I’ll be among the first to admit that 2017 is now a fading memory in long and short terms of immediate recollection. After all, we’ve reached a quarter of the year in already and only now do I find myself reflecting on and scrutinising the year past, since coming to terms with my current situation. Of which I feel is moving in a more positive direction. That said, while my own personal presence took a negative slant in the seventeenth year of the new millennium, musically, there was such a creative surge of magnificence which resulted in many, many excellent albums being released. Also one such reason for this list being delayed as it is. So, with ever-so-slightly wistful eyes, The Soundshark casts its spotlight on my ten favourite albums released in 2017, and for your listening indulgence:
The state of modern indie is certainly rather interesting nowadays. Although there have been past evaluations on when the last great era of modern indie was, ergo, when bands and artists last made an impact on the charts, where the genre stands in 2017, critically has never been better. Does having the adoration of critics and the music press outweigh greater commercial success? Maybe that’s a question to ask the Mercury Prize committee. While that is a debate for another time, the rise of a new wave of incredibly talented singer-songwriters have arguably become the heartbeat of indie, in this undeniably eclectic decade of music. Up-and-coming bands in the indie-rock vein are on their own battlefront, still rightfully rumbling the live music scenes across the world, and their time will come again. After all, it only seems that musical trends become cyclical, especially as this decade has progressed. As it stands right now, troubadours of a myriad of backgrounds and influences are among the most well-respected of artists, just trying to make music their entire lifestyle. And their emotional honesty, dedication and raw potential undeniably resonates with tastemakers, spheres of influence and those with a willing, listening ear, no matter how they choose to express their craft. Marcus Pike, a one-man indie-folk workhorse from the east end of London, citing the powerful vocal capacities of Bon Iver and Jeff Buckley, the melodic melancholia of Radiohead and the sublime minimalism of The xx as his inspirations, is another joining that order and hopefully soon to be more widely doted upon with his exquisite compositions.
Since his small beginnings, he has amassed over 150 live shows on the London circuit and released his debut EP Grand Piano, featuring the phenomenal gut-punch blues of The Flower And The Fox, earlier in February this year. Now with his as-of-yet to be titled sophomore EP lingering on the horizon, and with the mention of experimentation into the electronic realm, we look to his latest release Ark, as a promising glimmer of things to come. Seconds in, after a near microscopic level of acoustic build-up, we are gifted with Marcus’ heart-heavy, but soulful projection, carrying an extraordinary downbeat atmosphere that only thought possible with man-made instruments. Of course, with his acoustic companion in hand, and the deliberately slow pacing, a perfect balance of soothing and sadness is struck, making his recollection of a love lost and being unlucky in love all the more poignant. Both these elements in isolation cast a spell on the listener, the darkened ambience and pure vulnerability of Marcus’ narrative utterly mesmerising to behold, and that half of Ark elapses in such a sensational, yet sorrowful surrender exhibits the very best of what this young man is capable of. The second half is brought to life by a live band, the chill of soft reverb transforming guitar from acoustic to electric, and gentle percussion giving an added weight and movement to the pace already in progress. This new dimension of atmosphere will feel very familiar in post-rock circles, it lurks within the same haunting, moving chords that can trigger pleasure, placidity and pain in every stroke and heightens this dramatic shift as such. A set of female vocals join in unison with Marcus’ as the last refrain grants the duo freedom to drift away, and Ark gradually does, a subtle choral introduction playing out in the background and those emotive guitar chords escaping from their structure, as everything fades to silence. Lord knows where those four minutes disappear to, but it is among one of the most absorbing pieces of indie I’ve ever encountered. While it can be labeled as romantic, Marcus Pike imbues his soul to the darkness, conjuring a spellbindingly beautiful ambience and sense of sombre with little more than his voice and a guitar, and the impact and resolve of that delivery, clamours for recognition far beyond the London live scene. Inspirations accounted for, there feels much, much more exciting and diverse to come from this fantastic young solo artist.
While Marcus’ sophomore release is yet to have a certified release date, you can purchase Ark, and his previous EP Grand Piano from his Bandcamp page, as well as all other respectable music retailers. As a stalwart of the circuit, you’ll no doubt be able to find Marcus at a London show, at a time to suit you, so keep an eye out for when you can catch him live on his social media.
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The following account is of factual events that took place on the 27th October 2016, between the hours of 7 and 10pm. No details of this account have ever been made public. Until now.
I’m early. I’m not often early for a lot of things. In fact, I’m so early I have to wander up and down the street and take refuge in one of the cheapest London pubs I’ve ever set inside, waiting for to validate my invitation. But a little after 8pm, a gentleman sporting the Black Futures insignia arrives outside Wandsworth Town station, I weave the password into my conversation with him and he presents me with a blindfold, and told to await transport to the secret location. Of what I know of Black Futures media, their imagery resembles some kind of VHS propaganda reel, but nothing that was to resemble the theatricality of what was about to happen.
