I feel like I go through the motions every year, repeating the same diatribe, but this time, there is a minor change of circumstances, and even a little bit of excitement. After all, who knows what can happen next in this crazy time we live in? As the site, and ourselves by extension, enter a new decade, one that hopefully that leads to plenty of promise, and one that can only dismay us from the gradual doomsday scenario that the planet seems to be sliding into of late, we glance back one final time into the 2010s (the tenties?) and upon the last year’s worth of music. Compiling this list was somewhat difficult this time around, as I appear to have forgotten more incredible albums than I remember listening to. Even then, to get to the point of narrowing down a contendership of just ten albums, the list was very much disputed the entire time. Alas, the list was finally cemented, and here’s what delights 2019 provided my, and now potentially your, earholes.Continue reading
At the beginning of the working week, and as the final countdown to Halloween, the outskirts of Camden houses Halloweek, a series of gigs and events hosted by curious free house The Unicorn, a mostly modern featured, open planned boozer, with opinionated locals who very clearly voice their disdain for live music as I scrutinise the bar, and a decently sized function space and stage for where tonight’s events would unfold.
I grab a beer, perch upon one of the many stools facing dead opposite the stage, and await tonight’s openers, Prescription Happiness. The inset and outset play out as moments best described as voices inside your head, akin to the Gene Wilder tunnel scene from the original Chocolate Factory film but eerieness switched for overwhelming dread. Initially their sound evaded an immediate touch point, their music oft feeling reminiscent yet totally their own. Half of their set borrowed from modern metal staples, Sempiternal-era Bring Me the Horizon and Slipknot being immediate reference points, but the other half an eyebrow-raising concoction of Korn, Incubus and most solid hard rock bands. However on record, there’s more of a Tokio Hotel comparison and that also becomes evident frequently. Without a shadow of a doubt though, these are boys with thick tones, and their breakdowns are plenty sizeable in stature. Despite a heavy emphasis placed on the screams, the clean vocals impress far more, and draw some emo-esque comparisons into their already head-spinning influence pool. The quartet’s set ends with Quietly Falling, a tremendous groove-laden number that scratches a future radio airplay itch if it hasn’t already. Their half hour elapsed rapidly, undoubtedly heavier than hardcore, yet not quite heavy enough to tussle with the bruisers of metalcore, not that they were trying to.
The beginning of Lady Rage’s set is regrettably missed, after an awkward run-in with the Johnny Deathshadow boys face painting in the gentleman’s water closet, so I hasten to finish my business and make it back to the stage. Very much in the spirit of Halloween, a pumpkin, Beetlejuice, Harley Quinn and whom I believed to be Freddy Krueger, though I’m reliably informed they came dressed as the drummer, unleash a wall of noise that bridges that gap between Hole and The Distillers perfectly. Unmistakeable, ferocious, scuzzy, grunge-soaked, riot grrrl punk, with plenty of melodies to back it up. That’s without mentioning a bass tone with serious clout, and their vocalist, the aptly named Siren Sycho, having terrifying power behind her screams, and being able to maintain such a formidable strength consistently. Their repetoire busts out a cracking cover of Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy too, taking on the form of the Rolling Stones or T-Rex butting heads with Brody Dalle, and that is exactly as good as it sounds. Wholly entertaining enough to watch again, their set includes a guitar-bass duel, a song titled ‘Not Joan Jett,’ and another that ravages social media, while live-streaming their set on Facebook, so while not quite as angry as face value implies, these ladies present themselves just as talented as they are self-depreciating.
While also in the spirit of Halloween, though just their regular stage attire, the misleadingly named Spectral Darkwave stepped up, masks, monocles, and sunglasses upon leather clad vestments, addressing us to what was assumed to be hurtling through the space-time continuum. A name like that, you would expect perhaps some sort of gothic metal influx atop synth. Not even remotely close. Instead, what we get is far more progressive, sludgy, almost straying into doom territory at times from this trio masquerading as Lovecraftian time travellers. Musically, their assault is airlock tight as they dive through dirges often about war and the horrors of mankind, bar the odd track about elephants or the death of a red giant, each track assimilating subtle characteristics of its era or subject matter, a very clever writing touch. They bare some sonic resemblance to Mastodon or even Opeth, with a constant growl dictating their narratives, but interspersed with some light-hearted jibes between songs. It ends up endearing towards the end, something only a British band could accomplish comfortably. Some waves of synth and programmed symphonic brushes do fade in and out, giving a sense of ethereal gloom, but ultimately this spectral entity oozes sludge and a metric tonne at that.
At one point, Johnny Deathshadow introduce themselves as Germany’s most loved party band, before announcing that their next song is about cancer, and that sums up their performance pretty succinctly. Playing London for the first time in their careers, their setlist contained an excellent variety of old and new material, of blistering and nuanced paces while squeezing most of the hits in (Black Clouds, Dark Hearts admittedly a surprising omission). Their stage presence flickers between intimidating and intimate, minor sexual frictions dotted throughout their performance, and their show itself is nothing short of masterful, light choreography alone granting gravitas worthy of a band playing a thousand capacity crowd than a small pub on the fringe of Camden. Red Rain opens aggressively, the chorus of cries offsetting the white hot intensity that rarely lets up the whole show. The skull-faced quartet scorch through four of their best from latest album D.R.E.A.M. which next to Red Rain, include a stripped back yet even more fiery rendition of Legion, and a fittingly melancholy Embers. Paying tribute to their punk roots, Under His Eye ignites with the headbanging crowd as does several of the set’s second half including Bleed With Me fan favourites, the archetypical Neue Deutsche Hart groove of Apocalypse Trigger, and the ground-stomping sway of Shadow, before concluding on the exhilarating Kill The Lights, and they even finish with streamers. Blood red obviously, but such an unexpected delight at the end of a storming set.
