NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO SEIS – BURIED IN SPANISH MUSICAL EXCELLENCE | 30th November, MMXVII

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

While Catalonia’s secession demands exacerbate day by day, and no resolution is yet in sight, Barcelona is otherwise going strong, and continues to thrive even during the coldest months. This is particularly true for its culture and its music, two domains where both the city and the region have stood out for many years.

In this regard, yours truly’s main advantage, as a still relatively fresh expat with little to no prior experience with the region and its artistic artefacts, is how much can be discovered simply by speaking to insiders, staying up to date online – by being a little curious.

An ingenuous and light-hearted stroll around mighty Poblenou, the uprising sea-bordering neighborhood hosting a variety of exciting venues such as Razzmatazz and Rocksound BCN, led me to discover a rather concealed club called Sala Bóveda in early November.

Slightly further outside of the city center than the others, Sala Bóveda is close to the sea and made up of an imposing main vault. From an architectural standpoint, it inspires thrilling images of ancient catacombs – bóveda is the Spanish word for vault. And a terrific Spanish-bred metal line up was scheduled to play the club on Friday 10th November.

The gig was headlined by Catalan alternative metal sensation Ankor, with support provided by Girona-based melodic death metallers MorphiuM and alt-metal local promise Donuts Hole.

Ankor, fronted by Bristolian Jessie Williams, are one of the past decade’s most popular metal references in Spain, indeed really of the larger Spanish-speaking music market. Among a number of accolades, two years ago the outfit were named best newcomer band by the readers of the oldest and most prestigious rock magazine for Spain and South America, La Heavy.

Formed in Barcelona back in 2003, Ankor have so far released four studio albums plus an extended play, with their latest acclaimed LP ‘Beyond The Silence of These Years’ out in May earlier this year, promoted by singles ‘The Monster I Am’ and ‘Lost Soul’.

The album, mixed by Dan Korneff (Pierce the Veil, A Day To Remember, Paramore) and mastered by Ted Jensen (Avenged Sevenfold, Muse, Bring Me The Horizon), rapidly took them to a new level of notoriety and allowed them to embark on their first ever worldwide tour, taking them to Japan after this stop in Catalonia, with seven dates left to wrap up 2017.

However, the high anticipation for the show didn’t stop at the headliners, considering that both the other two opening acts are yet another quintessential example of the quality of local music. In fact, fellow Barcelona-mates Donuts Hole have swiftly become a favourite with a superb Spanish-sung LP on their backs, 2016’s ‘En Cada Hogar’.

The five-piece’s visceral amalgamation of djent, alternative, and nu metal is particularly fresh, forward-thinking, and well produced, at least as far as their recorded product is concerned.

What’s more, fellow opening act MorphiuM’s melodic death metal, infused with thick drops of goth and metalcore, is some of the best you might find from a non-USA or non-UK band. It’s most noticeable on their release from last year, ‘The Blackout’, which you can get as free download.

Entering the vault just in time to catch Donuts Hole’s drummer Sebastian A. Gonzalez counting in their first song on the set, the mid-sized main room was already well attended. Evidently, the appeal of supporting a local act opening in such an exciting occasion helped to fuel early arrivals.

Unfortunately, Donuts Hole’s forty minutes live set impressed less than their gorgeous recent LP, notwithstanding a decent tight sound and a dogged rhythmic groove. Drenched with additive elements of post-grunge – largely audible on ‘En Cada Hogar’ – and led by bassist Sergio Morales and frontman Ariel Placenti, the five-piece set the bar for the rest of the evening.

But it wasn’t without its hitches, with the band fighting technical difficulties and suboptimal guitars throughout. Nevertheless, the band landed  as one of the best musical discoveries of my time in Barcelona, alongside psych-sludgers Rebuig.

Given Donuts Hole’s struggles to get their sound right during their set, it wasn’t surprising to see a better outcome from MorphiuM. Led by a highly convincing angular and harmonic work by the two guitars, as well as an furious delivery from drummer Mori Kodax, the whole production rose to a peak when singer Alex Bace let his excellent clean voice shine.

At times there was a little too much happening at the same time, between two quasi-soloist guitar lines and a complicated intertwining of the rhythm section, wrapped up with a theatrical attitude and lots of horror/shock elements thrown on top of everything.

At that time into the show, one could realize how the unique formation and architecture of Sala Bóveda mainly benefitted the audience’s visual appreciation, rather than being an actual acoustic enhancement of the room, hence leaving the overall sonic output slightly suboptimal and surprisingly quiet. Despite this, the warm up section of the show offered more than enough encouraging sonic elements to look forward to Ankor’s main course.

After some delay, the headliners took the stage shortly before 11pm and right from the first bars confirmed their place as the main event, owning every single inch of the stage with frenetic and sparkly conveyance.

The crowd’s reception to the four-piece was one of the biggest and most convincing ones I’ve witnessed for a Spanish act down here, and the hype was tangible for being back in their hometown and hearing live cuts off ‘Beyond The Silence of These Years’ first hand.

Ankor’s concert brought back a wealth of fierce mid-noughties power-emo references, comprising all the essential and pitch perfect elements for a revitalising hybrid of early Paramore, From First to Last and Bullet for My Valentine. The group’s sonic execution and stage presence, amplified by heavy sound samples and a wealth of harmonies (partly to make up for the absence of a physical bass player), were both on point, resulting in a methodical and well-rehearsed show.

There was little to pick out and criticise from such a thorough and consolidated performance. It was nothing new in itself. Many of the song structures and segways might have appeared predictable to those more familiar with the genre. But this was nothing that seemed to bother the almost-full house that night, celebrating one of Spain’s most important alt-metal outfits on a rise to further fame.

