Saturday, 16 July 2016

Martha - Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

DIY indie-punks Martha's second full-length album, Blisters in the Pit of my Heart, is finally here, and it doesn't disappoint. After such a strong debut with Courting Strong, it must be a relief for the band to have successfully overcome the second-album-hurdle.

The album opens with the energetic Christine, setting the tone with it's urgent cry of "I've been messed up in the head since I finished watching Threads",  followed by Chekhov's Hangnail, a song that manages to make the line "when it rains, well it really fucking pours" sound beautifully sincere.

It's chaotic without ever missing a beat, the spiky riffs reminding me of bands like Helen Love, Bis and Kenickie. Their trademark harmonies, with all four members singing lead on different tracks, are still one of the bands most defining features, and one of the things that made me first fall in love with them.

Storytelling is also something Martha have proven themselves to be good at, and that side of them gets a chance to shine too, especially on Goldman's Detective Agency, which sees the band re imagining 19th century anarchist Emma Goldman as a private investigator, dedicated to stopping corruption.

Ice Cream and Sunscreen is definitely a standout track; clocking in at just over two minutes, it darts across the spectrum of human emotion without ever stopping for breath, as well as providing the catchy refrain that gives the album its title.

Like everything Martha does, it leaves you desperately wanting more. I love bands who aren't ashamed to sing in their own accents, and Martha's Durham-voices combine perfectly with the sincerity of their personal-meets-political lyrics to produce a sound that is distinctly their own.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Happy Accidents - You Might Be Right

I always love it when bands manage to successfully combine melancholy lyrics with happy, poppy melodies, and, with their debut album, Happy Accidents prove themselves to be one of those bands. Opening track But You're Probably Wrong sets the tone, with its hook-laden introspective lyrics; "In a world where it's look down upon to vent, so much of worth will not be said."

Lyrically, a recurring theme of this album seems to be how to live alongside unpleasant situations. With most songs, there's an underlying sense of unease that you can apply them to either the world as a whole, or to a more personal experience like dealing with social anxiety. As a socially anxious person myself, Leaving Parties Early strikes a particular chord in me as Rich sings "I'm left wondering if there's something wrong with me."

Facts and Figures sees Phoebe's vocals being pushed to the forefront, and seems to be becoming more relevant each day in this country: "Impossible scene pervading every room I'm in / But if it wasn't routine, not sure that I'd be functioning."

The band strip things back on I Can't Wait To Get The Hell Away From You, which shows off Rich's ability to expose his innermost feeling while still remaining beautifully articulate.

If you're an indie-pop fan who hasn't checked out Happy Accidents yet, then get on it, especially if you're into bands like Martha, Johnny Foreigner, Colour Me Wednesday and Great Cynics.

Happy Accidents are a band that prove you can still have fun while talking about more serious subjects. They wear their insecurities on their sleeves, and by doing so, their album makes you feel less alone in your own struggles.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Martha + Grotbags + Doe + T-Shirt Weather - Soup Kitchen, Manchester

After narrowly missing out on seeing Martha last year (car problems), I think it's safe to say I was sufficiently excited about finally seeing them tonight.
T-Shirt Weather were the first band on, and had me hooked straight away. I hadn't had a chance to listen to them before tonight, but I'd read good things about them, and wasn't disappointed. For anyone else who hasn't yet heard them, they're a pop-punk band from Durham. And I mean, like good pop-punk.

Does anyone remember when Sky had a channel called P-Rock? I used to love that channel, and listening to T-Shirt Weather was like watching all my pop-punk faves again, but without the underlying misogynistic lyrics that I chose to blissfully ignore. I'll definitely be listening to more of these guys.
Next up was Doe, who I'm already a big fan of. Having just announced the release of their debut album in September, tonight's set list gave us a taster of what to expect (perfection, basically). If you like the sound of their track Sincere which was put online this week, then you'll love it. Their songs manage to be upbeat and danceable, with the 2-guitars-no-bass setup often lending itself to an underlying tension reminiscent of early Sleater-Kinney.

The venue didn't really start to fill-up til towards the end of Doe's set, which is a shame because they (and T-Shirt Weather) definitely deserved a bigger crowd.
Grotbags came out to a now-packed room. Describing themselves as "two big lads and two streaks of piss", they delivered a set of solid pop-punk, ending with a cover of Little Mix's Black Magic. As their name, self-description and choice of cover may suggest, Grotbags seem very much about just having some fun, and that feeling transferred well from the stage and into the crowd.
Finally, it was time for Martha. Their soon-to-be-released new album Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart has been streaming online all week, and I'd be surprised if anyone in the room hadn't been listening to it in preparation, as each new track was greeted like an old favourite, as they kicked things off with Christine and Chekhov's Hangnail.

Meanwhile, staples like 1997, Passing In The Hallway and Bubble In My Bloodstream had everyone shouting along.
The drum kit, with it's play on one of Martha's lyrics, had served as a reminder all night of how downhill things have gone in this country in the space of a week. I can't imagine many Right-leaning people feeling at home at a Martha gig, so I think it's safe to say that there was a universal sense of anxiety, anger and a need to just be around people who share your point of view.

This was reflected by the band, as JC admitted to wishing he had something positive to say about it, but not knowing what he could possibly say. For 45 minutes though, Martha managed to make the world feel like it was an okay place and reminded me why I love their music so much.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Forgotten Pop Stars: Leilani

Obscure and/or forgotten about pop stars are one of my favourite things in the world. THE WORLD. That's why I've decided to add a new regular feature to this blog, where I pick from the huge list I've compiled and feature one of these long-forgotten gems of the music world.

