Monday, 26 August 2013

Music: Interview with Crocodiles

Rock band Crocodiles return to Leeds for the first time in over three years to play a headline set at Brudenell Social Club.

The San Diego-based group has released four albums and will be performing music from their new album Crimes of Passion.

Formed in 2008, Crocodiles comprise vocalist and guitarist Brandon Welchez, guitarist Charles Rowell, bassist Marco Gonzalez, and keybrdist Robin Eisenberg.

“We’re a dirty rock and roll band,” says guitarist Charlie Rowell. “We play loud free-wheelin’ rock songs with a pop sensibility.”

Crocodiles’ sound makes a nod towards bands like Jesus and Mary Chain with sugary pop melodies drenched in feedback and guitar fuzz.

“We’re into Motown and Stax, and some the groups that pushed that sound further into the rock genre – bands like the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth,” says Charlie.

Their sound has seen them gain support in mainland Europe, but they are still looking to build up a reputation in the UK.

“We do really well in France, Italy and Spain – we’ve a lot of national TV coverage out there and get to play some really big venues. We’re looking forward to going back to some small clubs like the Brudenell,” says Charlie.

Their latest album is probably their most polished to date, with the band taking a broader variety of influences and sounds.

“The album features more horns than we’ve ever used before,” says Charlie. “As an album, it’s definitely my favourite. I feel like with graduated to another level in terms of our song-writing. It’s certainly the most cohesive album we’ve written. It sounds great and we’re all really pleased with it.

“It’s the first album we’ve done that really highlights our pop sensibilities – but it’s still quite noisy. We like to bracket the pop with a cacophony.”

The band are proud of their rock and roll antics and have been known to exact revenge while on tour to bands that have crossed them.

“The singer and I have been writing in bands for about 12 years now, so we’ve been in quite a lot of rock and roll situations,” says Charlie. “We were the support for a popular UK band who I won’t name. One of the guys in the band was a piece of work.

“We peed in his whiskey and when he came off stage after rocking the crowd and drank all of our urine. When we see him on the TV and in magazines, we just laugh.”

Crocodiles will be playing at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, on August 27.

This article was originally published by the Metro.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Music: Interview with Miles Hunt of The Wonder Stuff

Veteran indie band The Wonder Stuff will be joining the likes of Primal Scream and the Human League at next weekend’s Bingley Music Live festival.

The band rose to fame in the early 90s with a series of hit singles including Welcome to the Cheap Seats, The Size of a Cow and Dizzy featuring comedian Vic Reeves.

Unlike many bands that rest on the laurels of their youth, The Wonder Stuff continue to record music and are energised by the prospect of playing their new songs to a festival audience.

“We’ll be playing a few songs from the new album Oh No! It’s the Wonder Stuff,” says frontman, Miles Hunt. “And then we’ll be pretty much covering all of our previous albums right back to Eight Legged Groove Machine.

“I really enjoy playing the new stuff because it offers me a bit more of challenge. We’ve been playing the old songs for so long that I can recite the alphabet backwards in my mind while I’m doing them.

“That’s not to say I don’t enjoy doing them – I love doing them. When we get to the part in the set where we play the old stuff I can just enjoy the experience.”

Miles and his girlfriend, The Wonder Stuff violinist Erica Nockalls, played an acoustic set at last year’s Bingley Music Live and were asked to return this year with the full line-up.

“It was a lovely vibe,” says Miles, “we didn’t really know what to expect, but the audience were great.

“The promoters had dressed the stage really beautifully. There were these old reading lamps that made it look like an old Victorian sitting room – it was absolutely gorgeous, so we’re really looking forward to going back.

“Yorkshire has always been a great place for us, even going back the late-80s playing in the Warehouse in Leeds. We’ve been lucky that we’ve always had a lovely audience in Yorkshire.”

While at the festival, the band hope to watch some of the other acts on the bill.
“I’m looking forward to Chic. When I found out we were going to be on the same stage as them on the same day I thought ‘get in!’ I absolutely can’t wait to see them. Then you’ve got the Human League – it’s just hit after hit with the League.”

The Wonder Stuff will be returning to Yorkshire in December when they play alongside other early-90s indie acts Pop Will Eat Itself and Jesus Jones at Sheffield’s O2 Academy.

