Constellations Festival 2011

Constellations Festival

First of all, a big thanks to Lets Get Cynical for giving me a platform to talk about music publicly, rather than just to him, as usual. Niceties aside, heres how I saw it:

We ambled into Leeds students union, which is a very nice students union with a large shop which looks like a supermarket. One of the halls didn’t allow alcohol, but did allow music, more about that later. The first band we encountered tucked away in one of the smaller rooms was Hookworms, who from what we heard sounded like a fizzy can of red bull exploding in a garage through a cheap transistor radio. But that’s a good thing. I made a point to investigate them further.

Outfit were next on the agenda in the oddly shaped and claustrophobic Mine venue. These guys had an awesome collection of harmonies going on, their music being a soundscape to the rising and falling melodies they bounced off each other. I definitely heard a lot of other bands in their sound from Of Montreal through to headline act Wild Beasts, but ultimately I enjoyed their sound and the response they received was certainly a positive one. Next on the agenda was a coffee, but unfortunately the Cornish pastie shop (traditional Leeds fayre!?) was playing hard to get. After I explained the horrible machine in the excellently stocked union supermarket was not functioning they decided to give me one, scolding me because they would once more have to clean their hot caffeine producing machine. Shame. Me – one, Cornish pastie shop – nil. Time to scuttle back up to the alcohol-free Riley Smith Hall for the girl-boy duo of Big Deal. If I was lazily to describe them in one word, it would be shimmery. But I won’t. I’ll describe them as twee and shimmery. But they did warm my cynical heart slightly, for that I tip my proverbial hat to them. Their guitar led upbeat pop with intimate bridges  could perhaps be interpreted as thinly veiled dialogues of feelings reserved for someone else (or each other?) . Good fun though.

Paul and I found that the timings were off from this point and we had to work hard to cover the ground, diving between venues and gauging start times of artists we thought would be worth seeing. So out of curiousity and a gap in the schedule as much else, we ended up in Mine to watch Exitmusic soundchecking.

But to describe it as a soundcheck isn’t doing it justice. Perhaps a more apt description would be a ‘soundgrumble’ which was precisely what it was. Aleksa Palladino was spewing forth bile at the soundman at the seeming inadequacy of the setup, totally oblivious to the populous in front of her thinking ‘ this better be good me dear’. So foul tempered preparation complete, they began…

..And they’re forgiven. It’s broody, it’s a vivid layered landscape of noise punctuated by twanging melodies and an unorthodox percussive setup. Aleksa’s voice, whilst perhaps slightly shuddering, had enough power to sweep you along into each distinct song pattern. High maintenance? perhaps. Talented? Absolutely. Feeling like I’ve just watched a cinematic masterpiece, I go in search of Stalking Horse, mainly due to their insanely catchy single ‘Waterhole’ which sounds like a Late Of The Pier type arrangement, but one that takes itself less seriously, which after Exitmusic is deeply refreshing.

I would rate Stalking Horse as one of the best performances of the day and the Pulse venue is full of onlookers, soaking up their sounds and singing along, perhaps with a local collection of fans watching on admiringly. And rightly so. Art rock delivered with passion, style and aplomb. Next up, Paul drags me along to see Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. But I never got Pavement. I just didn’t. And slacker rock means about as much to me as ignored library fines from five years ago. Regardless, I listen to them do their thing on the main stage in Stylus. And its OK. No more, no less. They were polished, and appreciated by a packed venue, but unfortunately not by me. Back to Mine, next up – Braids.

Wow. I won’t beat about the bush, I was looking forward to them, having listened to Native Speaker on Spotify prior to the festival, but I was impressed beyond my expectations by their delivery. Braids are an eccentric bunch of individuals on stage who seem to be singing and playing to each other, but with enough about them to carry the audience along with them. Raphaelle Standell-Preston, the vocalist, is a revelation. She has the stage presence to fill stadiums, and her voice constantly transcends even the most audibly pleasing segments of the melodic dissonance created by the rest of the group. For me, this was the stand-out performance of the festival. If you haven’t listened to Native Speaker, it’s worth sitting back with an ice cold beer (or orange Fanta if you’re the Let’s Get Cynical curator) and enjoying it. Note to self – visit Montréal. At this point Paul and I decide to split as I go to listen to 2:54, being drawn by the promise of lo-fi broodiness and a strong recommendation from the long haired Let’s Get Cynical impresario himself.

2:54 sounded like a party thrown by The Breeders with The Kills and PJ Harvey as guests. And that can only be a good thing. 2:54 are the best bits of grunge with echoes of Shirley Manson but with its own unique passion bubbling through. ‘Scarlet’, the groups single both growls and beats down deconstructed distorted baselines which left me enthralled. 2:54 seemed surprised by the positive response; I’m only surprised they haven’t received more attention. It seems that may change, as they’re set to support The Big Pink on their February UK tour.

Yuck took to the stage in Stylus to a crowd divided between hardcore fans and those morbidly curious to see what the hype was all about. And as a band, they delivered. Their anthem ‘Holing Out’ was what I was there to hear and demonstrated how there’s more to them than a three chord innocence and a penchant for The Lemonheads blended with The Ramones. As Paul waited to see Wild Beasts I decided to go and wait for The Big Pink, as ‘Velvet’ was something of a dissertation anthem (can’t believe I said that) for me back in 2009. But due to the timings being about as certain as a Belgian government, I caught the tail end of Vessels. All I can say about Vessels is that they were tight, talented musicians, but ultimately it descended into a prolonged jam which resulted in a collective loss of interest from the audience. But then as everyone piled off to go see Wild Beasts in Stylus, the venue emptied – almost toatlly. I felt genuinely apalled on behalf of The Big Pink who made stage 35 minutes before the curfew and to a crowd of about 30. Despite looking vaguely horrified at what was before him, Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell whooshed through their set which included ‘Dominoes’, new single ‘Stay Gold’ and, to my own personal glee, ‘Velvet’. I almost felt embarassed at their plight, as they’ve performed at packed academies and to thousands at festivals over the past few years, but their stage presence and new material should see them in good stead for a successful return with that ‘difficult second album’. Overall I thought the event was well organised, with an excellent collection of new music which gave me more to think about for my end of year playlists.

Songs of the Festival:

1. Braids – ‘Plath Heart’
2. 2:54 – ‘Scarlet’
3. Yuck – ‘Shook Down’
4. Exitmusic – ‘The Sea’

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