Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Album Review - Among The Echoes, "Fracture"

Album Review:
Among The Echoes, "Fracture"

It’s been a while since I did a review, but from the moment I started listening to the latest album from Among The Echoes I knew I would have to break my hiatus. "Fracture" is one of the most addictive and all-consuming LPs I have heard for a long time.

From the outset, the album’s opener slinks around your head and into your ear before seeping down to the pit of your stomach and wrapping a gigantic invisible fist around your soul. At the first thunderous beat of the album’s title track, "Fracture", the fist lifts you up and slams you down into the core of the earthquake of dark beats and bass, crisp anthemic synths and blistering Bowie-eque vocals that exude a fantastic combination of power, fear, control, passion and acrimony.

The production is absolutely superb and is the icing on the cake to the fabulous electronic powerhouse driving the 13 tracks on the album. The album is definitely in my top 3 albums of this year so far and I highly recommend it, particularly for fans of dark and brooding electronica who, like me, look for music that has the ability to cut you off from the world and hold your attention completely from start to finish.

Absolutely outstanding!

Track Listing
Heartbeat (1:41)
Fracture (3:58)
Sin (3:34)
Medusa (5:15)
Hate (3:45)
Midnight (4:48)
Rain (4:01)
Control (4:26)
Heart Of A Machine (4:40)
Freak (4:20)
Pure (5:04)
24 (0:12)
13 (3:04)

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Gig Review - Josh Kumra, The Victoria, Swindon

The Victoria, Swindon, 28th July 2013
Support: Tom McCarthy, Nick Felix

Going to an artist’s hometown gig is always a bit special, but going to one at a tiny venue is a very rare experience indeed – and that’s assuming you can even get a ticket. But I found myself in this enviable position on Sunday as I stepped down into the back room of The Victoria in Swindon to watch Josh Kumra and his two support acts bring the house down.

Stepping up first was Tom McCarthy, who became the epitome of multi-tasking as he strummed guitar chords, beat-boxed and fed vocal harmonies into his looper, and wowed the packed venue with his vocal range. He sang a staggering range of covers from Adele to Bob Marley, with only a slight timing wobble as he went into one of his final songs, Gotye'sSomebody I Used To Know’. He pulled it out of the bag though, singing both Gotye and Kimbra's vocals with startling precision, before coming to a deafening finish with the aid of the ardent supporters in the room. It was a brilliantly engaging set.

Next up was Nick Felix, whose dulcet tones were an intoxicating blend of Kelly Jones, Caleb Followill and Rod Stewart. The majority of his set was original, bluesy material, some slow and some faster, for which he expertly played the guitar, both as an instrument and as his percussion. The lyrical and musical content of the tracks was fantastic, and they were expertly delivered by Felix, who again evidently had a large following in the room. With the right manager behind him this guy could be huge - he certainly won’t have to work on stage presence or delivery. It was hard to see how Josh Kumra could follow him.

Finally stepping onto the stage from within the crowd, Josh Kumra and his drummer, Carra Bacon, kicked off proceedings with a cover of Angus and Julia Stone'sMango Tree’, and the bar was raised even higher. Kumra's vocals were absolutely spine tingling as he steered the crowd through his set, skilfully contrasting light and shade in his performance and drawing the audience under his spell. The timing between Kumra and Bacon was outstanding, and the pair played and exceptionally tight set.

Kumra played both material from his current album and a couple of covers, dedicating one track to his parents in the crowd. A comedy moment happened as his Grandad, who was also in the crowd, worked his way through the packed room to the front of the stage at the end of a song and said, “Josh! Josh! Play that song, ‘Oak Tree’!” Kumra paused, studied his Grandad’s face, and said, “I just did.” It was a special moment and this, coupled with the enthusiastic crowd that evidently contained a large number of Kumra's family and friends, really made you feel part of a huge family gathering.

After playing a fantastic set and coming back on for two encores (with much encouragement from the crowd) Kumra and Bacon finished as they had started, with an absolutely brilliant encore of ‘Mango Tree’. It was a truly spectacular gig and it was a great privilege to have been there to share the experience. Having only ever heard his track ‘Don’t Go’ before the gig I really had no idea what to expect, but this very talented young man now has a new, avid fan.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Gig Review - Cream Club Classics Night, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, 27th July 2013
K-Klass supported by Marc Fuccio

Anyone who has ever been to the Aylesbury Waterside when the seats have been moved out of the main theatre would be struck at how perfect it is for a club setting. With its high ceiling, large stage, and raised areas around the dancefloor, one can imagine a crowd of clubbers, arms aloft in a haze of lasers, euphorically dancing to a pounding dance track. So it was with some glee that I found out that the theatre had booked K-Klass to come and bring the legendary Cream Tour to Aylesbury.

