We’ll Be Up The Front @ 2012 Live Experiences
A live gig is unique. It’s on the edge, it’s the moment when the personal, that’s song lyrics, productions devised and created in private, become public [an unpredictable and emotional creature, the public]. Live gigs are dangerous because anything can go wrong, maybe the sound fails, or a guitar string breaks, lines may be forgotten, or changed, then there’s the people you meet, the hecklers, stage bombers – you can even get arrested and end up in prison.
This year: the all-girl Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, is arrested for performing a heartfelt prayer in a church, a plea for freedom from the oppressive regime under Putin. Their impromptu live show and the numerous indie gigs which pop up all over the country in support of the three Russian women, such as the events in London and Bristol, must be the stars of the Live Gig this year, featuring all girl and mixed gender bands who are the mainstay of the alternative live music scene, often forgotten,: The Ethical Debating Society, Crash Paris, Annette Berlin, CoverGirl, itself an amalgamation of active musicians from bands like Peepholes, Trash Kit, Wetdog.
Pop and the theatre of pop as a force for change, it’s something that hasn’t struck a chord with male indie fans since punk, but some of us girls and boys think back instead to this year’s Ladyfest events, again all over the UK, or a more recent Riot Grrrl night, take the new Bloody Icecream at London, Brixton’s Grosvenor or subversive performances by the likes of Karin Park or Woodpecker Wooliams covered by the girls are reviewer, Sarah Horney.
Sometimes a live show, the energy, positivity and musicality of the musicians, the diversity and delight of the audience, can inspire, bringing hope and re-charging the spirit, reminding us that it’s a good time to be a feminist. This year the girls are, in co-production with Storm In A Teacup, put on our first live event: The Shondes + The Tuts + AMiTY, “…an event of feminists, by feminists and for feminists; a wonderful form of feminism, an inclusive and embracing type.” [Reviewed for the girls are with guest writer Phil Ross]. Patti Smith’s UK shows this year were similarly reaffirming, as witnessed by guest reviewer Charley Stone. Also here, from across the pond for live shows this year, some classics in our specialist field, like The Raincoats, who delight TGA’s Marta Owczarek at the Camden Crawl , Canada’s Sharon Van Etten, [Emma Thompson gives her five out of five at the Bristol show], and Wild Flag wow Marta, while the Dum Dums charm us all. A visit from the Canadian edgy electronica composer Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, is a real treat and Nicola Jones is on it for the girls are in Manchester.
Girls are storming the experimental music scene – bringing dynamic in a random, though entirely rhythmic way, as well as emotion, yeah, we’re up the front for that too: this year most notably Micachu And The Shapes, a revelation live to writer Lucy Cage – and with this clutch of live dates comes the news that Mica joins the experimental sound effect project, the BBC’s re-launched and legendary Radiophonic Workshop’s. And Liverpool’s own Stealing Sheep – what a revelation. Their blend of traditional singer-songwriting x three + accomplished arrangements + electronica pop, bags them top support slots – and they hold their own with a lengthy UK tour, championing the magnificent album, Into The Diamond. Cheri A’mour, our album’s editor, gives five out of five for the Rough Trade East show.
Girls in music live, this year it’s been endless, from arena gigs to the more intimate venues – like Kofi Smith on the experience that is The Savages or Sam Veal, all choked up about Joan As Policewoman and serious about riot political-pop like Colour Me Wednesday – we always wanna be up the front, to say we were there, to show that things matter.
We asked some of the team if they had the time to share memories of a best gig or two this year:
The gig that really stands out for me in 2012 is the Out of Spite festival at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, in August. This is always a yearly joy for me ever since my first Out of Spite in 1999. The sun is shining, friends gather from across the country and the Juvenile Hall DJs provide the raucous after-party.
The highlight of the weekend is the marvellous Caves, who I have the pleasure of reviewing in January. Despite being on quite early in the evening on the Saturday, they play to a big and welcoming crowd with their usual fervour and energy that is always so infectious. The passionate, shouted sing-a-long songs have everyone on their feet and punching their fists in the air.