Indeed, being sheltered in a remote Barcelonian vault on the Mediterranean Sea for a couple of hours, enjoying some of the best live metal music this country has to offer, made me realize how easy it can be to overlook foreign artistic excellence when you’re immersed in the major English-speaking music ecosystem. Burying yourself in a dungeon with an all-Spanish line up has its benefits.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO CINCO – THE SOUND OF POLITICS TO COME | 30th October, MMXVII

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

As you’re no doubt aware, Barcelona and the whole Catalonia region are currently experiencing a pivotal socio-political crisis. After a controversial and illegal independence referendum vote on Sunday, October 1 amidst police violence, the relationship between the region’s capital and Spain’s central government in Madrid is still highly unstable. The tension and the political debate are hard to escape when out and about in the city.

Yet, perhaps a little surprisingly, such a political climate isn’t enough to stop this undefeatable and resilient metropolis from carrying on with its usual wealth of cultural and musical offerings, led by the 49th edition of the International Jazz Festival and the weekend-long Primavera Club 2017 festival spin-off. So it was with a special pinch of gratitude that I welcomed the opportunity to venture out for another live music exploration in the city.

The venue put under scrutiny this month is unimaginatively called Rocksound BCN – BCN being the conventional branded abbreviation for Barcelona, an acronym found all around the city – and is a medium-to-small club in the large post-industrial district of Poblenou, just East of the city centre. Having been recommended to me various times by both born and bred Barcelonians and expats with a flair for the local live music scene, the venue is one of the most popular clubs for alternative music and a next-door neighbour to the larger Razzmatazz.

The club, also known as Sala Rocksound, has a programming tinged with live and DJ’d rock music in all its variations, including but not limited to rockabilly, country rock, and blues. Moreover, every Thursday evening, Sala Rocksound transforms itself into the so-called Rude Club, where one can find Jamaican live music and local DJs mixing a wider variety of genres.

The live national debut of The Discussion on October 10 was the ideal occasion to assess the establishment first hand. The new post-punk/goth trio was formed by former Kylesa guitarist Laura Pleasants, after the Georgia-based sludge metallers announced their intentions to go on an indefinite hiatus last year. The Discussion’s stop in Catalonia was planned as part of a larger European tour extended throughout the fall that takes them across the continent from the UK to Greece.

To celebrate this string of live dates, the recently formed outfit – fronted by Laura herself now on lead vocals – even recorded a special EP of new material. Appropriately named ‘European Tour Ep 2017’, it was put out on Bandcamp alongside the following straightforward description: “5 song tour ep of all new original material. 300 CDs pressed for European tour. All are hand numbered on the back cover. Self Released.”

However, as if carefully planned so as to live up to the insecurity affecting the region, The Discussion’s show at Rocksound BCN got cancelled only hours before it was supposed to take place. A Facebook post on the same day of the concert accompanied the decision, stating that “because of the political uncertainty experienced the promoter decided to cancel the show”, implying in their messaging that public safety was their primary concern.

Nonetheless, Barcelona always does its best to rise above difficulties and offered to make up for the inconvenience with a thrilling substitute gig. The following Monday, US doom/death metal outfits Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice took the stage. This certainly speaks for Rocksound BCN’s quality concert programming, and represented a revitalising response following the previous week’s events. Furthermore, the hype was reasonably high for witnessing Blood Incarnation’s live delivery and the fact that both bands have a relatively short history with critical acclaim.

The bands are peers from Colorado, US, and embarked on a quick Spanish tour headlined by Blood Incantation, the more accomplished of the two outfits. The main performers released their debut album ‘Starspawn’ in 2016 on their homestate-based underground metal imprint Dark Descent, and also have a series of EP/splits/demos on their books. Fellow labelmates Spectral Voice have instead just put out their 5-track debut LP ’Eroded Corridors of Unbeing’, which their issuing label describe as “far more than just a sum of its parts, […] a unique and claustrophobic voyage, cavernous yet full of clarity”.

As soon as one gets to the venue – if at all, given that it’s quite hard to notice from the outside if not for a small wooden sign next to big billboard ads – one would immediately realize how small and bar-esque it is, triggering fantasies and excitement as to how unconventional a death metal gig would turn out to be (and this time not because of the potential disruption due to local political turmoil). The venue can’t fit more than 200 people, and witnessing such a loud, dark, and heavy bill in such a tiny and narrow space made for a unique experience from start to finish.

Shortly before Spectral Voice took the stage around 9:30pm, the main standing area of the room was already packed to what one would assume was its fullest capacity. Indeed, this got proven wrong by the attraction coefficient of the headliners, who managed to have almost the entirety of the surface taken up by amused and engaged audience members. As expected, the whole thing got very loud, moist, and sweaty very quickly.

Spectral Voice – translated on stage into a four-piece with a sole singing drummer – presented an uncompromising, no-frills 40-minute set of growling doom metal, at times brought to the canonical, extreme slow rhythmic pace with highly dosed vocals. Generally, the whole crowd seemed to enjoy the performance, although only a handful people at the front went for the whole headbanging ritual.

The club’s dimension and inconvenient shape didn’t help to achieve the best sonic results, especially when standing closer to the stage, and overall the biggest victims of this shortcoming ended up being the two undistinguished guitars, which dropped a couple tones for the occasion.

Blood Incantation were on shortly before 10:30pm and hit the ground running with fierce, brutal, and psychedelic intensity. The headliners were driven by their mighty, virtuoso guitars enhanced by a myriad of reverbing pedals and effects by both singer/rhythm guitarist Paul Riedl and lead guitarist Morris Kolontyrsky. Moreover, their impressive, barefeet drummer Isaac Faulk kept the whole delivery well-glued together and alternated sophisticated fills with potent blast beats. The audience liked their performance better than the openers, and sporadic singalongs were evidence of their familiarity with the material.

