65daysofstatic.

20 January
University of Sheffield

It’s a cold January night in the underground caverns of the University of Sheffield and a crowd gather to witness local-lads-done-good 65daysofstatic blast out stunning soundscapes with their fantastic blend of electro-glitch-rock madness.

Support comes from Thought Forms, a drone grunge trio that manage to smash through the wall of sound they create, sending wailing vocals and squealing guitars off into the growing crowd.

Currently touring their latest release Wild Light with an utterly jaw-dropping live display, 65days open with the gloriously titled ‘Heat Death Infinity Splinter’ – a song as bombastic and insane as its title suggests and a fantastic opener to what becomes a sublime gig. From start to finish the group throw themselves joyously into a perfectly crafted mix of old and new, beautiful and wild.

Blasting strobes and spotlights silhouette the frantic band as they bounce around to ‘Dance Dance Dance’, which transforms the crowd into a grinning sea of flailing limbs. Dotted between more recent offerings of electronic euphoria such as ‘Prisms’ and the gorgeous piano riffs of ‘Sleepwalk City’, some older and mellower tracks give the set list a nice diversity, drawing songs from almost their entire discography. They add in all the favourites, with ‘Radio Protector’ and ‘Retreat! Retreat!’ drawing massive cheers from the packed crowd, and finish with an encore of two early songs that still sound new and exciting – the raw power of ‘I Swallowed Hard, Like I Understood’ and the beautiful, gentle bleeps of ‘AOD’.

It’s this kind of persistent innovation that makes the band so great. Their live performances are always breathtaking and tonight was no different – from start to finish, a showcase of how honed their craft is. With five studio albums and more side projects than you could shake a sine wave at, 65days don’t look like they’re slowing down anytime soon. This band is unstoppable.

Alex Adams

Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip.

23 January
Plug

A freezing Thursday night in Sheffield didn't stop leagues of fans from making their way down to Matilda Street, all because of a couple of bearded guys in baseball caps. You may wonder what's so special about them. Quite simply, something works. It works so well that within a handful of years they have gone from playing small close-knit shows to performing in big rooms in cities across the country. Refusing major label backing and staying independent doesn't seem to have mattered much. 

Sarah Williams White opened up with some sultry and passionate vocal work, while the second support slot of the evening was brilliantly powerful young poet and rapper Itch. Sporting a giant baby head, his DJ hammered down heavy bass grooves. Performing new track ‘Life is Poetry’, I was impressed by Itch to the point of fandom. 

It was about 9.20pm when the stage went dark and the booth DJ halted his filling ambience. The room had grown packed over the course of the first two acts and the atmosphere was tense. Some beats began and from the near pitch black stage came the familiar voice of Pip, an introduction to the set. Then with a whoosh of lighting and smoke, amidst the eerie glow of a darker shade of purple, they kicked off proper.

Instantly the crowd livened, the heavy sounding flow of the first two tracks making people move. Scroobius commented on how impressed he was with the mosh pit but reminded everyone to look out for each other. Top bloke.

There was plenty of interaction from Dan and Pip, giving us a true sense of their personality that isn't there on their studio albums. Bringing out both supporting artists to help on a couple of tracks was a great way of introducing their talents and making people pay attention. A complete mix of material in era and feel, and a great night out.

Rowan Blair Colver

Honey Bee Blues Club.

17 January
Bar Abbey

Bar Abbey is located in the basement below the Abbeydale Picture House. Small but not cramped, with a no-frills stage setup, it is one of Sheffield’s oldest blues venues. The Honey Bee Blues Club is the design of Martin Bedford, local artist, musician and promoter.

The Early Morning Sheiks play a strange but intriguing selection of ragtime, blues and old-time pop on strings, cans and kazoos as the quickly amassing crowd shuffle into the subterranean bar. It truly is a mixed bag – a surreal congregation drinking the Honey Bee Blues pale ale and eating three bean burritos on paper plates, soundtracked by the occasional ukulele solo.

By the time the Sheiks have played their last song, the bar is at capacity. People without tickets are turned away and it’s the turn of Tom Matthews, a one-man blues act with a Telecaster and a contemporary style whose genesis is somewhere between The Black Keys and Cage the Elephant. Tom plays skilfully, with surprise changes in tempo and riffs that are firmly rooted in the genre. His up-to-date cover of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ is a particular standout. Amongst the covers, Tom plays a few of his own, displaying promising confidence and a distinctive style.