Once enough attendees had gathered, the chauffeur asked us to enter the transport and put on our blindfolds. In the brief journey towards the venue, around about 5-10 minutes in length, there was music playing under the guise of Black Futures Radio; short instrumental MIDI renditions of songs, interspersed between stingers and amusing interjections from its monotonous host. I seem to remember the best one about ‘having a funny feeling in my nether regions,’ or something similar at least. Little were we to know at that time, that what was unconsciously infiltrating our ear drums was a mere taster of the sonic assault to come. While the radio provided some light relief and entertainment, it didn’t stop the feeling of foreboding, being driven around on London streets, in a vehicle full of strangers, to a location you knew nothing about.
At the location, I just about made the shadow of gates opening before the path, and driving down to what looked like an abandoned film set of sorts. Outside, flanked by personnel in hazmat suits taking photographs of every attendee, heavies in suits instructed us to place our phones in envelopes or we would be refused entry. Happy to oblige, I did so without first telling my other half that I wouldn’t be able to be contacted for an unspecified amount of time. You can imagine how that went, especially after telling her the last thing that happened was that I was just given a blindfold. Anyway, we were directed left into a room, filled with more hazmat personnel and two giant dispensers filled with ‘social lubricants’. The drinks could only be dispensed by ringing a bell, or honking a horn, dependent on which you wanted. The folk in the suits and googles remained silent throughout, pulling glasses from underneath which they kindly filled and only once pouring half a litre of gin, to top up the more popular of the two dispensers. Yikes. The room itself had little in the way of furnishings with two sofas, in a room filled about thirty odd people, but was filled with very curious paintings, photographs and instruments around. It seemed elaborate, like a lot of thought had been put into the decoration of this venue, deliberately like some kind of scientific experiment and we were the test subjects.
After a period of time for guests to mingle with one another, the room opposite in the hallway is unlocked, and we are welcomed inside a studio, outputting a frequency that feels like its properties could brainwash onlookers if exposed to in the right circumstances. Maybe that was the idea. But beyond the mixing desk and monitors, lay drums, microphones, a keyboard and a guitar, and a curious wall in the background which had a screen display inside what resembled a large sewage pipe opening. The door is then closed, the frequency is shut off and with the onlookers and myself all making ourselves as comfortable as possible, the producers known only to the world as SPACE and VIBES slowly emerge from the darkness and start the show.
With their first song, distorted, crunchy guitar opening up proceedings and thunderous booms of bass, before erupting into an apocalyptic big-beat bombshell that would bring a tear to Liam Howlett’s eye. The scathing refrain of ‘ten minutes to the end of the world,’ is unnervingly relevant, given the earth-shattering size of the music that surrounds it, and the visual element of strobe lighting in the performance really enforced the urgency and magnitude of their two-pronged attack. After three and a half minutes of electrifying energy, the storm subsides and you could be mistaken for thinking for more of the same is on the way. But this is where things begin to change, instead revealing a whole new dimension of influences that made for a truly mesmerising listen. Straight into now brand new single Karma Ya Dig!?, waves of reverb and delay wash over both sets of vocals and synths, unveiling a strangely soothing psychedelic ambience that certainly caught me by surprise. These two gentlemen’s vocals also harmonise so well together, that the phrase ‘I’ll see you on the other side,’ has lingered ever-presently in my subconscious since this day. A pseudo-industrial stomp gets us underway with a near punk-like sneer taking vocal duties, marching us towards a titanic guitar riff that wouldn’t go amiss in Britpop’s heyday and an overall vibe that feels reminiscent of The Chemical Brothers, albeit slowed to a pace you can headbang to. It certainly affirms that the big beat era of dance music circa 1990 onwards, has had a profound effect on this material. As if today’s electronic music producers and a punk band recorded together in a garage. It’s gritty, intense and energetic but without sounding lo-fi or unpolished. Astronomically far from it.
I must admit, that while their eight song set was nothing short of inspiring, it moved in a blur. I recall one track that had a dancehall style beat, some later present indie rock style influences and one track that which reminded me firmly of Does It Offend You, Yeah?, which in their own whirlwind of genre-smashing, is nothing but a compliment. They are an absolute sum of the parts of the people that work as the unit. SPACE, an in-demand punk and hardcore producer, with a reputation in the desert rock community to boot, and VIBES, a multi-talented instrumentalist and electronic music producer, that works with an abundance of live acts in and around London. Their union has formed something undeniably unique, and witnessing the translation of their chemistry together in the flesh with such a striking and impactful live performance, and the interactivity before the performance even took place, has made me fall in love with these gentlemen and get overexcited over what was to come. It truly was a privilege to be invited along and be part of this undoubtedly intriguing and involving movement.
