Photos courtesy of Luke Bateman
As I’ve probably said before, Brighton appears to have a particularly strong live music scene at the moment, and a six band bill, topped by three bands on the second date of a weekend run around the south, is enough to tempt me out of the capital again for a Mammothfest-sponsored Saturday evening by the seaside.
Opening up the evening are local quartet Vesture, who appear to be playing their debut show and have attracted a healthy number of friends down to catch their early slot. Not for the last time this evening, there is a sense of mischief in the air, as punters are handed a cardboard mask bearing the likeness of guitarist Tom to wear through the set. The take-up for the prank is less than 100%, but there are enough to produce the desired effect, setting a light hearted tone that would continue.
Vesture’s set is comprised of some slightly scratchy, angular Brit rock. Not quite heavy or riffy enough to really be classed as metal and a bit too noisy to be indie, they provide a relatively easy start to the night. Being a little outside my area of expertise, I find it tough to nail down who they sound like, but I suspect fans of Arcane Roots and Biffy Clyro will find them enjoyable.
It’s not really for me, but Vesture receive an enthusiastic response, the songs seem tight and together, especially for a first show, and drummer Dave manages to put his stick through his snare head during the penultimate song, so they’re clearly not holding back. A strong start, both for the band and the evening.
Southampton-based quintet Decapod hurriedly set themselves up, keeping this busy bill running to time, and break into some considered, left-field progressive metal. Decapod are a relatively new creation, only having started gigging last year, but its members are rather longer in the tooth. With shared band histories reaching back the best part of twenty years, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the band have a particularly mature approach to their songwriting.
There’s a lot going on in Decapod’s sinuous, labyrinthine songs, but they’ve struck upon a balance in their sound that gives each constituent part space to breathe. Early Tool and Faith No More are clear influences, but they are embellished further with some funky and experimental touches, often driven by the vast pedal boards at the feet of guitarists Jay and Phil.
The experimentation in the guitars is firmly anchored by a rock-solid, rumbling rhythm section and given more immediate, hooky twists with Kai’s melodic vocals. There’s a great deal to take in with these long, dynamic songs, but it’s clearly worth the effort. Set-closing “Sodium Glow” is the only track for which a recording is currently available, and it showcases their sound well, right down to Kai’s use of a megaphone towards the end of the song.
It seems clear that it will take repeated listens to properly get to grips with every twist and turn of Decapod’s songs, this is my second time seeing them and already the pieces are falling into place. Definitely worth keeping an eye out for their debut release, whenever it may emerge.
Local youngsters Vrona are launching their debut EP this evening, and have also done a fine job of corralling their friends into the venue for the occasion. However, a consistent problem in this little live room is people stopping immediately on the other side of the heavy curtains which separate it from the bar, making it difficult to squeeze through into the space left in front of the stage.
Whether by accident or design, the bass is sitting very high in the mix and rather dominating proceedings as a result. This is perhaps compounded by their decision to remain instrumental, but with the band only coming into existence in the latter half of 2015, they are very much still in their infancy.
In turn, this is perhaps reiterated by the slight conflict between their style and equipment. Playing heavier riffs on a telecaster makes them sound just a little bit twangy. And, at this stage, it is not immediately clear why they have chosen to remain instrumental, as there is not quite enough going on to make up for the absence of vocals. At this stage, then, it seems they still have a bit more work to do to really define their sound, but time is definitely on their side.
I have been hearing rumours about the utterly bonkers nature of an aAnd? live performance for some time, but even with that forewarning, one phrase firmly lodged itself in my mind as they stomped through the first song of their set:
What the actual, shuddering fuck is going on?
With all three of them clad in alarmingly figure-hugging, checkerboard Lycra morph suits, as well as guitarist Dan’s Britney Spears head-mic liberating him from a mic stand to join bassist Lewis in all manner of ludicrous poses, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that aAnd? don’t take themselves especially seriously. Just to remove any last, lingering doubts about that, Dan also employs a vocal effect to transpose his voice up to helium overdose levels…but only when talking between songs.
This seems to be a new development, and one that is still making the band themselves laugh – and perhaps this is the key to their success. Many bands goof around in the rehearsal room, but few have the guts to bring it to the stage.
What’s more, behind the high-jinks (or low-jinks, when Dan flips his vocal effects into Barry White mode ‘for the ladies’) lies an engaging collection of big dirty, sludgy riffs and blastbeat freak outs that ultimately make aAnd? feel like the product of a gene splicing experiment involving Down I Go, Will Haven and Monty Python. From playing short little songs full of silly noises, to jamming out a song on the spot via some properly meaty grooves, aAnd? deliver one of the most surprising and entertaining sets I’ve seen in a very long time. I’ve definitely not laughed this much watching a metal band in years, at least not where it was the intention of the band.
Tonight marks the twelfth time I’ve seen Sumer since the release of debut album The Animal You Are in late 2014 – and I’m still not bored of watching them wring their atmospheric, melodic, progressive metal from the necks of their three guitars. Make of that what you will.
Continually chopping and changing the order of the set helps to keep it fresh, with only “End of Sense” locked in place at the end of the set. The one new-ish, short-ish instrumental that has joined the set since last summer provides a tantalising glimpse of what is to come, as does another work-in-progress tune I heard by cheekily gatecrashing the soundcheck earlier. Naughty.
One thing that is noticeably changing, though, is the audience response. Sumer have made an effort to bring their songs to as many people as possible, and they are clearly starting to reap the benefits. Throughout the set, the audience’s reaction is both warm and definitely louder than the last time I saw them grace this very stage. One chap bouncing around in front of the stage damn near snaps himself in half at the peak of one of the many finely honed dynamic crescendos that are sprinkled throughout the set, which is a sure sign they’re doing something right.
There’s no indication yet as to when the followup to The Animal You Are will drop, but given Sumer’s recent work ethic, it surely can’t be too far away. And, as it stands, there’s still plenty of life in the older material to keep existing fans coming back for another dose, and to entice new ones into the fold. Magnificent, as always.
After spending the entire evening ensuring that sets and changeovers run to time with almost military precision, Core of iO‘s charismatic frontman Bob Tett finally gets his own turn at the mic. At precisely the intended time, too – no small feat for a compressed, six band bill with a hard, unbreakable 10:30 curfew and a left-handed drummer lurking in the pack.
Much like their music, Core of iO seem upbeat, energetic and as pleased to see the assembled crowd as it is to see them. The room is full and spirits are high as they scamper through their accessible, yet deceptively technical, progressive metal.
Tonight’s setlist is a mixture of old and new. “Why Not Take A Chance?“ is brought out of retirement, and Bob says this is due to ‘popular demand’ and in his typically self-effacing manner, admits that all of two people have asked they play it. There’s plenty of good-natured banter and friendly ribbing coming from both the stage and the crowd throughout, contributing to the cosy vibe of the show.
We also get two cuts from Core of iO’s upcoming EP, which is due to drop in a couple of months as the second in a planned series of four. The first is anthemic and poppy, the second heavier and more frantic. Promising, tantalising stuff.
The set ends with “14 Stitches‘, which highlights Gareth’s spidery basslines particularly well. The venue is then hurriedly emptied so that six band’s worth of gear can be loaded out and the place reopened for a club night barely 30 minutes after Core of Io play their final note.
For me, it’s just a quick jaunt around the block, and I’m back on a London-bound train, back in the capital in time to catch the one of the last tubes home. It’s a remarkably straightforward end to a great night stacked with talent in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, wrapped in Lycra and otherwise. Let’s do it again sometime.