The acts involved have had a close connection since the late-80s.

“When I was 18 I got a flat with Clint Mansell from Pop Will Eat Itself in Stourbridge,” says Miles.

“He formed Pop Will Eat Itself at the same time we formed The Wonder Stuff, so there’s always been that link there.

“We would have been clueless about setting up an indie label if it wasn’t for Pop Will Eat Itself. They gave us loads of ideas, gave us our contacts – so we owe a lot to them.

“It’s a crowd of a similar age which is really interesting. You see people pulling out their old ‘Senseless Things and Eat’ t-shirts – that’s if they still fit into them, of course.”

Miles was raised in the Marston Green area of Birmingham and is proud of the musical heritage of the Midlands – artists which are often overlooked by the mainstream music press.

Last year the band recorded an album of cover versions by artists from the Midlands including Duran Duran, The Beat and Dodgy entitled From the Midlands With Love.

“We thought it would be fun to bring some much-needed attention to some of the great Midlands’ artists that don’t get the look in they deserve,” says Miles. “When I was a kid building up my record collection, I listened to a lot of Slade and Wizard. By the time you had punk rock and new wave in the late-70s, you had all the reggae coming out of Birmingham like UB40, Steel Pulse and Weapon of Peace. Then you had bands like Au Pairs and Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

“As well as loving the music, when I’d buy these seven-inches, I had this extra sense of pride that these guys were from just around the corner. It inspired me to thinking that if these guys from Birmingham, Solihull, Wolverhampton, Dudley, were releasing these records then why can’t I?”

Miles believes that bands from the Midlands are overlooked in the music press because of what he sees as a sensibility particular to the region.

“This is of course a huge over-generalisation,” say Miles, “but historically Midlanders have a self-deprecating sense of humour.

“If you compare a band from say Birmingham or Wolverhampton with a band from Manchester or Liverpool – Mancunians and Liverpudlians are very proud of where they come from and they’re happy tell everyone how great everything that came out of their hometown is – and so they should.

“The problem is that the London media go up to the Midlands and think ‘well, if you won’t take yourselves seriously, then why should we?’ When you’ve got bands like the Stone Roses and Echo and the Bunnymen telling you they’re the best band in the world, well that’s a lot easier to write about.”

Bingley Music Live, Myrtle Park, Bingley, August 30 to September 1. The Wonder Stuff will be playing on September 1.

This article was originally published by the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Music: Enter Shikari change their tune

For their headline set on the rock stage at Leeds Festival, Enter Shikari are ditching their guitars and drum kits in favour of keyboards and drum machines.

Their new project, Shikari Sound System, sees the band turn to the world of electronic, finding their inspiration more in dubstep and house music than the hard-core metal of Enter Shikari.

The Shikari Sound System concept came to the band at last year’s Leeds Festival. “The last time we played, we had this DJ set booked,” says guitarist Rory Clewlow. “Normally when you do a DJ set at a festival you turn up to a tiny little tent, but this place was huge and there were about 3,000 people raving. We went on at one in the morning, and it was easily the best DJ set we’ve ever done – it’s what inspired us to do the Shikari Sound System.”

And this year they return to Leeds for what will be both a headline and a debut set for the new project – a first for an act headlining Leeds Festival. “We’ve not done a live show yet, so we’ve got no idea how it’s going to go,” says Rory. “Don’t come and see us expecting to see Enter Shikari because they’re not playing, it’s Shikari Sound System that’s playing – it’s a totally different project.”

Enter Shikari always enjoy playing at Leeds Festival, believing the Leeds audience to be one of the best in the country. “There’s always lots of energy at our shows. We’re always trying to provoke something from the crowd. It’s so generic to say it, but it is true: the more energy, the more we can get into it and enjoy it. It’s a better show for everyone involved – it can get pretty chaotic,” says Rory.

“Every time we play in Yorkshire you get the crowd chanting ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire’, so you definitely know where you are. We’re like ‘yeah, you know where we are, we get it, let’s move on’. Seriously though, it’s great, we do appreciate it.”

But the band branching out into electronic music does not mark the end for Enter Shikari. “Enter Shikari will always be there for us, that’s what we do, that’s what we’ve been building for the past ten years, “ says Rory. “This is just a bit of fun on the side – we’ll just see where it goes.”

