C Duncan

13 May
The Leadmill

C Duncan is nothing short of a pro. Asked to move from the large to the small room at The Leadmill with an hour to spare, he still managed to put on a great show, moving from the sultry tones of ‘For (Autumn Rebuild)’ to more upbeat numbers such as ‘Like You Do’ with ease given the lack of time for a rehearsal. Supported by Glaswegian chamber pop outfit Modern Studies, the show was done and dusted by half ten, with Chris Duncan popping out to say hello and sign CDs and records for the fans, a handshake thrown in for good measure.

Of course, C Duncan is an old hand at this now, having first presented his debut album, Architect, two years ago on an initial £50 budget, produced within the four walls of his bedroom. Little of this album was on show here, with downbeat numbers from new record, The Midnight Sun, predominantly played, perhaps because of his split with former band member Finn McCardel.

Still, a couple of tracks from Architect made an appearance, ‘Say’ in particular standing out with its dreamy synth-like vocals and distinctive keys. Another highlight was ‘Castle Walls’, played unplugged and unaccompanied by anything other than the voices of the other three members of the band and the sounds of Chris’s acoustic guitar, resulting in rapturous applause and requests for an encore before the main set was even over.

The show ended with yet more calls for further aural delectation, but with this writer ready for bed following a seven-hour flight, it will have to wait until C Duncan finishes his third album and decides to take it on tour, hopefully by the end of the year.

Jordan Ingram

RiteTrax

12 May
DINA

I'll preface this by noting that I only went to this event to see Ceephax Acid Crew after his late addition to the bill. I did catch the end of Mark Archer's DJ set though, which sounded exactly the same as every other set of his I've seen, and presumably every other set he's played since 1992.

It would be disingenuous to criticise Mark too heavily for nostalgia, however, given that it's also a core component of Ceephax's output. The important difference would be the knowing wink accompanying Ceephax's nostalgia, as song titles like ‘Probey's Pretzel (The Old Days Were Better In The Old Days Version)’ from his latest EP suggest.

Ceephax Acid Crew's music is firmly based in a tradition of British electronic music made by reclusive white nerds and his stage presence reflects as much. He was instantly recognisable before his set, uncomfortably standing hunched in a corner with a yellow acid smiley flag draped over his shoulders like a cape.

A certain amount of unease continued as he played live with a classic acid set-up of Roland analogue hardware. While he's undoubtedly a very skilled musician, the synchronisation between his kit was wildly unstable, requiring nervous attention and frantic adjustments throughout. Analogue aficionados will tell you that this is part of the charm of these machines and it made for an enthralling show as he battled with his equipment.

303 arpeggios became more and more unhinged, with rhythms pushed right to the limits of danceability and, at times, comprehension. Nonetheless, Ceephax knows his kit's idiosyncrasies well enough to adapt these fluctuations into the dynamics of his set, letting divergent polyrhythms reach frenzied peaks before bringing them back down to earth and under his control.

Michael Hobson

Sheffworld Sunday SlamJam #3

28 May
Corporation

Some may have predicted that the sudden and tragic death of Marcus Intalex, aka Trevino, would have brought a certain darkness to SlamJam’s party spirit. What instead happened is that a true feast of musicians came together to provide an epic tribute to the drum and bass legend, celebrating his impressive 26-year contribution to the music industry. The darkness was lifted through the love and respect for the Burnley musician in everyone’s hearts.

Highlights of the night included a thrilling set from the Displace DJs with some heavy, noisy, brassy and growly drum and bass sounds interspersed with a soft, dreamlike touch for the less hardcore fans. Forca, the MC for Deadbeat in Trafalgar Warehouse, was pretty unclear on the mic, with a passerby shouting ‘What on earth is his saying?’, but the Labour Party placard he brandished made his intentions clear.

Deadbeat’s popularity soared when concluding his set with a mix of Paul Johnson’s ‘Get Get Down’. Zed Bias segued nicely from Deadbeat with an hour of tunes featuring Disclosure’s VIP remix of Jessie Ware’s ‘Running’ from 2012, a tune just old enough to be cool again. Finishing up with a bit of garage, Zed Bias had a cheeky smirk on his face, noticing just how much he had lifted the mood. 