My first pick? LEILANI.
Yep, in 1999, Leilani happened. Clad in fishnets and goggles, for a short time, she would regularly show up on the likes of CD:UK and Top Of The Pops. She was briefly signed to ZTT and released three of the most magnificent pop songs of all time, the first of which was Madness Thing.
I think we all need to take a moment to appreciate the lyrical genius within this song - "When your boyfriend comes home early to find you sucking on a Curly Wurly; don't you just hate the madness of it all?"

and

"When your baby's just been born, when the nun has just been shorn; don't you just love the madness of it all?"

and

"When your boobies are too small, and when your boyfriend is too tall; don't you just hate the madness of it all?"

The real madness of it all was that this song entered and peaked at only Number 19, while its follow-up (and my personal favourite Leilani song) Do You Want Me only reached Number 40.
A third single, Flying Elvis, was released, before Leilani seemingly evaporated from the world.
Contain your jealousy, but before disappearing, Leilani toured with Boyzone and I got to witness her magic in the flesh. Tragically, despite recording a full album, no full-length was ever released. I've come across people on forums who have somehow acquired it, but for now, I'm left with a Curly Wurly shaped hole in my life.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Adam Ant + UK Feds - Sage, Gateshead

After last years Dirk Wears White Socks anniversary tour, Adam Ant is touring again, this time in celebration of his Kings of the Wild Frontier album.
Tonight's opening band was The Police tribute band The Clash tribute band UK Feds. They played well and interacted with the crowd, but honestly, I'm just not a fan. Maybe it was what sounded like a forced Jamaican accent from the vocalist, who has clearly fallen victim to White Reggae Voice syndrome (I just made that condition up right now). Maybe it was the way they came across as a middle-class stage production about Teh Punx. Or maybe it was just the uninspired, by-the-numbers formula the band seem to have stuck to religiously when writing their songs.

ANYWAY. Onwards and upwards...
Adam Ant took to the stage with his band, launching straight into KOTWF's opening track Dog Eat Dog. Having two drummers is pivotal to the album's sound, and this was, of course, recreated live by Ant's current drummers, Andy Woodward and Jola.

While last years DWWS was, visually, a no-frills affair fitting of the album's art work, there is no shortage of colour this time around (perhaps reflecting the stark contrast of KOTWF's colourful album cover to its predecessor?). Every song was accompanied by bright lights of varying colours, with Don't Be Square (Be There) being particularly enhanced by this addition.

After playing through KOTWF in full, Ant played a mix of older material, picking from both his solo and Ants back-catalogues. It was a great mix of crowd-pleasing hits, like Goody Two Shoes, Prince Charming and Stand and Deliver, alongside album tracks and b-sides like Zerox, Lady and Car Trouble.

The energy of Ant and his band never faltered throughout the set, despite playing for almost two hours. The night was brought to a close with an encore of T-Rex's Get In On, and Physical. Let's hope for a Prince Charming tour next!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Bis + Big Zero + ILL - The Deaf Institute, Manchester

Less than six months in, and 2016 is already a great year in terms of going to gigs, not least because I have now seen Bis twice (and trust me, I'm ready to make it a third time if they come back!).
Tonight's opening band was ILL, who I've been a fan of since seeing them  open for Jack Off Jill last year. While I love their loud and chaotic post-punk sound, they're not for everyone - thankfully though, most people in the crowd tonight seemed to like them. Their political lyrics burst with energy against the noisy, at times jarring, backdrop they create. My personal highlights were Secret Life ("true story", as keyboardist/vocalist Harri Shanaham informed us) and Ill Song, a song takes a look at the government's destruction of the NHS with their distinctive politics-meets-dark-humour lyrical style.
Next up is Big Zero, who are kind of like what might happen if Weezer and Devo had sex while watching Back to the Future, and gave birth to a band baby. A couple of their songs blended together a bit, but overall their music is catchy and fun (they're at their best when they don't hold back on the synths), and the band certainly don't lack any energy when it comes to performing.

While I admire their dedication to the image they've created for themselves, I can't help but feel like it seemed a bit forced at times - the constant stating of "we are zero" after each song, for example (we get it, you like Devo!). Definitely worth checking out though, and I'm interested to see how they develop as they release more music.
By now, the venue was packed - thankfully, we only had to wait 15 minutes for Bis to take to the stage. Starting off with School Disco the whole room was dancing like they were part of the coolest dance competition that never was, and they didn't stop until the last note was over (seriously, I feel like some of the audience members deserve their own mini reviews for their dancing!).

The set list was, like in Glasgow, made up mostly of the band's early material, with their two newest songs fitting in seamlessly. My personal favourites of the night were Teen-C Power, Keroleen and Kill Yr Boyfriend. As I said in my last review, I hope the new songs are a sign of more new material to come!

Bis are a band that I would happily go see live everyday for the rest of my life. For now, I'll just settle for listening to them obsessively at home. I'm assuming there are people in the world who don't like Bis and, to be honest, that's a scary thought. Anyway... Teen-C Power!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Hidden Figures

I came across an article a few days ago on a film that's being made, called Hidden Figures, and it immediately piqued my interest. It tells the true story of African-American women who were mathematicians and parts of NASA's space program during the Civil Rights era.

In a bid to stay ahead of Russia in the space race, the agency hired the smartest people they could find. After World War II, federal agencies had to cope with the shortage of male candidates by hiring actual, real-life women. Shocking, I know. Women were seen as being more detail-oriented, with small hands that were better suited to repetitive tasks on the adding machines, and came with advantage of being paid less than a man for the same job. This also freed the male engineers they did have up for the more "serious" and analytical projects.

So, not only did agencies like NASA have to start hiring women, they also had to start hiring African-American women.

Despite the skill of these women, segregation and isolation still reigned; women were placed in separate rooms from men, and the black women were separated from the white women, and nicknamed "coloured computers". During lunch breaks, they had to sit at a "coloured" table in the cafeteria.

