Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Back to the future


Last year, Ronan - esteemed editor of Nightshift and curator of the annual one-night local music showcase that is the Punt - vowed that he would never, ever do it again. So, after he was persuaded to do a U-turn, I can only fear for his blood pressure at the news that this year's event got off to a calamitous start, the Purple Turtle - the venue for the evening's opening act - having forgotten that it was even taking place and opening up an hour and a half later than planned. Fuckwits.

It’s barely 7.30 and, while the Purple Turtle stage is yet to kick off, the Cellar is already rammed to the rafters with Punters enjoying a right royal knees-up. Party-starters THE BALKAN WANDERERS aren’t afraid to stir a little politics into their fusion of Eastern European gypsy folk-punk and ska, ‘The Land Where You First Drew Breath’ ensuring they’re unlikely to ever soundtrack a party political broadcast for UKIP. As if to underline their anti-xenophobia, they then chuck in what will in all probability be the only Catalan cover of the evening.

But enough of the revelry and frivolity. As their name might suggest, GHOSTS IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS (Wheatsheaf) are an altogether more serious affair. Close your eyes, and the way the twinkly, echoey guitar lines are laid over thick, muscular low-end bass rumble could lead you to believe that Explosions In The Sky have popped in on their way home from working out down at the gym.

INDICA BLUES (Purple Turtle) are somewhat less subtle, dispensing with any niceties, interludes or lulls and simply channelling Blue Cheer riffs straight into your brain. The songs are like runaway steamrollers and I don’t envy anyone - band members, soundmen, structural engineers - who have to try to put the brakes on.

Certainly they’d flatten CAMERON AG (Wheatsheaf) and his slight, brittle tunes - which, particularly on the strength of the poignant piano ballad with which he ends, would be a crying shame. The Youth Lagoon comparisons are apt, and one wonders whether, like Trevor Powers, he might be tempted to scale up for live performances and whether that might actually diminish his music’s effectiveness.

Already operating at diminished effectiveness, due to illness, are CASSELS (Purple Turtle). Apparently they’re usually “20 per cent better”, which - by my calculations - would make them officially Really Rather Splendid. They’re also eyewateringly young (if some of the lyrics are a bit sixth-form poetry, there’s a good reason for it), sneeringly misanthropic (“This one’s for the parents in the audience. It’s called ‘The World Doesn’t Need Another You Or Me’”) and deliciously and chaotically noisy yet also actually in possession of the odd tune (‘Seasick’ in particular). Who could have imagined that Chipping Norton could spawn our very own Iceage?

Or, for that matter, that Oxford might have an answer to Battles? Buzz band of the moment MAIIANS (Wheatsheaf) marry electronics and analogue seamlessly into a blissful undulating wave of synth and bass. Songs like ‘Lemon’ gradually take shape and stir themselves into lithe, loose-limbed action, propelled inexorably towards climax by inventive percussion. Post-rock can be such a dour, earnest and oppressive affair, played by people who look like they’ve only ever seen the inside of their own bedrooms, never mind the inside of a club. But you get the impression that Maiians exist to translate the feeling of dazed euphoria that comes with waking up at sunrise on a beach in Ibiza into a form that even chin-stroking Mogwai fans can understand.

We're particularly grateful to Maiians for banishing the memory of their predecessors on the Wheatsheaf stage, LITTLE BROTHER ELI, whose howlingly awful, overegged blues rock - "if Maroon 5 discovered the White Stripes", comments one Oxford musician in my vicinity -  served only to throw everything else even further into relief.

Bringing a busy evening to a triumphant close at the White Rabbit are RAINBOW RESERVOIR - another revelation, though this time in the shape of skewed, college-educated, kick-ass punk-pop with lyrics that are playful, witty and sharply acidic, sometimes all at the same time. Think Best Coast if Beth Cosentino spent less time on self-reflection and more time listening to Guided By Voices. 'Just Say Yes', implores the title of their set-opener. OK then. Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.

Here's to next year...

(Portions of this review appear in the June issue of Nightshift.)

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