suggestion that the science behind it is innately flawed. Our tried and tested ideas of how chemistry works would suggest that diluting the active ingredient of the remedy to the extent that it is barely detectable should make the cure less potent. Not so say the homeopaths, claiming that water comes in built with a kind of mystic power to memorise molecules of other substances that have been dissolved in it. This mysterious energy has never been satisfactorily explained in scientific terms, or detected, yet it is a keystone of how the process is meant to work.

Some water, yesterday

Some water, yesterday

One of the biggest criticisms of homeopathy however, is that it gives people false hope. This may not seem all that much of a problem, but the idea of patients rejecting conventional medicine that could cure life threatening ailments or prolong their lives is extremely worrying. Not only are seriously ill patients rejecting proven cancer treatments in favour of a treatment that has failed to pass basic scientific testing, but healthy people are being put at risk by homeopaths prescribing anti malarial prophylactics to eco-conscious back-packers, many of whom have contracted malaria.

This is not to say that all forms of alternative medicine are without merit. It would appear that many people find homeopathy very useful for minor ailments, and that certain remedies can be helpful in treating the symptoms of more serious complaints. The charity Cancer Research for example has reported that homeopathic remedies, placebo or not, can help ease patients suffering when undergoing chemotherapy. However the organisation is equally quick to state that there is ‘no convincing evidence’ to suggest that homeopathy can offer any form of relief for cancer sufferers as a whole, let alone provide a cure for the disease itself.

Other treatments that have began life as alternatives to the established medical practices of the time have now, with proper research into their claims, been accepted into modern medicine. Osteopathy, acupuncture, psychiatry and chemotherapy have all been used in conjunction with established treatments in order to improve patient’s health. For now, however, the idea that a person can be cured of AIDS, with little more than a few drops of water with a phenomenal memory and some positive thinking remains a highly dangerous proposition.

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‘The More I See, the Less I Scream…”

April 16, 2009 at 4:45 pm (Music, Tracks) (, , , )

Two new Manic Street Preacher tracks from the forthcoming album ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’ have been given airings on Radio 1 and XFM.

Album opener ‘Peeled Apples‘ was selected as Zane Lowe’s ‘Hottest Record in the World’ and at first listen sounds like a decent enough amalgamation of later Manic’s straight-up rock melodics and ‘Holy Bible’ style claustrophobic atmospherics.

Unfortunately it does have Zane Lowe’s hyperbole all over it.

The second track ‘Jackie Collins Existential Question Time’ (!) is based round a simple riff and features the repeated Richey lyric ‘Oh mummy, what’s a sex pistol?’ which can be read as either a statement about sexual violence, or the failure of punk (and music in general) in light of the consumerism of the 80’s.

It’s also available on the Manics site.

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Three totally new and in no way past it bands set for The Great Escape

April 16, 2009 at 12:17 pm (Gigs, Music)

Brighton’s Great Escape festival confirmed its reputation as Europe’s premier showcase for new music this week with several new additions to its bill.

Leed's Gang of Four

Leed's Gang of Four

First up, we have a fiery collection of young upstarts from Leeds named ‘Gang of Four‘. The hotly tipped newcomers play a tight mix of punk, funk and dub reggae, and punctuate their songs with political sloganeering so obscure as to seem almost outdated from the first listen. The band have been described by David Fricke as ”probably the best politically motivated dance band in rock & roll”, but to me they sound like a poor Fugazi rip off.

The Charlatans, yesterday.

The Charlatans, yesterday.

Joining them on the journey down to the coast are the exciting, and in no way really old West Midlands quintet ‘The Charlatans’. With an average age of just 15, the band are at the forefront of the new ‘baggy’ movement, and have seen their debut single “Indian Rope” used in E4’s intelligent new  youth drama show ‘Holyoaks’, as well as adverts for the new Nokia 1011 mobile phone.

Finally, from the newly created city of Edinburgh come shouty indie band ‘Idlewild’. Taking their name from the fictional setting of soon to be released novel ‘Anne of Green Gables‘, the bands angular sound has been described by underground music journal the NME as ”the sound of a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs”. The band hope to release their debut album ‘Hope is Important’ in the coming months, and say the title is a reference to Scotland’s new found independence.

Scotland, free at last

Scotland, free at last

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