Johnny Deathshadow jokingly remarked that the band would be dead in the water had they started in the UK, crediting the trio of bands they had shared the stage with that night, but the Hamburg group played with such passion and zeal, and with the aura of bonafide superstars, the performance felt every part special as they had intended. Poor attendance aside, this industrial metal troupe’s ascent can hopefully be a slow-burner, German gothic circles excluded, as live and on record, they are destined cult heroes in the making and a fearsome sight to experience.
Under His Eye
Kill The Lights
On May 6, 1988, a schlock horror spectacle was released by the name of Slime City, a gory, gross-out flick that this Glaswegian troupe have lifted their namesake from. It can be assured that they definitely weren’t named after Nickelodeon’s Slime City, that much we’re certain of. As stated in a synopsis, one of the perceived protagonists drinks an unusual liquid which gradually erodes and transforms his body into that of a slime creature. Next time your occultist neighbours offer you wine made by a dead father who also happened to be an alchemist, I wouldn’t. Anyway, it is later discovered that the only way for this creature to revert back to its original human form is to commit a murderous act, thus leading to an eventual discovery of a massacre that took place involving this creature and the dead father attempting to transfigure himself through his host. Fitting really, that a trio of existentialist punk upstarts should pen this track over 20 years after the film’s release, although death by slime creature probably wasn’t what they had in mind initially. That, and The Jam never really wrote any songs about death in their ten year tenure.
A similar parallel could also be drawn with the demise of We Are The Physics, whom Slime City descended from, also spanning a decade long career, yet their demise was ultimately far more entertaining than The Jam’s was. The reason Weller and company are repeatedly name checked here, there’s an authority and swagger in the acoustic guitar and vocals, before the electric guitar hits the overdrive switch, and interspersed throughout that harkens back to the husky, fresh-faced mod at arguably his songwriting peak. Not to mention a distinct, poignant poetic license near the song’s climax that could rival his barbed prose. Any other resemblance to The Jam is swiftly dashed as Slime City are ultimately a fairly unique beast in terms of their sound, glances and snippets echoing former bands of new wave and punk past, but absorbed and meshed together so finely, it becomes virtually indistinguishable. Much like the transformation in the movie they’re named after.
You And Everybody… ironically is led in by a choir, inside that angelic reckoning, a voice acting as gatekeeper of that grandiose barrier asking you, the listener, why must your day-to-day inflict such malaise upon you. That is then refrained in mono briefly, in true troubadour fashion, before stereo engages, electric guitar roars with distortion, and that fleeting moment of ascending to the heavens, is sent rocketing catastrophically back to reality. Although the message is categorically transparent from the song’s title, the mantra is pelted and reprised with such glee, you can’t help but be bowled over by the charm of it all. Verses duel between a restrained, reasoned argument, gentler guitar chords underslung to accompany, and more exuberant chaos, with nuance put to bed, and slogans yelled in unison, power chords and punk snarl pressed hard into your face as they’re performed. Their chorus however, springs to life as a triumphant celebration of all that is brilliant about British guitar music, the scale utilised for its hook simply unceremoniously catchy and any attempt to beat it out of your head will prove futile. The extra prong of ‘Cling to anything,’ on this hook, only makes it that much tougher to release, so you are wished luck with that one. Those three minutes do absolutely hurtle along, with a wry momentary breakdown to emphasise the unpredictable nature of never knowing when your time will elapse, Windows XP error sound to boot, sandwiched near enough dead centre of the song. One other such highlight is the previously aforementioned bridge, where some exceptionally written and executed lyrics swatch maybe just one glimmer of hope, before joyfully snatching it away once again with the inevitability of our all one true fate. No band in recent memory could honestly make death sound like so much fun.
As self-depreciating as they are, Slime City know exactly what they are doing; steadily producing a stream of witty, yet Fort Knox-tight singles that deserve to be infamously infectious, and You And Everyone… is their current pinnacle. I defy anyone to find a better hook this year. Paced to perfection, thought-provoking yet riotous and rapturous in equal measure, and from a band still very much in their infancy, here’s hoping the Barrowlands might not be far away after all for them.
All of Slime City’s music can be located on Bandcamp and all good reputable retailers, whilst they do have a Bigcartel store, they seem to be popular lads and merchandise disappears quickly from there. They tour very frequently, so they will absolutely be in a venue near you soon too.
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Entering London and the musical heartbeat of Camden, it’s clear that Friday night hasn’t taken full effect yet, in the twilight moments of rush hour traffic, the hubbub outside Camden Town station breathes quiet. Overcast skies threaten ahead, but it stays dry for now. A perfect, ominous climate for the music that awaited around the corner.