Overall, both shows suffered a little from the venue’s erratic sound set up as well as the limited size of the room, neither of them particularly catered to the loud and distorted wall of sound and layered instrumentation typical of heavier music. Yet, this is perfectly within the price to pay when attending gigs in this typology of bars-turned-impromptu-venues all around the world. Both bands’ live delivery was inevitably affected, whereby Spectral Voice seemed to have paid more of the consequences, and the headliners were better at making up for it thanks to both their technical ability and more audience participation.

At the same time, the concert turned out to be a very interesting and inspiring experience. Rocksound BCN has emerged as a key focal point for Barcelona’s alternative live music scene and helped fuel the underground support for lesser known bands with decently priced tickets and a wide variety of merchandising, not least being able to attract almost 200 passionate metallers on a regular Monday evening. Perhaps it’s about time the unstable world of politics turns to local music communities for inspiration.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

NFB_Rocksound

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO CUATRO – RIDING THE SIDECAR | 29th September, MMXVII

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

September 2017 is a crucial month for the city of Barcelona. It’s not only the first time folks get to enjoy more liveable temperatures after the heavy heat of the Spanish Summer, but it’s also the month preceding the historical independence referendum vote for the Catalonia region, planned for Sunday October 1.

On that day the peoples of Catalonia will be asked to visit the ballots for a vote on a – still, at the time of this writing – unconstitutional and legally non-binding motion pledging for the sovereignty of the North-Eastern region from the Madrid-steered national government of Spain.

It was very much in this type of socio-political climate during a showery early September evening, incidentally just a couple of days before the National Day of Catalonia (September 11), that two big promises of the Iberian punk rock scene were due to perform at one of the most well-known venues for underground and alternative music in town, called Sidecar Factory Club.

The edgy, tight and claret-red 300-capacity bar/club resides in one of the four corners of the gorgeous and heavily touristic Plaça Reial (the Ramblas are only a mere two minute walk away), deep in the core of the historical Barri Gòtic in the centre of town.

In contrast to the other establishments found by the palm tree-filled square, offering various dining options, popular dancing destinations, and tourist traps of all sorts, the 35-year old club is instead known for its intense and prolific event calendar of DJ sets, theme parties and, of course, live music shows. Sidecar has hosted more than 5,000 concerts and is known for “rock, punk, indie, experimental music and all the styles that don’t fit in the mainstream.”

The two young and upcoming Spanish bands on the bill that Saturday September 9 were headliners Camellos and support act Medalla. It was interesting to find out that – in the midst of growing tensions between Catalonia and Madrid – Camellos were born and bred in the Spanish capital, whereas Medalla are Barcelona-based, creating an interesting thread between the two metropolitan poles for the evening. Yet at the same time, both bands are part of the same national underground scene, and both are among the most talked about alternative outfits in the country.

Medalla are still a young group and describe their sound as the perfect union of heavy metal, krautrock, pop and romantic epicness. The Barcelonian four-piece are composed of two guitarists (one of them doubling as periodical keyboardist), a bassist, and a drummer, with each one of them lending voices and harmonies to the finished product. The local rockers began their powerful set at around 21:45 for a little less than an hour. Sidecar’s internal structure and tiny basement concert hall helped the group funnel a potent and heavily reverberated sound throughout, with mighty guitar sounds and stomping bass lines as principal reference points.

Medalla’s set brought to mind sporadic stoner rock and noise-y influences, with their tight and raucous guitar sound that often took centre stage, and the multiple vocal harmony lines layered onto each other, resulting in a pleasant and surprisingly refreshing echo-y vibe. Furthermore, Marc Lòpez on drums stood out for his catchy and precise grooves and riveting patterns, frequently leading whole songs even from a riff-perspective despite a wide variety of song structures. The band are for sure a reliable Spanish reference for fans of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Royal Blood, and The Enemy.

Also worth mentioning was the excellent sonic production of their live show, and more generally the sound engineering in the room that night, contrary to what one might think when first getting to Sidecar’s minuscule underground concert space. This was a merit of the main control room, although in my opinion just as much thanks to an effective instrumental set up on the part of the band itself.

The Barcelonian youngsters’ debut is imminent, due for release at the end of September through Primavera Sound’s talent incubator record label El Segell de Primavera, founded in 2013 to help nurture the local music scene. Medalla are currently playing a restricted string of dates throughout autumn and will perform a highly-anticipated (and already sold out) hometown record release show on September 22 at local cultural association hub El Pumajero. Listeners can already get a taste of their new LP by checking out two of their extracts on their Bandcamp page.

Camellos were that night’s main course and punctually took to Sidecar’s carved stage at 23:00. The Madrileños immediately distinguished themselves for their peculiar, dirtier and more straightforward sound, showcasing much faster and shorter tracks in comparison to their support band, all very much in line with classic fringes of indie-garage or even surf punk. Think of a sound blending early The Strokes and Weezer with the attitude of Mac DeMarco, just with more ska texture embedded into it.

Displaying the same group formation as their fellow musicians on the line-up – albeit vocals only being provided by the two guitarists in this case – Camellos clearly flirted with fun and slacker-ish elements whenever they got the chance. This meant not neglecting their visual impact either, with one of two guitarists and the bass player wearing oversized and outdated football jerseys (Liverpool’s Gerrard and Boca Juniors, for those of you who want to ask).

Such an approach helped the Madrid band receive an even warmer and friendlier reception to the disputed Catalan capital, something that even a month from that evening might look very different indeed, depending on the independence vote’s outcome.