With an all-too-small crowd, the standout set came from Commodo in the little room. His melodic bass tracks were an appropriate means of expelling that final bit of energy before the close of the evening. ‘Hadi Hadi Ah’ from his debut album, How What Time, compelled the crowd to bounce.

What made the evening so special was the bonding experience, with fans who usually stick to their niche tastes exploring other fields and making new friends within the characteristic Corporation sweatiness.

Jennifer Martino

Diffuse 2017

10 May
Moor Theatre Delicatessen

ALT Events pulled out the stops for their Wednesday evening showcase of Sheffield musicians. The team brought in the latest musical technology and organised the seating 'in the round', focusing on a carefully thought-out disarray of instruments. The enthusiastic and eccentric compere was just right for an inevitably quirky but largely unpredictable event.

A positive and simple jazzy introduction from Alex Bishop and Ben Evans was just what the doctor ordered for the week’s hump. The duo were followed by Liam Johnson, an incredibly talented guitarist with a charismatic playing style. The programme indicated that his first song would be a cover of the Bee Gees' ‘Staying Alive’, which on paper sounded rather tacky. What followed was the most exciting and skilfully reconstructed rendition of the tune. It was as if Liam was playing a whole host of instruments through his single guitar. His soon-to-be-released EP will be essential listening.

Young singer-songwriter Caroline Francess was a curious follow-up to Liam Johnson’s guitar party. Her extended set of solo voice and piano didn’t quite fit with the snappy performances of the previous artists. Perhaps the intimate setting of the Theatre Delicatessen wasn’t appropriate for her powerful chords and bold lyrics.

Dom Hartley’s modern classical piano piece followed the interval. His performance was original, but all too brief. Drone artist Ross Davidson’s immersive experience was the centrepiece of the second half. Having worked on soundtracks, Davidson knew how to make the audience the centre of the sound.

Saif Mode were the final act, producing a live synth piece using a wire entangled soundboard. All the while, Ross Davidson worked the speaker levels to make it feel like the sound was encircling you.

Jennifer Martino

Russia in the Round

5-13 May
The Crucible

Russia in the Round, Music in the Round’s spring season at The Crucible, was an exuberant affair, as Ensemble 360 and visiting musicians delivered an impressive array of Russian and Russian-inspired chamber music pieces and related events. Highlights included lunchtime concerts featuring world premieres from Sheffield composers Platform 4, the evening concert featuring a theremin, and Laurène Durantel’s original score for a screening of Man with a Movie Camera. The latter featured gorgeous use of the double bass and David Lynch’s music, and a great segment using spoons to play the piano strings.

Following a performance of Haydn’s ‘String Quartet Op.33 No.1’ rendered with a beauty enhanced by perfect clarity, Ensemble 360 gave a vibrant rendition of Jenny Jackson’s ‘Pull Focus’. Very loosely based on a tone row from the Haydn ‘Russian’ quartet we’d just heard, this was an energetically ace new commission and a reminder of Ensemble 360’s abilities and enthusiasm in performing new music.

Lydia Kavina, past pupil and distant relative of León Theremin, intrigued with an unexpected addition to an evening concert programme, playing her own composition entitled ‘Monologue’. Emphasising the range of the instrument, Kavina’s piece worked well ahead of Martinu’s ‘Fantasia for theremin, oboe, string quartet and piano’, for which members of Ensemble 360 joined her. Martinu’s unusual piece was beautifully layered, offering satisfying pleasures, such as the oboe then piano echoing the ethereal sounds of the theremin. 

The Prokoviev (‘Quintet, Op.39’) at the same concert was superb, with particularly pleasing scoring for Durantel’s double bass, while Ensemble 360's second violinist Claudia Ajmone-Marsan excelled in a performance full of gusto and commitment. Shostakovich’s autobiographical ‘String Quartet No.8 in C minor Op.110’, dedicated by him “to the victims of fascism and war”, was also a highlight of the Russian season – deeply moving and played with expressive passion.

Samantha Holland