Sorry about last week. Kristin is still taking some time off, though she will be back soon (no one is more excited about this than I am). And while I had intended to keep things running here without interruption, a combination of factors both technical and personal (including, but not limited to, the fact that my laptop keeps dying bit by bit, every time I turn it on) led me to conclude that it was time I took some time off as well, though I’m sure you were all glad to be rid of me for a week anyway. But I am back now, and just in time, because there is something very exciting brewing in the near future, and you need to know about it.
Remember Dan Holloway, our reliable and, more importantly, brilliant guest contributor? Well, when we first introduced you to him, I believe we also mentioned that he was the organizer of the upcoming Free-e-day festival. After months of work, it’s about to blow up — next Tuesday, 1 December, to be precise.
What is Free-e-day? It’s a celebration of everything that is good (and FREE!) about indie culture the world over. In a genre that becomes increasingly hard to define as a result of it’s diversity, one thing remains consistent: the love of creating for the sake of creating. And on Tuesday, gathered in one place and for one purpose, you will have an opportunity to explore these labors of love from the comfort of your own desk chair or bed or toilet (the internet is a magical place). For 48 hours you will have access, free of charge, to some of the best emerging artists, writers, poets, and musicians in the world. Check the Free-e-day blog for more details.
Sarah E. Melville, a brilliant artist and writer, will be giving away her poetry collection Improper Love Poems About Fruits. I was only introduced to Sarah’s work last week via the Year Zero Writers page and fell instantly in love. If you are not completely ravished by her work, you are probably a robot or a Thomas Kinkade enthusiast.
Year Zero Writers will be offering their collection of 13 short stories entitled Brief Objects of Beauty and Despair. They are a collective who produce some excruciatingly gorgeous writing. If you’ve never read any, now would be a good time start.
And, of course, our dear friend Dan Holloway will be offering a pdf of his novel Songs From the Other Side of the Wall. Dan will also be taking part in a live event in Oxford that evening (that’s England, not Ohio or Mississippi) which will also feature the music of Mol Hodge, Nikki Loy, and The Joker and the Thief.
September 10th was a big night when two of my favourite places, the music world and the twitterverse, collided. A few miles down the road at London Bridge, the London Twestival, headlined by no less than The Hours, was opening its doors. But I was at a far more important gig, at The Good Ship in Kilburn, the first ever #twittergig (to make sure you don’t miss future ones, keep checking the twittergig hashtag), organised and hosted by, and headlining, To The Moon.
No other band more personifies the eccentric, creative, interactive and, let’s face it, slightly bonkers world of twitter. The two-man alt-electronica combo of mJ and Dennis advertise themselves as “preparing for the worst by evacuating earth and heading To The Moon”. They greet each new follower on twitter with salutes, and regularly report in on their mission status. They make Muse look like Internet amateurs. Which is the reason I was there rather than down the road (er, the fact The Hours were headlining admittedly played its part, after I’d stood through their self-important twaddle when they supported Kasabian’s recent UK tour) at a do that had, from what I could see, about 8 corporate sponsors. Yes, Twestival was for charity, and I hope it was a success, but it’s not very twitter!
It’s not the first time I’d met the musical side of twitter – the previous Thursday about 10 of us had swapped usernames at an InLight concert. But it’s the first time I’d met a band I’d come across there, and what I discovered just reinforced my opinions of the twitterverse. I’d interviewed mJ and Dennis a couple of months ago for my regular blog column, and they were (there WILL be puns) out of this world, on another planet even. So I was delighted to be told, on arrival, having flashed my twitter boarding pass for a pound off, that I could find mJ “up there, trying on his space suit”.
Dennis, against a backdrop of a 1950s rocket console, was opening the evening with a DJ set that was perfectly spacey and trippy, with the occasional whir and roar that sounded like an engine launching. mJ, meanwhile, was on the balcony with his girlfriend, sewing felt and calico and bits of tubing together. It looked like his girlfriend’s mate was on the stage, doing some kind of performance ritual. It transpired she was trying to fit a fluorescent lighting strip to the floor to make the stage look even more like a spaceship.
Dennis’ set merged seamlessly into Rabid Gravy’s. I must confess, I was actually rather nervous about meeting someone who calls himself Rabid Gravy (I just couldn’t get school dinners out of my head!), and whose avatar is a dog with red eyeballs munching on a syringe. More worryingly still, Mr Gravy (no relation to Woodstock’s Wavy, I believe) bore more than a passing resemblance to the dog in question. It was hard to tell which of them had been cooked up in a Photoshop session. Which is probably appropriate for a cybergig.