Shikari Sound System will be playing the Rock Stage at Leeds Festival on Friday, August 23.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Review: Bosnian Rainbows @ Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, August 14.

Bosnian Rainbows, the new project from Mars Volta guitarist and spiritual leader Omar Rodríguez-López, took to the stage at Leeds’ Brudenell Social Ciub.

Performing tracks from their self-titled debut album, the show kicked off with the jaw-dropping rendition of Eli – a dark and brooding number that leaned more towards some of Nine Inch Nails’ more introspective moments than the sonic barrage associated with Rodríguez-López’s other projects.

Vocalist Teri Gender Bender (her stage name, apparently) stalked around the stage, reminiscent of some of Iggy Pop’s more intense performances. Although the delivery was excellent, and her stage presence mesmerizing, it soon became clear that the band had peaked with their opener.

Much of their music is what Bat for Lashes might sound like if they spent a lot of time in Mexico – the Latino influence was plain, but there was something about the music that didn’t quite work in a live setting.

The set felt like a group of incredibly talented musicians going through the motions of being a young, cool, rock band. But with the venue less than half-full, the band struggled to connect with the crowd.

Music: Interview with Django Django

Over the past year and a half, quirky indie band Django Django has gone from strength to strength. Their self-titled debut album received plaudits from international music critics and saw the group nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize.

This weekend, the band is set to headline the Beacons Festival, near Skipton. The festival boasts a bill of some of the best emerging artists including Local Natives, Savages, and Sky Larkin, plus a rare showing by the pioneering punk band Wire.

The London-based four-piece formed in 2009 and are comprised of singer and guitarist Vincent Neff, bassist Jimmy Dixon, drummer and producer David Maclean and keyboardist Tommy Grace.

The name Django Django comes from the band’s love of old cowboy films. “We’re all big fans of Spaghetti westerns and reggae, and a lot of Jamaican artists referenced a lot of Westerns in their music,” says bassist Jimmy. “It just sounded right for the music we were making – it was ambiguous and also rhythmic as well.

“Dave asked one his friends once whether they liked the name, and they said it was probably the worst band name they’d ever heard, so we took it as a good thing and went with it,” he added.

There was never a conscious decision made by the band to produce an album. “As soon as we started writing things together as a band we started recording all our ideas,” says Jimmy. “We were just recording it as we went along on Dave’s computer. So we were literally just going round Dave’s house and building songs up there and writing the album without really being aware of it.”

And until just a few months before the album’s release, every part of the album’s production was home-grown. “We never went to a recording studio or anything like that,” says Jimmy. “We didn’t even have a drum kit for a while, so we were mic-ing up all sorts of things and messing around with different sounds.

“We were really restricted in what we could do, but I think that was a positive thing because we had to be more creative with what we had. It was only once the album was finished that it was sent to a proper studio to be mixed and mastered.”

The band’s song-writing process sees them record different noises and musical ideas onto a computer. These are then chopped and digitally manipulated, with the different sounds being layered over each other, often sounding completely different to the original idea.

“We kind of did things the wrong way round”, says Jimmy. “We layered all these different sounds and melodies up before we really knew how to play them live. It was very strange – we had to learn how to play our songs.”

But with the complexity of the tracks, the band soon realised that they weren’t going to be able to reproduce what they had done on the record – but for Django Django, this is part of what makes the live experience exciting for them.

“We didn’t want to go down the road of using backing tracks or anything like that,” says Jimmy. “We had to strip a lot of things back and work out what was essential to each track. It’s been really challenging, but it’s meant that we’re not so precious with the songs. We’ve been able to take the songs apart and rebuild them – some songs we play live sound nothing like they do on the record. We’ve treated the live shows like another creative process.

“A lot of people have told us that our live show sounds like a progression from the album, and that’s really good to hear.”

The band take pride in their live shows, and see them as more than just a musical experience. “We’ve got a lot of lighting and projections that we’ll be taking to Beacons,” says Jimmy. “It’s by the artist Kim Coleman who we’ve been working with for quite a few years.

“She directed the video to Waveforms and we really liked her aesthetic, so got her to work on the stage show. We always said that we want to make our live shows special – it’s really important to us to put on a good live show.”

For Jimmy, playing in Yorkshire is something of a homecoming. The bassist was born and raised in Leeds, growing up with his family in the Beeston and Morley areas of the city.