The opportunity to see it for yourselves, lies on the 5th October at Bloc in Hackney, 8:30pm start. Prepare for an immersive dance experience unlike any you’ve ever encountered. If you want a further testimonial, I left that night with new friends, whom I realised I shared a closer connection to, than just being attendees to this exclusive performance. And I’m often a painfully awkward individual. If that isn’t something that asserts the power or the spiritual significance of the Black Futures experience, then I don’t know what will.
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This has been a moment years in the making. A moment arguably in the making since the 31st October 2013. The date when Dye The Flux released their first EP ‘SHARK!’ to a room of 50+ people at the University of Surrey. A moment so vivid it shall no doubt live on in my memories. But this is not about living in memories, Dye The Flux have always been all about looking forward, hence why since the release of their terrific debut EP, they were already laying the groundwork for the next release. A release that experienced multiple complications before it reached this point. While quickly reaching the upper echelons of Guildford’s incomparably diverse live scene, an unfortunate wrist injury to their bassist, backing vocalist, and founding member Ieuan Horgan took them out of performing, and almost performing together again. Tasked with either his replacement or calling it a day, the boys instead went in separate directions, waiting out a year’s gruelling rehabilitation, of which a complete recovery was eventually made.
Finally returning to the stage with new material in hand, two years since their last appearance, and with a new drummer in tow, Dye The Flux’s live return was an emotional one, built on frustration, anger but sheer joy in persevering in the face of adversity. Yet it seemed as soon as they were return to the stage, they seemed to disappear off of it just as rapidly. To continue writing for could’ve been labelled their fabled sophomore EP. Admittedly, there has always been the tenacity and work ethic of this talented four piece that has never stopped them doing what they’ve loved. So despite a second drummer departure and months of songwriting and production with acclaimed producer Jason Wilson, we arrive here a little under four years later, at the first glimpse of their second EP ‘FOX’ and the welcome sound of four warriors, who only know to fight or die and have returned to tell their tale.
As has become their calling card, sizeable, urgent chords lead us in alongside punchy percussion, instantly pulling you into a fast-paced fistfight that’s as captivating as it is ferocious. Bright, clean vocals put the madness of society and the human condition to rights, delivered with a confidence and a smirk that is endlessly pleasing amongst the raucousness of the riffs bombarded at you. Perhaps an indirect nod to the notion of insanity, but the refrain of ‘Lunacy,’ frequent throughout, partnered with both the wah-infused hammer-ons and rapid snare bashes is such a powerful hook, you’ll be humming it for weeks. Whether it can be called a chorus or not, stripping it back to a single guitar, rolling off riffs near-effortlessly, while vocals harmonise, backed by drum rolls that sound like cannon fire, serves as just as powerful a hook, steadily increasing tension as it does so. And the intensity only shifts from gear to gear. Chords gather pace, interspersed between quick, fiery licks, and you can physically feel the danger level heightening with every note change. The tipping point is reached at the solo; a passage of double-time picking, with the second guitar throwing authoritative blows to the face and snares and cymbals issuing a countdown to chaos. Bass soon matches the speed of the fast picking, a feat technically impressive in its own right, and after tremendous restraint, the thrashing beast that has threatened and been teased for the course of the song is finally unchained. It really serves as an excellent metaphor for lunacy in motion, the loss of inhibition and the inevitable loss of control we could find ourselves in, inside and outside of a live environment. This is only agitated by the new found snarl in the vocals, a pummeling of aggressive chords and guitar gallops, and drums keeping the adrenaline pumping, while showcasing a far greater technical prowess than we’ve seen before. And we end on the note of four musically skilled gentlemen looking far more feisty than we saw three minutes ago.
It’s truly difficult to pin down an exact comparison point for sound, former Surrey stalwarts Reuben being the closest reaching example, yet passing instances of Deftones, Incubus and even Biffy Clyro, glimmer and fade just as quickly in Lunacy alone. But any claims that they embody any of those bands, does not do them any justice. What music they have created over the last four or so years shares a certain hardcore sensibility with any of those bands for sure, but their sound is ultimately theirs and theirs alone. Lunacy is cathartic and at times, nerve-shredding, but one of the most thrilling three-minute bursts of music I’ve undoubtedly heard this year. All it shows that Dye The Flux are hungrier, harder-working and as passionate as ever, and as a band constantly looking forward, and with the breadth of talent they possess, we can see that the best is certainly yet to come.
Lunacy is taken from their second EP ‘FOX’ which has yet to be released, but you will find it available once it is, on their Bandcamp page. You can purchase Lunacy on Spotify and iTunes in the mean time. Live dates are also yet to be announced. Right now, you can listen to their previous EP ‘SHARK!’ on their Soundcloud, and can only get your own physical copy from them in person. You could probably get a digital copy from them too if you asked them nicely, but I’ll leave that up to you. Buy a shirt whilst you’re on their Bandcamp anyway.
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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?
