Archive for June, 2012

There’s a scene in the pilot episode of The Sopranos where Tony confides in Dr Melfi that he feels it best “to be in on something from the ground floor.” That line holds particular resonance in the context of this long overdue feature on the currently ubiquitous Glasgow outfit known as Crusades.

Imagine, if you will, that you first became aware of Crusades when you noticed they were sharing a bill with The Darien Venture in The Captain’s Rest at the beginning of April. Imagine you were at this gig and toyed with the idea of reviewing this early performance. Then imagine that an unfortuate coupling of youthful excitement and contraband tonic wine intervened, leaving you present in body, but not quite in mind, and you consequently failed to pay the attention required to complete such a heady feat of wordsmanship.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and you’re now relieving yourself in a Bar Bloc toilet cubicle when your eyes wander to your immediate left and you’re greeted with the sight of a familiar moniker emblazoned above a crudely scrawled iron cross:

Your first reaction is to peruse the resultant graffitied argument about the – most likely misconstrued – racist overtones of the etching and your high-tops are very nearly doused in your own urine as derisive laughter ripples forth, inspired by the sheer redundancy of directing moral outrage at something daubed on a toilet wall.

However, when the mirth generated by this exericse in futility eventually subsides, it strikes you that you’ve missed a chance to be in on the ground floor here…

The fact that these guys have only been gigging since March and already have some guerrilla toilet promotion to commend them suggests that it’s too late to tip them as the next big thing. There is also the very real concern that they have now been too hyped up to be viewed from a truly impartial standpoint and that the expectations that have already amassed can only lead to disappointment.

It is what it is, however, and you decide to strap on a pair and head to the delightfully dilapidated basement dive that is Nice ‘N’ Sleazy for their next gig.

Crusades are opening tonight’s bill and their early starting time finds them sitting around a table in front of the stage, in a room that is close to deserted, with five minutes left until they’re due to perform.

Possibly as a result of this disappointing initial turnout, the evening’s itinerary is delayed slightly and a slightly more respectable crowd has amassed by the time the guys have taken the stage and offered “We’re Crusades!” as their formal introduction.

A cacophony of feedback heralds the beginning of their set and a throng of bodies dutifully, almost instinctively, surge forward and arrange themselves in what quickly becomes an auditory firing line as the basis for Crusades’ burgeoning reputation for seismic volume is made abundantly clear. Sonically, the four-piece resemble self-titled era Alexisonfire, except with vocals that inescapably resemble those belonging to Billy Talent’s Ben Kowalewicz and an aggression and urgency more reminiscent of The Dillinger Escape Plan.

Visually, though, Crusades are something of an anomaly. The Dillinger comparison can be extended to the physique of their heavily-tattooed frontman, who cuts an intimidating figure as he finger taps and screeches his way through what is devastatingly brutal opening salvo. Supporting this aggressive stance, the guitarist – who seems the most volatile of the bunch – positively rockets around the stage for the duration of the song. On the other hand, sharing a stage with this frantic coupling, drummer and bassist seem to favour much more reserved personas and keep their movement levels fairly moderate at first.

This isn’t quite the instant all-out explosion initially expected and this is where those insidious expectations begin to rear their ugly head and the worries begin to set in.

Have they become lacklustre?

Is that golden period of innocent enthusiasm and unbridled aggression already over?

Are they becoming too full of themselves and feeling a sting of indignation at being on first?

Mercifully, these concerns prove to be unfounded as the boys’ stride seems to ride in on the wave of tonight’s first breakdown, which proves to be the first of many. It is the pristine execution of these insanely heavy moments that show how strikingly tight and well-rehearsed the outfit are and, by the time they near the end of this first number, the room is positively shaking.

As they take a second to tune up between the first two songs, they address what they label “a bit of a crazy start” and there is a palpable hope that this is not a sign that they’re about to tone anything down.

All such fears are instantly allayed as the second unnamed song proves to be shorter in length but definitely equal in violence. It is now clear that those in search of regular helpings of melody are in the wrong place entirely. The word “pummel” seems to flash relentlessly across the field of subliminal vision throughout the set, as Crusades proceed to crank up the aggression and fire forth their wonderfully cathartic post hardcore assault.

Although the majority of their material feels quite similar, this isn’t necessarily a negative in itself. Their output is less about variety and more concerned with sheer ferocity and, with this considered, a little more vigour from the rhythm section could only serve to further enhance the live experience. To be fair, though, they are at a very young stage in their development as a band and it is perfectly plausible that the members in question have opted to focus on cementing their groove before they start to segue into the ferocious kinetics exhibited by their guitarist. There is certainly no question that everyone is pulling their weight musically.

