It seems very few people utter a breath about 2016 any more. Probably for good reason, it seemed very much like a culling of revered figures and idols of popular culture, let alone a universal gasp of disbelief at what idiocy we may have unleashed on the world. 2017 isn’t really fairing any marginally better in that department, by a hair strand at best. But whisper it: The music is fantastic. If you want to invest in it of course. Admittedly, this list was compiled at the inset of 2017, but as the halfway stage of this year rapidly approaches, it still holds as an all-star ensemble of killer bands you may have overlooked, some yet to release their brand new material and some you may never have heard of. It seems like a solid enough foundation for this article to still exist, while maintaining some resemblance of relevance. That, and you may be reading this, looking for some new music to listen over the summer. Let’s get started, shall we?
So this is a first for the site, as somebody sworn to never do live concert reviews, a run-down of ten stand out live acts that I’ve seen over the course of 2016. And I’ve seen a lot of them. It’s pretty self-explanatory really, only I’m not exactly reviewing them, just highlighting why they made this list. This isn’t limited to headline acts by the way. The only exception that I have made is to try and limit festival appearances, as there were numerous bands seen in the space of a day at some festivals that could’ve made up lists of their own. And I have had to discount one entry that should be on this list, that of being The Offspring and Bad Religion at Hammersmith Apollo. The reason being counting individual performances, both were absolutely superb on the night, more than satisfying the inner 13 year-old in me and being hard torn to pick a favourite, just makes it easier to disallow it altogether. Sorry, no joint entries for this one. Without any further ado, here’s who played stellar live shows in 2016:
10. Raveyards @ Camden Underworld (supporting Perturbator w/ Dan Terminus) – 08/06/16
Bands like Raveyards perfectly demonstrate why you should always try and check out the support bands for a live show. Knowing nothing of them, walking into Underworld with half of the stage consumed by mesh netting, projection screens and one of the most elaborate live musical setups I’ve ever seen was an eyebrow-raiser. Every component of an electronic music performance was in their control and performed in real time, with their expansive shadowy atmospherics and gigantic beats, matched with a kaleidoscope of visuals made for a spell-binding spectacle. Spectators seemed happy to have the space back afterwards, but Raveyards’ attention to detail alone has to garner recognition.
9. Allusondrugs @ The Black Heart, Camden (w/ Fizzy Blood, This Years Ghost and Snakes) – 03/08/16
Always a band on the cusp of greatness, the Yorkshire grunge revivalists played a packed Black Heart and showed everybody why they are one of the most talked about live acts going in the UK right now. Switching between slower psychedelic pinches and frenzied fuzz slammers, all delivered with their inescapable talent for writing infectious hooks, I went into this show, having had some personal bad news that day and left with joy and an affirmation of life once more afterwards. They near had to be dragged off stage after a storming 45 minute performance, but such is their allure and brilliance of their music.
8. Youth Code @ Electrowerkz, Islington (w/ Shallow Sanction and Evestus) – 14/10/16
If there ever was a band that embodied controlled chaos, then Youth Code is that band. Marking their debut in the capital city with their revisionist approach to industrial and EBM, there is no wasted movement from beginning to end of their set, both Sara and Ryan screaming and launching themselves across the stage in a frenetic display. Despite a breadth of luscious synth arpeggios and skull-rattling drum machines, it’s their sprinkle of hardcore, that makes every word screamed at you personal and elevates Youth Code’s all-out sensory assault to an absorbing war dance you never want to end. Can you say: the next Ministry?
7. Jean-Michel Jarre @ The O2 Arena, London – 07/10/16
It kinda goes without saying, that when you go to see a concert from somebody widely regarded as the Godfather of Electronic Music, as a pioneer whose forays into music and technology span 40 years and a former world record holder for the largest outdoor concert ever, you’re in for a spectacle. And having missed the chance six years previously to see him, he did not disappoint. Ever the showman, touring through his greatest hits and his frankly superb Electronica project, his inspiring ability to flawlessly recreate every nuance of his work, live, to a visual extravaganza that evolves much like his compositions can only cement his legacy as one of the most influential figures in modern music.