Among all of the things that 2016 brought to us, no matter how good, bad or ugly, collectively, it was a very strong year for new music, hence why I have had an incredibly difficult task assembling a list of just ten albums that have lived on repeat and high volume. My only regret is that there are still albums missed I have yet to listen to, by artists I am yet to discover that could’ve been exemplary. If I were to just leave this to albums I’ve heard this year, Lantlos’ Melting Sun or Black Breath’s Slaves Beyond Death probably would have romped away with this one, despite being out in 2014 and 2015 respectively. There are so many honourable mentions too that a cephalopod with hands need be employed to even fathom counting. But, lo and behold, here are the ten albums from one of humanity’s most troubling years, that I personally consider to be certifiable must-listen experiences:
10. The Maras – Wax Beach
Having never met The Maras personally, it would be safe to say that the brothers from Ontario are a little hyperactive. Not purely because they’ve released a demo, an album and a brand new EP in the space of a year, but the speed, urgency and average length of their songs might have something to do with it. Though Wax Beach could be seen as an expansion of their already superb demo, the re-recordings sound a lot denser and deranged, letting their garage punk snarls and smorgasbord of influences flourish, on what is on one hand a damning indictment on mental health services, but on the other a dizzying rush of genre-bending bliss.
9. Cruz – Culto Abismal
From beginning to end, 2016 has seen some magnificent death metal releases, but few have been quite as memorable as Barcelona quartet Cruz’s Culto Abismal. Injecting crust punk deep into the veins of death metal’s old blood, this untameable hellbeast of an album charges fast and ceases to relent once in motion. Deep growls in their native tongue punctuate the onslaught as a cavalcade of riffs over 40 minutes keeps the monster moving, the perfect balance of speed, technical ability and sickeningly heavy tone serving as Culto Abismal’s addictive centrepiece. Spain may not have the most renowned history in death metal, but on the basis of a debut this strong, Cruz sees reason for that to change very suddenly.
8. Maeth – Shrouded Mountain
With every stride that Maeth take musically, it surpasses and obliterates the last, ensuring their status as one of metal’s must-hear bands. Shrouded Mountain is their third gargantuan footprint and maintains their unique, boundary-warping compositions which straddles the planes of psychedelia and sludge like no other band before them. They also play a mean flute too, to boot. So however Maeth choose to construct their stunning, mostly instrumental journeys, whether taking you soaring through the vast reaches of space or crunching hard down into the Earth’s crust, you can bet that it will be with an energy, passion and talent that you can scarcely conceive, and Shrouded Mountain does not disappoint. Not by a long shot.
7. Bossk – Audio Noir
Always a looming presence on the UK’s stoner/doom scene, even during their split, Bossk’s first release outside of their seminal EP trilogy has catapulted their gorgeous ambient passages and pummeling riffs to unprecedented new heights. Though can be listened as an entire conceptual soundscape, the fragmentation certainly aids the quartet’s longest opus to date and makes every change of pace and tone a stellar moment. Even vocals, while used sparingly, are utilised at their most impactful, shifting what already sounds like ripping your throat out intensity, into ushering in a new Armageddon. Bossk undoubtedly stamped their authority through live performances over the decade their name has existed, but Audio Noir distills that very essence into an immensely satisfying anthology, proving that they are here to stay.
6. Vodun – Possession
Lifting its name from the homophone of voodoo, as well as incorporating aspects of its lifestyle and culture into this very music representing it, this trio from London perform an ungodly racket that’s equal parts punchy to pulse-raising. In arguably one of the most original takes on big, fuzz-saturated grooves in years, the literally spirit-fuelled Vodun drags stoner rock by its ankles and imbues it with a staggering amount of soul. Think Aretha Franklin fronting Kyuss and you’re damn near close. The presentation of the album in a semi-documentary form, with a ritualistic thread running throughout, is a neat touch and grants deeper immersion into Vodun’s already enchanting sledgehammer of force and one of the best hard rock debuts of the decade.
5. Losers – How To Ruin Other People’s Futures
With an album title that scathing, you wouldn’t be wrong thinking there is intense subject matter here. Suitably riled up trio Losers, well versed in their weaving of expansive, luscious atmospheres, frightening buzzsaw synths, distorted guitar attacks and truly thunderous percussion, unleash one of the most adrenaline-surging bouts of electro-rock charged catharsis you could ever hope to listen to. While How To Ruin Other People’s Futures features several bursts of pounding rhythms and explosive instrumentation, it allows enough breathing space for a whirlwind of ambience to take shape, for every conflagration and slow-burner, all with Paul Mullen’s dynamic vocal delivery giving a touch of humanity where chaos could spiral out of control at any given moment. A simply tremendous listen.
