Here is a review of the Brainwash music festival I did for the Leeds Student newspaper last term. They asked me to write about these particular bands, and so I did, although unfortunately not much of what I wrote eventually got used. On the bright side though, they did put in my review of Kong, the band I enjoyed seeing and writing about most, so yay!
(As well as these bands I was commissioned to review, I also enjoyed Trumpets of Death and Dananananananakroyd lots and lots, but I wasn’t asked to write about them. Still got a press ticket for them though!)
My my, what a strange assault that was! Castrovalva brought us fast-paced thrashing bass and drum noise (crucially distinct from Drum and Bass), with a variety of shouting over the top of it. The frontman mostly screamed, but he also had a freaky falsetto thing, and I think he might have done some falsetto rapping too (Castrovalva do seem to sometimes describe themselves as ‘noise hop’ after all). Curious vocals certainly. He also had a keyboard and a sampler, and several of their songs started with his voice looped or some odd sampling. However, these details tended to be disappear underneath the rhythm section’s clout once they got going.
Not that this was a problem of course; Castrovalva made it very clear tonight that they are all about loud noises and wild energy, not delicate nuance. They played frantically, leaping around the stage and into the crowd, because if your playing in a small venue, why not get up close and personal? The bass player in particular worked up a bit of a sweat from swinging his bass around so much: i’m amazed that no one in the front rows got their head bashed by the instrument. Oh and they all had matching Castrovalva T-shirts too. A lot of smiling laughing shouting fun.
Some friends of mine have seen Circles before, and the reports I received were… less than good. This, plus the fact that they were the very first band of the day, had me afraid that i would be left standing alone in the Brudenell watching a lackluster band, whilst awkwardly trying to avoid eye contact with the frontman. It would have been horrible. So I was very thankful when I entered the Brudenell to find a small but respectably sized crowd (given that it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon), and an apparently not terrible band playing! Awkward moment avoided!
Maybe Circles were having an off night when my friends saw them, or maybe they’ve just improved in the last year, but I didn’t find Circles that bad at all really. Not amazing or anything, but I wasn’t willing their set to finish while I watched them, which is a definite plus. They stuck pretty closely to the box marked ‘Standard Medium High Energy Indie Rock Band’, but they played their songs well, and their last song was positively interesting, with noisier guitar and strong rhythm section action. They finished with the good old fashioned leave-the-guitars-feedbacking-and-leave-the-stage trick, only undermined slightly by popping sheepishly back on stage again afterwards to turn the amp off. Aww, bless.
Wot Gorilla? 7/10
To the dingy Royal Park Cellars, for Wot Gorilla! The venue name is very descriptive: this feels very much like a dark dingy cellar, and is underneath the Royal Park Pub, a pub which I can’t see myself ever choosing to go to when the Brudenell is literally next door. Wot Gorilla? (i’m going to ignore the question mark in their name from now on, it messes up my punctuation) produced some technical sounding math-rock, with lots of stops and starts and some pretty impressive drumming. In fact the drummer took off his shirt after only the first song, so slicked with sweat was he. His complex rhythms were probably the main feature of their music, regularly shifting about all over the place whilst still sticking to the structure of the songs. Said songs were generally quick and upbeat, with yelped vocals (eg. shouted, but without the raw, that-must-really-hurt-your-throat element that a lot of this weekend’s music had). I can’t really claim to have been able to distinguish between the songs all that much, but they were fairly enjoyable for half an hour, and I wish them well!
Lite were… alright. (Har har har…) All I knew about them before I went to see them was that they are an instrumental rock band from Japan, and I didn’t find out all that much more during the show. Their specific brand of instrumental rock had elements of both post-rock and math-rock (Post-Math perhaps?), in that it was grand in scope whilst still being full of lots of intricate technical details: there were a lot of fiddly sounding guitar parts and complex polyrhythms, all tightly interlocking with each other. Certainly, this band are very accomplished and professional musicians, and perhaps this was part of the problem with their show? Although treading vaguely similar ground to Wot Gorilla?, they seemed to lack that band’s energy and sense of abandon. Instead was the feeling that Lite were indeed professionals, doing a job rather than playing for fun, which felt a bit out of place at Brainwash, where ‘strong sense of professionalism’ doesn’t seem high on the list of criteria. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, and maybe its just not my thing (they seemed to be going down pretty well), but I just didn’t feel any particular emotional reaction to the music of Lite. Sorry guys!
