Normanton Street @ Patterns – 15 April 2016

12909637_10156656568175214_4768224252742723807_oFresh from their crowdfunded SxSW Festival slot, local band Normanton Street launched their latest EP Life’s Real downstairs at Patterns, supported by three other Brighton-based outfits: Lebeaux, One Eyed Jacks, and Frankie Stew & Harvey Gunn.

This four-piece hip-hop/soul group has garnered a loyal following, reflected by the sizeable crowd they attracted and band members Ned, Nicholson, Phoebe and Nico showed their appreciation by putting on an energetic, jovial performance. Ned on bass guitar was particularly animated, almost headbanging, along with some fancy footwork and very entertaining to watch.

Lead singer, Phoebe Freya effortlessly filled the room with her soulful, bluesy tones, contrasting with Nicholson’s northern twang, spitting personal and often humorous stories, over bassy, laidback beats, while Ned’s smooth spoken words enveloped the audience like a cozy blanket. Playing a selection of tracks from their back catalogue, highlights included New Dawn, Take a Walk With Me and This Way, obviously well known by the faithful crowd, many of whom were singing along to the lyrics. New tracks Take Time and Angeline went down well and show the band are honing their unique sound.

These guys clearly love the stage and chatting after the show, Nicholson said they had a short break from gigging in the autumn and were all suffering withdrawal symptoms, because ‘it’s like an addiction’. With their enthusiasm, passion and talent, life is indeed real for Normanton Street.

Moderat @ Brighton Dome – 7th April 2016

12963595_10154815253923146_5776227692700996986_nFormed in Berlin by electronic music producers Apparat and Modeselektor, the supergroup Moderat has just released their third collaboration, aptly titled III. Following the trajectory of the equally suitably named Moderat and II, their latest album refines the unique combination of Modeselektor’s deep techno and Apparat’s pared back, emotive electro.

A week into their world tour, they were originally due to play at the Corn Exchange and upgraded to the larger capacity Concert Hall, due to high demand. This was a good move, as the standing area was packed out, as well as most of the balcony seating, with excited punters, buzzing with expectation. The sign on the screen warned ‘This is a dark show’ and requested no flash photography.

After a warm up set by Shed, Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary of Modeselektor positioned themselves behind their synthesisers either side of the stage, looking like a couple of bouncers, and the first bassy note filled the room. The lanky, angular presence that is Sascha Ring aka Apparat, then filled the gap in the middle, his pitch-perfect voice coming in for the first track from the new album, Eating Hooks, a slow-burning intro that hinted at deeper, dirtier things to come. The visuals of disembodied arms in symbolic positions, created a slightly sinister atmosphere.

As the tempo gradually increased, an extended version of Running whipped the crowd into a frenzy of flailing arms and nodding heads, as the geometric shapes and Moderat graphics on screen, paired with carefully considered lasers and strobe lights, enhanced the sensory experience. Ring’s vocals on Reminder, reminiscent of Thom Yorke, sent shivers down the spine, while the distorted background baritone, demanding ‘burning bridges light my way’, echoed the elephant trumpeting sound sampled on everyone’s favourite Moderat track Bad Kingdom.

Tracks such as Finder and The Fool, with its shaky keyboard melody vibrating throughout the hall, took things down a notch, before Rusty Nails ramped up the pace again. A glance up to stage right confirmed the audience with seats were on their feet and going just as wild as those below.

These electronic music pioneers know how to work a crowd and came back to perform Bad Kingdom for the encore, giving the people exactly what they wanted. To say this went down an absolute storm would be an understatement. Just when everyone was turning to leave, they came back for a surprise second encore, to mellow us all out with the primal call in Intruder, Apparat planting a seed with the lyrics ‘when I sleep at night’.

With ears left ringing, we wouldn’t be surprised if many of those present had vivid dreams after witnessing this audiovisual display of knob-twiddling genius.

Danke schoen Moderat.

Also published in the SOURCE

Submotion Orchestra @ Concorde 2 – 12th March 2016

Let me start by saying this was one of the best gigs I’ve been to in a while. Every member of the band is super talented and played a tight, faultless set. They are one of the rare acts that sound better live than recorded. The absence of lead singer and new mother Ruby Wood was no bad thing, as the three guest vocalists were all excellent and added great variety to the performance.

I came to Submotion late, having missed their first two albums Finest Hour and Fragments. It was only when they released Alium in 2014 that I discovered their eclectic sound spanning electronica, bass, ambient, jazz and dub ‘that sits somewhere on an axis between Bonobo and London Grammar.’ Their latest album Colour Theory goes a step further with meticulously crafted production and fresh, young talent on guest vocals, creating a cohesive album with elegance and finesse.