4. Youth Code – Commitment To Complications
Certainly one of the most talked about bands of the year and for excellent reason, the Los Angeles duo’s sophomore offering builds upon the vintage analogue synths and drum machines of industrial’s heyday and cleverly sprinkles the zest of their own hardcore upbringings into the formula. The results are nothing short of spectacular. The growth from their debut is undeniably evident, not just as tempos vary and tones are more exploratory, but their whole sound is gigantic on this album making every notion of rage and every raw nerve amplified tenfold. When beats vibrate your skull and melodies claw into your brain like Youth Code’s do, it instigates that addictive property that all EBM enthusiasts have been raving about all year.
3. Noisia – Outer Edges
After mentions for half a decade, then seemingly nonchalantly announced three months before its release, Dutch drum and bass production maestros Noisia have compiled their second studio album, far more abstract and experimental in approach than the trio’s previous Split The Atom. While you will find the same mind-altering, visceral bass lines associated with the Noisia name, it’s the deeper, darker and noticeably slower beats that become the show stealer here. Often quirky in nature and exquisitely composed to emphasise the very best of every minuscule detail, the heavy gestation period for every track, especially the beats-driven numbers, brings a world class finish to what could filter through as an oddity, but arrives as a masterpiece in sound design and further reason to immortalise Noisia as the one of the best the genre has ever seen.
2. The Qemists – Warrior Sound
In the six years since the Brighton drum and bass rock outfit’s last album, they’ve been honing their skills to create dancefloor anarchy on the live circuit, a tenure that has seen their reputation skyrocket as one of the UK’s best independent live acts. Now that energy has finally metamorphosed into The Qemists’ strongest, most consistent blockbuster yet. Fixing both live vocalists as permanent band members, has only benefited the original lightning strike of a production unit, and makes every word have purpose against the backdrop of all-out mayhem. Unforgettable, unbelievable and unflinching in the pursuit of perfect crossover bombshells, Warrior Sound is a sonic shockwave explicitly targeted to induce pleasure at an intoxicating level.
1. All Hail The Yeti – Screams From A Black Wilderness
Three years on from their scorching debut, the Los Angeles metalcore mob return with a follow-up that is perpetually more terrifying in every imaginable way. Spinning narratives so gripping and ghastly, the lines of fact and fiction dissipate into black mist as imposing, monstrous roars with some mightily impressive clean vocal support coalesce their strength as bloodthirsty wordsmiths. Though horror and the occult is the given flavour, Screams… exhibits a previously unseen versatility in All Hail The Yeti, in that their sound features much broader influences from rock and metal, that fires on all cylinders and mellows in acoustic gloom. A hard-hitting, yet gruesome landmark of metalcore, All Hail The Yeti have once again established that they are one of the most essential bands in modern metal.
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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.
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They say that you never forget your first time, and while that phrase applies to a lot of situations, this instance may surprise you a little. You see, I have never interviewed a band before in my life. So starting your resume out with a renowned Brighton drum ‘n’ bass crossover outfit, riding the wave of success high in 2016, is setting your standards pretty lofty. No pressure then.
After creeping in through an unguarded back door, wondering if at any moment I was going to get thrown out on my ass for trespassing, The Qemists were slap bang in the middle of their soundcheck. MC and all-round nice guy Bruno greets me like an old friend and apologises that they are still soundchecking, and asks if it it’ll be alright to do the interview when they’re finished. I’m working on their time, so I happily agree and perch upon a ladder nearby, while a happy medium is deliberated upon with the soundsystem. A balance is struck eventually, and Bruno, Olly, Dan, Leon, Liam and myself step inside the venue’s dressing room, which I’m sure doubles as the cleaning facilities on weekdays and sit around the coffee table. I’m straight up with them and say this is my first time interviewing, to which the response was that if my nerves got the better of me and the questions were sub-par, they would derail the interview to question me instead. We laughed about it, yet part of me thinks that would’ve made for more entertaining reading. But after a deep breath, I press play on the voice recorder, place it down on the table and we talk the past, the present and the future, of The Qemists:
So prior to March, you guys hadn’t had an album out for about six years (the last being Spirit In The System), how did it feel to finally release Warrior Sound?
Leon: Yeah, it was quite an achievement.
Bruno: A relief?
Leon: Yeah, it was a relief. I mean, we do take a long time over albums, that one took about three years to write, Join The Q took about three years to write. When you’re programming everything from scratch and then writing as well, and with performing in mind… We take our sweet time over it. So after all the work in the studio, the time that was spent on it and the polishing of the mixes, then checking the mixes and the mastering, checking them in clubs, it was a pretty good achievement and feeling. We’re quite proud of it.
Dan: We spent a lot of time gigging leading up to it, which mean that for the first time we could really test those tracks leading up to release, rather than just finishing a record and taking it out live, actually playing tracks out live and changing them etc. But yeah, it was really, really good to get that third album out of the way, I feel like three is a much nicer number than two.
Bruno: Three’s the magic number!
