Tag Archives: 2002


The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
29th August 2002

From the moment the trio walk on stage, bedecked in white coats complete with red LEDs down the arms, you know this is not just another local indie band gig. Trademark are self-styled “oddball labcoat pop”, unashamedly dated yet with an original and personal sound; while Stuart Meads and Paul Soulsby tap away at their impressive array of synthesizers, singer Oli Horton emotes his way through a set of mini-sagas, some from their new album, Fear: Disconnection.

During the set a video was shown, charting Trademark’s history – including footage of this year’s Truck Festival appearance -and including visuals from gigs earlier in their career. Their new album is their fourth, and their songwriting maturity is palpable: Sawtooth Lust recalls early Human League circa Reproduction, but incorporating the advances in technology of the intervening 25 years. Sine Love is an earnest ballad, highlighting Oli’s sincere and angst-laiden vocal style, and the brilliant Focus a perfect synthpop song, with heavy distortion and a Gary Numan-esque guitar vibe.

New song Breakdown is a proggy three-section epic (the first two sections of which are performed completely live) with a hauntingly dark melody, suggesting twin passions of Depeche Mode (especially Black Celebration) and Yes, but also recalling Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy towards the end. Trademark seem to have married emotion and electronica to perfection, reminiscent of Soft Cell but with a fuller, more saturated sound.

Bizarrely, Paul gives a lecture in the middle of the set; this one was about about sawtooth, triangle and square waves, harmonics and “saturating the oscillator”. A previous lecture was about the evils of presets, and it is obvious that Trademark painstakingly craft all their sounds themselves; indeed, the whole set was was a lesson on how to create and construct beauty from the barest elements of sound.

The Soundtrack of our Lives and Sahara Hotnights

The Zodiac
11th May 2002

There’s been a bit of a word-of-mouth buzz surrounding Sweden’s Sahara Hotnights for a while now; at the Zodiac last Saturday, the noisy all-girl quartet from the small town of Robertsfors exuded power, rawness and punk energy (most evident in Josephine Forsman’s remarkable head-banging display on drums), but they also proved themselves to be a tight and competent ensemble, sassy and dripping with enthusiasm and verve. Singer Maria Andersson’s vocals harked back to Siouxsie Sioux and Saffron from Republica, but sometimes her shouty style made it hard to discern a tune. Like a gang of Suzi Quatros with attitude, their style veered from the Pixies on speed to any manner of Britpop bands like Lush, Elastica and Sleeper. Their songs were brash and arrogant, laden with fast basslines and rock riffs, but their lack of variety might work against them in the future – a few more interesting chord sequences would have been welcome amidst the repetition. Despite this, some tracks stood out, like the feisty Alright Alright (Here’s My Fist Where’s the Fight), Down and Out and the new single With Or Without Control, all from their recently released second album Jennie Bomb. Closing with No Big Deal, Sahara Hotnights had come and rocked and packed more chords into half an hour than most bands manage in a whole set.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives, however, were a different experience altogether. An extremely powerful live stage presence, they performed, rather than played; I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. Formed in Gothenberg, Sweden, in 1994 from the ashes of the domestically very successful Union Carbide Productions, a pedigree betrayed by their mature sound and style, the sextet fuse 60s rock n’ roll and psychedelia and 70s prog into a dreamy, delirious and forceful sound entirely of their own. Singer Ebbot Lundberg was a spectacle to behold: a beautiful, soulful and versatile voice emanating from black kaftan-clad bearded colossus; all arms, gestures and scary eyes, he even waded into the crowd during 21st Century Rip Off, exhorting us all to sit down. Comparisons to the Stones, Byrds, Captain Beefheart and even Pink Floyd are justified but come nowhere near to painting the whole soundscape; each song was an epic, sometimes quietening down towards the end a la The Doors before picking up again for a thundering finale. In a set mostly comprising songs from their third and most recent album Behind The Music, Ten Years Ahead came over as the best song Kula Shaker never covered, Tonight a dramatic lighter-waving tearjerking collaboration between keyboardist Martin Hederos and Ebbot, and Nevermore a fully-fledged prog-out. The crowd was most animated by the storming new single Sister Surround (released 13th May), a record of the week on Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 1 show. They clearly enjoy what they do and this was palpable; not to be confused with great new British bands like The Cooper Temple Clause or The Music, or fellow Swedes The Hives, the idiosyncratic TSOOL really are something else.