I enter the Underworld only a few minutes after Belgium’s Mother take the stage, only after security nearly forgets to hand my ticket back over. There’s some inaudible whispering every once in a while, but there’s a constant ebb and flow of sludge-soaked noise, with terrifying roars tearing through frenzied and impactful guitarwork. Pace switches often, looping numerous layers of guitar, building melodies inside the unstoppable tides to what was a fascinating narrative. The trio ends on a small section of finely pronounced ambience and tranquility, and quell what was a raucous storm for twenty or so minutes. The early show did harm the performance admittedly, but they were utterly mesmerising from beginning to end. In the right circumstances, I’m sure this performance would crush every venue they set foot in. Out of the 10 or so people here, they absolutely made a fan out of me.
Conversely, there’s nothing pretty about Wren, and thankfully the Underworld starts to fill as they take the stage. Being descendants of the unstoppable Holy Roar records, ought to give you some indication of what was about to transpire. Ambient dissonance is instead transitioned into half an hour of primal intensity; an avalanche of concrete-pounding, bloody-knuckled riffs and nerve-shredding screams seemingly played to test limits of ear drums endurance. Imagine your loved ones being cast under the throes of perdition, and that drifts somewhere close to the staggering show of strength on display. Only dulling drones and sharp sustains broke the unrelenting nature of their performance. Although marred by some minute annoyances by mildly inattentive tech crew, their Torche on steroids-inspired onslaught is received well by those desperately trying not to be flattened.
Copenhagen’s Town Portal follows, only then realisation setting in the international flavour of this night, and the most controlled noise barrage yet is what emerges. Magistrates of math-tinged dynamic instrumentals, there’s moments of melodic magic and deeply gratifying groove over compelling syncopated beats which the brain struggled to absorb whether it was truly 4/4 or not, but their own technical intricacies united for some monstrous beatdowns that made obvious why they were on the bill. They were also the first band to engage the crowd thus far, that fabled endearing Scandinavian hospitality shining through their laser-focused performance. However you sought to define or catergorise this masterful performance, which physical viewing made mandatory to capture the real extent of their craft, you couldn’t peel yourself away.
You could somewhat ponder whether we were going to get our first glimpse of new music since 2015, teasing being in the studio at the beginning of the year. Regardless if that question were to be answered, Kowloon Walled City casually finish setting up, and proceed to leather and unequivocally eviscerate all onlookers with their meditated, sludge-submerged, post-hardcore dirges. At any point in their hour-long tenure, you could never tell if the Underworld felt mere moments away from collapse, the magnitude of force simply incalculable from Jon and Scott’s two-pronged guitar attack and Ian’s impossibly dense bass tone. Their Grievances-era tracks sting salient, the latter part of Your Best Years nearing driving me to tears, and the Container Ships tracks, comprising over half the setlist, rile up the crowd, the visceral 50s Dad and Wrong Side of History in particular erupting with a ferocity I’ve seen few live bands compete with. They also drag up Diabetic Feet from their now oft overlooked debut, and that apocalyptic bass grumble at the inset was the closest the Underworld came to devolving into anarchy. And intentional or not, those ravenous few stood beside me beckoned them back for a particularly bone-rattling rendition of Cornerstone before finally departing the stage. Kowloon Walled City just compose astonishing requiems, coursing with the emotional disparity of seething catharsis and agonising loss, that as their music evolves, stretches further and further untouchable.
While perhaps a fraction less as triumphant as their UK debut in 2016, co-headlining with Minsk, they sure as hell solidify their status to stride as one of the best bands on the planet, not just on record, but in a live environment, comfortably.
You Don’t Have Cancer
Wrong Side Of History
Your Best Years
The Pressure Keeps Me Alive
KOWLOON WALLED CITY
Very few could’ve seen or predicted the international impact and influence that Canadian mockumentary series Trailer Park Boys has had since its launch in 2001. The Swearnet heads and lead characters scarcely could’ve imagined it too. Yet here we are, nearly two decades since its launch and barring a few years break since its original seven season run, and Trailer Park Boys still broadcasts annual seasons, which in a day and age of binge-watching, streaming services, and rapid proliferation of premium TV series ushering in a home screen renaissance, is unprecedented. The now infamous line uttered from chronic alcoholic Jim Lahey, portrayed by the late John Dunsworth, ‘Randy, I am the liquor,’ said with a smirk and a swig of whiskey between the namesake of his male lover, and acknowledging that alcoholism just may be driving him to have his fellow residents murdered, is iconic in certain pop culture circles. Obviously to the point, where these three gentlemen from Richmond, Virginia have lifted it to front their band. One aside to paying homage to this long-running show, and a beloved and dearly missed character, is that alcohol is not the only vice pulled into the limelight. Aficionados of the sweet green leaf will find plenty to enjoy here too in the ballads of I Am The Liquor.