Camellos’ live delivery was well-oiled and confident, with a full string of catchy and immediate tunes. Nevertheless, they left enough room for improvisation and interactive crowd participation, finding great enjoyment in their Barcelonian crowd (reaching about 200 people that night). The whole thing resulted in an amusing musical party, completed by intermezzo-jokes and frequent interactions with the audience.

The Spanish four-piece and its basic punk sound is often described as being humorous and politically-incorrect, and they already have a handful of standalone singles (check out ‘Siempre saludaba’ and ‘Becaria’) and a 15-track debut album entitled ‘Embajadores’ on the books, which came out earlier this year under Madrid-based Limbo Starr.

Sidecar is yet another exciting live music venue in Barcelona, and a totally different pair of shoes to the previously introduced Razzmatazz, which not only hosts much larger gigs but also offers a clearer cross-genre booking choice with more electronic dance influence.

This club is by contrast small, intimate and very stylish throughout, and represents an ideal destination for underground and alternative culture, bringing popular nightlife to the heart of touristic Barcelona. The crowd is inevitably composed of both locals and foreigners, which is regularly met by an event programming that is remarkably eclectic, catering to a wide array of alternative music genres with the club being open six nights a week.

But the most remarkable attribute of Sidecar, in light of the litigious relationship between Barcelona and Madrid, is that for one night everybody agreed with each other, an optimistic consensus that celebrated quality indigenous live music.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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HERE COME(S) THE G.I.R.L | 16th September, MMXVII

EMS started with absolutely no pre-conceived notion of editorial structure or journalistic discipline in mind, and to be fair if you’ve made it thus fair into its lifecycle I’m pretty much assuming you were able to realize this for yourself pretty quickly. Throughout about two years and a half the site has touched upon a wide variety of themes and topics, ranging from the more obvious and critically acclaimed “Alex Reviews Music”-column, to scattered and rather isolated notes and commentary on TV series, books, and even fashion brands. I guess the reason why I’m beginning this one with such a disclaimer is to try to legitimise my current inability to choose a single key topic to write about this time round, conflicting in conjunction with my lack of time and resources to split a list of different themes across multiple blogpost, as well as my very immediate need to bookmark what and why I want to say to this very specific timestamp. In fact, feel free to scratch the first excuse – as one can and ought to always find the time for the life domains he/she loves –, it’s really all about the necessity to make y’all aware of a couple things, so please be cautious that said awareness construction will materialise itself in form of a miscellaneous patchwork post.

Without too much further ado, in this writing I’d like to bring your esteemed attention to Los Angeles-based – yet universally addressing – independent lifestyle brand Gentlemen in Real Life, that has just recently released its second major run of products to the general public and boy, it’s simply wonderfully crafted. Brilliantly abbreviated in the catchy acronym GIRL to highlight its gender-neutral and boundary-less fashion approach, the alternative apparel and grooming brand was founded by former letlive. vocalist and principal gentleman Jason Butler back in early 2015, and likes to present itself to the world with the following:

“We believe the traditional definition of ‘gentleman’ is outdated. To us, it’s more than a refined look, or dapper presentation. It’s a lifestyle that transcends. Being a Gentleman is about taking the extra step to do what’s right. And we offer everyone a chance to be part of it.”

“We’re a small group of creatives and artists that make things we want to see made. And we’re committed to the fine details that we know they deserve.”

“The only way to truly endorse something is to create it yourself. That’s why we’ve made sure all of our products are designed, sourced, and manufactured in the USA.”

There’s really nothing else that should be added in my opinion to either spark or increase interest and concern for such valuable and especially honourable endeavour, which not only fully adopts and embodies the ethically/socially conscious values listed in the descriptions above, but also creates an organic and sustainable network of collaborations around their hometown of Los Angeles, CA, as documented on their extremely visually appealing Instagram page. Said manufacturing, productive, and marketing collaborators-ecosystem includes, for instance, the gorgeous graphic design brand Hate Street (H8ST) – which took care of the majority of the designs and visuals for GIRL’s latest drop – and the group of talented audiovisual producers that go by the name of Standard Issue Films, which enabled a series of promotional clips that were employed by Jason and GIRL when approaching their recent launch date on 1st September.

I hope it’s needless to say that I’m obviously not getting paid or in any shape or form compensated for writing this, for this enriching appreciation I feel for the brand truly stems from my complete alignment with both the mission and the cause of GIRL, besides clearly finding tons of delight and inspiration through the actual manufactured goods themselves. Thus, I’d simply suggest you all take even a quick look at what Jason and what he calls his family are doing with their company, as I fully believe it’s the minimum one could do when confronted with such praiseworthy and universally binding values as the ones brought forwards by GIRL.

As far as I’m concerned, at the time I got to learn about the overall GIRL project, it was an immediate no brainer for me to seek out means and ways to support what Jason and his crew were crafting, and for the record I have been doing so since the company launched their first online collection back in January last year. Furthermore, it should also be said that to me all things related to GIRL got significantly amplified by Jason’s artistic and especially musical undertakings that were going on at the same time (enter primarily letlive.), which I certainly strongly felt connected to and was able to rely on multiple levels on. Speaking of which, recent warmer months have brought back loads of excitement after letlive. tragically announced their break up earlier this April. Said excitement comes in form of The Fever 333, i.e. Jason’s brand new incendiary musical project kickstarted with the help of former The Chariot guitarist Stephen Harrison and impressive Night Verses drummer/digital percussionist Aric Improta.

