A lovely sunny day for strolling between the five locations up and down Mare Street, Hackney that comprise this festival. The venues are all indoors and are dispersed along a mile-long stretch so a bit of planning is needed. Key thing for us is not to be too ambitious given the requirement to build in 'moving about' time, but at the same time we wanted to take in all five venues which we managed to do.
Good quality street food on offer and plenty of craft ale from local micro-breweries. So with all that, mixed with an eclectic band line-up we couldn't really go wrong.
Gabriel Bruce - Moth Club
Our favourite small venue in Hackney and this was a must-see act for us as well. Particularly good quality Hackney Golden Ale was consumed as we sat in the bar area of this social club awaiting proceedings to begin.
Gabriel Bruce can be best described as 'effortless rockin', his dark brown voice never showcased better than in second song 'Sacred Heart'. Supported with a four-piece band, together they got funky on 'Kurt And Kanye’. Finished with 'Come All Sufferers', title track from Gabriel’s forthcoming album (I confess I thought the song was called ‘Come on Suckers’ until I saw the set list)
Japanese Breakfast - Oval Space
Perhaps I'm getting to be a grumpy old man but I get increasingly irritated at events like this when stage schedules run a long way out of time. This band were second on this stage but (not their fault) were a full 50 minutes late starting. This feels like uncaring disregard for the paying customer (there are other bands I could be seeing!.... or perhaps I should just chill out a little).
At 3.35 the band were ready to go but were looking non-plussed toward the sound desk. At this point I had two templates in my head for this mini-review: (a) ‘....resulted in making what might have been an enjoyable set a rather tepid affair’ or (b) ‘.... but it was worth the wait as this exciting US band blew us away....’
First song in was definitely option A, but things picked up massively as the set progressed and I'm glad to say option B prevailed. This was their first visit to UK. Pop tunes in Alvvays/Sunflower Bean vein but with a thumping beat. The fifth song was sung solo by lead singer Michelle Zauner. Interestingly she seemed most at home on this number; shades of 'See Of Bees'. Unfortunately the guitar sound was out of kilter with the vocal suggesting an acoustic accompaniment might suit it better. Final number went electro a la Polica.
Michelle Zauner is a talent to watch, not necessarily, I suspect, within the confines of this band.
Let's Eat Grandma -St John's Church Hackney
This venue presents a slightly sorry picture. A cavernous building but with a ceiling sadly discoloured from water penetration. Still has the trappings of a working church but the pews all taken out, so unusually for an ecclesiastical venue this is an 'all-stander'.
Let's Eat Grandma are two 17 year old girls from Norwich, Rosa & Jenny. With matching waist long curly hair you'd be forgiven for thinking they were sisters. Having seen pictures of them before today but without hearing their material I was expecting an angry punk-edged shout-fest. This was nothing of the sort. This pair produced sounds of a maturity that belied their years. Supported by a drum machine they both skipped between multiple instruments: keys, glockenspiel, sax, mandolin, guitar and recorder - all complementing the vocals which they also shared.
A few songs in, the drum machine was ditched for real drums, once again both taking a turn. But this was the one area I feel they over-stretched themselves. It felt like wasted energy that might have been put to better use expanding on the quirky synchronised dance-moves that became an increasing feature as the set progressed.
A wonderful performance though surprisingly not the most striking we saw – this was to follow at the Brewhouse....
Drones Club - London Fields Brewhouse
The performance that blew us away most today. As we came out of the Brewhouse bar heading to the small auditorium we followed the band as they exited the 'Band Dressing Room' area. They were bedecked in jump suits all with multi-coloured burkah-style head-dresses. Put me in mind of Devo in their pomp.
As the band went into their first dance-groove electro tune two other (presumably female) band members, similarly attired with only their eyes visible through their head-dress, came toward the stage and proceeded to dance in front of the stage, where they remained, beguiling throughout.
Two of the band members revealed their faces as the set progressed but the remainder remained unidentified. A great spectacle.
Bleached – Mangle Club
Jennifer and Jessie used to be ‘Mika Miko’. Now the band is three girls with a dude on a drumkit which was bedecked with flowers. Girl punk in sensible shoes
Gengahr – Mangle Club
Delivered excellent renditions of songs mostly from their excellent 2015 album ‘A Dream Outside’. Set included three new tunes, played with perhaps a tad more energy. Most interesting was titled ‘Mallory’.
Yak – Moth Club
Missing their usual bass player, tonight’s line-up included Leo of Gallon Drunk on bass. Plus guests Jono (Jagwar Ma) and Jay (Tame Impala) on guitar. This auspicious line up played guitar heavy tunes with plenty of electro keyboards interlaced, all complemented perfectly by sax interludes.
From previous experience of this band we knew the crowd was likely to be ‘lively’; and as expected a mosh started from the opening chords. As drink became spilt on the dance-floor area it became like an ice-rink and in the second number two girls fell backwards to the floor, limbs akimbo. Singer Oliver Burslem wasted no opportunity to max out on this opportunity, leaping from the stage to lay backwards on top of them, hampering their efforts to get up - playing thrashing chords on his guitar all the while.
This was the first of multiple forays into the audience through this vibrant set that comprised songs of 10-12 minutes in length with drum/bass/sax solos aplenty. Fantastic stuff – by the end we were battered and exhausted in equal measure, and wet with beer, water and sweat. An appropriate state to catch the train home with whistling ears....