Since 2014, at the height of a stoner resurgence, I Am The Liquor have quietly but consistently put out excellent, white hot, grunge-fuelled romps that tickle the tastes of music fanatics, pop culture nuts, and grass smokers alike. Their debut established them as a deeply promising underground prospect, while 2017’s Game of Thrones-inspired 7 Days of Smoke expanded their Alice in Chains-goes-Palm Desert approach, with brooding, shadowy, Sabbathesque journeys that became as absorbing as they were skull-shaking. This time round, they’re taking fantasy to the reaches of outer space, with a sci-fi novel concept written by the band themselves, about restarting the Sun’s core with a mythical concentrated strain of weed. Still following? Good. Second track in on Escape From Planet Smoke bears its early highlight, 454, an assertive headrocker of a track that drives as hard as its engine namesake. Brazen, fuzz-drenched chords reel effortlessly from the guitar to start off, a singular booming bass punch and infrequent tom bashes in company, to build towards the verse, but instead of shifting to full speed ahead, ears are first treated to an impromptu groove, drums causing a snake-like winding in the rhythm that makes this track that little more thrilling. Groove does eventually concede to forward motion, and with the wall of fuzz now conducting traffic, you can feel the scorch of sunset and the sparsest of winds in this road trip narrative, as soaring vocal melodies that mirror and match Master Homme himself take the steering wheel. There’s even a brief characteristic stomp in the vein of Queens, that feels right at home in the back pocket of the trio. Lyrically, it hammers in the beginning of their quest, details concerning the launch itinerary before setting off which slots perfectly within the context of the track. Yet while not the most lyrically dexterous track of their repetoire, it has one hell of a memorable right hook in the form of their chorus, that its simplicity and melodic structure makes that 15 second refrain a burst of molten elation, and begs to be sung back en masse. Brief at only three minutes in length, perfectly performing its role as an establishing scene, but it accomplishes and wrings so much out of its duration than some bands manage in a lifetime, that the fire and joy that I Am The Liquor invoke still holds paramount to their offbeat brilliance. The best part being that there’s still an entire tale of fuzzed out, stratosphere-sized moments on par with and beyond 454 to explore, that if the Earth’s last hope for stoner rock lays with I Am The Liquor, we can universally breathe easy that these boys will be heroes.
All I Am The Liquor’s albums including the newly released Escape From Planet Smoke, not to mention a continual stream of sold-out merchandise, can be found right here on their Bandcamp page.
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If you were an advocate for Woking being a vibrant cultural metropolis, it may be understandable to warrant a raised eyebrow or two. While the community of Woking is certainly a explosion of diversity in the best sense of the term, visually, half the town is caked in rubble due to a massive scale rejuvenation project currently ongoing. Yes, while this Surrey terminal serves as the spiritual home of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, (perhaps fitting because of the reconstruction), the headquarters of the World Wildlife Foundation, and has been the birthplace of many of this country’s contemporary cultural heroes, it doesn’t quite have the looks to match its significance and contribution to the arts… yet. Aesthetics aside, Woking musically has given us national treasures like The Jam and Status Quo, and is responsible for recent trailblazers like Palm Reader and Employed To Serve. That said, the notion of tearing everything down and buiding it up stronger, bigger and better, suits fellow Woking noise merchants Gutlocker, and their gargantuanly proportioned cover of Jamiroquai’s Deeper Underground lifted from the Godzilla soundtrack of 1998. After all, this is a band that wrote a song about Woking called Welcome To Fucktown.
Leading in with heavy bass tones and the rings of guitar distortion, it sets the ominous tone of the original perfectly, nailing the synth’s foreboding ambience, and injecting their own sense of dread. Those cymbal taps underneath too twist the screws of tension to come. We don’t quite get the grandiose orchestra-esque notes before the first verse, as much as controlled chord rips to conclude the introduction go, but when frontman Craig McBrearty projects his beginning almighty scream, it serves the catalyst for a rip-roaring thrill ride. The famous groove that helped catapult Jay Kay and crew to the top of the UK charts is faithfully recreated, but undeniably grittier and oozing machismo that surpasses the crystal clean, subdued production of its progenitor. A subtle, impressive improvement is the volley of machine-gun style bass kicks that accompany this groove also, driving that sheer raw energy into a speeding freight train human might has no hope of stopping.
Delivered at an increased velocity, the soulful melody that once was is eviscerated with piercing shrieks still enunciating fantastically at speed, arguably with a faster flow that could embarrass many of hip-hop’s finest, which transforms into this formidable bark hurtling into the chorus, exhibiting strengths in Craig’s vocal abilities that are eye-opening to say the least. And the overall tone of that chorus couldn’t be further from the original’s minimal funk, sharing more in common with trying to survive the playground of a Leatherface or Jigsaw Killer-type onslaught; intense, crazed, and frightening. Fearing moments where it could slip into campy aggression, Gutlocker keep the bulldozer in high gear, leading to an endlessly satisfying solo bassline, the quieter spoken word beneath somehow unnervingly more sinister than the imposing screams already experienced, left to grind away the glimpse of an escape before certain doom encroaches on us all. Doom it certainly becomes, in which slowing the chorus groove down invokes the spirit of Sabbath, yet the climax teters more on the side of a forceful pummeling, than chatting with the Grim Reefer.
If a record label sat down with Randy Blythe and Dimebag Darrell to ask them to tackle famous soundtracks from the late 90’s, this could’ve been the result. Gutlocker’s take on Deeper Underground is inspired, befitting of their energetic, often seismic presence, and at the expense of some brawn, amp up the atmosphere to morph a record-selling series of catchy hooks, into a horror fetishist’s album collection. Side by side, their frankly hilarious music video with Outright Resistance’s Michael ‘Grandad’ Worsley stealing the show as… uh… Godzilla, shows that there is humanity and humor in their craft, no matter how dark or deep into the abyss of the soul Gutlocker are willing to dive inside.
