live review ~ shizz the fest 2014 ~ limelight 1, belfast ~ part 1

by 11:09

To take eight of the countries most exciting local bands and provide a platform as culturally significant as Belfast's Limelight for them, was always going to be an audacious challenge. Then again, for local music promoter and music affectionado Jonny McKee (founder and MD of the much loved Shizznigh Promotions) the idea of anything less than captivating is a foreign concept. Here we saw the results of a Summer's worth of organisation, culminating in some memorable performances and many more memories.

Arriving at Belfast's Limelight 1 at the respectable time of 6:45 sadly proved too late to catch mysterious openers The Racks early introduction. Thanking those who had caught the dawn of the cities newest local music festival, the band soon claimed they were 'Off to get drunk' after criticising themselves all to harshly. On the contrary, the only aspect up for critique lay in the turn-out, a dedicated but dwindling collective who were treated to a barrage of indie rock, inspired by it's arthouse forefathers. Indeed, the intelligent lyricism and melody which flowed through much of The Racks set was a pleasure to witness, even if the stage presence lacked a certain desire. Having said that, performing to an empty cavern of lackluster applause was never going to be a great motivator. A fine effort under difficult circumstances, it's important The Racks bounce back from this.

Despite our deserved reputation as a country punching well above our musical weight, even the most hardened local music fanatic (of which we have many) would be hard pressed to explain just what we've done to deserve In An Instant. The Bangor born four piece once again showcased their passion and talent in a set of pulsating electricity. Each time they take to the stage, the sparks of something very special return brighter than before; a rare quality indeed. The already epic 'Keep On Moving With Your Heart In Place' highlights the sonic maturity of a band surely not far off very big things indeed.

Sadly for electro-pop trio Loris, the cavern of an empty dance floor once again became a reality at the start of their set. Rather than deter them, instead this seemed to inspire the ambient dream weavers, front woman Frances Mitchell in particular fine voice throughout. Imploring a Bastille dynamic with synth overtones, the Kate Bush-esque vocals float eerily over syncopated rhythms. The further they push their boundaries, the more you really begin to appreciate Loris, a band of quiet brilliance.

Following Loris came the swirling whirlwind of The Couth, a band emerging from a punk transition with impressive results. Songs like 'Down By The River', 'Suck My Honey' and 'Cycles' now sway with an increasingly comfortable snarl, no better captured than in the furious bass lines of Matthew McCrum. The band seem to embrace the might of a larger stage with ease, frontman Dave McCrum needing no encouragement to scream into the mic at every opportunity. The Clash like menace compliments the bands youthful verve, resulting in songs as rambunctiously enjoyable as their EP title track 'Bloodbreaker'. The highlight of the set came in it's finale, 'We Spent The Night Together', a song of cautious sentiment which clearly means a lot to the band.

Part 2 // Coming Soon

Taylor Johnson

For all official band news, follow the links below⁞►

The Racks ~ For fans of: The Strypes, The Fratellis

In An Instant ~ For fans of: Two Door Cinema Club, Snow Patrol, U2

Loris ~ For fans of: Bastille, CHVRCHES

The Couth ~ For fans of: The Clash, The Strokes, Sex Pistols

ep review ~ fleabites ~ 'keep it clean'

by 21:33

A first listen to Belfast hooligans 'Fleabites' seems the musical equivalent of a hit from a bag of strategically placed magic mushrooms. Wild, reckless and unashamedly intoxicating. The experimental  two-piece (made up of Tommy Haghighi and Jake Thompson) combine their love of guitar driven rock music and flamboyant party lifestyles to create a sound quite unlike anything we at Encore have ever experienced before.

Fleabites are emerging from an underground scene so frighteningly niche, it would be unsurprising to see even Belfast's hipsters running away to the safety of their Bombay Bicycle Club bed covers at the sight of it. There's no room for fakery here.

Apparently the result of a wild holiday to war-torn Ukraine and Russia (yes, while things were kicking off), the eccentricities and decadent pride expressed within Fleabites debut EP 'Keep It Clean'  are so original it has spawned a new and unexplored genre; 'new wave-love-disco'. However, carrying the weight of a newly formed indie scene entirely on one's shoulders is no easy task, and with an image already as clearly defined as 'Fleabites', how would the music hold up against the myth?

Opener 'Steph' blasts into focus like a lone gun shot, penetrating the delicate interlude of what sounds like a coughing fit. The next three minutes of frantic wordplay blends harmoniously with Fleabites pacy back beats, creating a whirlwind of unapologetic rap/grunge that shines brighter than most for it's almost breathtakingly beautiful simplicity. "When you're feeling down don't despair, cause everybody's been there"

Add to this an 'OK Computer' era-Radiohead guitar solo and the manic insanity of a chilling Nirvana whistle and you have an originality more compelling than this country has experienced in quite some time. In fact, 'Steph's slower interlude carries much of it's own homegrown gravitas, a tribute to it's creators clear passion for their art.

'Demon Potato' see's the story of our intrepid hero's take on the might of a haunted vegetable, in a song so daring it would see 'The Flight Of The Concords' immediately cancelled from HBO. With Fleabites entrancing shoegaze stamped  all over this one minute tour-de-force and it's genius 'lyrics' pulsating through every verse, it's not ridiculous to imagine Noel Fielding and his Mighty Boosh co-stars singing the same song on stage at The Velvet Onion in future-Camden. Well, it is ridiculous, but then so is a song which manages to depict a potato as 'sexual', 'slippery', 'arousing' and 'filthy' in but one short verse.