The Zodiac, Oxford
19th May 2002


It’s always daunting to go a gig of a band you love at which they are introducing new, as-yet-unreleased material. So I went off to see Mansun at the Zodiac trying suppress my high expectations – but, thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. Without the keyboards, the epic arrangements of previous performances weren’t possible, but their new songs didn’t suffer; the highlight was the radio-friendly and catchy Keep Telling Myself, although the punky and bass drum-led Secrets, guitar-heavy Slipping Away and mellow This Is My Home also stood out. They extended and sometimes improvised parts of their older songs, especially the set-closing seminal Take It Easy Chicken, and singer Paul Draper – whose current haircut (and the way he threw his head around) made him look scarily like Thom Yorke – tried to make a slightly unenthusiastic crowd sing bits of Legacy and even the early album track The Chad Who Loved Me.

Like at every other Mansun gig I’ve been to, something went wrong – this time a temporary amp failure – but a bloke in the crowd, whose impromptu slightly off-tune acappella Wide Open Space was praised by Draper, filled in the pause nicely. The lads from Chester looked cool and invigorated; their new stuff displayed a songwriting maturity that only comes with experience, while still keeping characteristic chord changes and Chad’s deft lead guitar riffs. I wasn’t even too bothered that they only played an hour of ten songs without an encore; they weren’t yet touring to promote the new album (due in Autumn), and so could slot new stuff in between crowd favourites without having to try too hard to match the crowd’s expectation.

All gigs should be like this: familiar Mansun played perfectly with a new twist, and new Mansun that was different to anything they’d done before but still – unmistakably – Mansun.


Photo: © Richard Whitelock

British Sea Power

The Zodiac, Oxford
15th October 2002


Things you should know about Brighton-based quartet British Sea Power: hailing mainly from the Lake District, their influences include Field Marshal Montgomery and Czech culture. They used to present their own eclectic night, Club Sea Power, monthly in Brighton. Their stage is bedecked with antlers and life-size plastic birds. They shun introductory music in favour of a reading by CS Lewis. Singer Yan, seemingly too small for a front man but given considerable gravitas by an intense stare and an echoing Bowie/Brett Anderson-ish howl, takes the stage in a brown tunic, with his brother, bassist Hamilton, guitarist Noble and drummer Wood in quasi-military garb.

However, it is their music which speaks the most about British Sea Power. With their martial onstage demeanour, every gig is a performance; they have a peculiarly captivating stage presence, and describe themselves as “high church amplified rock music”. There are some reference points: the group’s uniforms recall early Joy Division, Yan looks and acts like Ian Curtis, and Hamilton’s bass style is definitely redolent of Peter Hook.

Opener The Spirit of St Louis is a goth-punk peian to Iggy Pop and Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly across the Atlantic; its guitar swirls and darkness seem influenced by Echo and the Bunnymen, although at times it is difficult to determine whether BSP are completely original or highly derivative.

Their first single for Rough Trade, Remember Me, is a plaintive bass-driven catchier number, melodramatic but earnest. Hamilton sings A Lovely Day Tomorrow – apparently about Moravia – with accompaniment from the tour manager (standing in for new live addition Eamon), whose tinny keyboard riffs are in stark contrast to the guitars. Set closer Lately is an epic feedback-based jam rock-out, towards the end of which Yan ventures into the crowd, Hamilton does headstands before wailing from atop his brother’s shoulders, and Noble dismantles the drum kit and takes it into the crowd.

It seems that BSP have found their niche, and will develop within it in their own iconoclastic and eccentric style. They even sang a song about beetroot; they truly are a big hope for the future.