K-Klass’ support was DJ Marc Fuccio, who is also an organiser of the Cream Tours. His set was diverse, spanning old school classics from Todd Terry’s staple, ‘Keep On Jumpin’’, Groove Armada’s ‘Superstylin’’ and iiO’s ‘Rapture’, through to Axwell’s ‘I Found You’, and right up to recent releases such as Martin Solveig’s ‘Rockin' Music’, Alex Clare’s ‘Too Close’ and, of course, Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’. Sadly the number of people in the theatre was low so he largely played to a sparse dancefloor. This was really unfortunate because his set was fantastic with great mixing and drops. After topping off the set with Avicii’s ‘Levels’, two members of K-Klass (Paul Roberts and Russell Morgan) sneaked onto the stage and picked up the mantel.

To a backdrop of hypnotic graphics and flawless lasers the duo took it in turns to ride the bass and treble filters, and to deliver a set full of some of the best known dance classics (Faithless’ ‘Insomnia’, Liquid’s ‘Sweet Harmony’, Da Hool’s ‘Meet Her At The Love Parade’, Tomcraft’s ‘Loneliness’, Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ to name a few), amid some more questionable choices (such as OneRepublic’s ‘Apologise’ and Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’). This resulted in some slightly frustrating moments where the pinnacle of the clubbers’ euphoria vanished down an imaginary plughole in the middle of the dancefloor, and the clubbers were left a bit exasperated (one complained to me as the ‘Fix You’ organ echoed around the dancefloor of baffled clubbers). But in the DJs’ defence, most DJs play off the atmosphere and euphoria from the clubbers, but because the numbers in the theatre never really increased beyond about 200 people, and those 200 people were lost amongst the vast space of the theatre, K-Klass’ job was that much harder and their set suffered for it. The best reaction was to Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Don’t You Worry Child’, which saw almost everyone in the venue with their arms in the air as it dropped.

Whilst Aylesbury Theatre’s first club night did not go as well as expected, I think this was probably down to the fact that the publicity for the event was very low key. I heard of the event completely by chance the day before it was happening, and speaking with some of the other clubbers it was a similar story with them. However they agreed that a club event such as Cream would have been huge if more people had been aware.

So with a bigger publicity drive to the surrounding area and across the county it would be surprising if a similar event (either another Cream tour, or another tour such as Godskitchen, UKF Bass Culture or Hospitality for example), was not sold out next time, particularly given the reasonable price of the tickets. I know that I, along with a lot of other clubbers, would be really pleased to see another club night at the theatre.

Were you at the Cream Classics Club Night? What did you think?

All photos have been kindly provided by Houndscape - for more information visit www.houndscape.co.uk. © 2013 Houndscape. All rights reserved.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Festival Review - Electric Daisy Carnival, London

Queen Elizabeth, Olympic Park, London, 20 July 2013

After sixteen years of travelling far and wide, and bringing EDM to the masses in the US, the Electric Daisy Carnival travelled across the pond to London to put on the very first European event at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The event promised dance heavyweights from across Europe on four stages, complete with an audio visual extravaganza incorporating state of the art production design, theatrical performers, fairground rides and a carnival atmosphere. With glorious weather on order it seemed that the first EDC London would be a surefire hit, and an unforgettable experience.

Unfortunately the most unforgettable experience happened before a lot of the punters even got through the gates and into the carnival. The organisers had implemented a requirement that each punter was to show ID even if they were very obviously over 18, which caused numerous issues (so much so that they had to drop the policy half way through the afternoon due to the large number of complaints), on top of a very stringent and time consuming search policy. So after queuing for 45 minutes through various barricades from Stratford station to the event gates (which were rightly in place to prevent crowd surges and to cross a busy road) punters then queued for up to 2 hours to get through the relatively small amount of ID, ticket and search gates. Whilst I absolutely agree with the security measures that were being carried out, surely the organisers could see that with the large number of people expected to attend they would need more gates and gate staff? Having spent nearly £70 each on a ticket only to miss nearly 3 hours’ worth of the event queuing to get in was unacceptable, and as a result I missed a lot of acts that I wanted to see and review.

So, the first act I did manage to see was Rusko, who also wins the prize for most captivating performance. He blended old school jungle, breakbeat and drum n bass whilst body popping and dancing about, and while his MC whipped the crowd up (I’ve no idea who the MC was but he was brilliant). Rusko was absolutely immersed in entertaining the crowd, and he didn’t disappoint. It was a fantastic set.

