2016 is the year Birthday Cake For Breakfast finds its new spiritual home.
Leeds, ‘The Capital Of The North’, has been churning out bands of a stupendous calibre for some time now, so it only seemed right that I jump aboard the train from Manchester and investigate exactly what it is that makes Leeds so special.
Early April saw the return of StrangeForms Festival to Leeds; a wonderful not-for-profit festival, offering eargasms aplenty for fans of math-rock, post-rock, shoegaze and more! Now in its third year, it’s previously featured the likes of &U&I, Trojan Horse, Her Name Is Calla and Samoans in its initial years. This year’s outing boasted such a strong line-up that it pretty much sold out across the weekend!
Even with the festival nearing a sell-out, the sceptic in me pictured an empty room for the first few bands, as is sadly often the case with inner-city festivals of this nature. Upon entering the main room at the Wharf Chambers, I was delighted to find this wasn’t the case. A large group of punters were already locked into the festival, each and every one of them mere moments away from decapitation courtesy of the punishing DOOM metal being played from the opening band. Picture the scene – on one side of the room you’ve got a gang of metal heads, plagued in darkness, delivering punishing, knee-capping doomy metal. On the other side, projected onto the wall, you’ve got classic British-American horror ‘An American Werewolf In London’ in all its wonderful, blood-splattered glory.
The Vitasound Projects is five musicians providing a brand new soundtrack to a newly edited cut of a film, with incredibly tight synchronisation. Musically it’s spot on, fitting perfectly with the mood of the film. I was sporting a shit-eating grin throughout, actually laughing at the point where a copper has his head bitten CLEAN OFF and the part of the film where a band of grotesque SS Officers storm the protagonists’ house; setting fire to his kitchen and butchering his siblings. A thoroughly entertaining start to the day!
Even though I’d already seen them mid-week in Manchester, I was still front and centre for Leeds trio Bearfoot Beware. I could quite happily watch the same batch of songs on a weekly basis, such is the strength of their oeuvre. In a slightly terrifying moment, I thought the huge speaker near bassist Ric was going to topple over and crush a punter. He’s an energetic player at the best of times, but the setup was a bit touch and go!
Bearfoot Beware are working on new material right now and we were *almost* treated to some of it live, but unfortunately guitarist Tom snapped a string and couldn’t get back into it… Speaking of which, having snapped his guitar string and sourced another guitar for the next song, his actual guitar was handed back to him within minutes, having been fixed by a guitar tech off stage. Where else does that happen on these sort of shows?!
Late afternoon brought with it Brighton post-rock quintet We Never Learned To Live, who took to the floor for the duration of their set. The last time I heard WNLTL was on my walk back to the tent at last year’s ArcTanGent Festival and it was loud as all fuck back then! The sound was bought down *slightly* in the smaller Wharf Chambers but WNLTL still had a terrific showing, offering up everything they had and more to the appreciative audience.
It sounds strange to say the best part of the performance from Wot Gorilla? was the drummer taking off his shirt, but there we are. You could say they were sPECtacular. Chest of the best. Geezer was rocking a right bod! Musically? Not AS good, but Wot Gorilla? were still tremendous fun.
Two new songs received a run through, both of which were released at the start of the month and can be purchased here. In-between songs, a punter called out for them to play ‘Snow White’, which saw the trio stop tuning and decide to grant this request, blasting through four minutes of delectable nostalgia for the crowd.
The evening was topped off with an amped up, joyous performance from math-rock heroes Alpha Male Tea Party. Melting faces was the order of the day, with the trio more than happy to oblige. There was crowd surfing aplenty, whiplash-inducing head-banging to the dominating ‘Truffles’ and heaps of admiration from the pissed-up mob who’d stuck about all day. They even delved into some new material, which I’m happy to disclose was tip-top!
As is often the case with this kind of festival, the second day of StrangeForms required baby steps. Indicative of the strength of Saturday evening’s piss-up, the majority of punters through the door on Sunday afternoon were bleary-eyed, tightly gripping coffee cups. Thankfully, the mellowed out, math-pop stylings of Leeds based trio Tall Talker eased us nicely into the day. Highly recommended by Stewart of Bad Owl Presents, the three-piece offered up an assortment of intricate, twiddly math-gems that really woke up the hungover crowd and positioned them as a definite highlight of the whole weekend.
From delicate math-pop jams in the early afternoon to nightmarish math-rock of a different variety, Body Hound put on one hell of a show. I may have been sat down for almost the entire duration of their set, but it did not have any effect on the gnarly vibes the quartet provided. Plus, I’d already seen them mid-week….
Utterly horrid riffs and baffling time signatures mingled with rad dancey moments, enabling people to shake whatever parts of their body hadn’t already been obliterated! Wharf Chambers was absolutely rammed for Body Hound and rightly so. The real deal for sure.
The lad on guitar might’ve looked like Ross from Friends when he was in High School, but don’t let that put you off Fall Of Messiah. The French post-rock quartet mesmerised the crowd at Wharf Chambers; putting in a right shift. Reaching untold levels of patter, the brick shit-house of a drummer delighted the room with his comments in-between songs, offering a lighter side to their incredibly enthusiastic, heartfelt performance. Totally humble dudes, they gained a lot of fans early Sunday evening.
With the hangover creeping back, I had to make a snap decision for Poly-Math – sit down at the back or stand at the front. Their latest record, the three-track mini-album ‘Melencolia’, comes in at just over half an hour, so there was a chance we’d be in for a long one… but opting to stand at the front was a wise decision, given Poly-Math ended up putting on a smasher of a performance.
Cool as a trio of cucumbers, Poly-Math just fucking killed it. Drummer Chris looked as intense as you like, unfazed by bassist Joe playing on almost every inch of the stage at one point or another; angling the bass so close to a photographers head at one stage that I thought we’d have to call an ambulance for his head wound. Unfazed too was guitarist Tim, focused on the seemingly million things going on at once. Absolutely Lex Express these lads – Total Package.
Melencolia made up the majority of their set and with good reason – A fantastic record and one that’s even better when given a whole run-through live.
Not to be outdone, Manchester based duo Cleft put an end to the night with a real stonker of a performance. It’s sadly one of their last, given those Cleft bastards are leaving us in a few months’ time. There were quite rightly a few outbursts from the crowd, with cries of “Don’t leave us” and “It’s your child, John” being shouted out in-between songs. I’m pretty sure I even saw John Niblock crying.
With their last dying breath, the kings of ‘Turbo-Prog’ are putting out a new record. The StrangeForms crowd were treated to a number of riff-tastic samplers from ‘Wrong’, each and every one of them sounding superb. There were the classics too, with guitarist Dan humorously letting the crowd in on the fact he’d singled out the songs that he can actually still play! It was a fitting end to a wonderful weekend of all things of math-rock, post-rock and all the joys found in-between!
The Bad Owl Presents team really did excel themselves this weekend. Every band across the two days thanked Stewart and Kerry at some point during their set, such was their appreciation of the wonderful effort and hospitality the pair provided. Their colleagues operating merch and other aspects of the festival were also keen to promote a friendly atmosphere, creating a similar vibe to the super nice ArcTanGent Festival. Even the front of house at Wharf Chambers were putting a right shift in, offering a large spread of delicious grub to punters across the weekend, with all proceeds going to charity! StrangeForms gets ten thumbs up – A shoe-in for festival of the year!