From Nightshift, November 2002

Photo: © Richard Whitelock


Royal Albert Hall, London
25th June 2002

In the 16 years I waited to see a-ha live, I aged from 6 to 22 and Morten Harket aged from 25 to 25. Admittedly I was in the back row of the Royal Albert Hall, but to me he looked great. And Magne and Paul didn’t look too bad either. The only British date on the tour accompanying Lifelines, the Norwegian trio’s second album since their comeback 3 years ago (although they’re coming back in December), this was their first gig here since 1993. Kicking off with the title track from their previous album, Minor Earth Major Sky, they played a set of 18 songs, mostly from Lifelines but with a few older tracks (I don’t really want to say “from their heyday”, but I suppose it was really) including Manhattan Skyline, Cry Wolf, Stay On These Roads, Hunting High and Low, The Living Daylights, Take On Me (during which the crowd went mad) and The Sun Always Shines On TV (during which I went mad).

The new stuff, especially Lifelines, You Wanted More and Forever Not Yours, charts how far the band have evolved since their synthpop days in the 80s; it’s now more mellow and mature, slick production and Morten’s wonderful voice saving it (just) from MOR mediocrity. They had to change to come back, and they’ve succeeded, even though they are more Radio 2 than Radio 1 these days. Still comfortable with their old tracks, the new stuff fits in comfortably. Morten can still hold a note; during The Sun… he warbled the long high notes for longer than in 1985, and his voice’s sheer emotional power in Hunting High and Low made me cry. (True.) The coloured LCD screens behind the band enlivened the stage a bit, but mostly the show was quite static. Paul did jig about a bit with his guitar, Magne did try to rock out from behind his keyboards and guitar, and admittedly Magne, Anneli the backing singer and Sven the bassist did to a little Shadows-style dance routine during Did Anyone Approach You, but Morten’s no dancing frontman like Dave Gahan. But he’s still brilliant, and he’s still 25.

Zoe Bicat, Spygirl and Joe Hughes

The Cellar, Oxford
4th November 2002

Having been put off folk music at an early age by my mother’s Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span records, I arrive at Trailerpark with some trepidation tonight as I’ve heard it’s going to be “folky”. Luckily, whatever genre tonight’s acts can be assigned to, I found something to enjoy in all of them.

Zoe Bicat had a large band, whose instruments balanced cleverly with each other – especially the cello and strong bass guitar. Zoe herself on acoustic guitar both sang and played delicately; her beautiful earnest and sombre voice commanded the crowd’s attention, and her dynamism in tempo and volume, and the band’s cooperation, managed to pack a wide range of moods and emotions into every song. In a good way, she reminded me of the Cranberries, but with more substance, feeling and variety.

Next up were Spygirl, from Vancouver, whose website describes their musical style as “urban folk trip funk country hop jazz pop” – an eclectic mix. Indeed, it is hard to name any similar artists, and only Morcheeba come close. Confident slinky vocals (courtesy of Koralee Tonack), sweeping ringing guitar and a strong funky bassline seem to be their hallmarks. The promise and originality displayed by the earlier songs in their set became less evident later on, but you still had the impression you were watching very accomplished musicians with a style of their own.

Joe Hughes, a former member of local Irish folk band Fionn, ended with a Strokes cover, which strangely fitted in well with the rest of his Anglified blues/folk/country angst-rock. His strong distinctive and powerful voice gave his self-contained songs energy and depth, and his band’s two guitars, bass and drums constructed much harmonic and melodic substance. Even the many – perhaps too many – guitar solos complemented Joe’s voice and his songs’ structure.

So: an enjoyable “folk” night, and not an All Around My Hat in sight.


From Nightshift, December 2002

Cumulonimbus, Nervous Testpilot and Blunt Instruments

The Cellar, Oxford
12th August 2002

Electronic diversity at this month’s Trailerpark: a first act starting acoustically only to end with DJs and breakbeats, a second act assaulting the audience with electronic madness, and a third act mixing laptop-generated sounds with live bass, all jaggedly enveloped with DJing from Oli and Sleeve.

