Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Review: BBC Radio 1xtra Live with #ThreeGoes1Xtra

When I moved to Leeds in April, a huge part of the appeal was the sheer volume of music, arts and culture the city had to offer. From the world-renowned Brudenell Social Club to the tiny wardrobe to the chart-slaying O2 Academy, it seemed Leeds was a city where there really was a multitude of amazing gigs to choose from every night of the week.

While work commitments and other opportunities have meant that I haven't had a chance to immerse myself in the music scene as fully as I intended, I did get the opportunity to attend Leeds Arena a couple of weekends ago with the lovely folk from Three Mobile. Having only been the once before to watch Kasabian, it's a venue I loved instantly - despite it's size, the clever semi-circular arrangements of seats means that everybody gets a good view, and after spending my teenage years screaming at Wembley, it feels remarkably intimate too.

But I digress. I found myself at Leeds Arena once more for 1Xtra Live, a culmination of all the great urban, trap, hip-hop and RnB coming out of arguably the BBC's most exciting radio station. Armed with the new Samsung S6 handset, I was challenged to snap my way through the evening, testing out the phone functionalities while enjoying some music.

Coming straight from work and feeling both tired and highly underdressed compared to some of the frankly stunningly fashionable attendees, I unfortunately missed Miguel (sob) and Flo Rida (not so sob), arriving just in time for old favourite Lethal Bizzle. His bold lighting and backdrops made for good clarity on my handset for the night - being used to an iPhone 4, the zoom was pretty good for a phone and there were so many modes - I particularly liked how the video mode allowed you to zoom in and out even after you'd started filming, which sounds pretty obvious but is surprisingly absent from a lot of cameras. The music itself was less revolutionary, but that's what Bizzle does best - songs you had completely forgotten about but somehow know every word to.

Next we were treated to Stormzy and Krept & Konan, two acts that received the biggest reaction of the night - it appears Leeds folk are really into their grime, even forgetting the north/south divide to chant along with the likes of 'Shut Up' and 'Don't Waste My Time'. Pacing the stage and rolling out the confetti cannons, I took the opportunity to try out some panaromas and video filters. By this point the phone was starting to feel a little warm in my hand from overuse, fairly standard for such a thin device but perhaps a little concerning for those who prefer to use their handset without a case.

After an unremarkable showing from Kid Ink (a little too slick for tonight's audience), we were treated to the headliner, Tinie Tempah. Remarkably photogenic in his own right, I was braced to take some good shots. With our seats quite far away from the stage I wasn't expecting miracles, but unfortunately the amount of dry ice in the air made it quite difficult to focus the camera. With plenty of shots from the evening already taken, I decided to pop my phone away and just enjoy his set - a medley of hits that peaked with a guest appearance from Katy B for number one track 'Turn The Music Louder'.

As a mixed race blogger, I really enjoyed my night with 1xtra. It felt like a wonderful celebration and urban and black culture - everybody was so dressed up in completely different styles and having fun with their friends and strangers alike, a world away from how the media likes to portray 'urban culture'.

But did I rate the phone? Gig lighting can be a nightmare under even professional circumstances so I was prepared to be unwhelmed, but the Samsung S6 wasn't half bad for a phone considering our distance from the stage. I was particularly impressed with the sound quality on the videos and there were enough selfie modes to keep any millenial happy. Would I purchase one myself? Perhaps not. But it has reminded me how much I like to take pictures at gigs...maybe time to dust back off my Nikon?

Big thanks to the lovely folk at Three Mobile for the ticket - the invite was complimentary but all opinions are completely my own. For more information, check out the Samsung hub here 

Friday, 16 October 2015

LIVE REVIEW: Years & Years, Leeds 02 Academy, 14.10.2015

It's a cold evening in Leeds. Freshers week has faded into hazy-drunken memories, the hard working is starting and people hustle through town with scarfs high and heads down, trying to get home in the prematurely dark night. Illuminated at the heart of the city is the 02 Academy, where a queue of altogether more colourful and cheerful bodies are winding around the churchlike walls, wrapping one, two, three times. This is one very sold out gig, and it belongs to a band barely heard of this time 18 months ago - Years & Years. 