'Efficiency' see's Fleabites metal characteristics come bubbling to the surface, in a track of pure hatred and unadulterated frustration. And yet, even this is a pleasure to behold. Beyond the parody potential of a band like 'Fleabites' Haghighi's clean vocals actually provide a solid anchor for this song, gliding over the barrage of anger to remind the listener that 'never leaving the room to pee [sic]' is the definition of 21st century efficiency.

The brilliantly named 'Fish?' see's the band take another surreal turn into what can only be described as dream-art-punk. An 80's styled synth falls like rainfall over the surrealist thunder which brews beneath it. At times, it's doom-laden misery conjures thoughts of genuine sadness. Until possibly the greatest lyric of all time ends proceedings.

"I am an evil fish, I come from the future"

Fleabites Gothic Symphony comes to a conclusion with the fantastic 'Swiss Army Duck', an acoustic driven track featuring the genius guest appearance of Jennifer Wright. It poses the question of just how powerful is this yet undiscovered scene? When a band can pluck such fitting and enjoyable cameos from seemingly out of nowhere and witness a coming together as natural as this, it often proves to be very promising indeed. 'Swiss Army Duck' also proves a fitting closer, an ode to the freedom of 'not giving a fuck' and embracing the pains of simple existence.

On this evidence Fleabites have all the ingredients to cement their name into a very exclusive club. Though the hearts and minds of the mainstream top 40 may be beyond them, with the right run of gigs and support from the underground scene which has raised them, we may be about to witness the birth of local legends.

Not that they'll give a fuck.

Taylor Johnson

For all official 'Fleabites' news click the links below:


live review ~ jagermeister battle of the bands semi final ~ villanova junction, robocobra quartet, treehome, plague artists ~ pavilion, belfast

by 17:50

The infamous 'Battle of the Bands'  competition is in most circumstances, a contentious issue. Disappointment and frustration can very easily transform itself to tales of foul play, tampered votes and the dreaded 'cliques' culture that has destroyed many a promising music scene across Britain. This years Jägermeister sponsored re-issue is, thankfully, another example of Belfast's progress as a nation of compassion, as each band and artist present encourages eachother throughout the rigorous process. This week's second semi-final through up another intriguing blend of talent, from the angst driven alt-rock of final act Plague Artists, to the wondrous desolation of Robocobra Quartet.

 It certainly promised to be a memorable evening...

Despite the good natured grace of our proud music scene, it would be naive to assume any of these semi-finalists would be willing to open the bill in competitive terms. Unfortunately that task fell to Villanova Junction, a blues-inspired, power trio seemingly on a mission to alter the indie-pop landscape of their hometown Bangor. Songs like 'Kill The Beast' show a band not short on confidence nor riffs, a potentially manic combination with the right development. With their brash Americanisms and complete disregard for anything but the song they happen to be playing at the time, Villanova Junction are one song about beer away from capturing the ill-fated Trucker Diablo's crown as future veteran headliners of The Diamond Rock Club (possibly forever).

Following Villanova Junction's tidal wave of DIY rock came the mysterious Robocobra Quartet, a band who don't demand your respect as much as they command it. Fierce, spoken word rap compositions are floated over a peculiar mixture of engrossing bass grooves and avant-garde horn sections. Drummer Chris Ryan is the complete performer, charming, self-assured and incredibly knowledgeable about his passion. All this from behind the confines of a drum kit and yet he remains the unquestionable frontman, a rare feat indeed. Robocobra Quartet's Sargent Pepper-esque peculiarities spark distant memories of obscure indie legends Nosferatu D2 . To say much of their set conjured thoughts of what a mental breakdown may sound like is absurd. Though it may be the most accurate way to describe this exciting anomaly. 

To capture a near capacity crowds attention from the opening number is an extraordinary accomplishment. To do so at the young age of funk-heavy trio Treehome is something else altogether. Never compromising their resolute mantra of entertainment at all times, Treehome's light hearted grooves are made all the more engrossing through frontman Ben Flavelle-Cobain's pure charisma. Soulful riffs take a translucent back seat to the 80's inspired melodies that dominate much of the local lads set, though they remain a valuable weapon in their arsenal. Groove-drenched original 'Keep Our Loving Discreet' remains a highlight, while a cover of Bill Withers classic 'Just The Two Of Us'  invoked more sing-along optimism. The maturity of this band will only continue to make the right impressions as they progress.

Sadly for final act Plague Artists, the usual safe haven of the last performance slot proved more of a burden than a positive. As Treehome disembarked, so too did many of their large entourage and as such, much of the crowd. This minor-setback didn't detract them from their goal however, as they bombarded those who remained with a barrage of American influenced alternative-grunge. Opening with a song taking more than a hint of inspiration from Foo Fighter's 'Monkey Wrench', Plague Artists continued to maintain their adrenaline and focus throughout a set in increasingly difficult circumstances. Punchy and affirming, you got the feeling this was a band more suited to the grungy confines of Fountain Street's Voodoo than The Pavilion's alt-roots. In all, Plague Artist's could do no more and while no one seemed overly determined to test that theory, it was an admirable performance.

The beckoning end of the evening saw Robocobra Quartet and Treehome advance to the final. A deserving result in a difficult group. Through the scene of handshakes and congratulations, there may have been a slight undertone of frustration; but even so, the success of this competition is undeniable.

You can hear Robocobra Quartet & Treehome competing in the competitions final on Wednesday 6th August, alongside singer-songwriter Ryan McMullan and alt-rock act The Titanics.

Taylor Johnson 
For more information on each of the acts, click the links below⁞►

Villanova Junction: Facebook.
Robocobra Quartet: Facebook, Official Record Label & EP
Treehome: Facebook
Plague Artists: Facebook, Bandcamp, Twitter
(The unrelenting passion of Robocobra Quartet saw them progress to the final...Photo's courtesy of The Pavilion, Belfast)
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