The alternative-punk trio presented itself to the wider world via a memorable and unique unauthorised pop-up event in the parking lot of legendary drive-through landmark Randy’s Donuts on the last 4th July in Inglewood, Los Angeles. The band documented their incredible performance in a dedicated videoclip recalling the experience and explaining that the impromptu live performance was first and foremost:

“[…] an effort to demonstrate the power of assembly and protest. This particular event was in opposition to the displacement of citizens due to their race, choice of identity, or economic standing to remind ourselves that we are the largest piece of any community. Not politicians, not corporations, not the authorities, but US – the citizens. The people are what make communities successful. Before the release of any music we released specific pieces of information containing a location, a date, and then a message. In that message we called to those who wanted to see change and a reminder that it starts locally. On this day over 150 people showed up in a parking lot in Inglewood in support of an idea. That idea was to empower the people that serve as the heartbeat of their community.”

The Fever 333 has so far released two radically angry and raging standalone tracks (“We’re Coming In” and “The Hunting Season”), and have officially blossomed at their first “authorized” hometown live show that took place at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood on 31st August, with prestigious guest appearance/endorsement of blink-182 drumming God Travis Barker as well as A-list punk producer John Feldmann, whom the band has so far worked with for the release of its first two songs. It’s still unclear what’s next for the politically-charged protest punk outfit, although judging by the way they hinted and released both information and actual material in the past, it all seems to be predominantly short-noticed and revolving around the 333-digits hook, presumably originating in their underlying credo “B3 FR33. STAND UP. RESIST.”. Watch their space as they don’t stop repeating it: There’s a fever coming…

Before pulling the curtains on this multi-dimensionally inspired, Interweb-hosted essay, yours truly would like to consume a little more of this digitised ink to address the recent release of mighty Foo Fighters‘ new LP Concrete and Gold, out just one day before this writing on 15th September. I’m fully aware that in a recent (and upcoming) sea of hugely highly-anticipated releases, with new records out (either now or fairly soon) by the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, The War on Drugs, The Killers, J. Roddy Walston & The Business, Stereophonics, and many more, there’s no way I could truly pay respect to any of those if not through a dedicated ARM-instalment (although nor am I promising this will actually materialise). Yet, very similarly to the aforementioned The Fever 333, I do like to break the rules and therefore allow myself the freedom of a couple paragraphs discussing the Foos’ recent massive album, trying to frame this discussing from a slightly different standpoint than regular ARMs so as to maintain a cautionary “apples-to-oranges” comparison basis.

The context surrounding the release of Foo Fighters’ ninth studio album contains in itself a number of fascinating insights, from the rather unconventional record producer’s choice (the bird and the bee‘s Greg Kurstin), passing through the addition of a sixth permanent group member in long-time touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee, to the juicy line-up of stellar fellow musicians who guest on the album, including Paul McCartney, Justin Timberlake, and Boyz II Men member Shawn Stockman. There is of course a fundamental, and arguably more important, musical layer to the whole aspect as well, with almost 50 minutes of brand new recorded running time spread across 11 different songs. Furthermore, one could also have noticed an hilarious and deeply informative radio interview touching upon a wide variety of topics with frontman Dave Grohl hosted by none other than Metallica’s iconic drummer Lars Ulrich on his Beats 1’s show It’s Electric!.

Yet, in spite (or precisely because of) all of the above highly intriguing and valid starting points for a genuine conversation on the Foos’ new album, what I’d like to stress out is an unbelievably fun, diverse, and effective promotional stunt utilized by the band. What I’m referring to is a promo video published in conjunction to the album release that tells the story of how Concrete and Gold was made in all its nuances, with more than worthy behind-the-scenes anecdotes and fun facts. By packaging a great amount of information relating to a process that lasted over multiple years in form of a 6-minute cartoonish, brilliantly animated clip, the Foo Fighters not only produced a promotional item that is quite unique and characteristic (especially for a mainstream act), but by processing the highest consumed format of digital consumption (video) they also managed to squeeze a great deal of valuable insights regarding the making-of the album that I’m sure would otherwise have been done through multiple separated elements that may even have not fit that well together. Hat’s off to the Foos thus, who to be fair have always flirted with the more comical and funny end of the spectrum when creating music videos for their songs. Pick any of theirs on YouTube to prove this point. Speaking of points, this was the last one for now, I promise. But remember to always B3 FR33.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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BOLTS ARE NUTS (OR: WHEN TYLER, CREATES) | 7th August, MMXVII

I’d have to admit that I’m not watching much TV lately, although to be fair I’m fully dedicated to a couple YouTube channels almost on a daily basis, which in 2017 does in fact mean that I’m watching TV lately, right? Well, by that I mainly mean that the global Netflix and TV series hysteria club that has been going on for about 34 years now has just fairly recently lost one of its least proudest members, partly because in my humblest opinion there actually aren’t that many good shows around at the moment, and partly because the fact that I recently moved country of residence implies that I’m now enjoying vastly reduced catalogues and streaming service offerings as opposed to what I was used to in the mighty United Kingdom.

What I haven’t stopped being into for even a single minute is music though, and in that regard I recently launched a fiery and incendiary ether debate on Twitter by asking the Interweb.com to compare Vince Staples’s latest album Big Fish Theory with the one of leader and co-founder of the alternative hip hop collective Odd Future, i.e. American rapper, record producer, and music video director Tyler, The Creator. Tyler’s fourth studio LP Flower Boy dropped a little more than two weeks ago on 21st July and has since been on heavy rotation on yours truly’s high fidelity FM. I thus have been fiercely flirting and battling with the thought of delivering another highly-subjectively biased hip-hop/rap ARM instalment for the good part of the past week, only to then find out that there was so much more going on artistically with Tyler, The Creator at the moment worth mentioning to say the least.