As a concise but captivating five-song set comes to an abrupt close, it becomes clear just how unfounded any initial concerns were and just how unfair it perhaps was to arrive at a gig expecting an opening act to ignite from the first chord. As it was, the boys positively combusted from the second song onwards and this stands as testament to the sheer force that is Crusades.

It all just adds to the regret of not having paid more attention to that Captain’s Rest performance…

Crusades on Facebook

Listen to Crusades

Of late, this blog has been conspicuous by its inactivity. The reasons behind this, although manifold, amount to a severe dearth of inspiration.

Countless trips to countless gigs started off with the eager distribution of promotional cards, the considered selection of a position yielding the perfect combination of strong vantage point and feeling of inclusion within the crowd and the casual imbibement of the token solitary pre-review pint, followed by the impatient and restless doodling of phalluses and small houses in the margins of countless dog-eared notebooks.

Prepared and ready, the sight of the targetted artists taking the stage crossing field of vision, preliminary scribbles would allow for the commitment of early ideas to paper and nurture the steady evolution of a feeling of brewing excitement.

And then…

Nothing.

The act would fail to inspire, neither impressing nor drastically under-performing to an extent worthy of extended comment, and the evening would be narrowly rescued by some brief socialising, a quick scran and a drive home to disappointedly deposit wasted paper in recycling receptacle.

I sincerely hope that the recent run of middling bands I’ve had the misfortune of witnessing commit any future releases to eco friendly packaging, in order to make up for the amount of trees destroyed – in vain – as a result of their decidedly shitey live output!

Thankfully, enduring faith in music and an unextinguishable passion for local efforts provided the assurance that inspiration would return and that it was just a matter of tapping into the right niche once more.

Being that recent mysterious communication appears to have beckoned directly towards that niche, pulling flowery phrases forth once more, it seems appropriate to utilise the experiences of Sixteen Sixteen Six’s ‘wasted months’ in a way that may just save other aspiring performers from dipping into the same pool of mediocrity as those responsible.

Three things that serve as an outright insult to your prospective fans

1) Making no effort to entertain

Yes, certain more established and mainstream acts are deserving of respect for their no-nonsense, frill-free approach to performing and that’s all well and good because either:

i) their music, in a live context, stands alone as being worthy of the entrance fee

or

ii) they are simply too old for theatrics and tearing about the stage like maniacs, but have provided their fanbase with enough of these sorts of shenanigans in the past to garner a loyalty and respect that has left said fans content with just their mere presence as an accompaniment to the tunes.

You, on the other hand, apparently hold aspirations of success – on whatever scale – within the performance industry and should therefore be overflowing with youthful vitality and momentum. There is no conceivable scenario in which it is okay for you to take the stage and then stand stock-still for thirty minutes, bashing out number after number without a word in between. It is difficult to pinpoint just how ridiculous it is to put yourself in front of an audience and then make it apparent to everyone present that you seemingly have no desire to be there. How dare you monopolise the leisure time of the people who have come out to see you, without giving them a decent show in return!?

2) Sets full of cover songs

A well-chosen cover song, performed as part of a strong set of a band’s own material, can go down an absolute storm. If your audience are impressed with the first four fifths of your five-song set, belting out an enthusiastic version of Go With the Flow is certain to leave them reeling.

On the other hand, pissing out five half-arsed renditons of generic rock/metal anthems is essentially the equivalent of making people listen to a poor-quality jukebox selection and charging them four times the price for the privilege.

If you don’t have your own material and you aren’t a dedicated tribute act, you have no place on a stage.

3) Not looking out for your following

There is a venue in Glasgow with a handmade sign on the door that forbids the distribution of flyers for other events, during its gigs. This is surely the single most disheartening and uncooperative notice ever to have been displayed, in a live music context. It is absolutely diabolical to charge people – who, themselves, are most likely active members of the local music scene in some way or another – an entry fee and then not allow them to promote their own efforts and events or find out about the endeavours of others. It’s not as if patrons are going to up sticks and leave there and then; Obviously, anything being flyered is going to take place at a later date.

What fault is this of the performers though?

Quite simply, they just shouldn’t be playing that venue!

Unsigned music is about networking and mutual respect and, as Louie of Hector Bizerk astutely observed in the June issue of The Skinny, the Glasgow scene is currently such that, more often than not, you are playing to fellow musicians. If you’re going to accept a gig and allow the venue to charge your fans entry, it’s your responsbility to reward their loyalty by ensuring they’re looked after.