6. Petrol Bastard @ Resistanz Festival (Corporation, Sheffield) – 25/03/16
I do wonder how many people have said at a Petrol Bastard show, that the duo played their dream set list. I certainly can. Opening up Resistanz Festival in Sheffield’s Corporation was a 45 minute performance piece about masturbation, drinking and violence set to an unrelenting techno, gabba and drum and bass soundtrack… and it was some of the most fun I’d had all year. Forcing crowd participation with a tide of inflatable penises and unforgettable slogans, and with a little help from Johnny Ultraviolence, this crude, colourful riot was impossible to ignore and left many smiling from ear to ear. Plus how many gigs let your girlfriend try to sexually assault one of the band members with an inflatable penis?
5. Monster Zoku Onsomb @ Boomtown Fair, Winchester – 12/08/16
Out of the inconceivable number of bands and pass times at Boomtown Fair, these guys could’ve been easy to miss on one of the smallest stages around. But once in range, you couldn’t escape from them and those onlookers in attendance never wanted this madness to end. A troupe of Australian musicians specialising in belting rave tunes, spanning a whirlwind of tempos, spliced together with B-movie references galore and occasional 60’s surf guitar, happily run amok in their 45 minutes on stage. Choreographed dance routines, inviting an adult baby on stage and what may have been a declaration about being in Eurovision 2017 only added to their unique brand of electronic dance carnage.
4. Toska @ The Boileroom, Guildford (EP Launch Show w/ Eschar, The Deadlights and Steal Rockets) – 27/02/16
Possibly the only headline band I have ever seen without knowing a single thing about, was also one of the most astounding. Made up of three quarters of melodic hard rock starlets Dorje, Toska sacrifice none of that intensity and churn out wave after wave of instrumental metal bliss, hurled at such force you’d think there was an earthquake. The energy they emitted could’ve powered large city blocks and their respective talents are hypnotizing to observe; simply everything about their performance was immense in stature, given their debut recorded release. They made crafting invigorating, progressive music seem so effortless and it was an absolute pleasure to watch them at work.
3. Lionize @ Desertfest London (Camden Underworld) – 29/04/16
In what is somewhat a recurring theme on this list, I went to watch Lionize, only knowing that they were Clutch’s in-house band and left absolutely speechless. Imagine if James Brown had fronted a balls-to-the-wall rock band and invited Bob Marley along as a touring member and that merely scratches the surface of what these gentlemen can do on stage. Ferociously charismatic and passionate beyond all belief, Lionize toured a myriad of genres and had tremendous fun doing it, all with every attendee transfixed at this true powerhouse of a performance. I’m surprised the Underworld didn’t burst having to contend with holding these guys back, one of the most impressive modern rock bands alive today.
2. Kowloon Walled City @ Camden Underworld (co-headliners w/ Minsk, also w/ Bossk and Wren) – 03/09/16
Credit where credit is due, Bossk were also spectacular on this night, but for a band that had never stepped foot in the UK before and had come to the end of a near two-month tour of Europe, emotions were always going to be high for these guys. Kowloon Walled City’s use of conveying so much intensity and feeling into their tone, while being pulverising in the same capacity, makes every note gripping to behold and very, very few bands can even touch them in making sludge sound so breathtaking. Spanning seven songs across 45 minutes, this set made a titanic statement as why Kowloon Walled City could be considered one of the best bands on the planet.
1. Placebo @ Wembley Arena, London (w/ Minor Victories) – 15/12/16
What more can be said about Placebo? Never has a band resonated with me emotionally and spiritually as Placebo has and likely I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. Hell, I wouldn’t have a degree for starters. But there could be no more fitting show for them to play in their hometown on the 20th year of their inception. The atmosphere was electric and applause rapturous as the band strode through a terrific career-spanning set, that touched many through melancholy but lifted everyone through liveliness. Lyrically they have few peers and musically, their grunge-embezzled attack sounds as fresh as it did in June of 1996. Arguably, one of the UK’s greatest cultural phenomenons.
