Monday, 26 April 2010

TURN IT UP Battle of the Bands - The Final

THE FINAL – Saturday night

Well, it’s been a great week for me behind the seating rake, but all good things must come to an end – and on Saturday night the biggest audience of all the four nights (as you’d imagine) gathered to watch Hikaru, SuperMassiveMonkeyMen (yes, Men not Man, despite what the compere says!) and Knuckle*Down compete for the title of Turn It Up winner.

Before we get down to business, a massive shout out to Gawaine and the MADCAP Music Project in general – this has been a great advert to the work they’re doing with young people, and I’ve been impressed most of all by the sheer variety of bands they seem to be encouraging and developing! Kudos!


It’s nice to be able to see Hikaru get a second bite at the cherry – tonight their sound and mix are far better than Thursday night, and you really got the full benefit of their quiet-LOUD metal dynamic. I also realise that when I praised one of their lead guitarist’s work the other night, I’d missed the fact that the other lead guitarist is every bit as good – this time he’s higher in the mix and you can hear how well he can play too. It might not be 'my kind of thing' necessarily, but Hikaru definitely deserve to be classed up there alongside any other young MK band in this genre.

Phil sez: “Solid alt-metal in the vein of System Of A Down complete with a cover of Toxicity and some stunning guitar and drum work.”


It’s another casually confident set from the SuperMassiveMonkeyMen – some of the same songs from last night sound just as fresh, and there’s some new tracks thrown in too for good measure. The last song (Myles later claims many of them don't have titles??) is a doomy epic which shows another angle to them, and overall I genuinely dig their cheerful scuzz-rock sound. It’s right up my alley anyway of course, but for me – Band Of The Week.

Phil sez: “Brilliant indie rock, this is much more my thing, with great songs, some sharp guitar work and a solid rhythm section that holds it all together.”


But really you'd have to say that the competition has saved one of the most impressive sets for last. Knuckle*Down seem to have managed to bring along the biggest fanbase, and clearly fancied their chances of winning as a consequence, which helped them. They just seemed livelier, more sure of themselves tonight – and the crowd responded. It’s a joyous, friendly rush through their songs – the singer has us in the palm of his hand, even organising a stage invasion (benevolent rather than revolutionary!). A day later, two days later and I still have their anthem “We Are Knuckle*Down” going round and round in my head.

Phil sez: “These guys really picked up their game tonight and gave us a very solid performance of their hip-hop infused alt-metal. They were definitely a crowd favourite and when the kids invaded the stage it was no surprise they ended up winning.”


Yes, Phil’s on the money. Knuckle*Down were the winners, and given their massive popularity on the night no-one can have any complaints. As local bands go their sound is fresh and energetic – and in their frontman they have a unique weapon. But all three bands tonight – in fact all the bands we’ve seen this week – have had something to offer, and should all be proud of themselves in their own way. I gather several of the acts already have plans to take indefinite hiatuses come the Summer when University beckons, but if they do they can go out with their heads held high. And just maybe form new bands at Uni and come back and play at MADCAP again some day! Thanks for listening.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

TURN IT UP Battle of the Bands - Heat # 3

HEAT THREE – Friday night

There’s not really any getting round the fact there weren’t many people there Friday night. With two bands dropping out this time thus halving (at least) the number of fans in attendance, I briefly considered nipping off for a shave and trying to sneak in at the last minute as a battered-looking 19 year old a capella singer. But for the two bands that did show: SuperMassiveMonkeyMen and Northampton’s The Lab Rats, it was a great chance to make Saturday night’s final…


There’s a deceptive ease to the way frontman Myles plays guitar and provides the focus for SuperMassiveMonkeyMen. He comes across as casual and self-deprecating (introducing their best song with an apology that they’ll probably get it wrong!), and appears to be laidback while simultaneously playing what seems to me at least to be pretty complex lead guitar riffs. They’re an indie-punk trio with a dash of scuzzy blues at times – the bass player and drummer form an exceedingly tight, reliable rhythm section for Myles to play over. Despite the circumstances they play a really impressive set, one of the best of the week for me.


