Every year, the city of Sheffield goes into full party mode and hosts the Tramlines festival, a veritable smogarsbord of musical talents, packed venues and heat stroke incidents (some of them rather unfortunate).
During these tres días de fiesta, you get bands for all tastes, venues making a buck and a half from our everloving, neverending prayers to Bacchus and, if you’re lucky, some mild bruising and a tinnitus that won’t last more than a week.
Friday – “Luke Starkiller? Luciano Trotacielos?”
Having my trusty co-writer Tonan, we started our Tramlines experience on Friday at a very crowded venue, The Forum, where Pistola Kicks were playing under the Xray Horse banner. The trio have evolved in giant strides since their EP, as gone are most of their rock/disco sounds, replaced by a rockier (but still mellow) sound that sometimes goes into prog and flamenco (‘Boquerones’, baby!) territory. The crowd went apeshit when some free cds were given away. Never underestimate the effect of a good show coupled with free stuff (I’m not saying the word swag. Oh, shit).
Our next destination (and terminus for the day) was The Washington. It promised to be a heavy night. We started on a right note with the sonic attack that is obLONG. Tonan has always mentioned that obLONG is a very symmetric band, with a left handed guitarist on one side, a right handed bass player on the other. Looking like a well armed X-Wing fighter, their show was just as powerful, with ‘The Knife’ being a very strong number (careful with that tremolo, Steve) and ‘Mine’ having a pretty powerful bassline. Tracy Deakin’s voice is always top of the line.
If obLONG was the equivalent of an X-Wing fighter, then Mega Aquarians was the explosion of the Death Star, slowed down and amplified through a bunch of several speakers and amps. Seriously, the sound packed by this duo was strong. They play some real heavy stuff, but it never saturates you and the very infectious ‘Special beast’, melding heavy metal and grunge, is always a crowd pleaser. Both members seemed very happy to the audience response and by the end they were the sweatiest motherfuckers this side of Spongebob Squarepants Pilates workout. Great show.
Last for the night was Steel Trees, who played a very grungy flavour of garage rock. Sporting a guitar decal that read “This guitar kills cunts”, they sounded great, but we had to hightail it outta the front stage as it was getting as packed as a wagon in the Mexican Metro and it ain’t fun to mosh and pogo in one of those. Believe you me.
Saturday – “Onslaught is still bitter”
We kick started our day on a very funky way. After meeting with two more of our staff writers (PM and Rucki), we went to the New Musical Stage to see Hey Sholay. Between jokes about hangovers, the price of tea in China and how Onslaught is still jealous about their success, they worked the crowd pretty well. ‘Devil at the backdoor’ is a particular live favourite of mine, with every single member of the band moving like there’s no tomorrow. But it was ‘The Bears, The Clocks, The Bees’ the one that really made it for me. The song is so magic and that droning ending, half a mantra, half a cry for help, is just perfect.
Nedry always puts a brilliant show, and I probably have mentioned this before, but their live stuff is miles better than the recorded stuff. It’s the feel of it, really, so, like life, the live show of Nedry is a contact sport. ‘A42’ is always a good one live.
From this stage we went and hopped on the Bromheads-curated Busker Bus to catch The Payroll Union, with Pete David (guitar/gruff voice) and Ben (drums/voice) playing inside a double decker bus, while Paul (bass) filmed the crowd’s amused response to be in a gig inside a bus. We do get this sort of stuff in México, but it is usually a cover song (either from rock urbano/salsa/traditional folk). Although there were a couple of covers, it was their original songs the ones that garnered a bigger applause. A few attempts to get the crowd to join in a sing along did yield some fruits by the end.
We then had to walk to the far side of Sheffield, where even Marvel’s greatest supervillain,
Joe Quesada Onslaught, wouldn’t dare to tread. The Unfortunate Incident was left to their own devices but still played on to a minimum attendance. The venue was a last minute replacement but it was a tad too far from any of the other venues to justify the long walk. We still did it because we are unabashed fans of the band. Having a pretty nifty bass solo (‘I don’t wanna play in a band’) and one hell of an opening riff (‘Fire’, ‘Exact Recollections’) also helps. They did a few well timed jabs and quips, going perfectly with their country/punk/rock sensibilities. Very underrated but hopefully one day will catch a break.
Another long walk, this time to see Cats:For:Peru. The audience was very receptive to their devil-may-care fusion of genres. You might have a few disco style moves mixed with funk and indie (‘Duck in the oven’), a very gloomy ditty (‘Fear of better things’) and a downright metal moment (‘I am the orgasm’) but you get a complete show with Cats:For:Peru. Like mentioned before, the audience was very receptive and the fact they got an encore did draw a smile on the five piece. An emotional assault in all senses.
After a quick sampling of the Guillemots‘ interesting live show (which was slightly delayed), we had to depart early to catch Mabel Love at the Leadmill. The dark, brooding atmosphere this band transmits on their music is perfectly displayed on their live show. By no means does this mean that they are morose, not at all, they do give their best and do know how to give a good show. ‘Ha ha people’ was a real treat, but ‘Hardened face’ might be the one that took the cake.
