2012 Gig Highlights (May)

May Day saw the dawn of a very special venue indeed. The SAVAGES/PINS gig at Manchester’s Fuhrer Bunker is one for the history books, primarily for revealing the bunker’s now-legendary cage setting. Playing to a limited capacity crowd, the electricity in the air was tangible from the moment you located the building in the middle of the deserted rubbish-laden landscape to the moment the bands stepped inside the restrictive wooden structure. New Manchester female 4-piece PINS had already generated a solid local following, while London female 4-piece Savages were largely known only by name.

Rather than the bands’ performances, the energy in the atmosphere was heightened more by the fact that only women performed inside the cage all evening, being peered upon at close range through the wooden slats in near-darkness – this added a distinct element of creep and discomfort to the occasion, a voyeuristic quality which lends the venue its controversial notoriety. The claustrophobic sensation caused by having several musicians performing live within such a physically confined, badly-lit, under-heated space was exactly what was needed to level the bands out, bringing Savages and PINS onto the same plane of discomfort and challenge. This is another element that makes this venue so exciting and disturbing at the same time – you always leave the bunker feeling slightly rattled, as if you have witnessed some personal struggle. In my experience, it’s the only venue where you can be certain that the bands are forced to dig deep and perform to a level which they hope will live up to such close-up scrutiny. In short, there is no escape for bands at the bunker.

Despite the levelling out created by the cage environment, once the bands had exited the structure, the distinction between the two 4-pieces became visible – sometimes humorously so: while Savages were being ferried around in a tour bus and kept somewhat of a low profile, PINS had rolled up in a compact car, sharing jokes with visitors and happily in awe of the London band. Backstage, Savages singer Jehnny received the press attention, the rest of the band politely nibbling on donated bread, while PINS members said their goodbyes, some choosing to walk home alone through the dark deserted urban wasteland, as transport arrived to whisk away Savages. North had met South. The bunker stripped down and revealed both bands to us that night, sealing its reputation as the most unique UK venue for up-and-coming bands.

The Islington Mill branch of annual Salford festival Sounds From The Other City boasted an amazing lineup, including Toronto’s AU PALAIS, Brighton’s FEAR OF MEN, Manchester’s PINS, Nashville’s THE BLACK BELLES and Athens’ KEEP SHELLEY IN ATHENS. Liverpool Sound City was a close second with its lineup including London’s CLOCK OPERA and Sydney’s THE JEZABELS, among others. Clock Opera, who offer a perfect mix of classical instrumental and synth-pop, continue to be one of the most underrated bands in the UK – their live shows emotionally powerful and technically brilliant.

We had the pleasure of enjoying a number of British talented female singer-songwriters and female-led bands, including LUCY ROSE, PAPER AEROPLANES, KAL LAVELLE, ZOE KONEZ and BIRD. London-based Lucy Rose by far impressed us the most, with her distinctive vocals, quirky lyrics and excellent arrangements. There’s a warmth in her live performances and a feisty energy which at points bursts out from behind her quiet exterior. Female acts continue to get lumped together in the UK (*yawn*) and those who are incredibly talented and “a bit different” are not getting much look-in. It’s clearly a point of frustration for every female musician, but it does seem that breaking out of the “safe and samey” mould which has for too long now been in fashion, could be the next best move for many. GARBAGE‘s Shirley Manson certainly wants to see things shaken up, not hesitating to use the word “dinosaur” to describe the industry’s current condition (http://www.nme.com/news/garbage/64258).

We also enjoyed established international female performers, including American singer-songwriter RACHAEL YAMAGATA who brought some nostalgia to London’s Bush Hall, and 2013 Grammy-nominated German torch singer UTE LEMPER who brought to London’s beautiful Union Chapel her characteristic campy glamour combined with passion for some of the most powerful lyrics in international songwriting history – through the magic of Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, and Berthold Brecht, among others.

May ended on another SAVAGES note, with a sweaty performance at London’s Shacklewell Arms followed by their second foray into Manchester – this time at The Islington Mill, famed for its connection with The Ting Tings. A brilliant live headlining performance from Savages was slightly overshadowed by astonishing support band DIE HEXEN. Jaws dropped to the ground as blindfolded singer/drummer D Lucille and synth specialist Sophie Gug took to the stage with their highly stylized image and sound. Having barely done a live gig before, they had already nailed their look and were surprisingly tight. Rarely does a first support blow the crowds away. The highly original Manchester-based band has been another great discovery, and I’m hoping a sign of things to come in the city.

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