Tag Archives: festival

Gigbeth: urban music festival or urban myth?

Gigbeth is Birmingham’s biggest music festival that coincides each November with Music Live at the NEC.

100 Acts, 10 venues and only one weekend….

Gigbeth is a weekend of the very best music set in Birmingham’s fabulous Digbeth creative district.”

Oo great, sounds like Birmingham’s version of the Camden Crawl or the Great Escape, or even a mini South by South West. A music festival in the city centre without having to camp or deal with mud.

I expect we’ll see such exciting new acts as Crystal Castles, Florence and the Machine, Friendly Fires, Ladyhawke, Lykke Li, Noah and the Whale, Operator Please, Last Shadow Puppets, Laura Marling, MGMT, Neon Neon, Santogold, Tilly and The Wall, Ting Tings, etc. etc. etc…

Er no, you won’t get chance to see a load of up and coming artists that you’re excited about having heard them a lot on music radio recently, over one weekend in the same city. You’ll see a hotchpotch of whatever acts the promoters, that are lumped together under the umbrella of “Gigbeth”, (probably) already had booked for that night anyway, a few local bands and a couple of token acts provided by Gigbeth themselves.

That’s why the lineup is so incongruous. When the lineup was first announced, everyone was thinking D:ream?? are they even still going? (they’re provided by Moneypennies so that makes a bit more sense now). The Sugar Hill Gang, are they even still going? (oh, they’re on at a Heducation night). A couple of the dance acts are a bit more exciting (Stanton Warriors, subfocus), but they’re part of a Spectrum night, so no thanks to Gigbeth. One of my fave, local bands of the mo are the Destroyers, but they’re on at a free event. The 4Talent stuff looks pretty good, but (I think) mainly local so would no doubt get a chance to see them anyway at some point.

So Gigbeth basically just boils down to The Young Knives, Guillemots and Kano (who I’m actually quite excited about), which seems a bit pricey at £25.

We bought a weekend ticket and went to Gigbeth last year and it was a similar format to this year. Our wristbands got us into various different venues, but there didn’t seem to be anything holding them together. We just felt like our wristband was a pass into various events that would be happening anyway, 90% of the people in the Medicine bar for DJ Zinc, for example, wouldn’t have even heard of Gigbeth. There was no Gigbeth ‘vibe’ as most of the people at the promoters events weren’t there for Gigbeth.

The street stage was fun, but we found out later free, so we needn’t have paid for that. We saw a couple of OK local bands, but the best part for me was the Capsule night (why aren’t they there this year?) which was happening anyway. After last year’s Gigbeth, we offered some feedback about the disjointedness of the event, but looks like that was ignored and they’ve gone for exactly the same approach this year.

Anyway, I already have my ticket for this weekend, I fear it will be as incoherent as last year’s, but I will keep an open mind. I’m looking forward to some individual acts and promoters’ recommendations rather than anything that Gigbeth can offer as a whole.

So, no, I don’t think Gigbeth is “a weekend of the very best music” I realise this is subjective, but I think there would be a general consensus among music industry/radio types about some of the bands “the very best” would include.

It could be so great, it’s got a great name, a great home (Birmingham) with some great venues, but it’s got no cohesion and a severe lack of decent acts. Why can’t we have an urban festival to rival the likes of Camden Crawl/Great Escape? At the mo it feels a bit like a naff youth club event, and I doubt many people outside the city will be travelling here especially for it.

Supersonic Saturday

I know that Jon has already written up his thoughts on our time at Supersonic, but I’m deliberately writing this before reading it or any other reviews.

I don’t know why I haven’t been to Supersonic before. Thankfully this year, a very positive experience at the Capsule gig that was part of last year’s Gigbeth, plus various people banging on about how great it is (including Pete and Russ L and the Plan B review) convinced me to try it out. Being a massive fan of new music, in particular eclectic and uncompromising music and living in Birmingham, I finally realised that I couldn’t possibly *not* go!

As it was the first time we’d been, we decided to just go for one day and chose the Saturday mainly because I knew I’d have a day to recover before having to go to work on the Monday! By the end of the Saturday I’d had such a great time that I was considering trying to get tickets for the Sunday too. However by the time Sunday came I’m glad I didn’t because I needed some time to physically recover from Saturday and basically take everything in. In fact I almost needed more time between acts to take in each experience. Yes I am complaining about too much of a good thing! Anyway I’m rambling, now for the important bit, the music.

Caught a tiny bit of Justice Yeldman, not sure if he started early, but if he didn’t he was only on for about 10 mins. I say ‘only’ but actually he was so intense that that was probably long enough. Unfortunately, he’d already started when we got to the Factory stage so we were right at the back. I couldn’t really see what he was up to and I get the impression that watching him is an important part of the experience. The sounds he was making with a sheet of glass and a microphone were very impressive, the blurty electronic farty noises in particular meant that those of us at the back of the crowd were unable to surpress our giggles. Anyway, I won’t say any more about Justice as I’m sure there were people who saw the whole thing from nearer the front who could do a much better job than me.

After supping a quick cup of tea, admiring the cakes (willpower held up for once!) and chuckling at the sheets of Black Sabbeth laid out to colour in (nice touch) at the Old Library, we went to see Efterklang.