Blunt Instruments started simply as a voice-guitar duo, Lewis Cutler’s soulful vocal acrobatics neatly complementing Simon Reynolds’ blues-funk chord style. After 2 songs, random hiphop breakbeats from the DJs sped up the fusion, and Lewis’ versatile voice coped well, nearly rapping in some places. They lacked their sax player and rapper but the latter was present on record, if slightly out of synch. However, their slick merging of genres made their short set work well live. Ill beats and blunt vocals? Not quite.

After a short interlude of Kraftwerk and Squarepusher came the night’s star – Nervous Testpilot, AKA the Paul Taylor Node. His eclectic mix of frenetic beats and diverse samples mostly baffled the audience, but couldn’t fail to charm. With tracks starting with cut up voice samples and ending like Tubular Bells in a car crash, the insanity was coherent: melodic percussion and rhythmic melodies weaved in and out to create a diverse, intriguing and original soundscape. The live performance of his Super Mario Bros theme remix was an ambush of drumnbass programming and every effect, transformation, and sample you could think of.

Unfortunately, Cumulonimbus weren’t so captivating. Their basic set-up – live bass guitar, laptop with sequencer and keyboard sampler – combined beautifully to laid-back drumnbass effect for the first track; unfortunately, the point was laboured somewhat as they overindulgently repeated the same formula for over an hour, with little variation, especially with the monotonous overuse of the Roland 909 snare. A promising start yielded disappointing results, and ate into Oli and Sleeve’s DJing time. However, with a little more imagination and creativity, as displayed by the night’s other acts, they could excel.


From Nightshift, September 2002


The Cellar, Oxford
31st January 2002

It wasn’t until my friend Dan mentioned on the way out that he thought they sounded like The Presidents of the USA that I found the comparison I had been searching for. AM60, the New York band who played at the Shifty Disco 5th anniversary “Songs of Praise” night, do indeed sound like the mid-90s punk/pop band but have a more varied sound than their fellow Americans. More sardonic and laid back, they came across like a cynical older brother to the Presidents’ excitable teenager. I couldn’t work out whether they take themselves more or less seriously, though; one of their songs, plaintive and slower than most of the rest of their set, seemed to be a paean to a “Fat Girl”.

If Britpop had a contemporary American equivalent, then AM60 are nu-US Britpop – less rocky than Wheatus and Blink 182, yet still more modern than the Presidents. They have been compared to De La Soul and Beck, and their style betrays a wide range of influences. Their East Village New York roots seem to be in hip-hop – their former drummer, Mackie, left them to join the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, and their former bass player and sometime artwork contributor, Chuck Treece, is a former member of Urge Overkill.

They played, along with Dustball, on the Shifty Disco live session on John Peel’s Radio 1 programme the night before, and their single from last August, Just A Dream, which had a lot of Evening Session airplay, was instantly recognisable. Their other songs ranged from one with a bossa-nova vibe that bizarrely reminded me of The Girl from Ipanema, to some that made them sound like a garage-rock version of No Doubt around their About a Girl period, combining ska and punk. Their delivery was understated and quite laconic; their 35 minute set wasn’t long enough to be either an especially captivating or dynamic appearance, although I suspect that as headliners in a bigger venue they might rock out a little bit more. However, I will remember the way mainman Chris Root held his guitar quite high, like a teenage George Formby, and his and bassist Leon De Bretagne’s hoodies.

AM60 – with a few more catchy songs like Just a Dream, they could go far.


From The Oxford Student, at some point


Zoe Bicat, Spygirl and Joe Hughes – The Cellar, Oxford – 4th November 2002

British Sea Power – The Zodiac, Oxford – 15th October 2002

Trademark – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 29th August 2002

Cumulonimbus, Nervous Testpilot and Blunt Instruments – The Cellar, Oxford – 12th August 2002

a-ha – Royal Albert Hall, London – 25th June 2002

Fischerspooner – The Bridge, London – 30th May 2002

Mansun – The Zodiac, Oxford – 19th May 2002

The Soundtrack of our Lives and Sahara Hotnights – The Zodiac, Oxford – 11th May 2002

AM60 – The Cellar, Oxford – 31st January 2002