Over in the NeonGarden, Feed Me was working a different crowd altogether with an ear-splitting, bone-shattering dubstep set. The craziness in the crowd subsided slightly when the set changed up to a bit of house, but seconds later it was game on again with more shuddering bass and grimy dubstep, and the crowd got back on it.

Meanwhile, in the adjacent CosmicMeadow tent, Crookers was unsuccessfully trying to motivate a small crowd as he played through his house set. In contrast, back in the NeonGarden tent, Mat Zo had a large, bouncy crowd who were treated to various drops in the shape of The Prodigy’s ‘Breathe’ and Daft Punk’s ’Get Lucky’ whilst a menagerie of entertainers filed on and off the stage, dancing to his brilliant trance/house set. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand.

Over at the BassPod, Nero started in a blaze of graphics, sub bass and shrill vocals to a surprisingly small crowd, although this may be in part because they were up against Avicii and Dirty South on other stages. Vocalist Alana Watson took to the stage for ‘Promises’ to a great reaction from the crowd before they dropped in their remix of Plan B’s ‘The Recluse’ and, later, ‘Innocence’.

Avicii, accompanied by a giant mechanical spider, was playing to a very large crowd over at the Kenticfield who danced and sang their hearts out to ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Seek Bromance’ (which he’d cunningly previously released under the name of Tim Berg). After dropping in a snippet of M83’s ‘Midnight City’ with Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ he rounded off his set with a haze of lazers for ‘Levels’ and then ticker tape for current chart no.1, ‘Wake Me Up’.

Sub Focus used his headline set in the BassPod to play tracks such as ‘Rock It’, ‘Out Of The Blue’ and the recent ‘Endorphins’, with the dancing crowd lapping it up. Again, the crowd was smaller than anticipated, but he was up against other headliners Tiesto and Madeon, so there was stiff competition. There seemed to be a lot of people who were trying to catch at least some of each of the headliners’ sets, and running between the various stages.

The main event of the night was Tiesto’s headline set at Kineticfield, which was epic, as expected. Even with a plethora of tracks from his back catalogue to choose from he still found space to drop in snippets of recent hits by Macklemore (‘The Heist’) and Icona Pop (‘I Love It’). In a set strewn with pyrotechnics he played tracks such as ‘Take Me’, ‘Rattle’ and ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ before finishing off with classics ‘Silence’ and ‘Adagio For Strings’. The crowd seemed reluctant to leave at the end of his set.

Overall EDC London did a great job of pulling in some major acts as well as some great up and coming acts, most of whom really captivated their audience. However, the long delays to get in at the start did put a dampener on the day given that many missed some of the acts that they had really wanted to see (myself included). I hope that EDC gets this right if they return in 2014 by drastically improving the number of gates and search staff so that the punters can get inside the venue to enjoy themselves instead of being outside the venue and really infuriated.

Were you at EDC London? What did you think?

Sunday, 21 July 2013

EP Review - Among The Echoes, 'Midnight'

Hot on the heels of their previous four track EP, ‘Freak’, back in March, dark wave electronic band Among The Echoes has been busy making preparations to release a follow up EP. Described by Pete Steer of electronica band, tenek, as bringing “synth with bollocks” to the party, Among The Echoes has recently announced a Synthetic City gig with fellow electro artists Johnny Normal (who has supported the likes of Adam Ant and Blancmange) and Spacebuoy (who has supported Erasure among others), which sold out within 3 weeks.

The band has had an eventful year already, with the departure of singer Rachael O’Hara shortly after the release of ‘Freak’ but fortunately this has not held the band back, and their journey seems to be gathering speed at an almost alarming pace.

The first track of the EP, ‘Midnight’, starts with a purposeful, steady beat which punctuates the band’s trademark dark synth. The band is never afraid to use unusual chord progressions and toplines, and this this song is no exception, with the vocals of frontman, Ian Wall, washing through the track, sounding uncannily like a kind of cross between Sisters of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch and David Bowie.

The following track, ‘Hallways Of Sin’ starts with a mist of whispers against a constant hard bass drum and incorporates an interesting and unusual guitar riff, providing a new dimension to the chorus. This is another dark track (as you would expect) which is made all the more vivid courtesy of a haunting and brilliant solo piano in the pre-chorus. Sam Wale, who produced the band’s previous EP, has done another sterling job on the production of this track, with the crispness of the beat against the haziness of the synths really shining through.