Besides launching his very own take on the legendary Converse One Star shoe model in visual conjunction with his newest record, aka the One Star X Golf le Fleur, Tyler also debuted as the host and main mind of a brand new TV show on Vice Media’s channel VICELAND called Nuts + Bolts, accompanied by the following promotional caption: “Tyler, the Creator explores the things he loves and the ways they work, with the help of experts and personal heroes”. Needless to say I was extremely captivated by whole idea of the programme, and realizing that it would all be steered by the raw, twisted, and inspiring mind of Tyler only made for an even bigger excitement on my part. Nuts + Bolts premiered on Friday 4th August with an episode called “Stop Motion” dealing with… stop motion (!) and the exploration of a specific sub-discipline called clay animation (Wallace and Gromit anyone!?).

As I already anticipated over on holy grail Twitter when the episode first aired, great TV in an age of abundance and overwhelming noise to me is when it can reveal you something you didn’t necessarily know before, which in this specific case was my discovery of how cool of a movie technique stop motion actually is. The amount of dedication, precision, and effort that go into producing a segment even as short as a rad and badass one minute piece like Tyler himself did at the end of the first episode is simply astonishing and admirable. Make damn sure you check out the first episode in full on VICELAND’s site by clicking here (or head over to good ol’ Facebook if you’re not currently living in a country under Donald J. Trump’s presidency). The segment literally turned me into a deep admirer of said practice, to the point that I’m now super willing to learn more and get informed as to how and where I could potentially materialise a project on my own. Yet I’m digressing, the whole point I’m trying to make is that Nuts + Bolts is shaping up to become both a very entertaining and truly informative modern-day TV series/doc, stemming surprisingly enough from a man at times as despised as society’s biggest villains.

The amazing aspect about the show is that a quick look at its trailer – first released back in June – reveals that in addition to stop motion an incredibly vast and incredibly cool list of topics will be covered throughout the programme, ranging from sneakers and go-karts to donuts and time-travel. I’m just in love with the idea that as far as content programming, anything goes in the series and nothing is too wild to be omitted a priori, as it’s quite clearly very hard to find a lowest common theme encompassing every episode’s focus. I guess the formula to describe Nuts + Bolts was actually cracked by the man himself, when during the main trailer he says that it “[…] is a show describing how everything that I think is awesome is made”. I’m voting for this one.

I guess the funny thing in all of this is that thanks to Tyler, The Creator and his trademark way of making even bolts go nuts I will soon indeed be watching a lot of TV again, with its tentacles permeating through every possible gateway of my digitally consumed life. Not that this might necessarily be a bad thing per se, not at all in fact if all TV I watch is as catchy and cocky as Nuts + Bolts, yet I still can’t help but always be a little bit worried about not finding enough time to do everything my instincts tell me to, especially when it comes to checking out new music. The fact that the whole reason why I got into TV again with this show was actually because of me checking out new music is kind of uber ironic, I do hand it to you. Yet in life most things do indeed get a full circle if one looks close enough. Pretty much like nuts and bolts and bolts being nuts.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

Nuts+Bolts_Viceland

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO DOS – CATALAN INTERSECTIONS | 18th July, MMXVII

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

We all know that summer equals festival season and Barcelona is no exception. Kicking off with the prestigious and world-renowned Primavera Sound, the city’s warmest season punctually fills with a number of big and small live music events throughout its urban web.

Barcelona’s extremely favourable climate conditions, as well as its spectacular natural landscapes, combining a wealth of greeneries with hills and sea, do indeed allow for perfect festival settings. So it’s no surprise that during the whole late spring/summer period your agenda could easily get full with live open air music appointments, marked in red every week.

Obviously not all festivals in the heart of Catalonia are as grandiose and well-known as Primavera, yet you might be surprised by the global attraction of some of the other events too, such as Rockfest Barcelona, Cruïlla Barcelona Summer Festival, Be Prog! My Friend, or Barna ‘n’ Roll. This is without considering the even smaller, local, and neighborhood-bound ones that heavily contribute towards the construction of this region’s musical identity.

These smaller happenings normally take place in the surroundings of the ramblas of each barrio – i.e. the iconic main streets cutting each major neighborhood of the city in two – bringing substantial crowds together outdoors to enjoy live music, local food, flea markets, pop up installations, and much more.

My neighborhood alone for instance, the post-industrial Poblenou, has already hosted three major local cultural events since I moved here a couple months back. An absolute highlight so far, and Barcelona’s most heartfelt event, was the loud and chaotic Revetlla de Sant Joan, which takes place every year at the end of June celebrating summer Solstice. The amount of public artistic displays, street performers, and firecrackers was one I’d never seen in my life before.

That said, one the most highly anticipated festivals each year is Sónar, a pioneering cultural event launched in 1994 combining a deep creative technology focus, avantgarde programming, and heavy experimentation with newest trends in electronic and hip hop music. Its conference arm, Sónar+D, left me very impressed. The tradeshow deals with the relationship between creativity and technology through the showcase of cutting-edge discoveries in the realms of AI, VR and machine learning.

The four-day offering included workshops, market fairs, labs, and live performances, looking at pushing boundaries of interdisciplinarity. An unmissable event for anyone interested in arts and new technologies, at the same time crafting a big part of Barcelona’s artistic identity, regardless of the specific genre-focus of the festival’s musical programming.

Things got way more serious at Cruïlla, a multi-genre music festival now in its eighth edition that took place from 7–9 July on the seaside East of the Catalan city centre. This year’s headliners were The Prodigy, Two Door Cinema Club, Pet Shop Boys, Jamiroquai, and Die Antwoord, and more generally the overall lineup spanned a wealth of genres ranging from ska-punk to reggae and electronica. The clue is actually in its name, as cruïlla means ‘intersection’ in the local Catalan language, hence its not-so-hidden mission to present as varied and mixed a programme as possible.