Deeper Underground is out now on your favourite streaming services and all respectable music retailers. Their previous EP Cry Havoc! and all of their merchandise can be obtained via their Bandcamp. Gutlocker are stalwarts of the UK metal scene and tour regularly so keep an eye closely on their social media for upcoming dates, or bring them to you if you’re that way inclined.
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If you’re familiar with Dingwalls, then you’ll know how inconspicuous the place is, that you’ll easily blink and miss it. The same could’ve been said for Australian underground rock icons Cog who performed their only two UK dates over a decade ago. It was like a once in a lifetime celestial event. After reforming in 2016 however, they head out on their first ever European tour in their 20+ year career, co-headlining with fellow stalwarts Sleepmakeswaves, and Luke very generously took the time to sit down on a mild March evening atop Dingwalls’ terrace to talk about Cog’s past, their present, and their future:
On behalf of your UK fanbase, I want to say welcome back after 11 years of being away. Just from the limited time you’ve been here, has your experience been any different from the last time you were in the UK, compared to a decade ago?
Luke: Yeah, for sure, the last time we were kind of tagged on to do the shows with [NZ band] Shihad. It was very quick, in-and-out type of vibe, but this time, obviously there’s four more countries involved. As far as the UK goes, we gave ourselves a little more time before we started with these shows, to give us a bit more of a chance to have a look around, and I’m loving it, especially this area in Camden. I feel like I could stay here for a while. It’s very bustling, very multi-cultural, very happening, and it’s a pleasure to be here. Last time, we didn’t get that much of a look around, we did the sights, but this time it’s a bit more cruisey and we’re a bit more wiser, eleven years wiser [laughs].
I’m not sure if you recall, but you also played a festival, Guilfest…
Luke: Yes! Is that still going?
It went under new management a little while ago and under the new name Always The Sun Festival.
Luke: I remember an inflatable stage of sorts, or an inflatable something on the side, and I remember we went after or before, was it the Bay City Rollers?
[Editor’s note: They did indeed play before the Bay City Rollers.]
Luke: My brother was only here for two days, I was only here for three days but it was a bit of a blur. I do remember having technical difficulties at Shepherd’s Bush, but a great crowd and an awesome venue, I remember the venue very well. I don’t remember too much of the festival, other than we got there, we banged it out and got on a bus to go to the airport.
Despite being the short in-and-out trip, would you say it holds a place in your heart being among your first international shows?
Luke: Even though we’re only playing two shows over here again, we were definitely looking forward to coming back to England, because culturally, so much good music and so many good bands and people that I’ve listened to growing up come from this area or these areas in England. You know, as a muso, you just want to get a sense of what it was like for those bands at the time. I think you can relate to it in certain ways, but you’re talking about bands that I idolised. I’d definitely like to come back and play more shows.
Just to use a parallel to this, a band I’m sure you’re familiar with, Mammal, their first international shows were in the UK, around four or five dates or so if I recall correctly. What does it mean for Australian bands to come over and play in the UK? Is there any special meaning attached to that?
Luke: I think for them, I think it’s one step closer to making themselves more successful and more match-fit so to speak. If you’ve come over here, that’s a big leap for an Australian band. There’ll be thousands of Australian bands that never got the chance to come over here for a number of reasons. For us to do it after this amount of time, it’s a huge deal for us, it’s an opportunity. This could be the difference for us not coming back and spending the rest of our lives playing in our own country, which admittedly is great, but it could also open up the doors to us playing in other places. I think it’s kind of a stepping stone as well as a love affair, you wanna come here because so many fucking good bands are from here, and I think the general gist in Australia is that people from all those European countries say ‘Oh, you should come to Germany, or the UK, there’s so many people that would love your music there.’ Australia is a big country but there’s really not that many people that live there.
You guys tour extensively and have always toured extensively, what does it mean to you guys to tour so much? What do you get out of touring now as opposed to ten years ago?
Luke: For one, I suppose you get a break from your family life [laughs]. The last ten years for me, there’s been three kids, it’s a completely different life I lead these days than I did ten years ago. [Touring]’s food for your soul. I feel very fortunate that I can work five days a week at home as a carpenter but then I can play shows and tour. I build houses for a living, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do even as an eighteen year old when I left school, that was the crossroads for me. I was working as a carpenter but I couldn’t manage to do Cog and carpentry. Cog was moving at a rapid rate then, I was investing my whole heart and soul into that project, I had to make a decision and so I chose the music. I feel lucky that I’m now able to do both things. I still think I’ve got something to offer musically, I still think people enjoy coming to watch us play and it’s just been such a massive part of my life, about half of my life playing music. I feel the same about it as I did twenty years ago to be honest. I get up there and go into my own little world, and I love that feeling, trying to capture that magic, with my brother and Lucius. If you’re not feeling nervous or getting butterflies before a show or getting excited to play to about ten people, then you should probably fucking stop doing it.
Absolutely, your heart has to be in it, and if you’re doing it solely for the money then you’re doing it for completely the wrong reasons.
