Crystal Castles

10 November
Leadmill

Bursting on to the Leadmill stage amid violent strobes and Mozart's 'Requiem in D Minor', Crystal Castles are back, and Ethan Kath and Edith Frances are the new lineup touring their latest album, Amnesty (I). I saw the Toronto-based band when they were fronted by the demonic Alice Glass, one time performing with a broken ankle and waving a crutch in the air throughout the set. She left in 2014 and any replacement would have almost impossible shoes to fill. That’s not to say Frances doesn’t try.

The band started with ‘Concrete’, a new track with a techno vibe that got people moving. They quickly turned to the tried and tested with ‘Baptism’ and ‘Kerosene’, old favourites more familiar to the crowd. Frances’ vocals were up to the task and so were her energy levels. Crystal Castles are a band that explore all forms of dance music and present it in a punk format. They use a range of beats and timings to keep the audience on edge, whilst their almost intolerable use of strobe lighting creates an omnipresent chaos.

Perhaps the most powerful point in the night was a five-minute interlude in which Kath built up a brilliant rhythm using a variety of production tricks before smashing it apart into another classic, ‘Celestica’. He seemed more animated than he used to be, as if consciously aware of a void to be filled.

That’s not to say Edith Frances isn’t brilliant. She’s energetic and intense and her vocals are powerful and haunting. Ultimately though, the X-factor the band used to possess came in the form of a brutal unpredictability that has since been lost. Crystal Castles are still top drawer, even if they now leave you with an insatiable yearning for more Alice Glass.

Will Hitchmough

XXXY & Bwana

28 October
Moor Theatre Deli

What could be more appropriate than hosting a Halloween party in one of the Moor Theatre Deli’s lofty, semi-derelict spaces? Nice Like Rice have the knack of optimally utilising venues to fit a particular theme, tonight's ‘in the round’ concept being a prime example. A 360° view allowed ravers to experience the DJs face on or, round the back, have a sneak peak at their record collections and even chat to them if they were lucky enough. Without trying to replicate something they’ve done before, the NLR team take their successes and adapt them to each new environment they inhabit.

After his NLR debut at The Harley two years ago, XXXY was back for more, gracing a blood-soaked crowd with simple and satisfying 90s-inspired house. Alongside was Bwana, meaning ‘master’ in Swahili, and together they were a terrific pairing, with Bwana commandeering the dance floor like a true father of progressive house. Hailing from Toronto, the producer has drawn attention to the challenges he faces when performing to a European crowd who have different expectations to a home audience, but he exuded confidence, consistently pulling bangers from his bag.

It was easy to judge the success of the evening. Just taking a glance at the cobwebbed crowd’s faces indicated thumbs-up satisfaction. Attendees were particularly enamoured by NLR’s own light-up dance floor. Their faces were illuminated like children opening Christmas presents. Known for their impressive artwork, like a giant disco ball pineapple made from broken CDs, Nice Like Rice’s colourful party providers know how to set the scene for something quirky. Their unwavering creativity always leads you to contemplate: what will they do next?

Jennifer Martino

Teenage Fanclub

17 November
Leadmill

Introspective Scottish rockers Teenage Fanclub recently brought their tenth album tour to The Leadmill. Much can be said about the fact that the connotations of their name are increasingly removed from the band that performs on stage. There is, however, a timelessly wistful element to their music which consistently draws in new fans and resonates with the old.

That said, the crowd in Sheffield falls broadly into the latter category. Slightly jarring heckles from the crowd demand they play classic tracks from their oeuvre. One fan shouts, "Time for a bit of Bandwagonesque!" It's an agitated demand for them to play songs from their iconic second album, such as hit singles 'Star Sign' and 'What You Do To Me'. It's understandable that these fans, who have followed the band for decades, are keen to hear the hits, but there's an irony that their recent releases are almost indistinguishable stylistically.

Recent album Here retains much of the twinkly, mournful and swirling character of Teenage Fanclub's iconic 90s singles. On that 2016 release, 'The Darkest Part of the Night' and 'I'm In Love' revisit lyrical tropes of the specific, the sentimental and the temporal. They play a long set, over an hour and a half, but it's justified with a back catalogue as extensive and a fan base as devoted as theirs. The band barely say anything for the entire duration of the show, but do play a three-track encore. They thank the support band, as if this wasn't a show populated by long-term fans who arrived in time for Teenage Fanclub and went home immediately afterwards.