As usual, the most exciting musical discoveries didn’t come from the mainstream acts headlining the bill, but rather from smaller, lesser-known bands that got to warm up the crowds from early afternoon onwards.

One of them are Murcia-natives Neuman, a post-rock/shoegazey band founded by charismatic frontman Paco Román about 20 years ago. Their minimalistic yet thoroughly catchy live delivery, accompanied by Paco’s hoarse vocals and an hypnotic rhythm section, truly stood out to me as one of the freshest sets of the whole festival.

Neuman have a brand new album in the making, which is currently being previewed by first single ‘All That Matters’ and is expected to drop later in the year. In fact, the English-singing trio have over time become a cult act in the whole of Southern Europe and can already count on three albums – among which the critically acclaimed ‘The Family Plot (2011)’ – and as many EPs in their discography.

Another fun one is La Raíz, an impressive 11-piece ska/rock/reggae band from Valencia who got to virtually pull the curtains of Cruïlla late into the night on the last day. The ensemble is considered to be an international leader in musical fusion and has just recently celebrated its first decade as career band with more than respectful numbers, for both their following and their music.

Their newest release ‘Entre poetas y presos’, out last year, follows four other records, with their debut ‘El Aire Muerto’ dating back to 2007. As one might imagine when a band counts 11 permanent members, their live appearance is widely colourful and energetic, alternating pure ska-moments with faster and more crunchy shades, throwing in Spanish-sung old-school rap verses more often than not. Check out their 2011 LP ‘El Lado de los Rebeldes’ as it’s a rather solid and representative introduction to their overall sound.

Holding a primetime live slot on the smaller Movistar+ stage on Saturday was Viva Suecia, another Spanish post-rock group bearing heavy, self-acclaimed Nordics influences in their wide dark soundscapes. Signed to eccentric national indie label Subterfuge Records, the Murcian four piece is fresh from releasing their sophomore full-length ‘Otros principios fundamentales’ in February (produced by Neuman’s Paco Román), and are now gaining increasing traction on both a regional and national level.

Viva Suecia’s live performance at Cruïlla turned out to be a very elegant, strings-driven one, with big sounds acting as sonic boundaries for sharp and biting Spanish lyrics. I highly suggest you give these guys a listen if you’re into bands like Interpol, Mando Diao, Editors and similar. Standout tracks to me are the below ‘Hemos Ganado Tiempo’, off their latest LP, and the album’s raw and emotive lead single, ‘A Dónde ir’. Don’t forget to check out their self-titled debut EP too, which is still up on Bandcamp and found widespread appreciation catapulting the band into the major national music circuit.

Thanks to the festival I also found out about one of the most successful Latin American bands to this day, called Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and an iconic ska/jazz/rock act formed back in 1985 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These guys are a pretty big deal and have won numerous prizes and accolades over their career, including the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album.

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, who since their formation have released 11 studio albums and sold almost three million copies worldwide, took to the stage on Friday night shortly before 1am and all hell broke loose. Quite clearly an established fan-favourite down here, the band played for over an hour and a half, pleasing the audience with fast-paced grooves as well as intense stage presence. Their newest concept album ‘La salvación de Solo y Juan’ came out in 2016 and has awarded them with two Latin Grammy Awards. Not necessarily something I’d prioritize in my own iPod, but without a doubt one to be aware of and a major international export of Spanish-swayed rock.

My last suggestion is Deco Pilot, who are actually a Liverpool-borne indie-rock band relocated to Barcelona. The band kicked off dances on day two of Cruïlla with an overdose of noughties-inspired synth/rock, think of something in-between The Killers and Vampire Weekend with a lot of delayed guitars. Their still humble and timid stage presence is sufficiently compensated by a big production on their debut album ‘Midnight Glory’ (2016), a 10-track collection filled with very catchy cuts (‘Lion’, ‘You Are My Voice’) alongside calmer moments (‘Midnight Glory’, ‘Open Your Eyes’). Also interesting to hear is their take on Spanish singing on the closing two tracks, presumably an ode to their new home.

It is very refreshing to see how even bigger – perhaps at times commodified – music festivals in Catalonia don’t just opt for easy mainstream acts or international artists, but actually retain an essential slice of their bill for local and regional musicians.

There’s so much musical variety that stems from this land that it would be a massive sin not to lend these musicians an appropriate platform to shine, so kudos to them for using their power with responsibility. And while the Catalan summer festival season might not last forever, the quantity and the quality of new music discoveries stands as reliable proof that excellent live music is without a doubt an all year round business.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

NFB2

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): VINCE STAPLES – “BIG FISH THEORY” | 24th June, MMXVII

It’s almost the end of June and therefore it’s time for another hip hop album review to be happening on these glorious ARM frequencies. (No don’t worry you shouldn’t have picked up the causal correlation between time and rap criticism in the previous sentence, simply because there is none). Some (who?) may say that this is a rather big deal, given that such an occurrence hasn’t happened too often in the meanderings of this site. In fact, if we’re really in the mood for a trip down memory lane, one could actually count on one hand the instalments scrutinising, discussing, and dissecting a hip hop release: first it was Kanye back in February last year, merely because noblesse oblige, then shortly after it was the irresistible and sexy Anderson .Paak, followed by a little bit of Chance The Rapper for a Summer music preview, finishing last with the mighty Bad Rabbits and their role as raconteurs of an American nightmare.