So because you’ve had so long to road test the new material before and after Warrior Sound’s release, what would you say are your favourite songs to play live and which songs do you get the biggest reactions from?
Leon: The response to Run You has been amazing.
Bruno: Run You definitely stands head and shoulders above the rest because it’s something that people have identified with from the lyrics and it’s something they’re singing lyrics back in any country we’ve been in the last… well, since the release of the album. Obviously it’s grown show after show.
Dan: The video has been pretty successful too.
Bruno: Some of them fluctuate between shows, like Anger was something we were unsure of for the first couple of shows and suddenly it shot up and started to get more popular.
Dan: When we were touring with Enter Shikari and Crossfaith, we had quite short sets and we kept asking, ‘Should we play Anger or We Are The Problem or Let It Burn?’ Different places and different countries really go for different tracks…
Leon: In Tokyo, we played Anger with Ken [Koie] from Crossfaith doing the vocals, and they have a huge Japanese following, and that got the best reaction we’ve seen to that track.
Bruno: But yeah, different songs, different gigs, different countries all lend themselves to different crowds, but as far as which songs are enjoyable to play, all of them really!
Leon: We do change the set every night pretty much, write it on the back of a napkin before we go on.
Olly, you were formerly in another Brighton crossover band Collisions, how did you come to join the Qemists family?
Bruno: We killed the rest of them.
Olly: Everything exploded, everything was on fire… No, well, I’d been doing a fair bit of consultation work with 7pm Management, who’d taken on The Qemists unbeknownst to me actually, and I’d been doing some work with [The Qemists’ manager] and he’d been helping me out, putting me in touch with some people for the furtherment of Collisions. One of the things he suggested to me was working with the boys on a couple of tracks, which at the time would’ve obviously been fantastic promotion for Collisions. We went and worked on Run You and New Design, and I had such a great time working with these guys, it seemed to transpire afterwards that they ended up looking for a new vocalist and I jumped at the chance to get involved, especially after putting these two tracks together, seeing how they operate and wanting a piece of it.
Leon: I think it was a result of how well those two tracks came together, that made us realise that we needed another singer, a full-time permanent member. We always used to have featured vocals here and there, but it got to the point that there were so many tracks that Olly was working on on the new album, that it was like, ‘Well this is the sound of the album now, this is the sound of the Qemists.’ We needed a rock singer, it happened pretty organically in the studio and we haven’t looked back.
A lot has changed in six years, not just in the Qemists camp, but on a global scale too. From a critical perspective on your albums, Join The Q is you guys putting your stamp on the musical landscape and Spirit In The System is more experimental in its output. Warrior Sound really represents the first album with a consistent sound and having an overall message, what was the reason for this?
Liam: It was a conscious decision to be honest, to have a thread of continuity running through the album. I think we felt that although there was some good material on the first and second albums, there wasn’t that continuity and we wanted it, and that was another reason for having permanent members vocally. That continuity was a result of having those permanent members and working together on tracks. Bruno has been part of the live band for the first two albums, but he hadn’t had a lot of studio time with us, and it was high time that that happened. So it was a conscious decision, but a byproduct of us bringing these guys in.
There are some great collaborations on the album with Hacktivist, Charlie Rhymes, Ghetts and obviously you’ve mentioned Kenta Koie from Crossfaith, but there’s also the least amount of collaborations on a Qemists album so far, again was this a conscious decision or the result of writing over a period of six years?
Liam: Yeah, it was kinda conscious again, we were building tracks with Bruno and Olly and they were writing vocals that worked and fit, and there wasn’t necessarily a need to go out and seek different people. Also, if you go too diverse with it, you start deleting that continuity again.
Leon: When we have a featuring on this album, it’s somebody featuring the five of us. Bruno and Olly almost feature on every track that has a featured vocal as well, so it was about bringing a featured artist in not to replace the members of the band, but to work with them and be what a featuring artist should be, to enhance the sound of your act.
So focusing on changes once more, you guys separated from long time label Ninja Tune some years ago and you signed with the amazing folks at the aptly named Amazing Record Co. but around the same time, you signed with FiXT, one of the biggest independent electronic labels in the world. What’s it like working with Celldweller and the FiXT team?
Leon: They’ve been great.
Liam: Admittedly we haven’t had a lot of one-to-one time with them, when we joined we had a really cool Skype call with everyone and that says a lot about the label because they went out of their way to make that happen, so the new artists they’d signed could meet everybody, talk to everybody, know who everybody was…
Bruno: It was very warm and welcoming.
Liam: Yeah, very family orientated, which is not dissimilar to some extent the experiences we had with Ninja Tune, and we’re still on good terms with them.
Leon: But the difference is with Ninja Tune, we were different to everything else on their label and that was probably the reason that we went our separate ways after our contract was up. Whereas with FiXT, it makes total sense to be there with Celldweller and Blue Stahli and the other acts on that label. We just got a remix of Jungle by SeamlessR as well, these guys all just have great sounds that really appeal to us.