A few years into the program, the unmarried white women were housed in a fancy dorm, while the unmarried black women were left to find their own accommodation in town.

It's no secret that history is full of white-washing, and it's important that stories like this are told. There are probably so many other stories like this that we don't even know about yet, so many people who never got the credit they deserved.

As I said, I found this whole story interesting, and decided to write about three of the women who'll be portrayed in Hidden Figures.
Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) worked as a mathematician. In 1938, she became the first African-American woman to desegregate the graduate school at West Virginia University, and was hired by NASA in 1953. She was one of the many women who were essentially the agency's "living computers" - replaced when actual machines became available.

Among her achievements are calculating the trajectory of Alan Shepard's flight, making him the first American in space, and calculating the trajectory for Apollo 11, which took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon. In 1962, when NASA used computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn's orbit around Earth, they asked Johnson to verify the numbers.

Johnson would also plot back-up navigational charts for astronauts, in case of electronic failures.

In 2015, she received a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to America's Space Race.

Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) also worked as a mathematician. She started working at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1943. In 1949, she was promoted and became the agency's first black supervisor, and one of very few women supervisors. She used her position to help other women progress through the agency, helping them to get the promotions or pay rises they deserved, and worked in that role for nearly a decade.

In 1958, segregated facilities were abolished. Vaughan joined the new Analysis and Computation Division, a racially and gender-integrated group working with electronic computing, and became an expert FORTRAN programmer. She retired from NASA in 1971.

Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monae) began her career as another "computer", specialising in reducing data from wind tunnel experiments and from aircraft data on various flight experiments. Throughout her career, she was aware that minorities and women weren't advancing as fast as they should have been, and started analysing the data to see what was holding them back. She found that, in addition to the obvious glass ceiling, a lot of time it was simply down to lacking a course or not being given the right assignments, and set about discreetly advising women on what they needed to do to go from Mathematician to Engineer.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Piers Morgan: The Feminist Gatekeeper That No One Asked For

It's a sad and unfortunate truth that we currently share a planet with Piers Morgan. Even sadder, his face and voice crop up everywhere, his opinions available to any platform willing to accommodate them.

Among his recent offerings to the world is a column for The Daily Mail, in which he told journalist Michelle Fields, who was assaulted by Donald Trump's campaign manager, to "toughen up". He tries to use the "let's ignore the journalists gender for a second" argument, and okay... yes, it would still be wrong if that journalist was a man. Because yes, I do believe in equality - I don't think anybody should be assaulted. As a side note, he chose to open this article with an anecdote of how Jeremy Clarkson once punched him in the head and he decided not to punch him back or press charges - I think he was trying to be endearing? - and a misuse of the word "ironically".

Piers seems to think of himself as something of an expert on feminism (and most other things in the world, now that I think about it), taking to Twitter and mourning the supposed death of feminism. Yep, Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski's topless selfie has literally killed feminism. 

I'm not trying to say that a successful woman posting a topless selfie is the biggest step forward feminism has ever made. But it's also not even close to being a step backwards. Here are two women, often photographed without their consent, taking control of their own image. It's their choice of how much of their body to show, despite the fact that we live in a society that constantly tells up to cover up, in case we offend someone (unless you have a "bikini body", in which case you're obliged to display it). For a woman to take control and present herself how she wants is meaningful (which is why I am big believer in selfies as a positive act). It's certainly not Piers' place to decide if something is personally empowering.

We live in a world that tells us (Kardashian included) that to show your body is to undermine everything else about yourself - intelligence, accomplishments etc, that we should cover up in order to be "safe". The truth is, as a woman, you're going to be just as scrutinised in a business suit as you are topless. You'll probably be called an attention-seeker, or "attention-whore", because seeking attention is obviously the worst thing a woman can do.

Then, of course, there's his judgement of Beyoncé and the increasingly political undertone of the work, siding with everybody's nobody's favourite politician Rudy Giuliani's view that her recent Superbowl performance, which paid tribute to the Black Panthers, was "disgraceful and outrageous". He goes on to say how he "preferred the old Beyoncé. The less inflammatory, agitating one." Well, yes, I'm sure you did prefer it when Beyoncé appealed more to your white male sensibilities. Jamelia put it perfectly, in an open blog post, when she said "[Piers], you don't like Beyoncé in Lemonade because her blackness isn't white enough for you anymore."

Oh yeah, and apparently Madonna is "tragic" because she doesn't conform to what Piers believes a woman should be.

And the Jezebel writers are "Nazis" for supporting Susan Sarandon for daring to show some cleavage.

And it's perfectly fine to misgender someone (in this case, Janet Mock), and then when said person calls you out on it, to make it seem as though you're the victim here.

And, as a white, middle-class man, it's definitely his place to police black people on their use of the N-word.

If looking at Piers' criticism of various women has taught me anything, it's that he has a strict image of what he thinks a woman should be and how she should act. Anything outside of that is just plain offensive. If you're a woman, then you can't expose your body unless it's on his terms. If you're a WOC, then you'd better make sure you still cater to middle class white men.

Piers, you are not some wise gatekeeper of feminism. Your brand is pseudo-journalism at best, in the same vein as Katie Hopkins and her thirst for social media infamy. You used to the editor of the Daily Mirror, a tabloid worthy of no respect, and even they fired you. You were cancelled by CNN. You've frequently used your platform to shame women for whatever reason you see fit, yet feign concern over the future of feminism. You're not worried about feminism being "dead" - you're worried because women are actually benefiting from it, and that scares you.

Feminism isn't dead. Your understanding of the world is dead.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Shirley Baker

Today I decided to write about a photographer I discovered recently, whose work I really love. Shirley Baker was a British photographer, known mostly for her street photography and portraits of Manchester's working class areas.

