INDIE DAZE – London Forum 01 October 2016 – Bentley Rhythm Ace, Gaye Bykers On Acid, JimBob, Pop Will Eat Itself, Echobelly, EMF
By now a regular fixture in my gig calendar, the first weekend in October sees an all day indoor minifestival, the kind of thing that would sell out Reading Festival some years, and probably – for people my age – the highlight of my gig year.
By year three, Indie Daze isn't just an excuse to go and see bands, but an opportunity to see friends. (I'm going to count up how many people I know are here.. give me an hour – well, about 50 anyway.)
When I was younger, you only knew people in your town. Or in a town near you, at any rate. These days, the world is a much smaller place. (Given which, my step count from the show is 24,020 ; or about three days regular walking). Everyone seems to know people from everywhere, with some of us flying from America, or Switzerland. It's a case of not making arrangements, but just kind of knowing people who will be there and seeing them.
Aside from all of that, there's a chance, a feeling of ticking off the bucket list a number of things. If you missed a band way back when, you might very well be able to do so here. Whilst there's a common thread and a core constituency, with the exception of Pop Will Eat Itself (who have played here more than once), each year has a completely different lineup.
The first band I see are Bentley Rhythm Ace (for today, a trio, with Richard March and Fuzz of PWEI and James from EMF), who are, as always, an enjoyable. Whilst the band are normally a quartet, today they're one man down, and in this day and age, kids, jobs, and age make music the thing that you fit in around the other stuff, so a temporary absence is excusable. Not that you would necessarily know : Fuzz plays the drums like he's the best drummer in the world. (I've seen over a thousand gigs, and seen him in four bands - and he is). Bentleys play with a instrumental fury deriving from nothing more, and nothing less, than an ambition to make a racket of utter joy. Lacking an agenda, any lyrical content, or anything, the approach is simple fun. It works, utterly. Whilst at the end there's no lasting memory, and no sense of having had anything meaningful happen, it's still an overall moment of simple, pure, fun. And nothings ever wrong with that.
Indoors, it's mid-afternoon. There's friends to meet. Drinks to drink. Ramblechats to ramblechat about. By 4pm, it's time for the final Gaye Bykers On Acid show. After a 25 year hiatus, GBOA return for a handful of small shows ending with this, an hour in front of around 2,000 people. The show is determinded, committed, a way of ending the band the way bands should end, not with a whimper – but a bang. It's loud, and tight, and excusing the fact that every song is at least a quarter century old, as relevant now as ever. History is a hard thing to forget, but it's wise not to be beholden to it. Knowing the world as it is, this isn't their last shows. But who knows?
Breaking a two year live silence, JimBob – the gorgeously erudite voice of Carter USM – marks his first solo post-Carter-USM-absolutely-final-split with a set of just him and a guitar, a man and his voice, and his best known songs. Therefore, these are almost all Carter songs – with the exception of the cover of “The Impossible Dream” that became a Carter USM showstopper. Even some of the lesser known songs – the wonderful and very, very rarely played “Johnny Cash” from 1997 – are received with open arms.
Pop Will Eat Itself are next. This is the nearest thing to a 30th Anniversary show you can get : Fuzz Townsend is back on drums, and The Buzzard (the bands one-time guitarist who can seemingly play anything, was in some live lineups and on all the albums), are here. Alongside core member Graham Crabb, Mary Byker, and Davey Benett on bass, what you see is the nearest, and most historically representative lineup Pop Will Eat Itself have had in a very long time. I admit to being harsh on the bands new lineup in 2011, and having seen at least a dozen shows by the new lineup, the Graham-Mary version of the band are a good, strong live act. Though, to be honest, oldskool PWEI are, undoubtedly one of my favourite bands of all fucking time, and seeing most of the 'classic' lineup again is exciting. New PWEI have a somewhat rotating lineup (they've had 4 drummers and 3 guitarists and 2 bass players in the past five years across the tours, as much a reflection of the fact that the real world and other commitments keep getting in the way as anything else), but all of the times I've seen them … with the exception of when I saw them the week before I was hospitalised with double pneumonia … they've always captured and maintained the spirit of the band. But this. This is probably the best PWEI lineup I've seen in 11 years. And the best gig(s). *
There's new stuff (2 songs each from New Noise Designed By A Sadist and last years Anti-Nasty League). There's some pissing and moaning from people that want these bands to be an indie time machine, frozen forever in 1992. Saying that the band shouldn't do new songs, because this isn't that kind of gig. The band are not your bitch, and if you're not paying attention to the new stuff, that's not their fault, but yours. There's old stuff. There's Fuzz, who I think is the best drummer on the planet, and who plays with a swing and fluency that most drummers dream of (He also uses a sequencer failure the following night in Bilston to plug his garage). The Buzzard fronts the guitars with a 7 string Inabenez and a boatload of effects pedals, that gives the band a furious chainsaw sound that utterly fits. Not, by the way, that Adam Mole or Tim Muddiman don't fit. Just that this attack seems to give the band a slightly different approach that is refreshing. Graham Crabb and Mary Byker bounce off each other as a perfect foil.
