Friday, 24 October 2008

Pop Polaroids:Black Kids at Birmingham Academy

This was a night that seemed far more surprising for the band than it did for the audience:

2 songs in: "This is our first time in Birming-ham, please be gentle"

3 songs in: "Wow... what day is this? Wednesday? This is a Wednesday night! You people sure are wild"

This comment acted as a call-to-arms to the crowd, prompting the band to play the rest of the set with a expressions veering between concern and a blank lack of understanding as a circle opened a few feet from the stage into which overexcited 14-year-olds and one really fucked man in his thirties and, inexplicably, a white vest threw themselves.

This could be interpreted as a physical response to the truly awful support in the shape of the Magistrates - with anger only intensified by the absence of promised support act Ladyhawke, to whom the Magistrates vapid falsetto-pop was an insult.

On the other hand it could be seen as a misguidedly positive response to the headliners, whose chunks of synth-drenched 80s influenced pop were just as lively as they are on record. Siblings Reggie and Ali Youngblood (vocals and guitars, and keys and backing vocals respectively) provide the main force of the band's live show, performing with the enthusiasm of true stars, with the rest of the band paling in comparison. "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You" was the tune of the night, the sound of an original Cure tribute - timely as Robert Smith's seminal outfit are about to receive an NME Godlike Genius Award. Are the Black Kids just 80s revivalists riding a fashionable wave? From the evidence of the first album, yes - but it is a thrilling wave nonetheless.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Eclectricity Festival at the Custard Factory

Last Saturday night bought a good cross-section of the city down for a mind-blowing lineup of DJs and MCs spread over the full site of the Custard Factory. We arrived around midnight and moved quickly through the queue to the main area, catching Chase and Status, an excellent late addition to the lineup and obviously riding high on the critical acclaim aimed at their recently released debut album. For the next few hours we flitted between the drum n bass room, the ridiculously packed bar and the 'luxury heated outdoor tent' (or some collection of words like that) where Annie Mac was pulling out tracks like the incredible Duke Dormont Reconstruction of Mystery Jet's Two Doors Down, which gets away with sounding like a slowed down version of New Born by Muse by being a hauntingly brilliant slice of house.

Unfortunately the 'Mac was also a little quick to turn to crowd-pleasers like a dance remix of Killing in the Name, so the arrival of Simian Mobile Disco's incredibly blonde Jas Shaw was very welcome. His drops were perfect - including a tantalisingly extended mix of Hustler - and, if reports of the disappointing show from Scratch Perverts and the huge queue to get into the 'luxury tent' are to believed, Simian was easily the act of the night. All that was left was for Utah Saints to mop up the remaining couple of hours with a relatively downbeat groove. Moments of the night go to that Mystery Jets remix, the friend of a friend who mistook my hand for that of the girl dancing behind him and gently held it for a small portion of the Simian set, and a hazy walk home through light rain falling on a slumbering Birmingham.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Foals and Holy Fuck at Birmingham Academy

One song in to Foals' set at Birmingham Academy last night and, during a great show of lights and leaps from singer Yannis Philippakis, the guitarist's amp blew. A failure of substance behind a bright presentation provides a convenient metaphor for the band's output. With choppy rhythmic devices and appearances in Channel 4's Skins and on Kitsune Maison compilations it would be easy to slap Foals with the label of 'sound of a generation.' Easy, were it not the case that these appearances are just that, a veneer of invention that masks the lack of originality or excitement in their songs.

However, 'all style and no substance' is a familiar accusation for pop acts, and something that has been dealt with by a variety of argumentative stances, including the idea of the necessary uselessness of art and, less esoterically, the amount of enjoyment and meaning that pop music brings to vast amounts of people. The latter was certainly evident last night as the student-heavy crowd lapped up all the band had to offer, you can only hope that they weren't all taking it too seriously.

As if arguments such as the necessary uselessness of art and the creation of meaning and enjoyment for others weren't enough, support act Holy Fuck provided a polar opposite to Foals' pop posturing. At the beginning of their set I was most excited about hearing lead single Lovely Allen live, but when it arrived, inevitably as an encore, it sounded weak in comparison to the brilliance of the rest of the set. There were no unnecessary distractions; the band members faced each other as if reluctant to leave a pre-gig huddle, and vocals were kept to a bare minimum, filtered and distorted. This meant that the expansive and carefully layered mixture of crystal-clear melodies, wailing electronics and primal rhythms, was everything. There was a sense that the audience could have stumbled in accidentally to a throbbing, dusty room where the band had been playing all day, and would carry on regardless.

A set containing tracks as insistently amazing as The Pulse, however, should be heard by as many people as possible, so it can only be a good thing if a few more of Birmingham's students found themselves inadvertently crashing Holy Fuck's commune.