The mid-20th century spawned a lot of talented documentary photographers, though there were very few women in the field; when Baker studied photography at Manchester College of Technology in the 1950s, she was one of only two women on the course.
Baker had trouble getting a press card, meaning she couldn't pursue a career in photojournalism, something she put down to only being given the assignments that were "unsuitable" for men. One article she contributed to, "How To Photograph Children", made the patronising observation of "You'd expect a woman photographer to be at home with such a subject."
From the 60s, Baker taught photography at Salford College of Art, always carrying a camera in her handbag. During free periods, she started taking photographs of the nearby social housing area that was being demolished, and the people that were still living there. "Slum clearances" started in the 1930's, and began again in the 1950's after the war, with around 1.3 million houses demolished across the country. Baker seemed to be the only person interested in recording the history of these communities that were being torn down.
Baker's work received barely any attention at the time. These photos weren't exhibited until 1986, at Salford Museum & Art Gallery, in a show titled "Here Today, Gone Yesterday."

One of the things I like about Baker's work is how she was able to document quite a dark and unhappy period without making us pity the people who are shown. There is a sense of empathy however, but also a sense of compassion, and, at times, humour.
The family's surrounded by demolition aren't broken or worn down themselves, they're resilient and resourceful. Children make swings on lampposts, play cricket in the street, draw on paving stones. These people aren't put on display for us to feel sorry for, they're just ordinary family's who happen to live in poor areas. Poverty is a backdrop, not a defining feature.

Baker died in 2014, aged 82.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Colour Me Wednesday - Anyone and Everyone

Colour Me Wednesday have always perfectly towed the line between personal and political, and their new EP Anyone and Everyone sees the band embracing their personal side.

As always, the band show their talent for creating infectious melodies that lead to repeated listenings, each one progressively louder. This especially applies to Two-Fifty For You Girls.

In Your Shoes is like nothing they've yet done before. It's a slower and dreamy track, with the keyboards adding to the songs reflective atmosphere and perfectly complimenting Jen's soaring vocals, while also showing that the band aren't afraid to experiment. Musically, it feels like a naturally progression from the title track of their album, I Thought It Was Morning.

Don't Tell Anyone is my personal favourite track, I love the harmonies and backing vocals. Lyrically, it's not the most positive song, but it's sung and played in such a way that I can't help but feel happy when I listen to it.

This EP is the perfect soundtrack for saying goodbye (and fuck you) to winter, and optimistically throwing away your Vitamin D supplements. It sounds like daisy-fueled daydreams and bright colours. With each release, Colour Me Wednesday seem more confident in their sound, and I can't wait to see where they go with their next full-length release.

If you're still on-the-fence about buying this EP, then let the fact that each CD comes in a unique, handmade cover from the band themselves push you over that fence (it's also available on a pretty white vinyl, and/or cassette). Have a look for yourself here.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Bad News for Kesha's Court Case

Kesha's ongoing legal battle received a huge blow yesterday, when a New York Supreme Court Justice dismissed all but one of Kesha's counterclaims against Dr Luke (Lukasz Gottswald). The counter-claims were made in another attempt to free Kesha from her contract with Sony, and stated that both Sony and Gottswald have violated the New York State Human Rights Law by exposing her to sexual harassment and "gender-motivated violence", which can be qualified as a hate crime.

The Judge, Shirley Kornreich, disagreed, writing that "every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime" in her decision, a hugely offensive statement that I'll get back to later.

The truth is, Kesha's claims have been dismissed purely based on technicalities; one of the main reasons that that any abuses that happened were "outside New York and beyond the legal limit." Kornreich also declared that Gottswald's emotional abuse didn't reach a high enough level of "emotional distress".

It's a pretty well-known fact that victims of rape and sexual abuse are often slow to come forward, and it's largely due to their stories being dismissed or used against them so often, something we're seeing being played out in the public eye with Kesha right now.

To further prove the point of this case being dismissed purely on technicalities, Kornreich also acknowledged the reasons Kesha kept quiet for so long, but admitted these were irrelevant under the law.

Back to Kornreich's statement of "every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime", a statement that shows just how dismissive the law is when it comes to rape. The suggestion here is that there are degrees of rape, and that for for them to be taken seriously, they must adhere to strict legalities. Kesha's claims of being assaulted on a airplane and raped in a hotel room in 2008 do meet the legal standard of "physical violence", but were dismissed due to the five-year statute of limitations.

Kesha's lawyer has called this a "first-if-its-kind case" which, in some ways, is very true. But, as I've said in my previous posts about this case, there are so many ways that this case isn't unique. We've seen these themes play out so many times in sexual assault cases. Crimes of this nature are taking place every day and, as Kesha said herself on Facebook "unfortunately I don't think my case is giving people who have been abused confidence that they can speak out, and that's a problem."

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Colour Me Wednesday + Baby Brave - PUKE - Retro Bar, Manchester

Tonight was my first time at Manchester's Retro Bar, and it's a great gig venue; the bands play in the basement, which provides a close, intimate setting. I'm looking forward to, hopefully, seeing more bands there in the future.

The night was kicked off by Primeministers of the United Kingdom of England (or PUKE), which is actually members of Manchester band Claw the Thin Ice playing Presidents of the United States of America. I enjoyed this version of the band, and can honestly say that, of the two cover bands I've seen in my life, they were the best!
Next up were Baby Brave who, you may remember, I fell in love with back in February when they played at The Eagle Inn. Having arrived at the venue without any time to do a soundcheck, their first couple of songs basically filled this role - at first, I thought they sounded great but, once the bass became more audible, I realised that now they sounded great.

