Y Wythnos Fach: Die! Chihuahua! Die! Kixxstart Kitty, Bastions, Leucine - Speakers Corner, Colwyn Bay, Tuesday 18 May 2010
The Big Weekend's fringe festival is called Yr Wythnos Fach, the Little Week. The irony, of course, is that it's anything but 'little'. On Monday night we were in Wrexham (as reviewed here), tonight it's Colwyn Bay and - okay - it's not like I've had to drive 1,000 miles dodging kamikaze kangaroos, but it's a good 30 or 40 miles from Wrexham and that gives you an idea of the geographical scope of this series of events.
Also it hints at the musical scope of the fringe. Colwyn Bay - much of the North Wales coast - is resolutely punk and/or hardcore in persuasion. There are, of course, exceptions to this broad generalisation. But it's punk that fires these here ear bellies. Most notably, Colwyn Bay's Global Parasite (debut album, Memento Mori OUT NOW!) - away on a UK tour at the moment - have helped stoke the live music scene here and in Rhyl with a multitude of DIY gigs stretching back over the millennium. The other epicentre of punk/live music up here - the Dudley Arms in Rhyl - is, I believe, closed; a major loss to music lovers in North Wales.
Speakers Corner has also struggled in recent years. The same story will be told at numerous pub/bar/venues throughout the UK: cheap supermarket ale, the smoking ban. the recession, all of these are factors in dwindling crowds and a complete lack of funds to stick bands on. When your margins are so tight, wisdom tends to dictate that you play to the lowest common denominator at the least cost. Pubs that once supported live music now stick karaoke on or loop inoffensive pap on speakers designed to keep the music in the background.
Times are hard for bands and venues. One venue manager told me recently that they'd expected a squeeze due to economic circumstances last year and had prepared for that eventuality; however, in reality, this year - when things were expected to improve - crowds have been smaller. It's all about survival and the survival of North Wales' tiny handful of venues is paramount if the area's undoubted musical talent is to flourish.
And Speakers Corner doesn't 'just' support musicians. It's been a cultural hub for poets, beatboxers, graffiti artists, DJ's and painters for years. Above and beyond the usual pressures exerted by market forces, it's essential that places like Speakers Corner survive. It's the dialogue that goes on in here between artists, patrons and audience that pushes and pulls art in interesting new directions.
Which is high falutin' of me, I know, but in an area with so little official recognition or support of local artists, it's important to raise these points, important - too - to trumpet the places that do support young artists regardless of having adversity press its bad breath face right up against the window.
And there are lots of windows in Speakers Corner. It's like a microwave oven in there before anyone has even played a note in anger. But, heck, live music is lubricated by sweat. This should slip along beautifully, then.
Die! Chihuahua! Die! are the only band playing Yr Wythnos Fach who aren't from North Wales. Bethan Elfyn had stuck them on in Cardiff (where I believe they are based) a couple of times and was keen to bring their storm of dark energy up to a new audience for the fringe. Those of us who witnessed the intense furore of emotionally wrought, blasted guitars and vocals exorcised from twisted innards are thankful she did.
'Visceral' is a word that should require a licence, such is its ubiquity in the (poor) music reviewer's verbal armoury. I am one of those (poor) music reviewers! But this is visceral. It genuinely sounds like vocalist Paul is dragging his own viscera up and out of his throat, hurling gouts of dark, bloody life into the audience's face. Granted, that's not a pleasant image, but it's not pleasant music. It's not supposed to be. I'm sucked in, completely, by the unremitting force and sundering changes in their music. I hope it's cathartic for them. It was for me. Their debut album is available now and is recommended.
The temperature in Speakers Corner has risen. Foreheads are shiny. I'm trying to keep my arms at my sides. Give me air and a decent anti perspirant, for cryin' out loud.
Kixxstart Kitty are four beautifully nail varnished V-signs into the current 'alternative' hegemony. There's a chin-stroking safeness and apologetic reserve to much of the music I trumpet. I wanted Kixxstart Kitty to play this event because they're the antithesis of that. They are lurid, sleazy, so uncool they are immediately considerably cooler than everyone else, and they have big dreams with which to fill their songs. When we had the meeting to decide who should play Yr Wythnos Fach, I banged the table loudly for Kixxstart Kitty: "They're the band people are talking about up here, they'll either be amazing or awful. Whichever it is, they'll be memorable." And so it proved.