What I love so much about Caves is how they remind me of the first punk gigs that I went to as a teenager: that raw passion that wasn’t about how polished and trendy you could sound and look but about having fun, doing what you love and writing a song that would stay in people’s heads all week. Most of all there was that feeling that, although you might have been one of only five girls in a room of a hundred, you were all the same and all equally respected and part of the same wonderful scene. Caves take me right back there and make me happy that Out of Spite is still going strong. CB
My favourite gig of 2012 is, without any semblance of doubt, the Crystal Castles set at Leeds Festival which I reviewed for the girls are. I am the only member of my festival group that want to see the set, despite doubts that the act would translate well on to the main stage. Previous times I’ve seen the band in the reasonably intimate Leeds venue The Cockpit and in the NME tent during Leeds Festival 2009. Could this two piece, infamous for intensity and passion, work well on the enormous stage that would later present the powerhouses of Foo Fighters and The Cure?
Well, in a word, yes. No set throughout the rest of the festival matches the surreal experience of witnessing the frenzy that is Alice Glass on a, frankly, huge stage rapidly filling with smoke. Distance allows for assessment and reasoned criticism beyond “that was fucking AMAZING” as you squeeze out from a tiny venue. The music is incredible, and a fantastic break from the standard hard rock and indie of the rest of the festival. However, you don’t brave the drizzle, wasps and flying bottles of piss in order to just listen to the music of Crystal Castles.
Alice Glass remains to be among my favourite front women mainly for the reasons some people don’t like her. She is the physical embodiment of her music. The greatest aspect of watching her perform though comes to the detached sexuality she portrays. The writhing, pulling at her clothes, screaming, and passion is an intensely sexual act, but it is not for us. Other artists perform similarly and you can almost physically feel the sexuality they portray, but not Glass. Her sexuality is for herself, not for the gaze, which makes her a truly unique performer in an increasingly sexualised industry. GK
There’s nothing comparable to being at a gig in which the entire room falls silent just before the band walk out on stage, like the heavy pause before an intake of breath. One of my favourite reviews this year is 2:54, whom have a sumptuous vibrancy that sets them apart. Their music is brooding and dark, layered with emotive guitar riffs and beautifully introspective lyrics that hang in the air. At the same time there is nothing precious about this band. ‘Scarlet’ is undoubtedly the standout track; raw, haunting and powerful. 2:54 assimilate the crowd into a meditative landscape that is both dream-like and chilling, effortlessly blurring the lines between love and obsession and making it clear why they are destined to headline bigger venues.
My review of Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler’s festive bonanza is another personal highlight, due in part to the warmth that radiates directly from their playful, simpatico relationship on-stage. Emmy & Wheeler’s surreal and bijou collection of Christmas songs provide the perfect antidote to their more traditional, festive counterparts. Fuelled by a tsunami of indomitable seasonal cheer, the crowd, some of whom are wearing Santa hats, amusingly surrender to the presiding instinct welling up inside the room, contributing to a spate of impromptu dancing. When the call for the encore comes, the ensuing ruckus is quelled only by the unexpected appearance of Johnny Marr, which proves to be a well-received early Christmas present for the local Manchester crowd. LK
Early on in 2012 I go to a gig in a basement club, in Central London. Cargo nets cover the ceiling. It’s freezing and my wine glass is filthy. It is a good gig. Later on I see Anja Plaschg convulse and scream with her Soap & Skin ensemble. Terrifying. Touching. I saw her twice this year; at the Southbank Centre’s Ether festival she dominates. The act that follows her (Ghostpoet) wilts by comparison. Buffy Sainte Marie transcends in her Meltdown set, mixing hoedown with fine-boned sincerity. Good gigs all, excellent in fact. It’s been a slow year for stand out records but a fine, a darn fine, year for getting that feeling, down deep in the base of your belly of 2yes, this is the place and this is the sound.” The zeitgeist of this year was to take good feeling when you could; with the next recessive dip around every corner moments of joy were transitory. The gig that epitomised this for me was The XX’s Optimus Primavera Sound set. We decide to skip the established version of Primavera Sound in Barcelona for its stripped down Portuguese spin off. Instead of sun, we get rain. Instead of a heap of undercover stages and thoughtful programming, we get more rain, mud and disorganisation. Despite all of that when The XX come on, and I stand alone on a hill watching them, something happens. The crowd sing along, there is unity. And the heaviness of a night sky overcast cleaves to The XX’s trick of pulling desire from one pocket and sadness from another. 2012’s best gig, for me, happened on a hill in Porto as the kids from Putney played their hearts, and ours, out. AO
By Ngaire Ruth, Carrie Beth, Gina Kershaw, Louise Khatir, and Arike Oke
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Photo: Thought Forms