Oyonaxx is still my favourite song of theirs, but I'm also now developing obsessions with Jitters and Rock Paper Scissors. They also played a new song which, unfortunately, I can't remember the name of now. I can tell you that it also belongs on my list of favourite Baby Brave songs.
I've been a fan of Colour Me Wednesday for a few years now, but this was my first time actually getting to see them play. They didn't disappoint, and played a good mix of material from their new EP Anyone and Everyone, their split EP with Spoonboy, and their album.

Towards the end of their set, Jennifer and Harriet commented that they were both losing their voices ("talking too much shit in the van!"), but it didn't show.

After ending their set with Purge Your Inner Tory, they came back on for an encore of Sweaters, which just happens to be my favourite song of theirs, so was pretty much a perfect end to the night!

Monday, 28 March 2016

Bis + The Yummy Fur - King Tut's Wah Wah Hut

I've been a massive fan of Bis since I was 15, and last week I finally got to see them live, in their hometown of Glasgow no less. Tonight is the first of the few shows the band have scheduled for this year, and there's a definite buzz of excitement throughout the venue.

The Yummy Fur open the night with a rare appearance, coming on stage to an already-packed room. Like Bis, The Yummy Fur have never quite got the recognition they deserve, and I'll never understand why. Every song they play gets a great reaction, with my personal favourites being Roxy Girls and Policeman.

Next, it's time for Bis. Tonight's set list is made up mostly of the bands early material, making for a bouncy, high-energy night, starting with School Disco. The songs all sound, if it's possible, even better live, and the new song they slip in fits perfectly with the rest of their material; Sci-Fi Steven might have joked about some of their "Teen-C" lyrics being "timeless", but sound-wise, that actually rings true.

Monstarr sees Manda Rin stepping away from the keyboards and picking up a megaphone to rant about the media's obsession with image, a theme which is just as, if not more, relevant than when the song was first released.

All three of the members look so happy to be performing, and keep thanking everyone for coming throughout their set.

The band return to the stage to play their forthcoming Record Store Day release Boredom Could Be Good For You, followed by Eurodisco. I feel like I'm in the minority of Bis fans here, but I've never been that keen on Eurodisco - played live though, I loved it!

It's clear that Bis still have so much to offer, I'm hoping the new songs mean a new album, or at least an EP, might be in the works. I can't wait to see them again at Manchester in May - do yourself a favour and snap up a ticket while you still can!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Interview: The Subways


Formed in 2000, The Subways got their break by winning Glastonbury's Unsigned Band competition and landing a slot at the festival. From there, they've gained a reputation as one of the best live bands in the UK scene right now and have currently released four albums.

The band have always worked at being as completely involved in every aspect of their career as possible, starting from tirelessly producing their own demos in the early days, so it's no surprise that these days the they are embracing fan-funding platform PledgeMusic; their latest album was funded that way, and their current campaign is to fund a North American tour. 

Drummer Josh Morgan was kind enough to answer a few questions for this blog, check out what he had to say below!
You guys formed when you were all in your teens. How long have you each been interested in making music?
Billy reached for a guitar for the first time having heard Supersonic by Oasis during his early teens. He had always been a fan of popular music such as Blur, Oasis and Nirvana, and developed a taste for song writing early on. I believe he was always destined to do something within the arts. 
Charlotte had been classically trained on piano, and I'm sure on a wind instrument too. They were dating at a young age so Billy encouraged her to learn bass to join the band. 
And I just followed suit for a bit of fun.

Were you involved in any bands before The Subways?
No, The Subways has been our only project. We developed ourselves for The Subways and not the other way around.

Musically, who would you say your biggest influences are?
A wide range of bands. I'd say Nirvana/Oasis/ACDC for the guitar sounds. Motown/Fleetwood Mac/The Vines for the vocal melodies. Muse/Garbage for the Bass sound. And The White Stripes/The Von Bondies for drums.

You've funded your last two albums through PledgeMusic, and are now funding your North American tour the same way. Do you think fan-funding platforms like PledgeMusic give bands more freedom?
It gives us an opportunity to tour areas we can't afford and not bankrupt ourselves doing so. There's no doubt that the state of the industry forces bands to be creative with the way they finance things and this is one of the genius ways to keep music moving. We couldn't ignore the pleads from our American fans any longer and this was the best solution. My suggestion of selling Billy's body to finance the tour was quickly shunted down.

When it came to your most recent album, you decided to record/produce etc the whole thing yourselves. What led to that decision?
We felt that we had learned enough from Ian Broudie, Butch Vig and Stephen Street to be able to attempt it ourselves. Each of them had taught us a tremendous amount about our instruments and sound. Billy worked his arse off and began to find his rhythm during the process. It was really fun.

Now that you've experienced both, do you prefer the DIY approach to doing things?
Definitely DIY. Not only is it financially viable, but watching Billy lose his mind over something like floor tom phasing is just too funny.
I've interviewed a few bands about their experiences of sexism within the music industry, and I was wondering if this has ever been a problem for you as a band (ie not being taken seriously for having a female member, Charlotte being treated differently than Billy and Josh etc)?
Billy is a huge feminist, and sexism has been an issue for us. One example from the top of my head is when a man from a record label exclaimed to us that women should not be in rock. Very mindless and stupid and it has an vindictive affect on us. It's shocking for us to see any form of discrimination and we are all willing to fight for equality. I think lack of education may be a factor behind discrimination, and certainly intelligence. It's extremely archaic.

Once again, this years festival line-ups are shaping up to feature very few women on their stages. What are your thoughts on that?
It's strange. If it's a conscious decision for promoters/agents to ignore or underestimate bands with females in then it's ridiculous because we are missing out on some amazing artists. I saw a band recently that astounded me called Tiger Bells. I was really impressed with a natural knack of songwriting ability within the group and their performance was phenomenal. The band after them was 4 good looking lads dressed in black with not a decent song to their name. Tiger Bells have been overlooked and Wanna Wanna is the best song I've heard in years.