Luke: See, that’s the funny thing, if you get to the stage where your band does reach a level of success where you don’t have to work, you are doing it for the money, you know what I mean? Then you throw in responsibilities like children and paying bills, it’s up to you to maintain that kind of level of drive and motivation. I find it weird when people say that, ‘I’m not doing it for the money, I’m doing it for the love,’ but they have to do it for the money if that’s what’s putting clothes on their back and food on the table. It’s a double-edged sword. For years I used to say I do it for the love, and I do, but when it reached that point for us, where I stopped working and I was paying myself a wage from the band, it was the fucking greatest day of my life. In saying that, that’s also the day I realised, hang on, I’m not only doing it for the love, I am actually doing it for the money because I need money to live! [laughs]
So you’re on tour with the fabulous Sleepmakeswaves, if you were to embark on another European tour, who would you like to take along for the ride?
Luke: So many, so many great bands we’ve played with along the way. I’d really like to take a band from New Zealand called Jakob, another instrumental band. Just different, really, really dynamic, I’d love for them to have that opportunity, I think they have played in the UK before but you couldn’t quote me on that [Editor’s note: They played the UK in 2004, 2015 and 2016]. It’s been 15 years since we’ve toured with them, we had such a great time with them, good bunch of blokes, and just really enjoyed their music. We’ve always tried to put together gigs or bills together where, me personally, I don’t really like to go and see a gig where there’s three bands that sound exactly the same. I think that’s too much for the listener, I like it to be different. We’ve had so many different kind of things in place, like documentaries playing instead of a support band. You could run into trouble or shoot yourself in the foot if you got too diverse I think, but just try and mix it up.
On that subject, just to name a few other bands you’ve also subsequently toured with, Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus for example, when you guys reformed in 2016, those bands rejoiced and consistently sung your praises on social media at the news. What does it mean to you to be held in such high regard by bands you could consider your peers, and your friends and fellow countrymen?
Luke: It’s great, it feels very humbling. We were all doing a similar thing at a similar time, we’re all happy for each other, and that we’re all still going and still making music, and still enjoying it. I think there’s a genuine feeling that we all want each other to succeed and do the best we can. [Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus] seemed to have had more opportunities or they’ve created more opportunities, however it’s worked for themselves, to get over to places like Europe and India and America, where we had a bit of a funny run in terms of management and record labels. We probably made some foolish decisions or were just naïve, it just didn’t pan out that way for us. I speak to those guys on a regular basis, I go and watch them play nearly every time they’re in town or in the city. I go to their weddings, my children play with their children, our crew does stuff with those bands and vice versa. It’s become more of a family. It was a really, really exciting time for a young person, when I was touring around with those bands hardcore, in the early days, it was fucking great. There was a sense of what we were creating, this thing in Australia that no other musos were doing, we could change the world! [laughs] For a young country, it’s like a massive melting pot, and I think a lot of Australian bands strive to not sound like other bands, the good ones anyway. If you really break Cog down, there’s influences from reggae, from blues, stoner rock to metal, Jeff Buckley, there’s even dance music in there.
So to talk about a new album, it would be the first album in over ten years for you guys. You mentioned before that you’ve written new material but also brought back some old material that didn’t fit with Sharing Space, would you say that what you have so far is predominantly more new material or revisiting old music you wrote?
Luke: I would say 90% new. So [Altered States] was a track we’d already recorded, we had oodles of material from back then and after we came back from the hiatus, there were still things we worked on up until we disbanded, that we thought were too good just to throw away. We did also want to experiment with where we were mentally, our tastes had probably changed in over ten years as they do, and more excited to explore a bit more of that space. We’ve got so much material, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. We dumped everything onto a computer about six months ago now, and got brutal with it. There was so much stuff and we just needed to be honest with each other, so if one person didn’t like it, it could be a riff, it could be a beat, it could be a vocal idea or a melody, it got canned. The Police did a similar thing where they jammed on something for fifteen minutes, and if it wasn’t a song by fifteen minutes, they’d throw it in the bin. We’re not that brutal, but we got about half way going through everything and we all agreed to work on one thing, which ended up becoming The Middle.
In terms of an album, I’d love to say we’d have something out by the end of the year, but I just don’t think it’s a reality for us for so many reasons. Money being one, and also time. Flynn’s got his own business, I’m a carpenter as I’ve said, and Lucius is doing his other things. I feel like I’ve got ten fires burning around me, and all I’m doing is throwing more wood on each fire to keep them burning, and while I love the idea of recording an album, it seems the music industry and the way people buy music and listen to music is moving in a different direction. It’s not like it used to be, people hear a song, they buy the song. I love physical music, you’d have to wait for the album to come out, and go out and buy the album physically, and I love that. I’ve never downloaded any music in my entire life, I’ve stayed away from social media, I’ve accepted it, but I prefer to live my life and not have to tell everyone what I’m doing. I hardly have enough time to live it, let alone tell everyone about it! [laughs] Anyway, at the moment we’ve got our own studio now, we’ve built it, Lucius has moved up to where me and Flynn are living, and we’re happy going in and working on a song, and like Cog’s always done, it takes forever to work on a song, and if we don’t think it’s ready, we won’t give it to anyone. When it’s ready, it’s ready. We’re not a band that writes 20 songs and releases 10, we’re a band that writes 10 songs and releases 10 songs.
My last question then, with the commodity of downloading and streaming, when you released Sharing Space, the download and streaming industry was very much in its infancy, if you were to release a third album, how would you release it?