One of the things that FiXT are quite big on is their licensing, they have a lot of their music on TV, commercials and films. I personally discovered you first from Motorstorm: Pacific Rift, that had Stompbox and the On The Run VIP on it. Would you say that licensing has played as big a part as your live performances in your exposure and success?
Dan: Oh definitely, if not more really.
Liam: Without it, we wouldn’t be able to do what we have done.
Leon: And if you look at the YouTube comments on any of our videos, you’ll see comments saying, ‘This game brought me here or this movie brought me here.’ We’ve done cinema trailers for Thor, did one of the Star Trek movies, Terminator: Genisys recently and things like that. We just love doing that. We are studio musicians as well as live musicians, and those projects just give us such a scope and again, another reason why we identify with Celldweller because he’s a master at it.
Another thing that FiXT are quite big on is their artist synergy, they have everyone collaborate with each other and remix each other’s material, as you’ve said with SeamlessR’s remixes of Jungle and Warrior Sound as well. But at the same time
you were snapped up by FiXT, The Algorithm were snapped up, who you’ve toured with in the past and are also one of the hottest crossover acts on the planet right now, is there any chance that we could see an Algorithm and Qemists collaboration?
Liam: Ooooooh, we did talk about that, studio time to collide, but he’s pretty busy…
Leon: Yeah he’s always busy touring, but we’re up for it! Over to you Remi, if you’re reading this, we’d love to!
Do you guys have a bucket list of who you’d like to collaborate with or if you could have a dream collobaration, who would it be with?
Leon: Zack de la Rocha’s just put out a solo album and he didn’t come to us to produce it. He went to his mates in Run The Jewels instead, but I love the records they produce together.
Dan: I’d say Twenty One Pilots.
Leon: We’ve been listening to Twenty One Pilots a lot recently.
Liam: I’d like to sit down and make some disgusting noises with Noisia for an afternoon.
Leon: I had a fun experience sat on a sofa with Nik from Noisia and Jonathan Davis from KoRn, I was sitting in the middle and they were playing their new collaborations, what they’d been working on in the studio, you know like one of those YouTube gatherings except there’s people playing demos and stuff… but yeah, there’s some pretty fantastic people to collaborate with right there.
Bruno: KoRn would be a good one.
Leon: We’ve just done a cover of Blind by KoRn and James [‘Munky’ Shaffer] emailed us and said he loved it and he was gonna play it to the band, so that’s absolutely awesome, that’s what you want to hear when you do a cover, for the person who wrote it to say it’s worthy.
You guys have done some eclectic remixes and covers in your time, of Coldcut, The Damned, In Flames, Roots Manuva… Are your remixes ever planned or does one person come in and say something like ‘I had a dream that we covered Careless Whisper,’ and you take it from there?
Leon: No, they’re requested.
Liam: The artist normally gets in touch and says, ‘Can we have a remix?’ and we go, ‘Yes,’ and then we work out how we’re gonna do it. They’re pretty diverse those artists, and doing an In Flames remix versus a Roots Manuva remix takes a different approach each time.
Dan: We’ve kinda cut down on the amount of remixes we’ve done recently because they take a lot of time.
Leon: Yeah, you’ve got to be an act known for their remixes, like Noisia or someone you know whom a remix could be a huge track for them. Whereas with us, with the live performance and we release full albums, not every dance artist who does remixes releases full albums, and it started getting a little bit too much for us and we’ve refused a lot of remixes, but it’s always great when you get a good opportunity.
For the amount of remixes and covers that you guys have produced, have you ever considered making another Soundsystem- style CD where you stick a compilation of all those tracks together?
Liam: Yeah, as that body of work builds, which it has relatively recently, when you have that body of work sitting there, it would be a miss to not do something cool with it like that. So I think when that opportunity presents itself, and the material is there, absolutely it’s something we’ll do.
So, the end of the year is coming up, what are the plans in these last few months and into 2017 for The Qemists?
Dan: First up, is the shiny new Jungle video.
Leon: It’s about time to get a new video out. We’ve actually just finished a new EP, as kind of a follow-up to Warrior Sound, and we’re gonna put that out and stick a couple of new tunes on YouTube.
Dan: We’ve worked on a collaboration with some Russian guys called Teddy Killerz, who were signed to Ram Records, so we’ve got a track coming out on Ram Records which is really cool.
Leon: We’ve made a lot of music recently with not necessarily a purpose in mind since Warrior Sound, but we should keep this up, we should get back in the studio and keep writing. So we’ll do something with it all, it’s sounding really, really nice I think! We want people to hear it.
My last question then, though it is a little way off, say two-three years time, but it seems crazy to think that Join The Q is nearly ten years old, do you have anything pencilled in or on paper for a potential anniversary tour?