The five-piece band started aptly with Intro from Fragments, filling the Concorde with powerful, yet delicate music. The first guest vocalist Alyusha was then introduced – a vision in a beautifully embroidered kimono and the face of a geisha – to sing Red Dress, the first track from the new album and she certainly did it justice, sharing the purity of Wood’s voice but with a unique tone, she was utterly mesmerising. She seemed a little nervous to start with, but soon got into her groove with Time Will Wait and Blind Spot from Fragments; the enthusiastic crowd singing along, encouraging her to let rip on that feelgood line ‘so bless us all’ before the spine-tingling drum beat kicks in.

Next up was the brilliantly named Billy Boothroyd, a fellow member of Shlomo’s The Vocal Orchestra and guest vocalist on Colour Theory’s More Than This, which he sang with heart and soul. A self-assured singer with a goosebump-inducing voice, he brought the house down with his rendition of the earth shatteringly bassy In Gold. As third guest vocalist Andrew Ashong pointed out, both he and Alyusha ‘have got some serious pipes’.

Mr Ashong was a pleasant surprise guest, having decided to jump on the train from London to Brighton after enjoying the company of SubMo so much the previous night at Electric Brixton. His track Needs on the new album is one of my favourites, so I was delighted to hear it live from the man himself. Another up and coming homegrown talent, Andrew was full of praise for his fellow musicians and had a calm, understated presence.

After the Japanese influenced Kimono, Alyusha returned to the stage for the crowd-pleasing It’s Not Me It’s You, before the guys showcased their musicianship and synth-twiddling prowess with Thousand Yard Stare; their clear enjoyment and immersion in the music both infectious and impressive. All three singers then collaborated on Worries, their voices complementing each other respectfully.

Back for an encore after much applause and foot-stomping, Billy covered Hymn For Him, hitting the high notes effortlessly, before the last song of the night: All Yours from their first album, sung with a big smile by Alyusha and a gorgeous trumpet solo from Bobby Beddoe. As my sister put it, this is ‘make you feel alive music’.

Also published on Earlybird Media

 

Daughter @ Brighton Dome – 17th January 2016

DaughterDaughter appeared on my radar when I heard their track Youth on the advert for the Tour de France, which prompted me to check out their debut album If You Leave. To my ear most of the songs, although understated and elegant, sound quite similar, using the same low-key indie folk formula with frontwoman Elena Tonra’s breathy, high-pitched vocals singing melancholy lyrics of love and loss.

The three-piece band, supported by a female keyboardist, guitarist and backing singer, are currently on tour having recently released their follow-up album Not To Disappear, which to all intents and purposes offers more of the same. Their set at the Dome was a mixture of old and new, their strange lack of physical presence on stage made more interesting by the moody lighting and somewhat excessive smoke. Unfortunately, there was a lot of reverb noise from the wall behind us, which was distracting and not great for a venue of such repute!

After playing new track Doing the Right Thing, a touching song about dementia, Tonra admitted that she’d headbutted the mic, which was ‘quite painful and not very cool’. Oblivious to this, we chuckled at the refreshingly down-to-earth comment. Hers and guitarist Igor Haefeli’s rather awkward banter between songs only endeared the audience further. Alone/With You was another poignant song exploring another epidemic of our age: loneliness. However, the standout tracks for me, such as the angrier Human with its persistent guitar riff and the slowly building Winter were from the first album and I still think there’s more light and shade on this album, but maybe the second one requires further listening.

Apparat @ The Barbican, London – 7th November 2015

KUF_MailandA birthday gift back in July, my ticket to Apparat – aka Sascha Ring –  at The Barbican had been gathering dust for months, but finally the day arrived and my best mate and I headed up to the Big smoke after an eventful train journey (or two to be precise!)

I’m most familiar with the Berlin-based electronic musician’s album The Devil’s Walk (2011) and Moderat; his collaboration with Modeselektor, but this gig was a ‘selection of his soaring scores for film and theatre.’

I wasn’t familiar with his film scores, but joined on stage by six other talented musicians, the sounds they produced on a mixture of instruments and synthesisers was sublime. Apparat’s crystal clear falsetto cut through on a few select tunes and the visuals, created live by visual collective Transforma, complemented the sounds wonderfully.

After a transportive set, they returned for an encore and happily played Black Water, one of my favourite tracks from The Devil’s Walk, which brought a tear to my eye.

Thanks to my musically well-connected flatmate, we got guestlist entry to the afterparty at Village Underground, where Apparat was followed on the decks by Ellen Allien and Daniel Miller. They all played brilliant sets and in between letting rip on the dancefloor, my friend and flatmate even got to chat to the man himself backstage, while I had a conversation with one of the other musicians from France – what a night!