You've played at quite a few festivals yourselves, do you have a favourite festival to play?
Most festivals on mainland Europe are exceptional. My favourite must be Hurricane/Southside due to the atmosphere. In the UK, the smaller, the better. 2000 Trees is one of the best.

A lot of bands seem to get tired of playing the "hits", particularly ones from earlier in their career. Do you ever feel that way about the likes of Oh Yeah and Rock and Roll Queen, or do those songs still seem as much to you as they did back then?
No, we love playing these songs. They are really fun and still feel fresh when we play them. Some of my favourite songs to play are from the first album.
Do you have a favourite song to play live?
A song of our new record called We Get Around gives me such a buzz that I feel urged to trash my kit from adrenaline. Unfortunately it was the fifth or sixth song on the set list on the last tour so I would have to reconstruct the kit.

And finally, is there anything else you'd like to add?
We are just so damn exited to be going back to America. Thank you to all the people participating on Pledge especially, as we have been able to finance this tour and come meet you all. I hope we all have a great time together!

Thank you Josh for doing this interview! Check out The Subways' current Pledge campaign here.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Grimes + HANA - Manchester Academy 3

taken from HANA's tumblr
HANA is the opening act on Grimes' current Acid Reign tour and, as she takes to the stage of the already packed Academy, it quickly becomes clear that she's a perfect choice to fill that slot. While HANA's music is certainly in the same vein as Grimes', she's managed to take a similar set-up and make it very much her own. Thick beats and dreamy synths provide a beautiful backdrop for HANA's impressive vocals and unwavering confidence; she ends her set having definitely made an impact on the majority of the crowd.
taken from Grimes' Facebook page
After the ever-agonising wait that comes after the support act leaves the stage, Art Angel's atmospheric opener Laughing and Not Being Normal starts to play, and the crowd start screaming at full volume before Grimes has even set foot on stage - so you can imagine the reaction as she walked on and started playing Genesis, shouting the opening line along with her at top volume.

Backed by two dancers, Alison and Linda, Grimes is also joined by HANA who, depending on the song, contributes drums, guitar, backing vocals and/or just general awesome sparkliness.

Before going into Scream, Grimes explained that, unlike the tracks featured vocalist Aristophanes, she can't speak Mandarin, before going on to rap the verses herself in Russian. Her vocals switch from random metal-esque growls to soaring, high notes that, from a lesser vocalist, could easily have got lost in the complex mix of sounds.

Venus Fly was particularly electrifying to hear live, its booming bass line backed by laser fingers and strobe lighting.

Grimes' confidence in performing is in stark contrast to the nervous energy she exudes between songs, looking both grateful for and visibly uncomfortable of the cheers and applause she receives all night (which, of course, only makes people want to cheer for her more!).

Kill V Maim ends the night in a sublime mix of pounding beats, lasers and some of the best pop music you're ever likely to hear. The whole set was like a weekend trip to a magical-neon-fairy-city, and over much too fast, and proved that Grimes is one of the most exciting performers around at the moment.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Wolf Alice + Swim Deep + Bloody Knees - The Arts Club, Liverpool

Bloody Knees are four guys from Cambridge, who play a fuzzy punky brand of grunge, deliciously 90's inspired. I loved them instantly, and everyone else in the already-packed venue seemed to as well. They were a perfect band to start the night off with, and I have no doubt that they could easily fill a headline slot. 
Next up were Swim Deep. I have to be honest, I'm not really that into them - sorry! I do believe in giving fair reviews however; they were great live, and I can definitely see why people like them. If I can watch a set from a band that I'm not really into without being bored, then that's a definite thumbs up from me.
The room is more than full now, and I feel bad for anyone who decided to show up just in time for Wolf Alice's set, as they'd barely be able to fit through the doors. The band were voted Best Live Band at last month's NME Awards, and just a few chords into their set, it's hard to argue with; they've toured almost non-stop since their 2013 single Fluffy, and they play with the confidence and precision normally associated with many more years of experience.
The band take to the stage and, after a short instrumental intro, went straight into You're A Germ, with everyone instantly jumping up and down, and shouting out the lyrics. This led into a setlist consisting of almost every track from My Love Is Cool, interspersed with highlights from their Blush and Creature Songs EP's, with the crowd's energy remaining at peak level all the way through.
Ellie Roswell's vocals are flawless as she goes from the chaotic screams of You're A Germ and Fluffy, to the delicate soaring vocals of Turn To Dust and Silk. The layered sounds of their recordings translate perfectly on stage, and are definitely enhanced by the band's energy.

They ended their set with a three-song encore, finishing with Giant Peach. As soon as they left the stage, all I could think was I want to see them againI feel lucky to have seen them in such a small venue as, judging by how quickly this tour sold out, they could easily be filling bigger rooms next time around.

My Picks for Record Store Day

This year's Record Store Day is nearly here, and the exclusive releases were announced yesterday. Here are some of the record's I think are worth checking out:

Best Coast - s/t
Featuring two new tracks, Fear of My Identity and Who Have I Become, this release also features frontwoman Bethan Cosentino's dad, Ricky Cosentino, on drums.

Bis/Big Zero - Borderom Could Be Good For You/Tear It Up And Start Again
A split-7 inch from Bis, who will soon be playing a handful of UK dates, and Big Zero, who are supporting the band on their Manchester and Reading shows. Boredom Could Be Good For You is a new track from Bis, only heard live so far, and provides an exciting taster of their forthcoming new album. Big Zero meanwhile are fantastically-Devo-influenced on their track Tear It Up and Start Again, and I'm looking forward to seeing them support Bis in Manchester after checking them out!

