Ex Hex

12 February
Soup Kitchen

There are no luxuries or thrills to hide behind when playing in Soup Kitchen’s basement. The crowd are there for one thing and that’s a good sound. People are arriving from the off and Dublin-based support act Princess ease us into the evening with dream pop indie hooks and harmonies. Bursting with energy, these guys have a Sonic Youth element of cool and nonchalance, and you can’t keep your eyes off them. By the end of the set the basement is full and they receive a deserved loud and enthusiastic reaction.

Ex Hex burst into their set the same way they begin their debut album, Rips, with power track ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’. Suddenly the basement is all glitter, sequins and rock‘n’roll. Mary Timony is proving to the now-brimming basement that this isn’t just another project through which to channel her musical prowess – with the added female dynamism of Laura Harris and Betsy Wright these girls are very much a band.

In a genre of music that is somewhat lacking in female stage presence, the trio more than make up for it in their ability to rock out while still maintaining tight harmonies and never missing a beat. Timony becomes the epitome of guitar hero as she bangs out awesome riff after awesome riff while encompassing the entire stage, striking all manner of power stances. This is best exemplified during ‘Beast’, where each band member seems to step it up a notch and the colossal sound coming from all three has everyone enthralled.

Ex Hex came on stage with the sole intention of rocking out. There’s no evidence of being try-hard. Maybe it’s their experience in the industry, but one gets the feeling they are there purely to play music and have an excellent time doing it. This crosses over to the audience, and those who might have been a little self-conscious of bobbing their head before are all moving and shaking, turning the no thrills basement of Soup Kitchen into (for this set at least) somewhere that’s all about the music.

Tilly Sharp

Sonic Fusion Festival

19-22 February
University of Salford

‘Fusion’ became a dirty word at some point back in the 80s, with connotations of extravagance and indulgent musical combination leading people to run in fear from anything adorned with the label.

Salford University, never an institute to live in the past, decided to take it upon itself to redress this unjust association at its recent four-day festival, Sonic Fusion. Staged across the new MediaCity and old Peel Park campuses, this celebration of electronic and esoteric acoustic sound featured prominent musicians from the UK and around the globe.

The first two days contained live performances and lectures by some featured artists. These talks offered the kind of detailed insight into the musician’s own thoughts that I would assume entices middle-aged folk to flock to Hay Festival. My partner in crime and I certainly found these to be the most intriguing parts of the event.

Don’t get me wrong, the electro-acoustic compositions of Metanast, the magical improvisation of the Evaristo Aguliar Percussion Quartet and the beautiful violin of Darragh Morgan all delivered the kind of audio treats you would expect to be quaffed into the Salfordian air at such an event, but the awfully named Zoo Musicology and Bio-Acoustics Symposium was the show-stealer in my most geeky opinion. It featured keynotes on the song of the Brazilian Uirapuru bird and most interestingly, the new touch table instruments being developed by Insook Choi and Robin Bargar. Delivered in a classroom filled with what one can only assume were professors and scholars, yet still free for the general public to attend, the talk gave such a detailed explanation of the computer programming used to replicate flocking patterns of birds to generate foreboding synthesised noises that we mere mortals left with a dose of information students generally pay £10,000 per annum for.

The nature of these lectures and most of the music on display probably went no way to redefining the terminology employed to promote the festival, but who cares? Did I mention I was a fan of fusion?

Joe Mills

Trust Fund

22 February

It’s the arse end of the weekend. A cold, wet, miserable Sunday night when the streets of Manchester are by and large deserted, apart from the lonely souls looking for any spare change or a place to bed down for the night. Shards of sunshine may be in short supply, but in tonight’s gig promoters, Carefully Planned, we trust.

Tonight’s artists seem to have been influenced by architectural themes, with Two White Cranes opening up, one of a number of projects that involves Roxy Brennan.