Once I got over the sample of nails scratching an electronic blackboard, Rabid Gravy’s music blew me away. It was quite clear this was something different. Something very serious (he even, albeit in a DM, used the word prog when I tweeted him the next day). And VERY good. He played two sequences of about 15 minutes each. The first was, on the surface, light, built around an electro-glockenspiel sound that had elements of the music from Heidi, and felt decidedly Alpine throughout (I’m sure at times it was mimicking the sound of human yodelling). The second was an altogether different beast, like a Steve Reich take on an East Berlin Stasi torture brothel. It was dark, distant, full of screams rising from oubliettes and interrupted noises, shot through with decadent Salon Kitty eroticism. Taken together, it felt like Gravy had taken us on a musical tour of the dark side of 20th century Europe.
Needing some air, I went out to chat with mJ and Dennis before their set. I asked them why Twittergig was, in their opinion, better than the Twestival. “Well,” said mJ, “they won’t be beset by technical difficulties! And they won’t be fighting on through challenging hair!”
When we went back inside, I asked to be introduced to a guy who’d been intriguing me. He was about 6 foot, dressed in a black polo neck with a shock of white hair, clearly intended to make him look (with uncanny success) like a pre-pubescent Andy Warhol. He turned out to be a steampunk jeweller called Pete.
By now it was time for the star (er, planet, er, spheroid lunar body) turn. The whole place felt like the inside of a spaceship, or a substance-distorted encounter with a Rocky Horror troupe on a dark night in, again, East Berlin. Hmm, there’s a theme emerging. To the Moon emerged garbed in lab-coat and space-suit respectively, and launched (damnit with the puns!) into a set that was, in its way, as experimental as anything from Mr Gravy. The interstellar theme permeates the lyrics and electronic but it’s suffused with enough cross-genre references (yes, that IS Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds at the start of A Halo, although he denied it when I asked him!) to keep anyone satisfied. Combine it with a trippy filmic backdrop and the effect is enough to wrap every one of your senses in a gigtacular spacepod and allow you, for one night only, to transcend the dull confines of your usual events.
Back to why twittergig 9/10 outshines any twestival, and in mJ’s words, “it’s like a gig, only there’s not a guitar amp or a drum kit in the building!” No, but there IS a spaceship, a bunch of buggered lighting, and a steampunk jeweler called Pete.
Dan Holloway talks to Todd Howe of The Boxer Rebellionas the UK’s best Indie band prepares to play North America
I was tired and cold and sopping wet, and the only seat on the Tube was covered with a dog-eared copy of Metro. I put on my gloves, picked it up by the corner with a look of disgust, and caught sight of a small article halfway down the page about a London band. In the few months since then, my wife and I have been to see The Boxer Rebellion four times, and acquired every piece of merch we can lay our hands on. Which, I gathered from guitarist Todd Howe, isn’t unusual for the band’s fans. “Yeah, we’ve had one guy who’s followed us around the country for five years,” he said in his cool Australian drawl when I spoke to him at home, between gigs. “Which is pretty cool.”
That original articlerecounted how the band’s single,Evacuate,had become the first iTunes Single of the Week (the album, Union, making the iTunes top 5 in the UK and the US). All that without a record label (they were dropped by their label in 2005 the week their first album, Exits, a dark, claustrophobic masterpiece that became an underground sensation, was released) or, indeed, a physical recording. Union, in fact (a few special, tour-only CDs, one signed copy of which is a proud possession, aside), isn’t released as a CD until August.
So what is it that makes fans so crazy for what has to be the hottest band in the UK right now, to the extent Evacuate achieved 560,000 downloads in a week? I wonder if it’s something to do with their unique sound. “We started off aiming at something between Massive Attack and Muse,” says Todd. What they ended up with is a sound that’s 100% their own. The combination of frontman Nathan Nicholson’s powerful but haunting vocals (think Richard Ashcroft gone down to the Crossroads) on songs like Silent Movie, the infectious hook of Forces, and the brilliant layering and structure of Semi-Automatic, give their music both instant appeal and the ability to stand endless relistening.
The band also has an incredible stage presence, and their gigs in front of their home London crowds are just electric. “Our London gigs have a family atmosphere,” says Todd. A family like The Sopranos, maybe. The night I saw the band play Scala, they sent the crowd berserk, and Todd ended up playing the guitar meltdown at the end of their signature track Watermelon on his back, on top of someone who later became my twitterbuddy! It helps build the relationship with the fans that they always sell their own merch and have a drink with the fans after the show “Yeah, we can’t afford a merch guy,” Todd laughs, adding, “Sometimes we spend longer selling merch than we do playing the gig.” It’s something the band loves doing, and it enhances the sense of being part of a family – or, given the band’s history, part of a story.