So, it was in this sort of stream of consciousness that 23-year old, Odd Future-associate Vince Staples’ recent album release came as a perfectly timed blessing. The sophomore LP by Long Beach, CA-based rapper goes by the title of Big Fish Theory and dropped on 23rd June under prominent and influential label Def Jam. The 12-track/36-minute long effort follows the widely critically acclaimed debut album Summertime ’06 (2015) as well as significant anticipation from leading news outlets and the whole scene more in general. I myself had been eyeing the MC for quite some time, although not necessarily out of a musical fandom calling – even though his most successful single off Summertime ’06 “Norf Norf” being an absolute gem – but rather because the dude, a very sharp-straight-edge-off-the-tabloids-vocal man in his early 20s who loves Sprite, seemed like a very interesting person to me. Therefore, when on 18th May lead single “Big Fish” truly grabbed my active attention (although Vince actually released an earlier first single called “BagBak” as back in time as 3rd February, though with no hint of a full album backing the track at the time), I made damn sure I wouldn’t miss the whole LP once out.

I actually wasn’t incredibly fond of the first track I fully devoted my ears to, i.e. “Big Fish”. Whilst I completely understand the song being picked as lead single as well as thematic frame for the whole concept of the album thanks to its forward-leaning catchiness and immediacy, the overall delivery results a bit too repetitive and empty, as if its main driving electronic sound and repetitive lyrics were the lowest common denominator Vince could find to fill that vacuum. A similar feeling is the one I get with reference to “BagBak”, at least as far as the instrumental track goes, nothing much than an simple, experimental base ending up being too hypnotic and unvaried to really assume he gave it a proper thought. Yet the song gains value when the lyrical delivery gets considered too, with aggressive, bold, and political elements all successfully intertwined (“Clap your hands if the police ever profiledYou ain’t gotta worry, don’t be scary ’cause we on nowAin’t no gentrifying us, we finna buy the whole townTell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now“).

One aspect that’s very interesting about Big Fish Theory, and one that my esteemed Twitter followers have already had the viewing pleasure to obtain, is that this is an album on which the opening track might actually be the best song overall. I find that too often artists tend to “sacrifice” the album opener either with a preface/prelude/intro which normally is too ambient-y anyway and doesn’t really add much to the overall musical frame, or with an annoying and unnecessary skit/oddity (this especially with hip hop/rap albums), really only contributing to boosting the track amount and nothing to the songwriting package. I’m actually a huge fan of openers and if I ever were to release my own music I swear I’d put my best song(s) right at the start of the tracklist, mainly to show myself the listeners what for. To me, this is what Vince Staples has done by placing the brilliant “Crabs in a Bucket” at number one on Big Fish Theory’s tracklist. The song, wonderfully co-produced and heavily influenced by Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon, is a dark and distorted backtrack with loads of experimental sounds and a pumping, near-to-perfect vocal delivery by Staples, refined and wrapped up by a thin, sensual, and necessary closure by Kilo Kish. The kind of song that immediately reminds me of some of my favourite rap tunes of all time.

Other album highlights include the sweaty and visceral “745”, which in many ways is that what style-related “Big Fish” and “BagBak” should’ve been, as well as the electric and vibey “Party People”, a song that despite its fun title deals in fact with deep self-search and overcoming of struggles (“Move your body if you came here to party / If not then pardon me / How I’m supposed to have a good time / When death and destruction’s all I see?”). The latter tune is also probably the only one that could’ve competed with “Big Fish”‘s radio-friendly character as main single, and in retrospect perhaps an even better choice for it. Last one to save is LP-closer and Ty Dolla $ign-collab “Rain Come Down“, a groovy G-funk cut with explicit leaning to auto-tuned, trappy sounds and the longest track on the whole record with almost 5 minutes of running time.

Unfortunately, the LP carries a number of less fortunate compositions, led by the purposeless skit “Ramona Park is Yankee Stadium” – I mean, come on, for once that an hip hop album is actually limited in its track listing one might as well just focus on the best songs, not least considering the fact that a skit’s main purpose is to let a 19-track album breathe… – and the not-so-dissimilar “Alyssa Interlude”, i.e. an isolated Amy Winehouse voice recording laid hand-in-hand with a sample of “I Wish It Would Rain” by The Temptations. I’m still looking for the whole point of those ones. In fact, I realized I’m not a fan of voicemail-turned-music trend songs at all, as none of the ones recently included in albums e.g. by Kanye West (“Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission” on The Life Of Pablo), Frank Ocean (Blonde’s “Be Yourself” and “Facebook Story [Ft. Sebastian]”), or even Kendrick Lamar (outro on “FEAR.” in his recent effort DAMN.) really made any sense to me. The list of insipid tracks on Big Fish Theory continues with the one-two “Homage” and “Samo” at number eight and nine on the tracklist, where I simply find myself being completely indifferent towards them, mainly because the mood and genre adopted by Vince on those two songs is something that I find being not easily digestible.

Lastly, there’s one song which I’m still not convinced I truly dislike, or in other words, one that might as well end up among the ones I enjoy listening the most. That track is the mighty Kendrick Lamar and Laura Jane Lowther collab “Yeah Right”, and such a feeling stems principally from the realisation that the composition is a nothing else than a combination of parts that for me are hard to get (Vince’s industrial-rapping intro plus outro) and very positive and inspiring moments, such as the Lowther-sung refrain and Lamar’s powerful and delicious verse. If one thinks about it, this could actually sum up most of Vince Staples’ enigmatic and fascinating public character, both as an individual and in his musical persona, further amplified by the obscurity of the album’s title meaning and some of the rapper’s promotional statements, like for instance the genius move about labelling his record’s overall sound as “afro-futurism”, only to then to admit of not knowing what it really means but still enjoying “saying stuff about black people to white people”. How can one not be attracted to someone like this? My kind of artist for sure.

AV

VINCE STAPLES

“BIG FISH THEORY”

2017, Def Jam Recordings

http://vincestaples.com

VS_Big Fish Theory