Given that this is also 30 years since the band first came into being, it's fitting that both Richard March (bass) and Adam Mole (guitars) rejoin the band for three songs – Def Con One, Auslander, and Wise Up Sucker. This then, is the nearest to a PWEI reunion in over a decade : the band's final 1996 lineup minus Clint, with Graham and Mary. What's important here is recognising the band and also going forward to the future. And, if I'm honest, standing in a room with 2000 mostly middle-aged people dancing like mad bastards and singing lots of very very rude words is great fun. In my world, this band should be headlining Wembley Stadium whilst The Stone Roses are playing predictable 'album-in-full' gigs at the Folkestone Leas Cliff instead of mining a bankrupt stadium nostalgia bullshit tour.
In the meantime, Pop Will Eat Itself are playing one the best gigs I've ever seen them do. They are, and were, the much under-appreciated amalgamation of the best influences you could have and at least, at least, as influential as The Beastie Boys. And much bloody better. Oh yeah, and the crowd seemingly become a sweaty flood of excitable people that know how to be at a gig without filming everyfuckingthing to Tweet on their Periscope later. Its a joyous celebration that overshadows near enough every other band of the day.
(*I see them the night after, on an underpopulated Sunday in Bilston, which is pretty much my favourite PWEI experience since the frankly incredible 2005 minitour.)
Second place, and following PWEI, are Echobelly. Their approach and material is more... considered than the full on gonzo batshit crazy of PWEI, and thus, there's a sense of the atmosphere drilling down. Like that quiet bit in a movie, the few minutes breather between two big battles, Echobelly have a subdued response and a lower pitch of material that is more thoughtful and considered. It's a credit to the Mute Elephant crew to broaden the days lineup, to add unexpected acts, to widen the years of the day and to show that 'indie' reflects many years and many styles. As long as we don't get the musical amoeba that are Shed Fucking Seven, I'm good.
EMF, meanwhile, are the headline act. With only their third show in six years, and a reputation to defend, this sees the part time band celebrating 25 years of their debut Schubert Dip. It's an under-rated record that got lost in the critical mire when Nevermind came forth as a Cultural Year Zero. Mortality aside – the sadly missed Zac on bass – it's the original lineup of the band that stayed together throughout their entire existence. Ian Dench – the bands Noel Gallagher, to be honest – is back on guitar. And whilst the band had their career cut short by a cruel tide of press brutalism and record company bullshit giving them only three records, it's an energetic 70 minutes.
Of course, it's pure nostalgia, but its also unashamed entertainment. The songs themselves, some are better than others : like any band, whilst the songs follow the relatively standard verse/chorus/instrumentally bit format, sometimes some verses, and some choruses are better than others, and that's the battle. As far as gig openers go, “Children” has one of the best builds there is, a slow escalation of ingredients that suddenly stops, then explodes like a firework in your ears. Atkin may not be the most versatile of vocalists, but he works hard and joyfully that matches the songs whilst around him the band aren't exactly the kids we all used to be, but instead are a fun holiday in the past. Taking a cue from the 25th Anniversary of Schubert Dip, tonight is only the second EMF headline show in nine years, and a veritable bag of near enough everything they did. There's nothing from the under-rated Cha Cha Cha album, and no sign of the great “Far From Me”, but generally, EMF know what is expected : hits. And lots of them. And you get almost all of them. And a crowdsurfing DJ Milf. And a roof raising encore that sees “Unbelievable” played for a second time, this time with guest vocals from Jim Bob, Mary Byker, Graham Poppie, and bass from one-time EMF-er Richard March for his third time on stage in a day. It's a ramshackable excuse of general confusion, which is simple, daft fun tied up with deeper, more meaningful songs hidden inside all the dayglo shorts.
Some the end of the night, and there's lots of us here that somehow still survived another all day endurance test, surrounded by many friends from across a great many places, people I see rarely and love, kindred spirits at the best value gig of the year that is under £5 an act. The world that birthed this music is wide, and in many ways, still ongoing, and Indie Daze is not just a snapshot of a time, but a celebration of another way of thinking, a striving to know that there is more to this world than what was in the pages of the tabloids – and of course, a damn good afternoon and night out.