By Jordan Mooney.
Photographs by Zhaos Photography.
Yorkshire, and, in many ways, the North in general, has a lot of difficulty in the alternative scene.
Mainly because there isn’t much of one that’s heavily recognised or identified with. When we’re based in Leeds, this makes things difficult. Our closest concert city is Manchester, and even this fine city isn’t too accepting of the punk ethic.
Needless to say, this broad, somewhat sweeping definition has no interest in saying there isn’t a scene at all. Of course there is – it’s simply not recognised. The closest that Yorkshire has to true alternative scenes are the unusual and eclectic festivals, such as the seminal Whitby Goth. It simply seems that the majority is buried deep underground.
Which has a few effects.
The first is that we’ve got to travel a lot to places that we can’t always afford, which means gigs are a somewhat rare treat for Cat on the Wall.
The second is that when we, the alternative audience, appear, whether ten or ten thousand of us, it promises to be a fantastic night. Very intimate, very personal, and very open. No guard or exclusivity. Just enjoyment, chatter, conversation and support for talent, both young and old, with musicians, promoters and fans all on the same wavelength and ideal.
This is the easiest way to explain my experiences at the Corporation, Sheffield, on the 26th of June 2014.
Oh yes, we were looking forward to tonight…
As ever, let’s begin with the first impressions.
Corporation, Sheffield UK
Sheffield’s Corporation is a surprisingly famous venue, it turns out. To this location I was quite uninitiated. It stands there as a gigantic black monolith of brutalist industrial architecture, a naturally towering entrance with huge metal shutters. This is no small time pub venue – it’s an out and out alternative night spot, dedicated to all and sundry – with a strong preference for heavy bass and crunchy guitar that makes the walls shudder in delight.
Our evening was to be held in the ‘small room’, and indeed, it was really no larger than one would expect from a decent sized ‘bar venue’ – it was a cool, airy, atmospheric sort of space. Unless you were on stage. In which case, it was a very warm, humid space with no air left in the vicinity…
The walls were black, hobgoblin was available and there was, simply, a very decent little space for an incredibly decent little crowd. But to make things better….the Corporation’s small room provided some of the best sound I’ve ever heard at a live venue. Near perfect. It was crunchy, plenty of bass…everything was balanced perfectly – which was actually quite a surprise.
In a line up like this, mixing can be expected to be difficult. Alexa De Strange has, by nature, a very high operatic vocal style, which, while beautiful and beguiling, is quite a step away from the surrounding acts on the bill for this evening. It’s evident that the sound engineer who ‘ran’ this gig did so tailoring the musicians to the letter.
I’d dare say that Corporation, in fact, provided some of the best sound I’ve heard since Whitby Goth Weekend – and baring in mind the massive changes in scale between them, it’s more than an impressive achievement. The sound quality I heard here is very close to what one could dub world class. No small accolade, and one for which I insist a strong sincerity.
Positives all around on an audience standpoint, but I did hear rumblings of intense discomfort up on stage. I can’t comment for myself, as, for obvious reasons, I wasn’t up on stage (If you ever see Jordan on stage, run. Run! RUN!), but I do know that the lack of oxygen up there made performing a touch ‘difficult’ as the night went on. But this is the alternative scene. The bands would trudge through gallons of mud if it meant providing a good show. And provide it they did.
Ultimately? The corporation is a venue that deserves its popularity. And made a fantastic location for this evening.
As previously mentioned, the music on hand was largely hard and heavy. And from the off, no effort was spared this evening. The audience were treated like kings. Kings with an unusual taste in music, perhaps, but kings all the same..!
The line up was largely what one would dub ‘post-hardcore’, with Everyday Sidekicks, a young but steadily growing group from Bristol, with a performance brimming with energy; The Mask of Virtue, local boys and electro-metalheads, previous Cat on the Wall visitors Chasing Dragons, whom’s delightful hard rock always entertains, and, second in the line up, perhaps the biggest reason we were there, all told… We had been invited quite specifically by the lovely Alexa De Strange, whom we’d seen previously at Whitby Goth Weekend and fallen quite in love with.
The gig ran like clockwork, only a short while after exploring our surroundings, the music was ready to start…
Paul Romaniuk (Vocals), Tim Brown, Josh Pasley (Guitars), Dan Gilbert (Bass), Archie Hatfield (Drums)
The evening started with Bristol based post-hardcore group, Everyday Sidekicks, a group of relatively young musicians with a massive amount of energy to their performance. While it can’t be claimed this was an extraordinary, incredibly unusual sort of outfit, it was the youth and energy of this group that really provided the bulk of the performance.