I hope you enjoyed my selection, and if you agree with these choices, or enjoy the writing that’s on this site, then you can show your appreciation through a like, a follow or subscribe to the site using the link below:
This may sound an unusual start to a post on a brand new emerging band, but I have a tale to begin with. I hope it’ll make sense eventually. So a few years ago, I attended a barbeque hosted by my best friend, and for some reason or other, I decided to come in a neon yellow t-shirt, the equivalent of wearing a hi-vis jacket in the middle of the bloody day. It glows all on its own, I’ve been told it hurts people’s eyes. But this shirt attracted the attention of a local bumblebee, right before industry pesticides started threatening their existence and what not and it landed on the shirt, presumably thinking I must have been a pretty flower. Instead of shooing it away, I let it sit there, understanding it was probably trying to pollinate my shirt, but it wasn’t doing me any harm. It sat there until it stopped moving, of which I wondered had it died and then did I try to move it off my shirt. Some gentle force eventually removed it. It hadn’t died. The dopey insect had merely fallen asleep and took flight once again. I’ve always had an affinity for the winged stripy balls of fluff since that day. A similar affection I share with a band named after a mask of them.
When it comes to bees in music, they haven’t made much of a name for themselves, or definitely remain an under-appreciated musical force in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps the most famous example is classical masterpiece The Flight of the Bumblebees, the grandiose, expanding brass section now an iconic piece of musical history and natural fit for narrating any overcoming of the odds, or war charge. Some other examples include the Bee Gees, notable Anthrax rarities album Attack Of The Killer B’s, Danish noise outfit Beehoover, Insideinfo’s frankly terrifying but kick-ass neurofunk destroyer Honeybee and timeless Beatles tune Let It… actually that one is cheating. But off the bat, it seems a struggle to name several musical triumphs involving the humble bee. Unless you just guess that there’s a band called The Bees, which you’d be right in thinking as they live on the Isle of Wight. See also Grumble Bee from Yorkshire. This is where a great surge in progressive rock prowess advances forth and Mask of Bees can not only change the state of bees in music, but far more importantly, steer the course of a brand new wave of UK rock bands.
Their debut album Beta is seven tracks of turbulent, sax-injected hard rock constructs whose paths co-ordinate the chaotic with the transcendental in a manner that’ll quicken the pulse of the rabid Tool and Faith No More hordes. How it must translate to a live environment is a dizzying prospect in the best possible way, for their acute craftsmanship certainly knows how to wring impact out of their music. From the opening time-signature havoc caused by Talisent, onto the battle between calm and calamity of Tendering, shifting to spellbinding, melancholic ambient phases expressed by Peacel Sloot, and concluding with the bruising grooves and vocal centrepiece of Carpet Burn, Beta’s 29-minute duration jostles with so much energy and creativity, you could market it as an alternative fuel source. Touching on the subject of impact, while its presence is inescapable, the saxophone truly elevates Beta as a seminal exhibition of talent, despite its already stellar foundations. While its inclusion is slowly becoming more of a mainstay in modern rock and metal, you certainly feel the passion, intensity and emotion blossoming forth from every ounce of music the saxophone touches, just as the jazz greats intended. But whilst the saxophone jockeys for the limelight on numerous occasions, absolute focus and the true shining moment stands out on personal favourite S-P.K.Y.
The only real moment of tranquillity on this album can be found in the beginning of this track with the saxophone whispering sweet nothings, the gentlest of delay emanating from these softer notes. It strikes a chord somewhere between a jazz ballad and New Age music, a sound of purest beauty. From there, it starts to go a little haywire. Gradually getting louder and more aggressive, the guise of a solo saxophone interlude does lead in drums and melodic picking, adding a tint of ominousness to the mood. Vocals sound as though they emerge from a mist, soaked in reverb and later stronger delay but the croon is an irresistible comfort to an uncertain atmosphere and stands alone as one of the album’s finest points. Pressure does give way and the full force of their brutish yet technically impressive instrumental might explodes onto the scene, along with a full restoration of the vocals for the chorus, animating the most mellow tone on the album. The song carries on with another submersion of the vocals back into the mist, almost acting as gatekeeper for the louder dynamics, the interplay between that uncertain calm and the fiery intensity of the band, before concluding in a surprisingly cathartic breakdown at around the five minute mark.
