Paolo Angeli & Derek Gripper

8 February
Firth Hall

Presented as part of the University of Sheffield's Global Soundtracks season, this event is part of a co-headlining tour by two highly-regarded international guitar players and Firth Hall, a beautiful space for such recitals, is packed with a rapt, appreciative audience.

Paolo Angeli's six-string guitar has been customised to incorporate four cello strings, plus an additional eight that run perpendicular across the sound hole. From this hybrid he plucks, bows, beats and hammers to produce a deeply layered and textured aural landscape. He also plays pedals with both feet that provide rhythm.

Like the instrument itself, the music is a unique mix of esoteric pop, classical and avant-garde. The bulk of his set is a medley, shifting seamlessly between stately baroque, free jazz and Sardinian folk. At times elegiac and earnest, it contains passages of real harmonic resonance with some breathtaking peaks and troughs. Angeli finishes with a traditional song dedicated to Tom Waits, bringing his strained vocals to the fore.

South African Derek Gripper is a technical virtuoso who mixes classical and Malian musics, as comfortable with Bach as Toumani Diabaté. He has championed Diabaté's kora repertoire, transposing its myriad complexities to his six-string guitar style. His technique is such that he can replicate the sound of the kora's 21 strings without losing any of its inherent subtleties. Upon hearing a recording of Gripper, Diabaté asked for confirmation that it had been performed by only one person.

Tonight Gripper plays songs by a variety of African and Brazilian artists with great fluidity and composure. He performs almost with a smile on his face, totally at ease with the material and his surroundings.

Pete Martin

Gett Off x Butterz

17 February
Hope Works

A night with CASisDEAD is expected to be unpredictable. The MC is known for his off-the-chain music and behaviour, and this night at Hope Works was immediately unusual because it was held in the courtyard tent, rather than the venue's main room.

Utah?’s opening set fell in line with the unpredictability of the evening, with the clean and eclectic mixture of music that the producer is known for. The Butterz family opened with Royal-T, who let off a set full of wobbling bass topped with grime. Swindle’s performance was an unexpected highlight of the night – the DJ’s music was fast and heavy and his movement behind the decks matched fittingly – while Elijah & Skilliam continued the genre-crossing delivery of music. In between all of this was CASisDEAD.

CASisDEAD’s face has never been seen by most, meaning that the audience were unsure who among the large entourage on stage was the MC, but it became clear once CAS’s gravelly voice touched the microphone.

CAS is one of those artists who manages to sound even better live than on record. Behind large sunglasses and a cap, the MC performed some of his best-known tracks, as well as rhyming over popular grime instrumentals. His lyrics are often twisted, amusing and political, and following his performance it was clear that along with his many approaches to music, he is an artist who works hard to ensure his audience leave satisfied.

Butterz brought an atmosphere that was fit for any rave, while CAS, the enigma of the grime scene, demonstrated why his music has made him one of the most distinctive and popular artists around.  

Akeem Balogun

Shake The Chains

24 February
Firth Hall

A touring commission of protest songs both old and new, Shake the Chains brought a stageful of folk stars to a packed Firth Hall. Each member of the autonomous collective had written new work for the project.

Hannah Martin’s warm voice soared on nature-inspired songs about Yarl’s Wood and the kindness of birds. Nancy Kerr’s offerings included ‘Poison Apples’ for Alan Turing and a song about Trident for her mum. The spirit of protest had seeped into Kerr’s bones as a child, she said, “via the mud and the music” of Greenham Common. Findlay Napier’s charm helped keep up the show’s momentum and his well-received ‘There’s More to Building Ships’ responded to the government’s nonchalant post-referendum promise to reopen the shipyards.

A few older songs were mixed in, from ‘If I Had a Hammer’ and ‘Ding Dong Dollar’ to the haunting ‘Victor Jara’ and an a cappella encore of ‘We Shall Overcome’. Guest Martin Simpson dominated the show’s second half, providing the most sombre moment of the evening with his version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’, a song he said he only gets out “when it’s needed”.

A very successful night from one perspective, but I had expected more from a show that had promised to “explore the role songs have played in social change, resistance and protest”. Little was said about the older songs and only brief explanations given of the new work, making the project feel thematic rather than purposeful. More context about movements and achievements would have lifted the show from entertaining to useful. Whilst some gave a standing ovation, for me it felt like that’s all it was – standing still, not moving forwards.

Nat Johnson

Steevio & Suzybee

24 February
Hope Works

Looking back at 2017 alone, Hope Works’ Little Mesters room seems to be the place for intimate parties, and it’s a venue that proved perfect for Steevio and Suzybee’s deep, submerged style of techno.

Pioneers in the way that they articulate their signature sound, their unconventional style of modular, broken-down synths pulled through on the night, with the duo showcasing their talent for innovative rhythmic arrangements.

On entering the enclosed warehouse space, you could instantly catch sight of the pair's hardware setup, quickly sending a sense of excitement through the small yet vibrant crowd before the two even began their first track. The Welsh duo started off quite minimally, gradually building their set, notably showcasing tracks from Steevio’s most recent LP, Mindtours 17. It’s safe to say they had the crowd moving in a simultaneous bounce from the get-go. 

Accompanying their set were warped projections and a powerful laser beam, creating a second source of light. With such factors in mind, a raw party atmosphere swarmed through the room, offering the audience a sense of togetherness, with the duo holding a formidable presence centre-stage.

As founders of the acclaimed Freerotation Festival and with the ongoing success of Steevio’s Mindtours label, the pair present themselves as forerunners of an entirely unique techno movement. Showing coherence in their musical language and their compelling productions, they gave the techno lovers of Sheffield a gathering unlike any other, leaving much confidence in their next European stop-offs and future creations from their label.

Georgia Smith