“Whenever we played in Leeds I always had my friends and my family there. We did a couple of shows at A Nation of Shopkeepers which were great – it was really fun, and there was a really good little crowd. As soon as the album came out we played in the Cockpit – I pretty much spent the whole of my teenage years in Leeds at the Cockpit, so for me it was a real homecoming,” says Jimmy.

“We’re really looking forward to headlining Beacons, we’re all really excited about playing, and I can’t wait to be back up north.”

Once the festival season is over, Django Django plan to begin work on their second album. “We’ve been touring this album for the past year and a half, so we’re really keen to start recording as soon as possible, says Jimmy.

“We’ve got six or seven sketches for songs that we’re going to record as soon as we’ve got the festivals done. There’s no timescale, but we want to get it out at some point early next year."

This article was originally published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on August 15, 2013.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Art: Nicolas Deshayes at S1 Artspace

A new exhibition in Sheffield draws on the work of two Leeds institutions. Jon Cronshaw on Nicolas Deshayes’ Crude Oil.

This month, for the first time, Sheffield’s expansive S1 Artspace will display historical sculpture from the Leeds Museum and Art Galleries’ permanent collection – but this is no ordinary collection.

The sculptures by artists including Frank Dobson, Jacob Epstein and Henry Moore will be displayed as part of the contemporary artist Nicolas Deshayes’ latest exhibition, Crude Oil. Last year, Deshayes was commissioned to develop a new series of work following a period of research at the Henry Moore Institute Archive and Leeds Museums and Galleries sculpture collection. The title of the show comes from the artist’s obsession with how seemingly unnatural objects are actually derived from nature.

“Crude oil is something that is very natural and is made from the breaking down of living materials like animals and trees from millions of years ago,” says Deshayes.

“What I’m interested in is how crude oil gets turned into something quite unnatural like plastic. Plastic doesn’t look like anything you’d find in nature, it doesn’t biodegrade, but in reality it is made from this biological substance.”

The exhibition sees a series of historical sculptures displayed against the background of smooth plastic objects and rippling aluminium tables that look more like the surface of water than carefully prepared industrial metal.

“I like the idea of bringing a bit of chaos to very careful industrial processes,” says Deshayes. “I use anodised aluminium a lot in my work. It’s a material that is usually clean and sleek – it’s used on things like iPods and other gadgets. I like to see how this process can be used to create different effects to the ones we’re used to.”

The London-based artist spent time in the archives and art library at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, researching sculpture from the artist’s letters and sketchbooks to help him chose a selection of historical sculptures which would compliment his work.

“I was quite excited when I got to choose traditional sculptures to go alongside my work,” says Deshayes.

“It gives my work a new dimension – an anodised aluminium table becomes a plinth. You see the reflections of these traditional sculptures in the surface of my own work. It’s not something I’ve done before. I was amazed to find that those who many people see as quite traditional artists had ideas that are still relevant today. Artists in Yorkshire don’t know how lucky they are – the Henry Moore Institute’s library is amazing.”

Jacob Epstein’s 1942 portrait of George Black is displayed opposite Frank Dobson’s 1936 portrait of Margaret Rawlings.

“It was a really weird experience when I first put them together,” he says of the exhibition.

“They reminded me of something like the victims of Mount Vesuvius covered in volcanic ash, or like when you see rescued birds after an oil spill at sea.

“It’s as though these figures have been set adrift at sea – they look really striking.”

This article was originally published by the Yorkshire Post on August 9, 2013.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Art: Sweet delights at the Henry Moore Institute

Thousands of boiled sweets and floating silver balloons sound like the perfect addition to any ten-year-old’s birthday party, but these objects are currently on display at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, alongside ancient Chinese jades, a lump of asphalt and a tiny indoor garden.

Indifferent Matter: From Object to Sculpture takes its name from the idea that objects become meaningful through the ways people interact with them – from the names they are given to the functions they perform.

“The exhibition title refers to the idea that these objects remain the same however they are labelled,” says Pavel Pyś, displays and exhibitions curator at the Henry Moore Institute. “They can be given a name and they are indifferent to it – it doesn’t change their properties. The objects are indifferent to the meanings we give them.”