Jumping, stomping and flying around the stage, this was a group that proved an excellent warmer for the crowd. Their energy and passion for what they’re capable of was their greatest asset, and it’s no wonder that the group has achieved a fairly sizable following in such a short amount of time.
It’s not unusual for a young group to have a feeling of uncertainty when it comes to the performance or their place in the industry, yet, happily, a discussion with their manager stands to strong evidence that this band not only knows what they’re doing, but knows where they’re going.
Particular credit has to go to guitarist Josh Pasley. This man managed to zip out into the audience with such pace our photographer was left very confused and disorientated. It was like seeing a jackrabbit after inhaling a fine white powder. Except said jackrabbit is playing a guitar.
There’s a melodic edge to the group, and for organisation they really did prove very impressive. This is a sort of ‘laid back’ live group. The band themselves go nuts, and the audience stands back and watches, examines, takes it all in – that’s a perfect opener, and I hope that coming up all the way from Bristol proved beneficial for them – it’s more than deserved.
The ultimatum? Everyday Sidekicks were an excellent asset to the line up. The night was off to a very positive start.
Now, however…it’s time for the ‘big attraction’!
ALEXA DE STRANGE
Alexa De Strange (vocals), Shannon Lee (Bass), George Stergiou (Guitar), Chris McConville (Drums)
Alexa De Strange have proven, in no uncertain terms, to be one of the friendliest sets of people I’ve ever met. This isn’t the only reason we love them though – with Alexa’s incredible, classically-trained vocals producing a most beguiling, elegant high note, one would normally assume she was enough to give the group its identity.
Alexa De Strange is a group that pops up once. It simply doesn’t happen very often. The sheer beauty is that nobody dominates this outfit – every member is a key personality, and every member dominates their own section of stage. Mixing the elegant vocals with a rather more sleazy tone of rock and roll luxury produces a beautiful, haunting, over indulgent and self-glorifying rock and roll that celebrates every aspect of the booze ridden world of music.
I’ve spoken about Alexa’s fine performance at Whitby Goth Weekend in the past, but to see them stand a bit more on their own two feet in a closed, intimate setting proved to be a real treat.
I mean it sincerely when I say that few groups are so deserving of recognition as Alexa De Strange. There’s no bands quite like this one – it’s so ridiculously rare, so bizarre, for a group to mesh together so perfectly that I can’t help but rave about them.
Alexa De Strange are, quite simply, world class. A world class vocalist, bassist, strummer and drummer, piecing together into a beautifully sleazy group of glory and guitar.
While they weren’t at the top of the bill, Alexa De Strange were at the top of their league. As ever they are. I simply can’t wait to bring them back to Cat on the Wall.
Tank (Vocals), Mitch (Guitar), Ant (Bass), Kate (Drums)
Next up comes a group all too familiar, still the only Leeds group to really impress us enough for the ‘zine, Chasing Dragons. As ever, they gave an exemplary bit of hard rock with all of the power and strength of a…well, Tank.
As previously noted in our review of their album launch back in May, this group’s personality and passion for their music continues to provide a strong asset to some really kickass song writing. While it’s difficult to always explain what makes Chasing Dragons work, it’s evident that every member is essential to the group’s success, and I’m not convinced anybody could replace the current line up.
This second viewing of a Chasing Dragons set gave us a fine opportunity to study the group’s performance in more detail, and work out what really seems to provide this band with such an edge.
Particular credit must go to Kate, whom provides a surprisingly dominating percussion to the group’s stage performance. She quite literally plays up a storm, giving a powerful, intimidating backdrop to the rather more melodic sound taking up the front of the stage.
Combined with incredibly tight playing from Mitch and Ant, the result is a melodic, tough hard rock with a deep pitch and a great attitude. Tank, whom we’ve already spoken about at length, may not have the operatic tone of Alexa, but she can hold a note beautifully, to the point that we less…physically capable people get out of breath just watching!
It was a treat seeing this group takeover a venue again. Here’s hoping for more very soon.