Shark Teeth 7/10
I’ve seen Shark Teeth before, back when they were called ‘Blood Oranges’: the name change was caused by former ‘Lightspeed Champion’ man Dev Hynes deciding to call himself ‘Blood Orange’, and thus condemning the lesser known Leeds band to a lifetime of “no no, Oranges, not Orange!” Instead of suffering this irritating fate, the band decided to change their name, which seems a sensible choice to me. Bloody Dev Hynes.
The band allude to this predicament by announcing at the start of the gig that they would be covering the songs of Blood Oranges for the whole show, a comment that reflects the very friendly, relaxed feel of Shark Teeth’s set. They generally seemed to be having a lot of fun, joking with the audience and each other, which produced a very pleasant atmosphere in the room: when the guitarist broke a string and had to borrow another band’s guitar, the result was 2 minutes of chatter rather than of awkward silence whilst he tuned up. The music had the same feel to it, being upbeat, bouncy indie-pop throughout. Whilst they won’t change your world, their songs are all nicely melodic and tuneful, and their performance might make you smile! So remember this bands: enthusiasm can be infectious!
The Phantom Band 9/10
Poor form Leeds, poor form. By this stage of the weekend (eg. the very end of it), most of the attendees of Brainwash appeared to have filtered off home. Granted, a whole weekend is a long time to spend indoors listening to relatively unknown bands, and Sunday night is uncomfortably close to Monday morning, but none of that is any excuse when we are dealing with such a thoroughly high quality band as The Phantom Band!
So high quality in fact, that they were not deterred by the disappointing attendance, and played just as well as the last time I saw them. My companion suggested that they sounded like “the point where Kraftwerk meets Ramnstein”, which made some sort of strange sense, despite them sounding very little like either band. Kraftwerk are represented by the guy with 3 or 4 synthesisers at his disposal (lots of bleeps and pulses from him), and the Ramnstein comparison is justified by the loud rock power coming from the band’s massed guitars and pounding drums, as well as the frontman’s rich Scottish baritone. As a unit, the band produce seriously high quality songs that are packed with sonic detail: each of their songs is a distinct highlight. Most of them got my head nodding to the combination of motorik drums and driving guitars though, especially the 10 minute finale ‘Crocodile’. Most of all though, tonight reminded me what a stupidly underrated band The Phantom Band are. So go and listen to them!
Band of the Festival
KONG! Do you know Kong? Let me give you a little run down: Kong are a band who wear freakish and disturbing translucent masks that make it look like their faces are melting, whilst they grin malevolently at you. They dress entirely in red, although ‘dress’ may be a misrepresentative word to use when referring to the bass player, who wears only Y-fronts, and occasionally strokes his naked thigh disturbingly. Their names are supposedly ‘Magpie’, ‘Krem’, and ‘Lulu’. The last time I saw them, they played on the floor, and Magpie challenged the crowd to forcefully take his guitar from him, whilst glugging from a bottle of whiskey. No one took him up on the offer. They have a huge drumkit and a lot of amp-power, and they are LOUD.
Soundwise, they are heavy as hell: lots of lurching bass, hammering distorted guitar, shouting/yelping/screaming, and frantic battering drums. Mix it all together and it feels like a punch in the head (in a good way!), which fits very well with the aforementioned ‘visual identity’ of the band. It sounds chaotic, especially with feedback being left hanging in the air between songs, but it should be noted that these guys are also damn tight players. The drummer in particular is clearly pretty serious about his instrument, hitting every beat incredibly hard but also perfectly in time, despite the complexity of his rhythms. The other two had no trouble keeping up as they launched into closely interlocked instrumental sections, such as on frenzied set highlight ‘Leather Penny’. Kong are an amazing, visceral, overwhelming and slightly nightmarish experience, and if this review doesn’t scare you off, your in for a treat next time they come to town. KONG!