Jack Off Jill - Clear Hearts Grey Flowers
Released on a clear vinyl and, yes, a grey vinyl!

Jack Off Jill - Sexless Demons and Scars
The band's first full-length, on vinyl for the first time - and it's red!

Lush - Origami
This limited LP boxset coincides with Lush's first live shows in almost 20 years, and includes all five of their albums, with each one on a different colour vinyl.

PINS - Trouble
The Manchester five-piece will be releasing new track Trouble on a limited-edition red vinyl.

The Runaways - Right Now/Black Leather
This rare release is being made available again, on a translucent red vinyl.

The Wedding Present - The Hit Parade
This release collects all of the band's singles, and their b-sides, from 1987 on to one album.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Happy International Women's Day!

For International Women's Day, I've decided to do a post celebrating some of the women who have particularly inspired me over the last year (and hopefully, I'll still be blogging next year and can do the same thing again!).

1. Carrie Brownstein
I was lucky enough to see Carrie Brownstein twice last year - once with Sleater-Kinney, who were every bit as amazing live as I dreamt they'd be, and then again, as part of her book tour. I've loved Sleater-Kinney for years, and consider all three members to be among my favourite musicians, so to finally see them play live was such a great experience.
Carrie also released her memoir late last year, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, and after reading it, I admire her even more. I'd definitely recommend reading it.

2. Jessicka Addams
Jessicka is someone I've admired since I discovered Jack Off Jill when I was 15. Jack Off Jill are another band I was lucky enough to see last year, and getting to finally meet Jessicka didn't disappoint at all!
Jessicka also put together a great zine called After Grrrl, featuring contributions from so many other great women, including Allison Wolfe, Molly Soda, Camille Rose Garcia and Tara McPherson.

3. The Tuts
The Tuts are one of the most exciting bands around right now, and I've seen them live twice over the last 12 months. They always put on an amazing show, and treat every fan like a friend; the fact that they hit 100% on their PledgeMusic campaign so quickly is a testament to how much they mean to people.
They are also completely DIY in everything they do, from booking shows/tours to recording, and are always so encouraging when others ask them for advice on doing their own thing.

4. Maureen Herman
I've always admire all three members of Babes in Toyland, but I can't pretend I'm not disappointed about the way Maureen was kicked out of the band. I'm so glad I was able to see them live before any of that happened, and meet them all. I admire Maureen not only as a bassist, but also for the way she handled the circumstances around her being kicked out of Babes in Toyland, and her refusal to stop talking about sexual assault.

5. Charli XCX
Charli has been using to rising popularity to speak up about sexism, particularly in the music industry. Last month, she also launched her own record label, and has already released music from her ex-bassists solo project Cuckoolander, and female-fronted band RIVRS. She also writes for other artists behind-the-scenes too, such as Icona Pop and Selena Gomez.

6. Claire Boucher
Claire Boucher aka Grimes released her self-produced new album Art Angels late last year, and it pretty much cemented her place on my list of favourite musicians/artists ever. It's some of her most creative work to-date, featuring collaborations with Janelle Monae, and also Aristophanes, a Taiwanese rapper she disocvered on SoundCloud. Not only is every song amazing, she uploaded a piece of her own artwork to accompany each one.

7. Lauren Mayberry
The CHVRCHES vocalist has never been afraid of speaking her mind - whether it's calling out sexist audience members, responding to internet trolls on 4Chan or writing about sexism for The Guardian. She is also one of the founding members of Glasgow feminist collective TYCI.


Which women have inspired you over the past year? Let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Clean for the Queen?

I'm so embarassed to live in a country where Clean for the Queen is a thing. An actual thing that EXISTS.

To celebrate the Queen's birthday, Toryscum have joined forces with some major retailers to rally the peasant troops to sweep the streets. Those same streets that happened to start getting dirty after council's were forced to get rid of the people who were paid to clean them; local councils have been forced to cut their budgets by up to 40 per cent over the past two years, in order to fund Tory tax breaks for those same companies who are sponsoring this campaign.
Does a more awkward photograph exist than any picture involving a Tory and a cleaning item?

So, if you're looking for a way to keep warm while waiting for your local food bank to open, why not pick up some binbags (graciously provided for free by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson)? Why not do a jaunty dance with your broom, as you help the Tories to sweep yet more public service and welfare cuts under the carpet?

 This is what patriotism looks like. Never forget.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Why I Agree With The Decision to Remove Crystal Castles from the 79 Cents Event

Two days ago, Tumblr announced details of their feminist-themed showcase, "79 Cents", at this years SXSW. Despite its heavy branding, the showcase sounded pretty cool except for one thing - Crystal Castles were not only on the line-up, they were set to headline the event.

People immediately questioned their involvment, while others seemed to think the problem was simply that Crystal Castles were the only band on the line-up to feature a male member, an assumption that is far from the truth. There are a few reasons why people were uncomfortable to see Crystal Castles on the bill, and Ethan Kath's gender was not one of them.

Alice Glass, who, along with Ethan, founded the band, announced that she was leaving Crystal Castles back in 2014, stating:
"My art and my self-expression in any form has always been an attempt towards sincerity, honesty, and empathy for others. For a multitude of reasons both professional and personal I no longer feel that this is possible within CC."
 Most of us assumed that was the end of the band but, almost a year later, Ethan released a new track called Frail, featuring a new vocalist, Edith Frances. Along with the track, Ethan released a statement in which he referred to Alice as his "former vocalist", and claiming she didn't actually appear on any of their best known songs or write any lyrics.

Alice responded to him on Twitter, calling Ethan's statements manipulative; Ethan late removed the majority of his statement from his SoundCloud page. Since then though, he has also made various Facebook posts trying to retcon his own band's origin - referring to pre-Alice songs, which pretty much contradicts anything that had been said about the band previously.

