Tag Archives: Leeds

Constellations Festival Lights Up Leeds

I have no idea how the promoters pulled it off, but the line-up for the inaugural Constellations Festival was ridiculously good – so good that it was inevitable that I wouldn’t be able to see everyone I wanted to. But more on that later.

After getting slightly lost in the rabbit warren that is Leeds University’s union, I find my way to the Refectory, just in time to catch the first band. The band in question is Honour Before Glory, the new project of former ¡Forward, Russia! guitarist Whiskas. Don’t expect a re-hash of his old band though – Honour Before Glory have a more fleshed-out, widescreen post-rock sound, and it’s promising stuff. Next up are iLIKETRAiNS, and despite the fact that they’ve been around for what seems like an age, this is actually the first time I’ve ever seen them live. Well, I finally found out what I’ve been missing – stately, brooding rock, typified by epic set-closer ‘Sea Of Regrets’. I was impressed enough that I intended to pick up their new album before I left but their merch table had gone by the time I decided to commit to doing so. Fail.

Next up are Sky Larkin, whose upbeat indie-pop is as brilliant and always – the band are also full of praise for the festival, their label – Wichita records have eight bands playing today(!) –  and the city of Leeds itself. Following them are Esben And The Witch – the Brighton three-piece are suitably apocalyptic, with the likes of ‘Marching Song’ showcasing their foreboding, ominous sound.

After that, I head over to Stylus to watch Liars rip the place apart with their chaotic, vicious brand of experimental rock. ‘Scissor’ takes loud/quiet dynamics to their logical extreme, while punchy set-closer ‘Scarecrows On A Killer Slant’ gets the crowd moving and even sees Tim from Les Savy Fav rocking out at the side of the stage. Speaking of Les Savy Fav, I would’ve liked to have seen them but unfortunately they clash with Los Campesinos! – and my shameless fanboyism must come first.

However, it soon turns out that I have chosen somewhat poorly – Los Campesinos! start fifteen minutes late because they’ve got about a billion pieces of equipment to soundcheck, so it turns out I could have caught a bit of Les Savy Fav after all. Happily, any ill-will I have towards them for being late has evaporated by the time they’re halfway through ‘Death To Los Campesinos!’ – and that’s only two songs in, so I can spend the rest of the set getting slightly emotional and teary-eyed without any nagging doubts. They’re even given a generous time extension courtesy of Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, which means that ‘…And We Exhale And Roll Our Eyes In Unison’ can get a rare live outing. Happy days!

Unfortunately, after that things start to go a bit pear-shaped. A combination of Drew’s earlier generosity and a ridiculously drawn-out soundcheck sees Broken Social Scene take to the stage half an hour late. By this point I’m kicking myself for not going to see Four Tet – especially as I should have probably seen the delay coming. The combination of their lateness, my own flagging spirits, and my unfamiliarity with most of their material means that they’ve got a mountain to climb to really impress me. And while their big, upbeat indie rock sound is in no way bad, I find myself not really getting into the show. I imagine if I was a massive Broken Social Scene fan then this would probably be a life-affirming experience for me – but I’m not, so it isn’t.

After half an hour I finally give up and do what I probably should have done in the first place – go see Four Tet. Unfortunately, by this time Stylus is only sparsely crowded, and those who are present are barely moving. This feels like the wrong time and the wrong atmosphere for his music – his electronic sounds feel like the kind of thing that wants to be heard (and danced to) late at night in a festival tent. I’m only there for about ten minutes before he decides to call it a night, thus compounding my poor decision-making.

There is a silver lining to my headliner-related cloud, however – on a whim, I decide to head to Mine to catch a bit of Sleigh Bells. If you’ve ever wondered what an unholy fusion of Crystal Castles and Test Icicles would sound like, then this is pretty much it – their insane noise pop turns out to be pretty entertaining, and I probably did enjoy the two or three tracks I saw more than I enjoyed watching Broken Social Scene. I’m not really sure what it says about my musical tastes… I do, however, decide to give BSS one last shot. But there is no epiphany for me, and I leave feeling a little underwhelmed. However, that shouldn’t take the shine off what has otherwise been an awesome day. Let’s hope the promoters behind Constellations can pull off some similarly stellar events in the future.

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New Grammatics songs? Yes please!

Well, this post was originally going to be me posting videos of the new songs that Grammatics played at their gigs in Leeds and York this week. However, due to unforeseen circumstances*, I’m going to have to resort to actually doing this whole journalism thing properly and describing them with words.

*The PA in Leeds being a bit crap, prompting Rory to kindly ask me to take the videos down. And also, me being a moron and charging my battery, but then forgetting to put it back in my camera for the York gig. Duuuh.

So, we were presented with five new songs by the band. Generally speaking, they’re heavier in sound than a lot of the tracks on their self-titled debut, and shy away from turning into sprawling epics a la ‘Polar Swelling’ or ‘Relentless Fours’ (fun Grammatics fact – Owen told me that these gigs are the first time in Grammatics’ history that they haven’t played ‘Relentless Fours’ during their set). In short, we’re looking at a punchier, harder-hitting version of the band – but that doesn’t mean they’re any less dynamic.’Stalinesque’ (bonus points for clever title) starts out with an infectious bassline and stop-start drumming, before a wiry guitar riff and dramatic cello stabs build the song into something with a great sense of urgency.

There are shades of older songs here too, of course, but they feel much darker and heavier – for example, ‘Mutant Reverb’ (working title?) sounds a bit like ‘Rosa Flood’s downbeat cousin, and another new song has an air of ‘Murderer’s beauty about it, but with a more melancholy feel overall. The heaviest of the new songs features a distinctive minor-key sound, with the cello adopting a sinister feel and and the bass just sounding plain dirty – at one point Owen even breaks out an almost metal-esque guitar riff that really hammers the tone home.

The last of the new songs is possibly my favourite. Entitled ‘Church Of The Great I Am’, Owen wryly described it as “us going R’n’B'” – and while he assured us he wasn’t joking, don’t fear that the band have gone all Beyonce on us. It’s definitely not a million miles away from a big pop ballad though with big, echoey drums and majestic, sweeping cello – Rory even swaps his bass for a synth and simulates hip-hop hi-hats with the world’s smallest triangle. But crucially, it’s earnest without being trite, and engaging rather than making you want to switch off. My only complaint? It perhaps ends a tad abruptly – it feels like it could quite happily go on for another 30 seconds or so. But perhaps that’s the point – I enjoyed the sprawling, yet measured excess of  the band’s longer tracks as much as the next fan, but as Owen pointed out to me when I spoke to him after the York gig, they take up too big a chunk of the band’s set time. Playing ‘Relentless Fours’ every night cuts down a half hour set to about 5 or 6 songs. Which is fine when you’re starting out – better to have 6 fantastic songs than padding the set out with filler – but when you’re trying to showcase new material alongside the old, it doesn’t really work. All things considered though, after these two shows I’m looking forward to the prospect of a new Grammatics record more than ever.

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