Riding the wave of heartfelt electronic pop that has made household names of the likes of Disclosure and Chvrches, Years & Years are spearheading a new type of teenage-resonating chart music that has lyrical substance at the heart if it's minimal verses and huge choruses - true pin a poster on your wall and make fan art for tumblr type of stuff. Tonight's first act Oscar Key Sung has studied the art well and proffers the sort of music that prick the ears of any major label record exec - low key RnB with one arm slung round the shoulders of Chet Faker and the other SBTRKT. The Australian's twisty dance moves and unassuming good look have the makings of a star, as does his music - 'All I Could Do' is super catchy, as is 'Brush', which conceals at it's heart an impressive feminist message "Aren't you sick of men /Thinking you need them/To tell you who you are/And what you are?"

But Years & Years fans are used to euphoria less sophisticated than this. Cursed to that 'first on' timeslot, his more minimal efforts strain against the audible chatter of the disinterested crowd. As a live show, there's very little to look at, and it's his biggest downfall - in this day and age, it'll take a little more than setting tracks off and singing along to truly impress. An intriguing listen, but one that might benefit with a little dressage.

Offering a little more exuberance is Tove Styrke, bounding on stage with her band, all clad in orange two-pieces that would make Piper Chapman proud. It's slick scandi-pop at it's not-too-bonkers - it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine some of these songs being pitched in the offices of Kylie Minogue's people. Blending whimsy with occasional ska-sensibilities, Tove is instantly likeable, and the crowd go wild for her slapped-bass-happy cover of Britney classic 'Hit Me Baby One More Time.' It's her own song that makes the biggest impact though - 'Even If I'm Loud It Doesn't Mean I'm Talking To You' is like Charli XCX having a scrap with The Tings Tings and coming out covered in heart-shaped bruises. Cutesy, but with a definite high-kicking attitude.

'I can't even' and 'Olly you give me life!' ring through the crowd before the lights even dim. Tonight's headliners enter the stage one by one - a low-decibel screech for synthesist Emre Türkmen, a modest cheer for bassist Michael Goldsworthy, and then an absolute Harry Styles-worthy caterwaul for lead singer Olly Alexander that forces him to take a small step back. For the next 90s minutes, they scream everytime he draws breath, everytime he smiles, everytime he adopts a new dance move. Most satisfyingly, the screams come from a wide demographic - teenage girls, teenage boys, mums, dads, the lot. He is rocket fuel.

They start with 'Foundation' (barely audible above the fuss before hitting their stride with 'Take Shelter', encouraging the dance routine that only people born post 1998 seem to know how to do - not quite a twerk but certainly a pouting squat, wrists limply trailing in the air. As a slightly (only slightly) writer, there is plenty to be a cynical killjoy about here, but there's just no need - this is pop worship at it's finest. A posterboy for the young LGBT community, Alexander is the perfect frontman, eminently loveable in the giddyness that makes it obvious that he's along for the ride with us. A quickfire rendition of 'Desire' and 'Worship' whip them into a further frenzy, before stripping things all the way back for a keyboard rendition of 'Memo'. But even this has to come with that extra touch of glitter - Olly invites a banner-toting young boy up on stage to sing it with him (he nails it by the way), and the moment is X-Factor-worthy genius. The whole thing positively reeks of clean good fun.

The sparkle does dim occasionally - the slower tracks are a hard sell but at least put pay to the rumours that Alexander's exuberance is a mask for his inability to stay in tune. They remedy a mid-set lull quickly with a cover of Blu Cantrell & Sean Paul's 'Breathe' - a little fussy an interpretation, but a crowd pleaser nonetheless. Released in 2003, it's a well-selected choice for their audience, with minimal head-scratching around the room. Closing with 'Real' before the inevitable encore of 'King', it's all over that little bit too soon - such is the nature of becoming an academy sized band on only one album. Who knows what next year's Arenas will bring...

Monday, 31 August 2015

REVIEW: Leeds Festival Friday, 28/09/2015

Safety In Sound were lucky enough to be invited to friday of Leeds Festival by the lovely folk at Relentless Energy - check them out over at www.relentlessenergy.com 

The festival business is a funny old one isn't it? Some years you can barely move for enormous acts, sell out hot tickets and 'omg were you there?!' breakout sets, and other years, it feels like bookers are scrabbling around to find enough artists to go around. With guitar music having an 'off' couple of years and reformations thin on the ground, it seems that lots of events have been struggling from a lack of true headline size artists.

I will be honest and say that this is the first year in about five where the line up for Reading & Leeds hasn't had me scrambling for my debit card, but when Relentless Energy were kind enough to invite me to join them on Friday of the festival, I thought I'd give it a go, especially considering that I now live down the road and could be in bed by 11pm. Rock and indeed, roll. With a day of old indie favourites ahead, little did I know that I was about to witness one of the best rappers of our generation...