THE MASK OF VIRTUE
Danny Costello (Vocals), Danny Blackett (Guitar), Seb Crookes (Guitar), Tom Lee (Bass), Ash Spencer (Drums)
The final group on the roster was an unusual combination, The Mask of Virtue. Characterised by an unusual mix of electronica and your usual, more traditional genre of post-hardcore metal, this screaming cacophony of suspiciously futuristic noise made for a fine finisher of the evening. Composed of screaming, splitting vocals, heavy, chugging riffs and a very raw, hefty sound, The Mask of Virtue are an unusual variation on your typical ‘core group, and it made for quite a spectacle to see such a genre plucked live for the first time.
With shouts of ‘WHO ARE YA?!’ from the staff at the Corporation – turns out the vocalist works there! – This made for quite a nice high point for the end of the gig, and while the headline act this evening wasn’t a band we had travelled explicitly to see, they certainly warmed us to them effortlessly.
With plenty of volume, simply fantastic vocals – And a surprising mix of your traditional hardcore and melodic in his range – from Danny Costello, and some really impressive guitar work, this is definitely a live group, and an understandable choice for ‘final play’.
Saying that, in my mind they succumbed slightly to the ‘headline affliction’, and that’s the length of the set. It happens to every headliner, I think, and it’s something one can’t rectify easily. By nature, a headline act has to provide a longer playing time, and, when the other groups have been such quick shots in the arm by comparison, my mind – at the very least, mine alone – begins to wander and get a touch antsy.
This isn’t purely for Mask of Virtue, though. In fact it happens even with our beloved Whitby Goth. It’s simply a problem I have with the ‘establishment’ of how these evenings work. (anarchic little bugger, am I not?) Does it mean a bad headliner? I don’t think so. Often it’s because the lead in acts were so bloody good.
All the same, I loved Mask of Virtue. I loved all of the bands this evening. And I think it’s proof that this alternative culture is alive, kicking and still coming up with great, inspirational ideas. What a thoroughly enjoyable set up.
This is a section I rarely touch upon, but I feel like something has to be said about the people we met this evening. This was an event truly run and attended by people with a passion, a unified passion for music. Metal, rock and roll, gothic, or simply alternative – everybody here liked something just that little bit different. This was proven by the pride, sincerity and sheer enthusiasm that everybody had to express.
The first person we have to give a shout out to is Mr. Eddie Eales, of Eddie Eales Events, whom noticed Alexa De Strange in Whitby and now plans to have them jet setting to London in only a few days to perform for a major label. This gentleman knows alternative like the back of his hand. He knows of every Northern scene, every major event, and knows exactly what needs to be done. He’s also incredibly passionate for all of the musicians he works with, and I’m pleased to say he’s the perfect chap for getting a deserving band ‘out there’. He’s also incredibly catering, the finest hospitality one could possibly expect. He introduced us to any figures, managers, photographers or organisers that could potentially prove valuable. The lord only knows how long we spent discussing the problems in alternative, and the positives, the talent and, in particular, Alexa De Strange. It’s evident how far his plans are orchestrated, and how much authority he really carries in what he does.
He’s a fascinating, experienced and very capable man, and I’m certain that putting your band -any band – in his hands will pay off.
I’m also incredibly pleased to say his son has many of his father’s fine traits, and similarly proved a pleasure to talk to.
We’d also like to give mention to Mask of Virtue’s very talented guitarist, Danny Blackett, with whom we had a very informal conversation – about similar matters – the nature of music, what we do and how it ties in to what they do. He, similarly, is a very knowledgeable, passionate man, and very happy to hear of us…well, doing what Cat on the Wall is built for.
While talking to him, we also met Debby – I’m afraid I didn’t catch her last name – and her son, whom, once again, proved to live and breathe the alternative music scene with great knowledge, passion, and a more neutral, opinionated look from a traditional audience standpoint.
Ultimately, I believe we spent some forty minutes talking to Danny and Debby after the gig – and I can’t think of any way I would have spent that time better.
I’d also like to say many thanks to Christopher Cook, our photographer, Matthew Sambrook, Sheffield Corporation and all their staff, and, of course, all of the musicians for a wonderful evening.
With the world – our world – of alternative music in such fine hands, with such fine talent, with such fine audiences…well, I don’t think we’ve any reason to worry about the future. The scene is alive, and can still tear you a new one if you’re not careful. If it’s too loud, you’re too old!
Whenever you become jaded about alternative music, attend a gig just like this one. They’re fun, they’re smart, they’re hugely entertaining, and most of all, they build contacts, friends and memories. If a scene is to be rated on their audience this must be the finest in the world.
And personally? I think we can take that to the bank..!