On the other Leadmill stage, we caught up with The Monicans. Their grunge rock is always a delight (although I’m partial to bands that have an ebow interlude, sue me). People moshing, rapturous applauses and a general good mood made it a very vibrant show and the news that they are recording a new EP was simply perfect. ‘Into the rows’ and ‘So Unsure’ were so brilliant.
The last band of the day for us was Skeletons and the Empty Pockets (soon to change their name). They were playing at the O2 Academy (another show curated by Xray Horse) and, well, there’s no simple words to describe them. They share two things with Hey Sholay: the lead singer and the vivacious show. It’s one of the hardest acts to photograph due to everyone jittering and shuffling around the stage. This band is a small kept secret, with their off-kilter, odd-time signature songs that would make Ghost Rider long for those holidays he spent as a main act at Mexico´s Día De Muertos. Or something. The drummer certainly seems like the type that could spontaneously catch fire. A lot of people spontaneously combust every year, it’s just not widely reported.
Sunday – “Like a pack of pork scratchings at a Vegan music festival”
We started the day on a psychedelic note with Dead Sons, with the double punch of ‘Berlin’ and ‘Holler and the hymns’, two very strong numbers (all about that breakdown by the end). ‘I am the lord’ and ‘Junk room’ are no slouches either. They seemed happy at the reception obtained.
Next stop was the Busker bus, now for the Johnny Foreigner show. Remember what I mentioned about Mexico? Well, it seemed it was like rush hour, so you could see people ready to be hanging from the windows and surfing on the roof of the bus as long as they could see Johnny Foreigner. We accepted defeat and made our way to the Folk Forest.
Now, the Folk Forest, that was a wonderful idea. It was set up in Endcliffe Park and in clear contrast of the atmosphere felt in the city centre, the park setting worked wonders. You could see families enjoying a picnic, people trying a wide range of ales and not a single frown to see.
Captives on the Carousel are very magical band, playing music structured like audio fables. Between the swollen atmospheres produced by Ben Eckersley (via a cello and a loop pedal) and the dreamy voice of Sarah Morrey, you can get lost in the songs that although are mostly quiet, they are hard hitting. There’s some good natured chit chat between songs that might bring you back to earth, but goes to show that they are just two regular persons who have given themselves to music.
After a stroll through the park, it was time to go back to the breach city. It was time to see The Monicans again. Although there were some rather worrying technical problems before their set, John Kubicki (from The Violet May) gladly helped with console duties. The Monicans‘ set was slightly different but still was rocking. The reception was still as warm, not only because of the small space we were all packed in, but also to the choice of songs.
The Hope Explosion, well, the name says it all: optimistic music (probably due to the choice of chords and effects) with a powerful beast on the drum kit. There was no warning to anybody who didn’t know the band to what was going to happen. An unreal wall of sound that made many a passerby peer through the windows to see what was going on. The Green Room felt like a tin of sardines for a moment. A very happy, rocking tin of sardines, headbanging and clapping in unison. Both classics (‘Talk is cheap’, ‘Pin down the detail’) were loudly applauded and the newest stuff got a warm welcoming too.
Last two acts of the day were on queue. First, it was the amazing shoegaze/math rock of Firesuite at West Street Live (a venue that fits their sound quite well). Although they look like normal people out of the stage (except for the rocking Gremlins t-shirt), they become posessed when they take the stage. Not a minute passes without the drummer (Richard) going jazz on us, while the dual vocals (Sarah, Christopher) intertwine to create a lucid dream delivery of vocals. Bass is playful, precise and succinct, but there seems to be a lot of improvisation (including slides and slaps) by Mr. Minor. ‘Beneath the roses’ is always an explosive song, ‘Amity’ always makes a few eyebrows raise (and never come down) and ‘Rabbit’, well, it’s punk with an atmosphere on tow.
The weekend ended up in a high note with Hey Sholay, now at Soyo. Even if they played twice the day before (three times for the singer), they were still in form, happy to joke with the public and even do a spot of a tribute to Tom Waits. No Beyoncé covers as promised, thank
It was a hectic weekend, that’s for sure, but for someone like me who isn’t exposed to this type of music in my home country and to my co-writer that was looking forward to see so many Sheffield (and neighbouring town) bands, we had our fill of great music.
We did miss some really good bands. Name and fame: The Violet May, The Hot Soles, The Legend of 7 Black Tentacles, Renegade Brass Band, Wet Nuns, Carl Woodford, Nat Johnson & The Figureheads, Judy Beat, Drenge, Castrovalva, Seize the Chair, Pirouettes, Twins, Screaming Maldini, Liars Beware and many more.
It matters not if some audiences missed a gig (or the point of a gig) but we did have a whale of a time. So, a lot of bands and most of them happy with the attention they were getting. Can’t be bad.
Words & Pics: Sam The Spam.
The author would like to thank everyone at Sloucher.org, all the bands for their great shows, Paul Cantrell and Dan Sumption for the photo stuff and Tonan for crossing the ocean for this one :).
Yo, readers! My name is Jonny Sock. Come back on Thursday and read MY take on this festival. You’ll get the skinny and less gushing. In the meantime, someone would like to say something: