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Festivals vs. Gigs

9 Aug

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We are now well in the middle of the UK festival season. Glastonbury is now a glorious, beer-soaked memory, V Festival is approaching fast while Leeds & Reading is still a couple of weeks away, marking the symbolic end of the summer. Meanwhile, mini festivals like Y Not and Lee Fest are popping up left, right and centre.

What’s strange is how well it seems to be going. When the recession hit, we were assured that festivals were now a thing of the past thanks to shrinking incomes and soaring ticket prices. Many people saw gigs as the way forward – you get exactly what you pay for and don’t have to stand through dozens of bands you’re not interested in or sleep in a tent that size of a small Alsatian. Yet gigs seem to be the ones that are struggling. Iconic music venues like the 100 Club are regularly faced with closure. So in these money strapped times, I thought I would decide once and for all which are better – gigs or festivals.

Having been to a couple of both, I would say my money is mostly – but not entirely – on gigs. My favourite one was Foo Fighters in 2010, performing in the enormous outdoor National Bowl in Milton Keynes. There was a palpable sense of build up all day. The crowd was very supportive of the warm-up acts, Biffy Clyro and Jimmy Eat World, even if those weren’t the ones they came to see. When Dave Grohl and co. finally arrived, there wasn’t a single person in the 65,000 capacity stadium who wasn’t cheering. But the icing on the cake was the special guests. When John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame and Seasick Steve joined Grohl on stage for the encore, I and many of the people near me nearly lost our voices. What was great was that the audience knew who they were; by attending a Foo Fighters concert, you could almost guarantee they admired idols such as these. I don’t think it would have quite the same effect had Foo Fighters been performing at Glastonbury, which attracts fans of a wide range of genres. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but prevents that same feeling of community.

Festivals, in my experience, are quite different. You spend the whole weekend bouncing from tent to stage and back again in order to catch your favourite bands. This pinballing inevitably means you’re always near the back and barely get chance to enjoy the performance before you’re dragged off by impatient friends somewhere else. Choice can be a curse as well as blessing. No matter what you do, you’re going to miss things you want to see. There’s also the problem of tourist-fans – people who go to see bands just to say they were there, regardless of whether they want to see them. I’m lost count of the amount of times I’ve been wedged against people who are stood motionless, looking as though they’re waiting for an advert on YouTube to finish playing. It kills the mood to say the least.

That isn’t to say that festivals don’t have their place in British music. Despite soaring ticket prices – a standard weekend ticket for Glastonbury costing £216, often being resold for much higher – they are still far and away the best value for money. With plenty of energy drinks, you could see up to twenty bands in the course of a weekend. There’s also the fun of camping with your friends. While a gig can be a great night out, a festival can feel more like a holiday.

Nevertheless, for the truly special moments, I’ve found you have to stick with gigs. When I see Arctic Monkeys in November – an event I’ve been waiting five years for – I know there won’t be any tourist-fans, hangers-on or people who wandered into the wrong tent, just true fans. Call my standoffish, but that seems like the purer musical experience.

American Idiot – Gone But Not Forgotten

2 Aug

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“Can you hear the sound of hysteria? The subliminal mind fuck America.”

American Idiot dates very badly. It screams of 2003, when Americans were beginning to question the War on Terror and the anti-Iraq movement was in full swing. Its lyrics are an anti-Bush hymn. However it wasn’t until recently that I realised it was 10 years since it actually came out. This meant it was an entire decade since I first bought (or more accurately borrowed from a friend and didn’t give back) my first CD. Obviously, I had to go back and see how it stood up. The surprising answer is very well.

At its heart, it was a concept album exploring the journey of a character called Jesus of Suburbia, a messiah for the anti-establishment movement. He experiences the ups and downs of the American Dream before returning home. It has such a clear narrative that it was even turned into a successful musical of the same name.

It was surprisingly lyrically complex and ambitious. For a stoner punk-rock group who often wrote about masturbation, teen culture and drug use, a political epic was unheard of. By all accounts, the political themes arose by accident. The band were stringing short, 30-second songs together and happened to like the result. They did it again and these became the epic 7-minute songs Jesus of Suburbia and Homecoming that bookend the album’s narrative, a far cry from their usual short, catchy garage-pop songs. Filling in the blanks, the band created a complex story that explored the themes of rage versus love; blind, destruction-filled rebellion or commitment to your beliefs and ethics.

The title song American Idiot also became a surprise hit, and why not? Besides its angry attack on the state of the country in 2003, it’s a rollicking good rock song. Unlike their follow-up album, which packed in as many meaningless buzzwords as possible, the lyrics were a sharp criticism of the air of paranoia and propaganda that had followed 9/11. I didn’t understand all of the lyrics when I first heard it but it still struck a chord with me. It’s a political ‘fuck you’ the Sex Pistols would have been proud of.

And then there’s that song, which every emo/punk of a certain age knows – Wake Me Up When September Ends. Writing about a time shortly after his father’s death, Armstrong captures the desire to disconnect yourself from the world. It was an emotional ballad that was deeply personal and reminded the world the band had a softer side.

Although the band’s recent hattrick of albums Uno, Dos and Tre flopped, this politically charged album will stand the test of time. With the ambivalence the current NSA revelations are receiving, it’s good to look back to a time when Green Day brought political rebellion into the mainstream, They made it cool to care and that’s no easy these days.

The Suburbs – Arcade Fire

26 Jul

It was announced this week that Arcade Fire have completed work on their forth albums. Details are sadly short on the ground, but it will be the follow-up to The Suburbs, one of the most critically-acclaimed and sadly forgotten albums of the last few years.

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Whereas their classic 2004 album Funeral was a bombastic ode to childhood, the Suburbs saw the band looking back at their own adolescence through the prism of the places where members Win and Will Butler grew up, the suburbs of Texas. The first few songs capture the uncertainty and boredom of being a teenager in a world ruled by adults, while still managing to create a radio hit in Ready to Start. There’s a heavy sense of nostalgia weighing down on them, a childhood that’s been irreversibly lost.

From there, the album skips on a couple of years. The children – friends, siblings, lovers? – of the early chapters have grown up and are returning home after ‘the markets crashed’ in 2008. The only thing worse than yearning for your youth is having your illusions about it shattered, but that’s what happens. The climax as the album is a two part song called Sprawl. The first one is a mournful, barely musical dirge in which the protagonist attempts to find his old home in the dark and fails, while in the second Win Butler’s wife Régine Chassagne gets to display her vocal talents in an ABBA-inspired track about the daily 9-5 grinding you down. The contrast beautifully sums up the album’s complex and mature themes.

There are a dozen more things I could rave about, from the constant threat of an apocalyptic war that hangs over the early tracks, the clever symbolism of light and darkness throughout or the way it manages to make big statements without ever coming off as pretentious. After the emotionally barren music that we are so often offered nowadays, an album that asks so many personal questions about you comes as a shock.

Full disclosure – it may not be the genre-defining masterpiece I imagine it to be. It may just be the tales of leaving your childhood home struck a chord with me at a time when I was beginning university, leaving a permanent imprint, but that’s exactly what good music should do. It should say the things you can’t and explain the world to you.

“There will always be a place for rock music!” – Carousels and Limousines Interview

19 Jul

Last week, we brought you Carousels and Limousines, a British rock band with an American heart. This week, their lead singer Sam Gotley tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the band.

 

You’re a British band with a very American sound. Was that a conscious decision?

No, not at all. We just write songs similar to music that we love which are bands like The Doors, Springsteen, Gaslight Anthem and the Rolling Stones. I guess when you listen to a lot of one type of music a bit of it rubs off on you!

 

What inspired your band to start making music together?

A mutual love of music and to be honest I think we were pretty bored in our early twenties. Finn moved in with me and Jay when we lived in Manchester and we started jamming and having a good laugh so we decided to start a band.

You say you’ve started writing songs for your next album; how will these be different from your songs on Home to Andy’s?

Well it’s early days yet, but we think our new stuff will be more characteristic of our live sound, and perhaps a little rowdier in places, also expect some big drum beats!

 

Are you more confident playing live shows know you have a whole album out?

Probably, we’ve played the songs enough times in the studio that we should be! But it’s also nice to know that fans have been listening to your album and know more of your songs when you turn up and play.

 

Looking at the Top 40, it is mostly filled with hip hop and boy bands; is there still a place for traditional rock band in today’s music scene?

There will always be a place for rock music. People blabber on about rock being dead and no good bands being around, but look at festival line-ups over summer and I guarantee 80% of the headline acts will be rock bands, because they’ve got the songs and the stamina to play long shows into the late evening. You ain’t gonna find Carly Rae Jepson or Bieber doing a 3 hour set to close out Glastonbury!

 

Finally, which song would you say you’re most proud of and why?

Probably ‘Greasy Hands’ because you really need to listen to the lyrics to work out what it’s about – it’s fun hearing people’s interpretation of it. And it’s also a bit of a challenge to play live.

If you want to know more about the band, you can find their website here or their Facebook page here. They will be playing a variety of gigs around London and Bristol this summer.

Carousels and Limousines

12 Jul

One of the big curses of British music is that home-grown bands too often ignore British [influences] and became infatuated by American sounds. It makes commercial sense in an entertainment world dominated by America, but the hybrid sound too often forgets what makes bands both sides of the Atlantic great, and ends up impressing no one. However, every so often a band comes along that embodies both the American influences and the British spirit. Carousels and Limousines are one of these bands.

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Despite coming from Bath, they sound uncannily like classic New Jersey blue collar artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Gaslight Anthem. It’s in everything from the singer’s rough, world-weary voice to their weary optimism and gritty urban rock. They have the same talent for conjuring up a place, and every song feels like the story of a night on the town or a lost love.

‘One and Only’ displays the band’s hopeless romantic side, as the singer asks for a kiss from his true love. The band have described their transatlantic musical lovechild as garage pop, but when it’s this fun a label hardly matters. “How about a kiss for your one and only?” the infectious chorus goes, with more than a hint of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’. Some of the lyrics are a bit corny perhaps, but it’s so upbeat you won’t be able to resist the urge to dance with it. The sense of euphoria ties in perfectly with the cover artwork of a neon tornado tearing through a black and white carnival, suggesting there’s fun in this bleak world we live in if you only go and look for it.

‘17’s’ slows things a bit as the singer lusts after an unavailable girl, musing “Your hips that sway and your eyes that say things good girls never should.” It is classic 70’s rock and will struggle to believe it was recorded outside of the States. The band’s transformation since they performed as Grace has seen them create a much rougher, less polished sound, which makes this lovelorn anthem sound more believable.

There are no two songs that sound the same, as though the band is urgently trying their hand at every possible style in case they don’t get another chance; ballads, acoustic guitars and harmonicas are all utilised. However if this record is anything to go by, we will be hearing a lot more from them.

Read next week for an interview with the band.

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