Luke: We would do it independently. I’m not sure how we’d do it, but I’d just like to do it out of our garage. Like ,’This is it, if you want it, come and get it from us’. It’s going to end up out there, someone’s going to put it up there and everyone’s going to get it for free anyway, but I would like to print physical copies and CDs, and that’s how you get it. I just think bands get ripped off for putting so much into an album, and getting no fucking financial gain from any of that. How is it any different from an artist painting a picture, and selling the picture? It’s a bit disheartening, but I guess the upside from putting music online is that anyone in the world can find it and listen to it. It’s a tough one, but now the only means for a band now to survive is through live shows and their merchandise. You can sell a million copies of your album and get fuck all for it, and I don’t see it as very fair to the artist.
You do also have bands that have made a relatively good living without having a record label too.
Luke: Are they necessary? [Record labels] have their pros and cons, they obviously have fingers in reach of all aspects, like your marketing and your publishing. If you’re Joe Blow off the street and you try to walk in, that’s a lot of phone calls, and there’s a lot of not what you know, who you know, in that industry. A very good pro from a record label’s perspective is that they have that sussed and they have the infrastructure already in place. I think at the end of the day, if you’ve got something good and you’re 100% behind it and you fully believe in what you’re doing, if you build it, they will come.
Luke, it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk you, thank you.
A big, big thank you to Matthew ‘Yogi’ Donnan and Volume Touring, and of course to Luke Gower and Cog, for making this happen.
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I will never ever forget the day I first encountered Keith Flint. It was a memory so vivid, so powerful at such a young age, that it will stay with me forever. I was around four, maybe five years old, when my mum had MTV on, and the music video for Breathe came on. She’d bought Fat of the Land around this time, and encouraged me to watch it, or at least listen. Being at that age where so much is impressionable on a young boy, that image of a demonic looking, and sounding Keith Flint, with the purple and green spikes adorned either side of his head, was absolutely terrifying. The video was played so regularly, it wouldn’t let me erase it from my mind. And like the best kind of hypnosis, after enough exposure, I started to like it. Instead of quivering in fear or leaving the room when it came on, I started to embrace it, and that state of alarm soon turned to joy every time it came back into rotation, the volume edging that bit louder every single time that beginning hook grumbled in.
God knows how many times I must’ve watched that music video, trying to analyse and break down all the imagery contained inside that dilapidated apartment. It’s truly a fascinating watch, not least because of Keith Flint’s flailing, and warped punk snarl, ensuring it became an everlasting memory, but it’s what became my gateway into The Prodigy.
Firestarter, of course, also left an impression on me too, that unmistakable nihilistic energy being translated by the innocence of a five year old child, who had no conceivable idea what anything Keith said meant, and the transformation of the chorus from arson into UFOs, sometimes flatulence, being one of my mum’s fondest memories of me as a child. Fat of The Land was always massively influential on me, even if I wasn’t really all that into music at the time. But for every new Prodigy song I discovered in that time, past and present, I always saw the music video for, and I’d always tried to copy how Keith danced, how they all danced for that matter, so if anything I’ll always owe him an indirect debt for any coherent ability I have for moving my body to a high-tempo rhythm. Out of Space and No Good especially. That was mostly in my infancy. A decade or so on, that connection got more personal.
Largely ignoring everything that happened with Always Outnumbered…, though not without its own merits, to date the only Prodigy album I actually own (although likely to change in the future) is Invaders Must Die. This album was on heavy rotation on my stereo after it came out, and came about a time when there was a lot of transitions in my life, namely finishing up high school and beginning to change things about my appearance, like hair colour, Keith being the very first person I ever saw with abnormal hair colour. Front to back this album was full of gems, and something always struck me about Run With The Wolves, not just because it’s solely Keith on vocal duty, and the drums recorded by Dave Grohl who may be my favourite human being ever, but there was this degree of authenticity amongst the anarchy. Keith’s sneer compliments the abrasive modular synths perfectly, the thunderous yet technical live drums propelling it far beyond album filler, and I fully believe this slice of electro-punk madness, no matter how iconic Firestarter and Breathe are, is his finest moment and the song he was meant to sing.
Going back to Breathe again for a moment, I was fortunate enough to see The Prodigy on two occasions. Their esteemed Warrior’s Dance Festival show at Milton Keynes Bowl in 2010, and at Sonisphere in 2014. For Warrior’s Dance Festival, my hair was dyed completely blue, in a bright UV yellow t-shirt, in a crowd of 65,000 people and I still managed to stand out. But in that moment of the opening notes of Breathe playing out into a sold-out ram packed amphitheatre, the rapture of being surrounded by tens of thousands bellowing out that chorus is unlike many experiences I’ve ever had before. It’s certainly the loudest I remember. I watched footage back of that moment recently and it gave me goosebumps. Hearing Keith’s snarls in the flesh resonates as strongly and vividly, as it did well over a decade ago on MTV. The Sonisphere performance is a lot more hazy in my recollection, but the MK Bowl show is without doubt one of my favourite live shows I have ever attended.
Since then, the new Prodigy releases always piqued my interest, and I lifted the songs I enjoyed from the two new albums since Invaders Must Die, some became songs I played in DJ sets, but I can’t deny I wasn’t as invested in them as heavily. I still haven’t worked out why to this day.