But first, The Skints (NME/ Radio 1). A support slot staple, we at SIS have seen them play many a time, but something about today's set was a whole lot more exciting. Well practiced from their years on the road, they were an excellent booking for this awkward hour of the day, where people want great music but are still a little too hungover for anything too challenging. with multi-instrumentalist Marcia holding down the melodies, frontperson duties were left to cheeky guitarist Joshua Waters Rudge, who's likeable chat beckoned in those loitering at the corners of the tent.

With the rain coming down we stuck around for Ghostpoet (NME/Radio 1), another festival staple. With a set that seemed to avoid most of the more famous cuts from mercury nominated breakout Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam, the tracks weren't necessarily familiar to all, but the performance was better for it - a much more streamlined affair that made it almost impossible to pigeonhole the singer into one genre. Four years in, he's playing like a mainstage artist, building momentum into the peak of 'Liiines'.

Cheesy chips and a drink in hand, we take a seat in the sunshine to watch The Gaslight Anthem (mainstage). We promptly learn why they are a band who have just announced a hiatus - their set is so paint-by-numbers and joyless that one suspects their members and entirely bored and exhausted of being a band. Hopefully after a short break they can retain their vigour - if the size of the crowd is anything to go by, their brand of Americana rock clearly draws a devoted audience.

Luckily our faith is restored almost instantly by The Cribs (mainstage), who prove themselves to be the band of the day 30 seconds into their set. In the face of an industry that forces artists to iron off their edges or risk fleeting success, you can't help but admire an outfit that are still going after all these years without compromising anything. They sound razor sharp, treating the audience to both the joyous ('Our Bovine Public', 'Mirror Kissers') and the introspective - 'Be Safe' sound bigger here on the mainstage than it ever has before. They also win the prize for best merchandise of the day - achingly cool 70s ringer tees that have us handing over £20 notes faster than Ryan Jarman can scale a speaker stack.

Having performed an exceptional and emotional headline set in the NME/ Radio 1 tent last time they were here, today's foray on the mainstage seems a little average from The Maccabees, forced to cram their spacious set into a tighter half hour. However, there is no denying that they revel in sunshine - 'Wall of Arms', 'Precious Time' and a rare outing of 'Latchmere' all feel right in the warm evening air, and a romantic slowed down intro to newbie 'Something Like Happiness' draws a speck of dust to the eye. That's right, dust - we're absolutely not crying.

Fairing better is Jamie T (mainstage), who dedicates 'Back In The Game' to his friends who have just played before him. He seems on good form - speaking little but smiling widely, ditching his guitar during '368' to engage full rap mode, winning over a few naysayers on the barrier who are clearly only here for one artist who's name begins with K and ends in rick. That said, it's the new material that goes down the best - while 'Sheila' and 'Sticks 'N' Stones' get a huge reception, it is 'Rabbit Hole' and 'Zombie' that tempt the flares out into the night sky.

After trying (and failing miserably) to squeeze back inside the NME tent, it becomes apparent that Years and Years are this years hottest ticket. It's easy to see why - lead singer Olly Alexander might not always be perfectly in tune, but his boundless energy is infectious and the songs are begging for a singalong - 'Desire' was probably audible from space.

Proof that a brave booking can pay you back in dividends, by the time we return to the mainstage that crowd has positively quadrupled in time for Kendrick Lamar. And rightfully so, his largely freestyled set and sincere words of thankyou are utterly infectious, howled back at him for the likes of 'Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe' and 'Fuckin Problem'. We're treated to some older jams too - 'Poetic Justice' draws a mass singalong as does 'Backseat Freestyle', a mission statement if we ever heard one.

However, before we declare equality rightfully achieved and pack off home, we notice a few upsetting details - a handful of gleeful youths sporting blackface bob around in the front row, native American headdresses littered amongst the crowd. Racism is alive and well in Leeds, but when he launches into 'Alright', we can at least take comfort from the moshpit that swells around us, black kids piggybacking white ones, white kids holding out hands to help black kids back up...we've got a long way to go, but we've come a long way also. Reading & Leeds may have been critiqued for it's lack of genre, gender and ethnic diversity, but the fact that hoards leave before anyone has even uttered 'The Libertines' speaks for itself. Walking evidence that taking a risk can work, one can hope that 2016's festival landscape may take a few more risks.