To accompany here first solo release, Stillbirth, Alice also released a lengthy statement explaining how the song was inspired by an abusive relationship:
"The clarity I've gained since getting out of that situation has opened up my life in a way that I didn't imagine was possible. Although some of the pain and anger still lingers, my life finally feels as though it has value and meaning. I speak out now hoping that I can encourage other young women and young men to affirm their value within their relationships or get out. Abuse isn't always obvious and it doesn't have to involve black eyes, blood and broken bones. Emotional and psychological abuse can be just as damaging, and it is extremely difficult to remove yourself from. Those that have known me thoughout my career might be surprised that someone who publicly gave the impression of being fearless and seemed as though they didn't take shit from anyone could find themselves being severely mistreated and manipulated by someone they were close to. This person nearly stripped me of myself. And for years I felt as though they were waiting for my life to end."
All of the money made from the song went to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). While Alice has never specified that this statement was referring to Ethan, it's telling that, especially given the comments Ethan made after Alice quit the band, that her first solo release refers to the negative effect someone had on her life. That, and the way Ethan went about replacing Alice in a way that implied both her and Edith are merely the puppets that front the music, are what led to many questioning their inclusion at this event; no one is saying that Crystal Castles should not be allowed to perform, just not at this, specifically feminist-focused, event. Even if Ethan isn't the inspiration behind Stillbirth, he has still gone out of his way to tell people that Crystal Castles' music is all about him, so as far as showcasing female talent, that doesn't sit well either; that's why, even if you ignore the abuse speculation, I have to agree with the decision to remove them from the bill.

Alice was asked for her thoughts, and said the following to The Verge:
"As someone who knew Ethan Kath on a personal and professional level, it is my opinion that he is not an appropriate artist to be performing at a feminism-centric event."
Crystal Castles have now been dropped from the line-up. Other bands currently on the line-up are Jhene Aiko, Tacocat, Little Simz and Empress Of.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Charli XCX - Vroom Vroom

Three days after announcing her new record label to the world, Charli released a new EP, titled Vroom Vroom.

With each new release, Charli shows that, with her huge range of influences, she isn't afraid to sharply change direction; there's no "old Charli" or "new Charli" sound, it all exists at the same time, regardless of any potential commercial appeal. I love that Charli is able to switch between styles and never seem anything less than authentic.

Paradise is definitely the most rave-ready track on the EP. Featuring Hannah Diamond, the track switches between harmonised vocals, backed by a piano, to full on drum machines and blippy noises. It sounds like it's been plucked straight from a 90's dance party, and I mean that in the best way.

Trophy, with its Pulp Fiction sample, perfectly bridges the gap between Charli's early mix-tape releases (eg Super Ultra) and where she is now, while Secret is definitely my favourite track. It's darkly intimate, at times sounding almost industrial. 

Overall, this is an exciting and addictive release. I can't wait to see where Charli goes with her third album!
Another glorious and emotional SOPHIE-produced jam from London’s Charli XCX — she calls “Paradise” her most rave-inspired track to date — taken from her forthcoming Vroom Vroom EP on her own label, and featuring PC Music queen Hannah Diamond.

Read More: Charli XCX debuts new track “Paradise” feat. Hannah Diamond | http://www.gorillavsbear.net/charli-xcx-debuts-new-track-paradise-feat-hannah-diamond/?trackback=tsmclip
Another glorious and emotional SOPHIE-produced jam from London’s Charli XCX — she calls “Paradise” her most rave-inspired track to date — taken from her forthcoming Vroom Vroom EP on her own label, and featuring PC Music queen Hannah Diamond.

Read More: Charli XCX debuts new track “Paradise” feat. Hannah Diamond | http://www.gorillavsbear.net/charli-xcx-debuts-new-track-paradise-feat-hannah-diamond/?trackback=tsmclip

Sunday, 28 February 2016

#FreeKesha

Kesha's legal battle with Sony seems to finally be getting the attention it deserves (if you need to catch up, I wrote about the situation here). Unfortunately, it's not for the best of reasons; a New York judge has ruled that Kesha can not be released from her contract with Sony Music, a contract which keeps her tied to Dr Luke, the man she has filed a sexual assault lawsuit against.

What kind of message does it  send out when a woman is legally forced to choose between not working or working with a man who has sexually and psychologically abused her? Kesha is just another in a long line of women who have been told that their word is just not enough.

Fellow artists have been speaking out Twitter to defend Kesha, including Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Lily Allen, Kelly Clarkson, Halsey, Grimes and Bethany Cosentino (Best Coast), as well as actors Reese Witherspoon, Anne Hathaway and Lena Dunham, using the hashtag #FreeKesha. Taylor Swift has donated $250, 000 to help towards any of Kesha's "financial needs", while Adele publicly voiced her support for Kesha in her BRIT Awards acceptance speech.

Adele's support, in particular, potentially carries a lot of weight, given that she's Sony's biggest selling artist and won every award she was nominated for.

Some have tried to defend the judge's decision, as Dr Luke's legal team have stated that Kesha does not have to work directly with him; however, she would still be contracted to his label, meaning he would essentially still be in control of her career and possible financial stability. Would you want your abuser to still have that control over you? Sadly, this is also reflective of many domestic abuse scenarios.

The judge herself declared her decision to be the "commercially reasonable thing", given how much Dr Luke has invested in Kesha's career so far. Yes, the judge really did place money and financial gain above the safety and wellbeing of a woman.

Fans and supporters of Kesha are currently planning protests outside Sony's headquarters. Hopefully this case will stay in the news, as this is about so much more than a pop star fighting for their creative freedom; it's about how the American legal system regularly hurts women by not protecting them from the men who have abused them.