The day Keith Flint died, I was distraught. I cried a lot. I cried even more when his death was ruled a suicide. It didn’t make sense to me because I’ve always associated the music of The Prodigy to periods of elation in my life, and this year is already becoming one of my better years after the last 18 months of non-stop turbulence and uncertainties. The fact his irreplaceable voice, and larger than life stage persona no longer exists on this planet, nor will make any more appearances is a pill I’m struggling to swallow. Not to cast shadows on any other recent tragedies, but an illustration to give you an idea of how crushing an effect this has had on me; Chester Bennington’s death was like losing a best friend at one of the most difficult points of my life. The death of Keith Flint is like losing a close family member, someone whose presence has been felt consistently throughout my life, that their musical contributions have been so ingrained into who I was, and who I’ve become, from a very young age. This news hurt, it still hurts, and it feels like an important part of my soul was extinguished on that dreadful day.
Almost since day one, The Prodigy has had a profound impact on my life, and to be in the knowledge that its heart will never beat again, leaves me in perpetual sorrow.
Thank you Keith.
Rest in peace.
It’s OK to ask for help. If you want someone to talk to, or someone to listen, please call Samaritans, or seek your local mental health charity. There is always someone willing to hear you out. Never suffer in silence.
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By now, the hangover of 2018 should have long subsided, and 2019 should now begin to be as familiar to everyone as much as your work colleagues, classmates, or friends you go clubbing with, are. We’ve conversed, debated and voiced our collective opinions on what the best of the best of 2018 was, and ahead, we look into the eyes of 2019 longingly, yearning for continued musical excellence as this decade draws to a climax. So bearing that in mind, the site has put together 20 bands and artists bearing a variety of new musical fruit in 2019, that you should absolutely sample, and hopefully savour and find immense pleasure from.
If you ever had any doubt that the nostalgia trend is absolutely back in full effect, as last decade touched upon lifting so many influences from the 80’s, this decade seemed dead set on reliving the 90’s, that abhorrent haircuts, tasteless clothing, and otherwise obsolete mediums are all the rage once more. Arguably, as much as the 90’s were a confusing and surreal decade in our lifetimes, it was an incredibly underrated decade in musical innovation. Crazily, dance music was scarcely dubbed dance music until the turn of the 90’s, despite music specifically recorded for the intended purpose to dance to existing for generations before that, going under numerous guises and evolutions. And in the grand spirit of that innovation, the very nature of dance music underwent such a radical transformation in that time period, that began with Eurodance and acid house, and ended with trance. Sticking with Eurodance, the treasure trove of that brief spell of musical history, is still unearthing rock solid tracks that the world had forgotten or had no idea existed, which brings us to Leila K’s Electric. A great success in Europe, and greater success in her native Sweden, the Moroccan-born singer and rapper resembled somewhat a solo Salt-n-Pepa for the rave generation, and Electric coursed with the kind of attitude and energy, that made it as inspiring as it was incendiary. Pulse-pounding though it still may be, Electric sounds very much a product of its time, approaching a quarter century in age and dated by its now primitive production package. Enter fellow Swede, and electro-pop anarchist Rein.
Joanna Reinikainen, better known by her stage name, exploded into the public eye in 2016, with her no apologies, take no prisoners fusion of pop, electro-punk, industrial and EBM, teeming with sociopolitical confrontation and fury at global injustices. In such a short space and time, she’s released two EPs, a handful of singles, made additional guest vocal appearances and been nominated for awards in her homeland. She even found the time to refuse to open for Marilyn Manson in that time frame. Her deeply addictive and frenetic assault of musical styles, along with Electric’s clarion call of unity, make her the prime candidate, to revitalise and empathise the vigour of this joyous gem from Scandinavia’s pop vaults. From the inset, there’s certainly plenty that embodies and mirrors the original, from the imposing buzz of the vocoder, the unwavering swagger in every syllable, even down to leaving Leila K’s name in the lyrics untouched, and the lush layering of vocal melodies at the song’s crescendo. The music video even bears a handful of similarities to its predecessor, despite the stark contrast between the cold walls of industry and the bright illuminations against woodland. It’s Rein’s distorted, driving waves of dissonance that ultimately begin to shift towards the version to call her own. The continuous kinetics of the techno arpeggio that the original gently builds itself around, is instead brought into motion by an aggressive pumping bassline, undulating as hard as putting fists to flesh, interspersed with ungodly screeches of synth. The verses of rapid-fire rap possesses so much more bite here, that extra degree of fire tremendous in spurring on listeners to invest in the song’s message. But the entire tone of the song isn’t all certifiably vicious, as Rein still retains the chorus’ soul-packed hook, taking on the delivery herself to demonstrate further dexterity in her already impressive vocal arsenal, alongside the same uplifting pads nestled within from the original, and the bassline dialled down into a throbbing disco-esque rhythm Giorgio Moroder would be proud of.
Everything summates to a pop vessel, masquerading as a industrial strength wrecking ball but with more than an ounce of humanity in its approach, and if this doesn’t serve as the perfect entrance to Rein’s expanding realm of electro-punk antagonism, dive into her earlier work and start taking notes, as this outstandingly talented lady is only going to kick more and more doors down.
Electric is out now available for purchase at all reputable retailers and on all major streaming platforms. All Rein apparel and merchandise can be found on her page here, and keep an eye out for shows hopefully in a country near to you.
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