On entering the main gallery, you are immediately confronted by Felix Gonzalez Torres’ 1991 work Untitled (Placebo) – a glimmering rectangle consisting of thousands of silver-wrapped sweets arranged carefully on the gallery floor. “What makes this work so unique is that everyone is invited to touch the art,” says Lisa Le Feuvre, head of sculpture studies at the Institute. “You can even take them away with you and eat them. They’re all pineapple-flavoured; they’re quite tasty.” At the end of each day, the sweets are replenished.

Untitled (Placebo) isn’t the only exhibit requiring constant maintenance. Also on display is Hans Haacke’s 1967 work Grass Cube – a perspex box holding a tray of grass-seeded soil that will grow over the course of the exhibition.

These works are displayed alongside ancient Chinese jades whose purposes and creators are shrouded in mystery, and a recently discovered mineral that has yet to be given an official name by the International Mineralogical Association. “As a material, these things are quite indifferent to the name you place upon them,” says Pyś. “We have a mineral that is 2m years old, but has only recently been discovered and is yet to be named.

“We’re going to have to change the label when the journal article comes out with its official name. But in reality the mineral will still be sitting there, completely unchanged – the lump of rock will be the same. And so this matter is absolutely indifferent to the desires that we project upon it.”

The central room of the gallery houses Andy Warhol‘s 1966 work Silver Clouds – where half-inflated balloons float around the gallery and collide with each other and other works on display. These ‘clouds’ form a surreal backdrop to the work of Steven Claydon.

The London-based artist was commissioned by the institute to produce two display plinths to house fragments of ancient Roman sculptures – their creators and who they depict are both unknown. The cases are based on materials used for the conservation and transportation of ancient objects used by the British Museum.

“I was interested in using those materials – something which is usually hidden away – and giving them new meaning by displaying them,” says Claydon. “I’m excited to see how these objects change in their meaning. The plan is to have other objects in there. It could be a piece of foam, some radioactive rock, the plinths could be empty.”

In the final gallery, Robert Smithson’s 1967 work Asphalt Lump, which started life as a discarded byproduct of steel production, is exhibited next to eoliths – chips of flint originally believed to be made by early man, a theory later discredited.

“We have tried to put objects together that raise similar questions,” says Pyś. “For example, we have a piece of asphalt that the artist Robert Smithson came across in a foundry – he gave it a name and a date, and through this act of naming it became a piece of sculpture.

“Displayed next to this are eoliths. They were discovered by amateur archaeologists in the 19th century, and they convinced people that they were made by the earliest humans – this wasn’t true, they were formed by nature. What interested us is the fact that the description and label of these objects has stayed with them. Their importance and meaning is from language, not the objects themselves.”

The organisers believe that the exhibition has something for everyone. “Everyone has their own keys for perceiving these objects,” says Lisa. “A 13-year-old might enjoy the fact that there are sculptures made out of sweets that they can touch and can take home and eat. A retired mineralologist might be intrigued by the fact that we’ve got a recently discovered mineral that is millions of years old, but hasn’t been named yet. A five year old may love the silver balloons floating around the gallery, and a professor in art history might appreciate it in a different way. Everyone’s experience is unique and I think that’s what makes it exciting.”

Indifferent Matter: From Object to Sculpture is on exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, until 20 October 2013.

This article was originally published by the Guardian.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Reportage: Challenging times for Morley's charity shops

Charity shops in Morley have reported a significant drop in donations over the past year.

Tracy Whitaker, assistant manager of the British Heart Foundation shop in Queen Street said: “We’ve definitely seen a drop in donations in the past 12 to 18 months. With everyone’s money the way it is, people are getting more wear out of their stuff.”

Jeanie Stewart, deputy manager of St Gemma’s Hospice shop, said: “We’re constantly trying to get donations. More people are keeping hold of clothes, or selling them instead of donating them to charity – it’s a sign of the times.”

Charity shops also have to contend with organised gangs of thieves stealing donations.

Tina Lawrence, manager of Arthritis Research UK, said: “People who do car boot sales often donate the things they don’t sell and leave them outside on a Sunday. If no one’s here to take them, you come in on a Monday morning and thieves have already rifled through the donations and taken most of what’s there – they leave a right mess.”

This article was originally published in the Morley Observer and Advertiser, August 1, 2013.