It needs not to be said much more, but like any collective hive, it can only be as good as its collective workforce, and as Mask of Bees go as a workforce, they are among some of the most proficient and musically exciting workers you’ll hear all year.
I’d like to extend my thanks to Mask of Bees for granting me such early access to their album, this album was an absolute pleasure to listen to and to write about. Beta is out now on their Bandcamp page in a digital and physical capacity, for a very reasonable price so go get that. They perform live frequently also. It shouldn’t be long until they perform very near you soon.
Give them the round of applause they deserve right here:
And if you feel you would like to give me one too, via a like, a follow, or a subscription to the site, you can do so if you wish:
Paranoia is something that seems to grip hold of a large portion of us at times, like a leash round the neck. The constant feeling of unease that somebody is watching us, or that there is a much larger agenda happening right underneath our noses. This state of mental chaos can be the birthing place of conspiracies, tales that hold weight as to why events transpired in the manner they did, more often than not focused around pivotal moment in history. As far as a band named Orange Tulip Conspiracy goes however, the jury may be out on that one. For this Los Angeles five-piece, their work remains focused on a deeply involving instrumental cinematic experience, drawing influences from Balkan folk music, lounge jazz, classical music and some heavier aspects of progressive rock at times. It seems odd yet rather fitting when you have a rich, smoky ambience of expertly woven strings, every now and again plunging into total dread from gigantic amounts of distortion entwined with the guitar. Luckily across the six and a half minutes of Fall Creek, that monster hides its ugly head. This stays as an extended jam of cultural magnificence, hypnotic in drums maintaining a steady rhythm the entire time whilst strings and saxophone recount the tales of days gone by. The atmosphere is sitting around a fire, in a tent that towers above you, whilst the haze emitted slowly envelops those listening into a trance of total relaxation. The conspiracy I guess then is this: how can five Los Angeles musicians create the sound of traditional Eastern Europe so perfectly and yet very few have experienced their astonishing craftsmanship? Keep an eye on those orange tulips, who knows what other wonders they have in store.
The band now go under the name of Atomic Ape, and apparently their album Swarm sounds a lot like a spy thriller. Fancy. Anyway, both that and Orange Tulip Conspiracy can be bought on the Atomic Ape Bandcamp page in digital and physical formats.
Circumstances make me wonder if opinion polls are ever conducted on whether the world needs more metal musicals. Currently the best example may be cult classic Repo! The Genetic Opera, certainly a polarising experience at the best of times however. The music itself was very well composed, especially for the sheer scale of original songs written for the score, but the lyrics at times, came over as unintentionally hilarious. Very few bands nail that balance between theatricality and musiciality perfectly, so when a new avant-garde metal band emerges onto the fray, attention spreads like wildfire. Enter Norway’s Vulture Industries. European metal circles are quickly cottoning onto their amalgamation of styles, instruments and notably the quirky vocal menagerie of frontman Bjørnar Nilssen. While most likely not conceived in that matter, each song written by Vulture Industries takes its place as a scene or chapter in a blackened, twisted storybook, exploring the depths of emotion and the human condition. Most recent venture, 2013’s The Tower is their most ambitious tale to date. Stretching beyond an hour in running time, this five piece have taken extra cues from symphonic metal, as well as enlisting the help of various session musicians and choruses along the way. Divine-Apalling is the second track in, and from the get-go takes you into the warped pantomime of a slightly Vaudevillian landscape. There’s so many well thought out touches in what becomes a carousel, or a carnivalesque waltz of joyous and melancholy tones, but amplified like only a metal band can realise. Vulture Industries have the inner workings of utter genius, and are creatively one of the most unique bands around right now. Take the stage, this applause is all yours.
Their three albums can be purchased on their own Bandcamp page as well as their website, whereas their earlier works and demos, are no longer in print. As usual, these can also be bought at most respectable music retailers too.