Cities Are Burning’ changes the pace up a notch and starts with guitars that are reminiscent of The Cure and Killing Joke. The unusual feature of this track is the quirky beat, coupled with some fantastic choral chants which become slightly more insistent as the song progresses. The track is a long one, possibly slightly too long, but it holds its own well. Dropping down in pace between the verse and chorus is a nice touch that gives a quirky air to the track. Again, the production is strong.

Finally, the shining star of the EP is ‘Flowers’, which features vocals from Bridget Gray, singer of electronic band Destination, adding a touch of light to the otherwise disconsolate place that the song unfalteringly navigates. The track starts in a dark, thumping swirl, with Wall’s vocals providing a gritty backdrop as the lyrics unfold. So raw is the performance that you can almost visualise Wall standing at the grave of a loved one, in the rain, spitting out the words. Gray’s vocals perfectly compliment Wall’s as the chorus lifts the track to a higher place before descending back down into the darkness of the verse. It is a track that is beautifully executed, with lyrics that are both poignant and moving.

'Midnight' is due for release on 1st August, and will be available on Amazon, i-Tunes, CDBaby and the usual digital outlets. The band will be appearing at The Flapper in Birmingham on 17th August as well as the sold out Synthetic City gig on 19th October at The Actress and Bishop, also in Birmingham.

Track listing:
1. Midnight
2. Hallways Of Sin
3. Cities Are Burning
4. Flowers

Among The Echoes website
Sam Wale Productions website

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Festival Review - Mainsquare Festival, France - The Verdict

Having only two stages was a bonus at Mainsquare Festival because it meant that you could catch at least some of every act that was playing. However its downfall was the close proximity between the two stages, and while this meant that running between stages took a matter of seconds, the dire consequence was that the bands often clashed, resulting in either one band being completely drowned out (usually the one on the Main Stage) or a complete wall of mashed up noise as the sound of the two stages fought against each other. It had a devastating effect on many bands’ sets, and coupled with the fact that the only shade from the blistering heat was the patch of trees between the two stages, it did not make for ideal viewing conditions.

On the plus side though, there was absolutely no liquid throwing (dubious or otherwise) by the crowd and the volume of litter discarded on the floor as opposed to in the bins was small. It made a very welcome change not to have to wade through a foot of noodles and pizza boxes to get anywhere, and I loved the fact that I was not spending a small fortune on anti-bacterial wipes in a futile attempt to remove dubious substances from my person. That said, it did make the atmosphere much more subdued than that of a British festival. The number of people wasted and the number of moshpits were very low. The most offensive thing at Mainsquare was the clashing sound, but what Mainsquare lacked in being hardcore they more than made up for in being impeccably civilised.

Click below to see my reviews of each day, and my verdict of the festival as a whole.

Mainsquare Festival 2013: Intro

Mainsquare Festival 2013, Day 1
Featuring Candide, Twin Forks, Balthazar, Rival Sons, Haim, Biffy Clyro, Modestep, Thirty Seconds To Mars, Bloc Party, Green day, Enter Shikari, The Prodigy and Netsky

Mainsquare Festival 2013, Day 2
Featuring Mike & the Mechanics, Klink Clock, Local Natives, Kodaline, Saez, Of Monsters & Men, The Hives, Asaf Avidan, Sting, Alt-J, Sting, deuS, C2C and Madeon

Mainsquare Festival 2013, Day 3
Featuring Feini X Crew, Charles Bradley, Left Boy, Volbeat, La Femme, Puggy, Lou Doillon, Stereophonics, Kendrick Lamar, Archive, Wax Tailor and The Dusty Rainbow Experience and Indochine

Festival Review - Mainsquare Festival, France - DAY 3

The final day of the festival started over on the Greenroom stage with a short set from French rappers, Feini X Crew, followed by soul and funk singer, Charles Bradley, on the Main Stage. Bradley’s set was perfect for the start of a hot, lazy Sunday afternoon, with his soulful, dulcet tones washing over the drowsy audience and easing them into the last day’s proceedings. However this was not to last long. In a startling rush of sub bass, Austrian rapper, Left Boy, struck up on the Greenroom stage, drowning out the end of Bradley’s softer set. However Left Boy insistently awakened the audience with his mash-ups, including one harnessing the powerful draw of Gwen McCrae’s “All This Love That I’m Giving”, paving the way for a less restrained affair into Sunday evening, which started with Danish metal band, Volbeat.

From the very start Volbeat presided over a fantastically tight ship, mixing up their own tracks with snippets of tracks from Rammstein, Twisted Sister and Johnny Cash. Playing a tribute to Jeff Hanneman, the late guitarist of fellow metalists, Slayer, was also a nice touch that the audience seemed to appreciate. Overall their set was extremely tight and heralded a great response from the watching crowd.