With chests now clear and in interests of ascending towards a more positive note for the ending…

It should be noted that two bands whose gigs are never missed and who never fail to impress are Sigma Logic and Rubber. Given existing relationships with band personnel, and in the interests of journalistic integrity, full reviews on them are unlikely to appear on these pages. Nonetheless, both are definitely worth checking out!

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Next week’s feature will be on Crusades, recent signings to Glasgow’s indie Overlook Records label, who – according to their Facebook page – by September 10th, will have played 35 gigs in 6 months. It would be reasonable to anticipate a lengthy appraisal of their dedication and pro-active stance.

Until then…

Crusades on Facebook

Listen to Crusades

Sigma Logic on Facebook

Rubber on Facebook

It’s a welcome, but rare, deviation from the norm when artists take the time to create a bit of a spectacle and build a bit of warranted buzz around themselves. It’s even rarer when the target audience for such a spectacle is a wisely selected local scene, rather than a stab in the dark attempt at reaching too wide a market at too early a stage.

Taking some shrewd inspiration from the likes of WU LYF and Nine Inch Nails circa Year Zero, an anonymous collective of (presumably local) musicians have set about the incognito distribution of a couple of concise tasters of music, artwork and – the most substantial of the materials, thus far – a composition that could conceivably be
viewed to serve as a sort of manifesto.

The impeccably intelligent aspect of this is the fact that absolutely no one knows who is involved in the collaboration (or that it even is a collaboration) and, as a result, everyone currently aware of its existence is immeasurably intrigued.

Such calculated planning and ambition shows real initiative and the wilful sidestepping of the oft-quested path to instant wide recognition points to eyes steadfastly trained on the long game.

A further stroke of genius can be seen in the way the materials have been distributed. At present, the select few people with any knowledge of this musical X File are themselves involved in the local scene and all correspondence has been conducted via unsolicited emails from addresses that appear to give no tangible clues as to the identity of their administrator. Sixteen Sixteen Six, for our part, only became aware of it via the loose lips of a decidedly up and coming act who have recently signed to a label set to feature quite heavily in these pages in future. Otherwise, up to this point, the tracks and artwork remain elusive outwith a certain circle of musicians.

Also decidedly admirable is the service that will be provided to the other artists caught in the crossfire of the hype that is sure to follow these first whispers. It seems inevitable that the chosen recipients of this anonymous act’s initial sparse output will see an increase in publicity for their own musical endeavours and, being that the only people currently in the know are musicians, something with this much potential for hype could go a long way to countering the recent blow Facebook have dealt against potential traffic levels of artists’ pages. When your band knows something hardly anyone else does, it follows that a lot more people are going to wilfully include your page in their news feed, in anticipation of further updates.

It would be easy to write this whole thing off as a misguided, flash in the pan sort of scheme. However, those with a bit of faith and a propensity for curiosity will doubtless agree that this is exactly the sort of innovative thinking that is needed every now and then to shake things up a bit. As local scenes don’t have astronomical promotional budgets, bypassing the regular channels requires clever networking and dedication and these are qualities that will undoubtedly take any aspiring musician far.

When this is considered, the identity of the person behind their ingenious marketing campaign becomes as pertinent as that of the musicians themselves. If the responsibility for this is their own, it is undeniably impressive. However, it seems more probable that such an effort is the result of the combination of various people with various skillsets and a glance at some of the leaked artwork would suggest the same.

Being that we have heard one of the tracks – albeit via a smartphone – it would be remiss of us not to appraise the musical aptitude and inspiration that succeed in streaming forth throughout the composition’s short duration. However, as much as their evident skill does serve as an endorsement for the orchestrators of this melodic conspiracy, the real catalyst for the seemingly imminent explosion of excitement is their cloak and dagger approach to what should be a fairly run of the mill first step for a new act – getting the first samples of their music out there.

Where artists making no effort to publicise themselves can sometimes show a firm faith in their own abilities, the conscious decision to meticulously conceal your identity at the beginning of your career is something else entirely. It is an act that exemplifies utterly unshakable and self-assured conviction that you are capable of blowing everything else around you out of the water, as soon as you decide it’s time.

So, what do we know so far?

A new musical force exists on the Ayrshire/Glasgow scene, a cross-section of local musicians are in possession of snippets of tracks, sparse communication has taken place via anonymous email addresses and the name of the files (30072012) appears to point to the 30th July as some sort of significant date.

This piece can be taken as a confident prediction that, come that date, the local scene will be awash with rumour and the hard drives of anyone with even a passing interest in unsigned music will play host to a file named 30072012.

Until then, eyes peeled!