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 + Akala @ Brighton Dome – 19th September 2015

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As the youngest son of Nigeria’s afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Seun had some big boots to fill, but stepped into them at the tender age of 14, when he became the frontman for his father’s band Egypt 80. I was more familiar with Fela’s hits from the mid-70s, such as  Water No Get Enemy and Zombie, than Seun’s material, but hoped for a similar vibe. The slightly odd addition of Akala, the London rapper and younger brother of Ms. Dynamite, as a special guest, also intrigued me. Although, not so odd when you consider the highly politicised message expounded in Fela and Seun’s music and the increasingly socially conscious hip hop Akala is currently producing.

We just caught the end of support act Prince Fatty with Holly Cook’s light, airy vocals complementing the reggae sounds. This was followed by a fairly long interval before the Egypt 80 band set up, all middle-aged (and older) men on a variety of instruments. They were followed by two (slightly younger) scantily clad and brightly painted backing singers, who spent most of the show wiggling their bums at the audience, which my sister was rather outraged about! Then came the tall, athletic Seun in shiny, grey suit trousers and a shiny, purple shirt, opening with one of his dad’s numbers Opposite People. My sister commented on the fact the men and woman on stage couldn’t be more opposite in appearance, but I felt she was missing the point, especially given that the song was written in the aftermath of the Nigerian army’s brutal attack on Fela’s compound. She also pointed out the men in the band all looked rather grim-faced, which I couldn’t dispute.

They then played a few tracks from his latest album A Long Way to the Beginning, the standout IMF (International Mother Fuckers, not the International Monetary Fund), getting the crowd going and Kuti playing a saxophone solo. It was then time to introduce Akala, who after a bit of a shaky start in his one-wide-leg, zipped trousers, eventually got into his flow, but failed to make himself heard properly above the music, so the lyrics were somewhat lost and I’m not sure he bought much to the table. Kuti meanwhile, having stripped to the waste with the help of one of his backing singers, took up the bongo drums.

Finishing with an energetic rendition of Fela’s Zombie, it was an entertaining set, but I couldn’t help feeling Seun Kuti is still trying to fill the boots of his late father and relying on his music to carry him, rather than establishing himself as an authentic artist in his own right.

Roy Ayers & The Ubiquity Band @ Concorde 2 – 24th July 2015

Roy Ayers

I’ve known the name Roy Ayers for as long as I can remember, but I’m not sure how I discovered him. A lot of people I asked had never heard of him, which was surprising to me, as some of his hits, like Everybody Loves the Sunshine and Running Away are internationally well-known. Perhaps it’s a case of people knowing the songs rather than the artist. Known by many as ‘The Godfather of Neo Soul’, Ayers has been around since the 70s and helped pioneer jazz-funk. He is also famous for having more sampled hits than any other artist and has collaborated with the likes of Fela Kuti, Erykah Badu, A Tribe Called Quest, Tupac, Talib Kweli and most recently, Tyler, The Creator.

I missed his performance at Concorde 2 last year, so was keen to catch him this time around and luckily, my friend had a spare ticket (sorry, still owe you for that one!) It was a last minute dash to get there in the pouring July rain, but the unseasonal weather didn’t seem to have kept people away and there was a positive vibe from the significantly older crowd.

There was just enough time to grab a pint before Roy Ayers was introduced on stage and entered wearing a matching camo t-shirt and jacket, which I was rather taken with! Cool as a cucumber, he began to play his vibraphone, an instrument in the same family as the xylophone, which also shares similarities to the marimba and the glockenspiel. I must confess, I had no idea what this instrument was and was fascinated by the sounds he made with it, at times similar to a piano, at others, almost like a harp. Then his silky smooth vocal blended in seamlessly with the music played by a very tight four-piece band, including an extremely talented keyboardist, who played a number of solos, while Roy looked on in appreciation.

After a string of big hits including SearchinCan’t You See Me, Evolution and a sexy I Wanna Touch You Baby, the tinkly opening notes to Everybody Loves the Sunshine provoked a great cheer from the audience as the stage was bathed in golden yellow light, making everyone forget about the torrential downpour outside and transporting us to a mellow, groovy, sunny place. Then halfway through, Roy said he’d like to introduce a very special guest, ‘who just happened to be in town’ and none other than 90s soul singer Omar walked on stage and took up singing the lyrics, whilst Roy and his backing singer chanted ‘Omar’ over and over again. What an unexpected treat!

It was obvious the band were enjoying themselves and wanted to play on, but unfortunately, they had to finish bang on 10pm to clear the venue for the club night. I for one, was left longing for more, but then, I probably could have listened to them all night and still wanted more. I hope they come back next year.