The M&J Blues catalogue covers a broad spectrum of rock and roll, rhythm and blues. Powerful, resonant vocals accompany a blend of acoustic and electric guitar that add authenticity to the father and son duo’s performance. A great rendition of ‘You Never Can Tell’ is followed by an instrumental cover of ‘Voodoo Chile’, with no lack of improvisation from both guitarists.

The Mudcat Blues Trio play a suitably loud and impressive headline slot. Technically brilliant as performers, they have a relaxed chemistry with one another and the crowd. The night ended with a heavy, fast-paced blues rock crescendo, made more intense by the intimate nature of the venue, with its low ceiling and shabby decor, packed from wall to wall. If the grand opening was a sign of things to come, the Honey Bee Blues Club is setting a high standard for live blues and rock nights in Sheffield.

Owen Priestley

East India Youth.

29 January
Cathedral

There’s a tendency of late, in the murky world of gig promotion, to shoehorn artists into bizarre locations. This event, however, was not one such example. The lone figure of William Doyle stood behind his altar of electronic contraptions under the imposing stone architecture of a mid-renovation Cathedral. It couldn’t have been more fitting.

Composed and suited, he appeared to have shed the nervousness that characterised some earlier solo shows. One got the impression that even the staunchest defenders of the sanctity of the church would probably make an exception for East India Youth’s musical endeavours.

It might be in part due to the distinct religious flavour of his music. Through techno and rapturous guitar parts there’s a creeping of organ, a scattering of choral echoes. Debut album Total Strife Forever received a resounding thumbs-up from people who make it their job to decide on things like that, prompting some thoroughly revered taste makers to found a record label on the strength of his debut EP Hostel.

That said, it’s still difficult to appreciate the full weight of the album until it’s conjured up live by one man with one table and one guitar. Doyle switched between synths, screens and guitar with obsessive fervor, barely saying a word. More a soundscape of movements than individual tracks, what the set lacked in length, it more than made up for in rich, condensed dynamism.

Of the four vocal tracks, ‘Dripping Down’ and ‘Looking For Someone’ were particularly notable, with Doyle’s clear voice focused in sharp contrast to the dark and glitchy sonic shades. Often eked out, twisted and deviating from their recorded forms, the set had a completely different aesthetic to the album. The set closed with an extended track, easily the most ‘dance’ track and easily the most well received, a far cry from the electro-pop tendencies of single ‘Heaven, How Long’.

Lucy Holt

Alisdair Roberts.

25 JANUARY
LANTERN THEATRE

Actual Midgets (aka James Barlow) opened tonight’s gig with a typically engrossing set of experimental folk music. He uses an organ-style pedal keyboard to create bassy reverberating drones, which accompany his finger-picked guitar and minimalist vocals very effectively. The overall effect is highly atmospheric, often ethereal and always compelling.

Michael J Tinker took the evening in a more traditional direction, with a very impressive set of folk music, drawing roots from Scandinavia, traditional Celtic and English music and one or two originals. Michael is building a formidable reputation on the Sheffield traditional music scene, having recently drawn the attention of local folk heavyweight John Boden, who had plenty of good things to say about him. Though I’ve seen him perform alone several times, this was my first sight of his new trio, Bright Season. I’ve always been impressed by his solo performances, but the addition of the trio, featuring Simon Dumpleton on accordion and Ella Sprung on violin and nyckelharpa (a Swedish string instrument, like a cross between a violin and an autoharp) and all three sharing vocal duties has added greater depth, intricacy and warmth to his music. The stand-out track from his set was traditional tune ‘The House Carpenter’. The driving guitar balanced by long chords on the accordion, with the nyckelharpa’s melodies countering the vocal line, seemed a perfect combination.

Alasdair Roberts, a folk singer from Glasgow, is a true balladeer. He played a mix of traditional Scottish songs and his own material, but whatever he performed, he did so in a truly captivating manner. Lyrically, he is matchless. Long after the gig had ended, so many of his lines were still echoing in my head, gaining greater meaning and significance with each rumination. A sore throat meant his voice was a little sub par on this occasion, but his deft guitar playing with beautiful melodic interludes interjecting between verses more than made up for it. The Lantern Theatre was the perfect setting for a very intimate night of music presented by The Folk Forest, with all three musicians presenting something different but always interesting.

Ben Eckersley