It’s difficult to review The Lab Rats without mentioning the Arctic Monkeys – I lost count near the end, but I think 6 or 7 of their 10-song set were covers of Sheffield’s finest. They did them pretty well, don't get me wrong – but it was so Arctics-heavy a set that by the time they played some other stuff I couldn’t get the Arctics out of my head! The singer-rhythm guitar kid seemed to be smashed off his box to start with, mumbling and repeating himself in between the songs, but wasn’t having any problem with the lyrics at least. Their best choon was called “Danny’s Riff”, which had a kind of reggae beat – I’m assuming that one wasn’t a cover, which bodes well for them in the future. They finished with “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” (of course!) and a cover of “Wipeout” which showed how good the drummer was – that one takes stamina!


In the end I think this was one of those weird-vibed gigs that all young bands – and some not so young, I can vouch for that! – have to go through at one stage or another. For the first time this week though I backed a winner – SuperMassiveMonkeyMen sneaked it and take their place in the Grand Final with Knuckle*Down and Hikaru... and it’s anyone’s guess who could take the ultimate crown! I’m looking forward to finding out!

Friday, 23 April 2010

TURN IT UP Battle of the Bands - Heat # 2

HEAT TWO – Thursday night

The curse of the teen bands has struck again and for the second night in a row (and a third tomorrow already confirmed) one of the bands has dropped out, leaving a straight three-way dust-up between Hikaru, The Abyss and Project Wolverine. It’s immediately obvious that the audience appears to be split into two big gangs brought along by the two full bands – so which one has brought the most? Or can the acoustic stylings of Project Wolverine split the vote? Away we go!


In a way, Hikaru are a lot more like I was expecting the bands competing in a 14 – 19 year old Battle of the Bands to sound - I’d describe them as “metally metal”. Brilliantly, they apologise for their second vocalist’s absence – “he does the screams”. The lead vocalist does his best to make up for it though, foot up on the monitor he switches between singing and growling gutturally. But they’re good musicians into the bargain: the drummer and the lead guitarist are particularly noticeable - the rhythms are a barrage, and the widdly soloing produced by the little dude on lead is impressive. Despite the slightly muddy sound, I enjoyed the three songs, particularly the second one which contains a gothy circling riff.

Phil sez: "Dude, I totally missed them! I can't believe they started on time!"


The Abyss have a metal sound too, but it’s a more regimented yet melodic affair. Their mix seems better, their riffs heavier and more precise. I’m struggling to think which band they remind me of when on their fourth song they announce “this is our second System Of A Down cover tonight, this is Chop Suey”. Aha! Overall, their second track was their best, I don’t think that was a SOAD cover – though I did get a bit busy at the bar, so I didn’t see the whole set, just heard it. But there’s a nice balance to their loudness and quietness. Good stuff. Also, they’re all dressed in black except the guitarist on the left who clearly didn’t get the memo!

Phil sez: “Solid alterna-metal, I liked the second song best with the slightly more melodic feel that almost echoed My Bloody Valentine, and the final instrumental closer with the surfy guitar lead.”


Regular Monkey Kettle watchers will know that we have “previous” with the fantastic Project Wolverine, so hopefully this won’t sound too biased. As if already resigned to not winning – he later told us that if he’d got through to the final he’d have struggled to book the night off work! – Proj W is relaxed enough with the audience to banter away, yet also seemingly determined to get through as many songs as he can while he’s on the stage! He manages twelve choons, easily more than the other two bands put together! Many of his classic left-leaning anthems are included, along with a Billy Bragg cover - and he’s even stuck a “Vote Labour” poster on the front monitor! But I’m really pleased to hear his newer songs also contain some even more well-turned lyrics about life and love. In fact my “Tune Of The Night” combines both: “Socialism Is For Lovers”. There’s widespread singing along from the audience, plus a philosophical discussion on the nature of Metaphor. What more could you ask? Coming soon to an Open Mic near you!!! ;-)

Phil sez: “A brilliant almost-headline set from Project Wolverine, with intelligent song writing and a confident performance he won over the crowd with his tales of teenage woe in the Mirror City. If I could choose, he'd have been the winner.”