Liam: You know what? I hadn’t thought about that, but since you kinda mentioned it, it is gonna be that soon.
Leon: We signed our deal in 2006, didn’t we?
Dan: When was Join The Q? 2009?
Leon: It was in 2009. Early 2009.
Dan: February 2009.
Leon: Yeah, we’ll totally do that, good plan.
Olly: You could be our manager!
I won’t take all the credit for it, honest!
Bruno: Well, you can have you plus another on the guestlist!
Thanks very much gents, an absolute pleasure.
A big shout out to Libby from The Noise Cartel, Jenny from Amazing Record Co., and of course The Qemists for making this all possible.
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2016, probably not just in my own personal opinion, has been a fantastic year for music releases so far depending on how far you’re willing to commit yourself to the kaleidoscopic universe out there. To name but a few of my favourites would include The Qemists, Youth Code, Autopsy Boys, All Hail The Yeti, Mask of Bees, Lowflyinghawks, Amplifighters and Weekend Nachos, and at this point, some music media outlets would like to take the chance to reflect on what has already come before and sum things up in a handy little list for you. The Soundshark isn’t some music media outlets. What The Soundshark has done has compiled a list of 30 forthcoming releases in 2016, of varying genres, and from mass appeal down to the underground to better illustrate why 2016 will remembered as a truly incredible year of music. There could be your new favourite band waiting here or an album announcement by that band you like you may have missed, who knows?
Let’s begin shall we?
Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on this one, but it seems as if British indie has stumbled into a bit of a rut of late. Since arguably the last golden era of indie bands this country has produced, which by my estimates was around the mid-00’s, the amount of them has shrunk considerably since the turn of the decade. Some bands no doubt were able to consistently duplicate their success upon each album release, most notably the Arctic Monkeys, before they decided to turn American, and more recently Foals who seemingly been able to evolve critically from strength to strength. There are several bands hanging in there and have been for several years, like your Ashes, your Fratellis, your Cribs, your Subways for example, many bands whose glory days seem long gone but persistently release music to a loyal, adoring fan base, who continue to turn out to shows and keep motivation and spirits high to look forward to the future. Sadly, as the nature of technology and commercial success in the industry shifts so frequently, there are several bands who’ve become causalities in the musical landslide, as sustaining a career stretches further and further out of reach for those previously thrust in the spotlight and airwaves. These are dark days for British guitar music for sure, but under the surface, what you could classify as an underground resistance is currently producing some of the best indie you’ll have encountered in years. Useless Cities, hailing from the nation’s capital, are among that resistance with an ache in their hearts expressed exquisitely through a mournful touch of the piano and a melancholic pounding of the guitar.
Though their emotions are not exclusively wired to wallow in sorrow, there is an ethereal and transcendent nature to Useless Cities’ music that melancholy brings the best out of. Their Stay EP though only three tracks long, is a wave of sonically cold but breathtaking musical splendour, combining unforgettable melodies seeped in calm composure, with an unexpected fury that riles their initial breeze into a hurricane of heartbreak. No track illustrates this exclamation point better than Follow. While Stay is a gorgeous piano-driven stroll through arctic plains and To Be Ruined, a far more spirited tumble through dreams that take a turbulent turn, it’s Follow that finely balances the band’s strengths perfectly. Delay-drenched guitar leads Follow in, with the booming of a near-tribal tom pattern from the drums, and the lightest touch of low end entering not long after, painting the scene for solemn reflection. Vocals wander in, listing things to do to an unspecified character, with his settled bellow against the melody of the guitar a strangely hypnotising presence throughout the song’s course. A bright shimmer of keys layer atop the instruments, sending a chill down the spine of the listener but adding light to this arguably greying atmosphere. This brings in the cymbals and snare of the drums, gradually shifting the tone into the subtlest of build-ups, masked well by the vocals and instruments while the grace and beauty of the piano becomes more prominent as the song progresses. Then in the song’s twilight, the guitar bursts into life with an eye-opening intensity and drums are beaten hard into submission, serving as a backdrop for the male and female chanting in harmony and the piano trying to restore a sense of tranquillity to this sudden gale of musical force. And the piano gets its wish, closing out Follow in the manner it began, a series of notes against the echo of the guitar, jerking the strings of your heart as the final note fades into the distance. What Useless Cities offer more so than a collection of songs, is an aural palette to paint your own stories from the emotionally stirring compositions they lay before you. How it affects you is left to your own semiotics, but know that they are exploring rarely traversed ground in indie and their own bittersweet twist on the sound we’ve known to grow and love, ranks among the best and most unique bands the indie scene has to offer.
Useless Cities’ Stay EP is out now at all respectable music retailers. Any more information you wish to know about them can be located on the band’s website. The band are also playing frequent live dates in and around the capital right now so keep your eyes peeled for a date near you, or bring them to your doorstep and book them for your own show.
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