Back on the Greenroom stage La Femme had begun their set. The band seemed to consist of a cast of thousands, scything their way through an electronic punk set, with singer and keyboard player, ClĂ©mence QuĂ©lennec, bouncing her way through every track like a lively puppy. Their sound was akin to Toyah, Devo and the 80s new wave era. They got a great response from the crowd, and whilst some of that would be due to them playing for a home crowd it certainly didn’t take away from the fact that they played a set of catchy tunes with some great synth hooks.

Crossing back to the Main Stage Belgian band, Puggy, began to play a set that was a kind of mix of Mika, Scouting for Girls and the Scissor Sisters. Having previously opened for bands such as Deep Purple and Smashing Pumpkins it was clear they were popular in France, and they commanded a very large crowd who all danced and sang along as the band sang in both French and English. Their vocal harmonies were very impressive and the response they got was fantastic. They were followed by French singer (model and actress), Lou Doillon, who impressed the crowd in front of the Greenroom stage with a selection of tracks including a cover of Ray Davies“I Go To Sleep” (later covered by The Pretenders). However, being on immediately before the Stereophonics meant that the crowd dwindled towards the end of her set as they flocked to the Main Stage, but the remaining festival goers gave her an enthusiastic response.

From the start, the Stereophonics had drawn in a large, attentive crowd. They played many of their most popular tracks including “Local Boy In The Photograph”, “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Dakota” as well as their latest track, “We Share The Same Sun”, but while their set was expertly executed and perfectly constructed the band appeared to be going through the motions, with long gaps between songs and hardly any attempt made to interact with the crowd. Other non-French bands throughout the weekend had at least made some effort to communicate in some way in French (Thirty Seconds To Mars, The Hives and Biffy Clyro being the ones who made the most effort) but the Stereophonics made no attempts at all, and actually didn’t communicate much in English either. Consequently the set felt slightly awkward and lacklustre, but despite this, and the fact that the sound from Kendrick Lamar’s set over on the Greenroom stage drowned out a good portion of the final ten minutes of the Stereophonics’s set, they still received a warm response.

Meanwhile Kendrick Lamar was whipping his small, but extremely dedicated, crowd into a frenzy with his rap infused hip hop. But it was his rendition of his recent hit, “Swimming Pools (Drank)” that got the biggest response with the crowd consistently throwing their right hands towards him as the rapper prowled back and forth across the stage.

What followed on the Main Stage was, for me, the best performance of the day. Trip hop outfit, Archive, completely outshone everything else on Sunday. The vocals (particularly Holly Martin’s) were spine tingling, and their set was well balanced with slower and faster tracks and interchanging vocals. The performance was the most captivating of the day, mixing soul-drilling bass with ethereal swirly vocals and guitar and synth licks. The crowd seemed to be as spellbound as I was, standing in awe at what unfurled onstage.

Over on the Greenroom stage, Wax Tailor and The Dusty Rainbow Experience, another trip hop artist, started promisingly with a funky set. I had high hopes following the fantastic set from Archive, but sadly Wax Tailor’s set quickly deteriorated, going a bit “Jungle Book”. The crowd seemed a bit restless and distracted, with many ignoring the stage to chat amongst themselves, and finally leaving the arena to see the final act of the festival over on the Main Stage, Indochine.

Indochine are clearly well loved in France, and the crowd they drew was the largest I’d seen at the festival except for Green Day on the first night. Playing a kind of mix of new wave and rock, like a very junior version of Muse and Queen in places, they received an overwhelming response from the crowd, who were clearly enthralled by the show which included the standard show gimmicks such as a ticker tape shower. For the French crowd, having Indochine to close the festival was obviously a stroke of genius, and they went down very well leaving the departing festival goers on the required high note as they left the arena.

Click below to see my reviews of each day, and my verdict of the festival as a whole.

Mainsquare Festival 2013: Intro

Mainsquare Festival 2013, Day 1
Featuring Candide, Twin Forks, Balthazar, Rival Sons, Haim, Biffy Clyro, Modestep, Thirty Seconds To Mars, Bloc Party, Green day, Enter Shikari, The Prodigy and Netsky

Mainsquare Festival 2013, Day 2
Featuring Mike & the Mechanics, Klink Clock, Local Natives, Kodaline, Saez, Of Monsters & Men, The Hives, Asaf Avidan, Sting, Alt-J, Sting, deuS, C2C and Madeon

Mainsquare Festival 2013: The Verdict