It's glam-slammed cyber-metal straight off the soundtrack to a cinematic version of one of William Gibson's novels. The whole thing - the massive live-through-me hair, the fluorescent see-through-me tops, the make-up, the tattoos, the riffs, the brilliantly-executed metallic solos, the falsetto vocals, the homoerotic stage moves - all exists right at the boundary of good taste. This is a very good thing. Rock'n'roll should never be about good taste. Picking a settee is about good taste. Rock'n'roll is about escapism, liberation, fun and a noise that transports you.
There's a weird sense of watching Bambi's first steps watching Kixxstart Kitty. They look the part - my god, do they look the part! - but there's a stuttering awkwardness to the way their set plays out: all down to a lack of live experience, I'd bet. The PA is their enemy in this respect. I'm glad they didn't, but it might have made more sense if they'd smashed it to smithereens rather than waited a little apologetically for the sound engineer to bumble the vocals back to relative audibility.
From those occasional halting demonstrations of a lack of experience, they lurch into full on stadium mode - performing brilliantly and theatrically as if they were on a stage in front of tens of thousands. It's strange to see a band go straight from first gear into fifth without a gear change in between. But the very fact that they have a 5th gear is proof enough of their potential to me.
They played two covers in their set - Placebo's Nancy Boy and the Beastie Boy's Fight For Your Right. The Placebo one temporarily burst their balloon, for me, at least. It made them sound more mundane than I want them to be. The more out there and outré they are, the better they will be. And in another 10 gigs time - with a trail of wrecked PAs behind them - this day glo rock'n'roll freakshow could well go widescreen. Book your seats, now.
People are melting now. Well, I am. And I've already expended so many words and we haven't got to Bastions, yet
Where to start?
Out of sheer enthusiasm I tend to overuse the hyperbole. Sometimes I'll stick a band a level above where they belong, carried away by bonhomie and a keyboard that loves vibrant words more than piffling honesty. I want to see the good in stuff. But now that I've expended all my big, grandiose compliments I'm rather unequipped to describe something truly awesome. I'm worried you're not going to believe me because I know - again, out of enthusiasm more than anything else - I've been prone to exaggeration in the past. You can trust me about this one, though. I promise. Cross my heart and hope to end up in a fiery stadium for all of eternity watching Scouting For Girls.
Bastions were breathtaking tonight. They took breath even after they'd sucked all of the oxygen out of the place. They screamed above the limited sound system like phoenixes painted in distortion and beautiful wrath.
The bass player's Big Black t-shirt points to the hardcore roots of what Bastions do. They're not the only band following that trail. But how many of the others do it with this much peripatetic vigour, sonic fission and seismic vision? Goddamn this keyboard! Hardcore and its derivatives tend to get stuck up backsides marked 'serious' and 'humourless'. Not with Bastions. Their great achievement is that they create this much white heat sound, this much vocal sear, with a positive zeal. When they ask us if we're enjoying ourselves, you know they want us to. Which is an oddity. Many bands ask you but then insist on poking you with sticks or dunking your head in cliches and grey custard. Not Bastions.
My camera is at a loss to capture their Brownian motion. There is stillness, too. They understand the dramatic potential of quiet, backs turned to the audience, apparent breakdown, before screaming up into the air again, sending sonic booms down the street that will resonate for years to come.
Unforgettable. Unbelievable. As a man from Die! Chihuahua! Die! said, "they need to come play down south." He wasn't being rude about the north, he wants his mates to see them, to be blown away by them too. Introduce Bastions to a friend and you will have a friend for life. Choose wisely!
My ears now feel like Rocky Balboa's face before the inevitable fightback in the last round.
I'm wondering how on earth Leucine are going to follow The Thing What Bastions Did. They don't try and ape them, to their credit.
In fact, Leucine do much to their credit all night. Their faces are omnipresent in the audience watching the other bands. That's a big thing. It proves they love music and they're keen to learn whatever they can from their peers. Their tuneful hardcore is rather tarnished by a PA that has blown gaskets by this stage of the night. But their set is a triumph, even if I'm too emotionally wrung out by what has preceded them to get fully involved.
I'll definitely come see them again.
It's been another excellent night. I know that reads as if I'm slapping myself and the whole BBC Introducing strand on the back. I'm not. The bands, the venue, the audience, all excellent. I'm stood in front of my gobby keyboard applauding you. I am. See you tonight in Caernarfon. If I can arrange childcare!
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