The Boxer Rebellion will be playing The Mercury Lounge, New York on August 6, and The Mod Club Toronto, on August 8, andthe three shows they’ve played in the US so far this year – their first US dates – have been sellouts. But the band almost toured America before, supporting The Killers in 2004, when Nicholson was struck down with an illness that took a year to recover from. It clearly means a lot to the band to be playing there at last. “When we finished Flashing Red Light Means Go (the thumping set opener, to which the band – Nathan, Todd, and bassist Adam – make their rock’n’roll entrance – “but you feel like a bit of an idiot if you’re playing to like 10 people,” Todd jokes – whilst drummer Piers builds momentum) in LA the crowd just went mental. It was awesome.” I could sense both the pride, and the relief in his voice.
Between shows, the band is currently writing and recording their third album, which must be a little weird, I suggest, when they haven’t actually released the second one. “We want to make sure we stay ahead of the game,” says Todd, quickly. The band have had it all taken away before, and it’s clear they’re going to do everything they can to avoid it happening a second time.
The Boxer Rebellion embody everything that makes Indie culture great, from their unique sound to their absolute commitment to their fans (“if people are paying that much money, we want to make sure they get a hell of a show,” says Todd when I ask him about their unusually high quality of support acts, which have included the outstanding electro-prog band Pure Reason Revolution, and “the best unsigned band in Britain” according to many, InLight). But what about the clincher. Anything in the pipeline in terms of a label? “We’ve done a licensing deal in Japan and New Zealand,” says Todd, “and we’ve got a great distributor in Europe, so technically I guess we’re no longer unsigned.” Nonetheless, he explains, “we made a collective decision we didn’t need a label. If we were going to change our minds and look at anyone, they’d have to follow the way we wanted to work.” The kings of UK Indie look set to retain that status for some time to come.
Dan Holloway is author of the novel Songs From the Other Side of the Wall, a founder member of the Year Zero Writers collective, and organiser of the Free-e-day Indie download festival. Based in the UK, he will be speaking at the annual conference of the Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture Association in Boston this November.
Guess what guys! If you work at a semi-normal workplace, you get Friday off, so today is sort of like … not Wednesday, and tomorrow is sort of like Friday!
And it’s “listen to indie music and have a great Wednesday”, which is my new name for “follow an indie band Wednesday” because I’m getting tired of calling it that. I’m not very big on commitment. That’s okay, though, because this day allows me to be as random as I need to be. So with that, I have some highlights and some housekeeping things for you today!
1. 5 months f rom today, December 1st, is Free-E-Day, which is an online indie culture festival being hosted by Year Zero Writers. This is a pretty freaking awesome idea, and I hope to see it come to fruition in an even more brilliant way than anyone expects. Basically, artists will contribute books, music, photography, etc etc etc, and they will be available to the public for free! If you’re an artist, this is a great way for you to put your stuff out there, and if you’re a lover of the arts (as Eric and I most definitely are), this is a great way to find something new and groundbreaking. For more information, check out the website here. Also, remember that when you talk about it, you have to say it sort of like this: “FreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Day!” It’s much more fun that way, trust me.
2. Right now I am listening to Library Voices. I’ve been coming to a realization…it’s like waking up from a dream…that I have a thing for Canadian music. How to describe them? They’ve got the tension between playfulness and self-awareness that we all admire about the Magnetic Fields, with a brilliantly indie-pop sound and a free but catchy structure, which isn’t the easiest balance in the world to accomplish. Their little a cappella melody at the beginning of “Drinking Games” is precious, and they also clap and ooh and aah and count off in Spanish and reference The Unbearable Lightness of Being and make the synths sound cool. Yeah, that’s hot.
3. 5 days till the new Slow Club album! Yeah So will be released on July 6, 2009, and somehow I just know it’s going to be the most wonderful thing you’ve heard all year so far. Can you believe it’s already July? Yeah, me neither. I can’t keep up. Anyway, let me tell you what Yeah So is going to be like. Charles and Rebecca are going to charm you with their vocal chemistry and their playful, creative, honest lyrics. You’ll dance around even if you never dance, you’ll blast it from your car even though folk is not usually blasted, and you will make all of your friends listen to it. Some tracks may also make you cry. And if you have ever listened to the musical The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown, which is probably like…one of you…”Sorry About the Doom” is going to sound like “I’m Still Hurting.” And if you check out “Dance Till the Morning Light” on their myspace, there is going to be an even better version. Jus’ sayin’. On Monday you better invest a few bucks in this album, because if Paste magazine comes to their senses, it will be on the top-25 list of 2009 at least.
4. Another gem of FAIBW is Ra Ra Riot. They’re from Syracuse but they have a bit of a London sound, reminiscent of the Kooks. Violin and cello are prominent elements of their distinct ethereal indie rock, and even though the lyrics are kind of weird, they’re also pretty cool. I should have more to say about them, but I am getting antsy.
5. Here is a video of Slow Club to get you excited about the new album (if my writing isn’t exciting enough for you). “Because You Are Dead” will be on it!