The microphone stand is mounted slightly too high for the barefooted Brennan as she stands alone on the stage, but she uses this situation to control the intensity of her vocal delivery. Standing shoeless and flatfooted, she describes the environment of streets around her hometown of Bristol, the origin of the two cranes in her pseudonym. On her tiptoes, she’s in a more intense mood, reining in the aggression she wants to express. Guitar chords echo Billy Bragg’s ‘Levi Stubbs Tears’. Is she acknowledging Springsteen with the refrain, “Baby you were born to run”?

Furlong normally appear as the duo of Thom Snell (drums) and Richard Cartwright (guitar), but they have been touring with Zach Roddis, a spoken word artist who performed in his own right earlier on, and now shares the stage for a few numbers. Befitting the variety of CP line-ups, Furlong are nothing like the other bands on the running order. “I’m not happy you’re sad,” announces Thom, sentiments at odds with the warm, engrossing tones flowing from the array of effects pedals across the venue.

Having had time to perfect their sound at numerous gigs, Uranium Lake have developed a core of followers who are present tonight. Sharp, shiny and perfectly-formed indie pop songs chime out as the trio’s supporters sing along to the lyrics. Even those unfamiliar are tempted into moving their hips and shaking a leg.

Brennan appears again playing bass guitar and sharing vocal duties in Trust Fund, along with Rosie Smith (lead guitar), Grace Denton (drums), and frontman Ellis Jones (guitar and vocals).

There’s an enjoyable lo-fi effect to some of the songs, but that’s probably the result of a lot of hard work, including recording their debut album. Duet seems an incongruous word for the way Ellis and Brennan share lyrics on some songs. It’s more like two people exchanging banter, whilst Denton & Smith provide the backing soundtrack. As the songs fizz, Sunday nights don’t seem so bad after all.

Ged Camera

Background photo of Trust Fund by Ged Camera.

Koreless and Emmanuel Biard

25 February

This audio-visual project tethering the musical craft of Koreless to the light projection innovation of Emmanuel Biard has been brewing since last year’s FutureEverything festival, and their return with an upscaled arrangement for this year’s opening night is a welcome one. Both the producer and VJ are veterans of the Warehouse Project roster, with the latter also including shifts with Mind On Fire and Hoya:Hoya on his CV, under the pseudonym of Eman or EMN.

They were preceded by a collection of 16 drummers lined up across the stage, who from our distance in the audience appear similar in dress and stature to the Jawa tribe of Sand People in Star Wars. One by one, they appear from the darkness to each add a steady, singular beat to the otherwise silent auditorium, beginning fairly tepidly and progressing to a free form dirge. Their polyrhythmic pounding fluctuates widely between cohesion and garble, so it’s difficult to judge how controlled they are as a group, barring a certain level of choreography dictating when each would step forward into their drumming spotlight or retreat into the background. The performance improves when each cloaked percussionist adds a torch to their drumstick, creating the effect of a series of windmill blades rotating through the room.

In the end it’s a fitting warm-up for the light show to follow, although the decibel levels are noticeably higher under Koreless’s jurisdiction, once he recovers from an early set blip as the sound cut out. He conducts a quartet of Russian bass singers who’re lined up like a monastic Kraftwerk, often present as cement holding together the electronic walls of sound. Koreless introduces other voices in the form of warped samples, notably evoking 2000s era Radiohead, while at other times the deep chorals take the lead, like when his electronics adapt the rhythmic quality of being stuck in a lengthy groove.

Also in the tinnitus corner are the final shuddering footsteps of a tyrannosaurus rex, while in the epilepsy corner strobed flashes are one of the many visual tricks EMN conjures up from his Mac’s sleeve. The light show starts in earnest as a red mist descends, making way for a cylindrical caged light effect projected via the central circular mirror. Later burned into the entranced retinas are pixelated, dancing white beams which give way to a horizontal skyline plateau, backed by ambient orchestration by Koreless, whose head pokes aptly through the clouds.

Separated, the audio and visual elements wouldn’t have half the impact, and this sense of artistic collaboration is where FutureEverything excels.

Ian Pennington