Lucy Holt

Vula Viel

10 November
Yellow Arch

I arrived at Yellow Arch with chattering knees on a bitterly cold evening, largely wanting to stay in and hug the radiator all night. I’d also spent the day sawing loft installations and my eyes were red and sore. So the gig could have happily not happened for me as I shuffled uncomfortably in ten layers of clothing, not even willing to take my bobble hat off. But within the first 30 seconds I knew I’d made the right choice, as I was quickly warmed up by this rhythmic five-piece from London.

Vula Viel translates as ‘good is good’, and it’s hard to argue with that. Here was an ensemble of talented musicians playing infectious, traditional Ghanaian music with aplomb. They delivered an intense and energetic performance that seemed to push the performers physically to the edge. In particular, saxophonist George Crowley played to the point of pain as he let out small yelps after squeezing every last breath out of his lungs. Which, without sounding masochistic, is just the commitment you want to see from a band on a cold Thursday night.

The band played with real heart, soul and love, and this was evidenced no more so than through the leader of the group, Bex Burch, who energetically bounced on stage and made bashing the gyil (a type of xylophone, since you asked) look like the most fun instrument in the world.

My only disappointment was that it was seated gig. As much as the band were at home in a jazz club, there’s no doubt they would storm a sweaty festival tent or club with their soulful, danceable vibe. They certainly raised the roof here, even with my adroit loft installation skills.

Stan Skinny

Addison Groove

19 November
Harley

Anyone walking into The Harley for Front & Back's night last month would not have been prepared for what each DJ was going to bring. The Harley is a small venue which allows the sound to feel warm and close, meaning that when ticket holders entered they were treated to good sound and a set by Front & Back's resident DJ Big Bear. His track selection didn't falter, a mixture of melodic, funky tracks that were heavy with drums.

Denham Audio were the right DJs for the halfway point of the night. They continued the pace set by Big Bear, but gradually the trio's style put listeners into a trance-like state, focusing only on the music. While the screen at the back was animated for Big Bear, it changed into a wild pattern for Denham Audio which matched the musical abyss they’d turned The Harley into.

Before Saturday I’d never seen Addison Groove play and even after seeing him perform, I still wouldn't know what to expect. His selection is international, crossing several genres, including numerous styles of house, bassline and grime. Despite his unpredictable style, he still closed the night with the unexpected by entering his Headhunter moniker and playing almost an hour of dubstep. He finished with tracks by Coki, Loefah, Skream and other dubstep heavyweights for a final moment that made good use of the word 'spectacular' and established Front & Back as a night solely dedicated to good music.

Akeem Balogun

Swet Shop Boys

3 November
Academy

Connect The Dots is one of Sheffield’s more enigmatic propositions, but despite being a relatively unknown quantity it has brought some of the most interesting musical happenings to the city over the last couple of years.

The pinnacle of this is undoubtedly the coup of securing the talents of Riz Ahmed, Heems and Redinho in the form of the Swet Shop Boys for the last night of their short UK tour. Riz is currently on a big Hollywood hype, having starred in a plethora of films, including Nightcrawler, Ill Manors and the next Star Wars. Yet he has local roots of sorts due to being signed to Warp and he takes a moment to reminisce about his time here filming Four Lions.

On record the music is some of the most vital of 2016 as it forensically dissects post-truth paranoia, and bringing it out of the studio only serves to emphasise its relevance. Live, its South Asian vibes combined with the street smarts of south London and New York are essential and incendiary, especially when big hitters like ‘Tiger Hologram’ and ‘T5’ get an airing. Towards the end of the night, Riz breaks into a spoken word piece about the American President-Elect that begins, “Officially unwanted / Out of my element.” It’s a sentiment that clearly resonates.

It’s an incredible conclusion to a night that also showcased a wealth of local talent. Sheffield hip hop royalty Mongrels brought the old skool and there was the languid, narcotic presence of MC Sniff, whose sentiment and delivery complements the notion that this city is ready and waiting for the revolution.

Wayne Hoyle