I was sure I’d heard a couple of their tracks on MySpace and been a bit nonplussed, so I wasn’t really expecting great things, but they were great. They looked amazing in their capes and jodphurs and sounded just as good. At first I thought they were a bit like Polyphonic Spree (possibly influenced by their outfits), but then Jon said they reminded me of “that band you like” Arcade Fire and as soon as he said that, I agreed. There’s something about those kinds of bands (probably the multiple harmonic vocals) that make me think they might all live in a commune together just making music together. That being a good thing for music, it’s ability to really transport you somewhere else. The Outside stage was great. The elevated position of the stage meaning that everyone could see without having to stand on tiptoes and strain their necks to see over people’s heads. My Efterklang dance style was head nodding, swaying and leg jiggling. Will definitely give Efterklang another listen.

Before Efterklang’s set ended, we decided to go and see the last bit of Beestung Lips. We’d discovered Beestung Lips at Capsule’s Gigbeth night and totally fell in love with them, partly because of their music and partly because of their self-deprecating charisma. They’d performed there sans singer and after we bought their CD that night, we agreed that we actually preferred them without the singer. So we were glad to see that they were again a threesome at Supersonic. Unfortunately we only caught the last half of the last song, but still managed a bit of manic jumping about. I got the impression that the sound quality for the Factory stage was not quite as good as for the other stages, did anyone else notice that?

Then, after a tip-off from Pete, we went to see Oxbow on the second stage. They had already started and were very loud even before we got there and we approached with caution. Not knowing what to expect we hung around at the back of the crowd for a little bit but then a couple of songs in we realised that they were something special. We were soon down the front, admiring the singer’s passionate performance. He started out wearing a suit, then seduced the audience by removing items of clothing one by one and was soon down to his underpants (although he left his socks and shoes on which made us chuckle). Musically, even though they were very loud, the sound quality was amazing. They were very melodic, heavy but almost jazzlike at the same time. Pretty hard to describe actually, I get the impression that the live experience might be better than listening to a recording as their stage presence was so integral to the experience, however I will go and seek out some of their music with an open mind. The live experience totally blew me away and I’m really struggling to describe it, I just knew I’d experienced something very intense and special and felt almost dazed and unable to speak for about 5 mins afterwards. My dance style was heavy, jerky head and body shaking.

Really could have done with a break after Oxbow to truly let the experience sink in, but it wasn’t long before we went back to Stage 2 to see Fuck Buttons. They are just two guys and a load of electronic gadgetry. The first ‘track’ they did was without the constaint of any beats. This really gave me the impression of what they were all about. Wonderful feedbacky, tweaked, intense layers of sound. I remember closing my eyes at one point and almost felt like I was sunbathing with the soundwaves penetrating my skin in a warm and soothing way (soundbathing?!). After that they added the beats which got lots of people moving. After a while though, I closed my eyes and just felt like I was back in a club, I kind of forgot I was watching a live act. In a way, I felt like the beats were pretty standard dance beats (hard house-esque) and I found myself listening to and dancing to them rather than tuning into their other sounds which were totally original. I don’t know what the answer is to that, maybe have the beats lower in the mix or is there an original way of producing beats, I don’t know. Anyway, they were still great, both of them were jumping around and obviously enjoying themselves which always helps. My dance style: clubstyle, hands in the air, ravey skanking.

I was looking forward to Battles. I’d actually done a bit of homework before going to Supersonic and had checked out as many bands as possible from the Saturday lineup via the writeups on the Capsule site and their handy MySpace links. Anyway, from a quick listen to the tracks on their MySpace page, Battles had impressed me straight away. I’d liked all the tracks, in particular one called “Atlas” with its ‘Pinky and Perky’ style vocals and music that seems to be signalling the imminent arrival of the vikings! They didn’t disappoint live. Again the music was intense, but the sound quality at Stage 2 was excellent. The drummer in particular impressed and the whole band put so much effort and energy into their music that they were exhausted by the end of the first track. But still they carried on in the same vein. One of the early tracks had a weird time signature that I couldn’t work out so my dancing was all over the place. However, when they got round to playing “Atlas”, I involuntarily started doing the ‘spotty dog’ and so did a number of other people in the crowd. Wonderful infectious music (Jon said he couldn’t remember the last time a band made him whoop uncontrollably!) with some great electronic twiddly bits and vocal effects. Really looking forward to checking out the whole of this band’s work and think they’re the one I’m most likely to listen to afterwards.

In conclusion, I’m kicking myself for not going to many Capsule gigs before, but plan to rectify that from now on. Totally loved Supersonic. I have overused the word ‘experience’ in this post, but that’s what it was. It wasn’t just a case of listening to a series of bands, certainly the ones I saw were so passionate and put so much into their performances that I really felt like a part of it too.

I remember leaving the festival feeling incredibly *lucky* that Lisa and Jenny Capsule are from Birmingham and not London or even another country. That really struck me from looking at the bands’ tour dates on MySpace, a lot of them were doing international tours and making a special effort to come to Brum and be part of Supersonic. Capsule ask us to spread the word far and wide, but in a selfish kind of way, I don’t want Supersonic to get any more popular. I’m not sure it would work in a less intimate setting than the Custard Factory. It seemed the perfect size, I loved being able to get close enough to see as well as hear the acts. The festival was very well organised, and every act started on time.

Jon said that it restored his faith in music, and we were a little concerned that there didn’t seem to be many youngsters in the crowd. Who’s going to grow up being so inspired by these acts to make their own incredible music, we wondered.

Anyway, I will *definitely* by back next year, possibly even for more than one day if I can work out a way to pace myself!