I don’t think it’ll surprise you that my vote (I made sure I got a voting slip this time!) was for Project Wolverine too, but the biggest army of fans was clearly brought by Hikaru – they join Knuckle*Down in Saturday’s final. Just one slot left – who will join them?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

TURN IT UP Battle of the Bands - Heat # 1

HEAT ONE – Wednesday night

I’m not sure of all the rules to “Turn It Up” – for example in Heat One each band played a different number of songs and were on stage for differing lengths of time! I do know that the acts have to be between 14 and 19, and that many of them hail from MADCAP’s ace Music Project – as do the technical crew, who did a great job with the lights, sound and smoke! Apart from some of the band’s parents and Gawaine who runs the Music Project, me Phil and DJ Mikey seemed to be the only grown-ups in the building! Cripes! Another brilliant example of the self-sufficiency which MADCAP instils in da kidz.

Oh, though I mustn’t forget (of course!) the legendary Baron Makabre who’s our compere for the duration of the competition. I’m sure he won’t mind me describing him as horrific, terrifying and blood-curdling – and the crowd seem to love him! He performs a set of his own while the votes are being counted, and manages to whip up a mosh-pit and a stage invasion!

One of the four acts scheduled to appear are now off the bill, so it’s down to a three-way fight for the first of the Final slots between Knuckle*Down, Soul Of A Kid and Apple And The Core. Let battle commence!


Opening the competition with a hefty funk-rock clatter, “We Are Knuckledown” sets out the band’s stall. The frontman sounds very much like he hails from America, and his semi-rap vocals are definitely the main attraction, he’s a charismatic focal point. They cleverly manage to give us their complete MySpace address in the intro to their first song - now that's media-savvy! But it’s their third and final song which is the stand-out, adding a dark melody to the beef.

Phil sez: “Down tuned funk metal with attitude! Every song stands out on its own but its their last song that really shines and grooves with an unlikely Joy Division vibe.”


Soul Of A Kid are an acoustic duo, George & Manny. Both have genuinely touching soul-infused voices, and while George strums Manny sings and jerks his arms seemingly uncontrollably – like he’s got Tourettes of the limbs! Their second song is a cover of Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved”, which goes down really well with the crowd, who sing along so enthusiastically I’m moved to ask Phil “dude… when did it become okay to like Maroon 5 again? Did I miss a meeting?” Their best song is their third one too, “Hope”, where Manny (hopefully I’ve got the two the right way round) raps the verses, it’s an effective mix.

Phil sez: “Intelligent, emotional and quite beautiful, they certainly bring some soul to the evening.”


Remarkably, this is Apple And The Core’s first ever gig – having amalgamated together as a band specifically for this competition and the few months they have left before they all leave for University! Their main skill is their multi-instrumentalism: between the five of them over their five-song set they incorporate: vocals, acoustic guitar, bass, beatboxing, bongos, violin, flute, oboe, piano-keyboard and the ukulele! The resulting mix is a refreshing folky orchestral pop sound, and lead singer & songwriter Philippa’s voice is very strong. The best track of the entire night comes on their second song, “Sirens”, apparently based on her A Level History homework! The only quibble you could have is that their sheer variety of instrument playing makes for a few gaps while they all switch around – but otherwise an impressively mature sound. I wish them all well in their Higher Education! :-D

Phil sez: “If I could choose the winner it'd be these guys! The songs are more engaging than Bat For Lashes… this is intelligent pop music backed by staggeringly talented multi-instrumentalists.”

The winners are... Knuckle*Down! I think I personally preferred Apple And The Core too, but you can’t argue with Democracy!