Caspian

4 November
Corporation

What is post rock, anyway? Simon Reynolds arguably coined the term as an attempt to collect together early 90s groups using rock instrumentation in non-traditional ways, but nowadays it represents a reliable aesthetic laundry list: no vocals (or minimal vocals), epic song structures, guitars that sound like synths (and/or synths that sound like guitars), and awkward time signatures (those stately Mogwai waltz-time loops or the schizoid whiplash of 7/4). Like all genres, what was once defined by its indefinability has become a formula.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, a symphony is a formula, as is a pop song. What makes good art isn't a lack of constraints, but a creative engagement with those constraints, whether external or self-imposed. But post rock in the twenty-teens is perhaps under-constrained, judging by the number of acts whose music is most easily identified by recurring tonal choices rather than a unique compositional style. It feels like a genre that's all centre and no edge.

Massachusetts five-piece Caspian stand firm at that stylistic centre. Please note that I say this not only as a self-confessed fan of post rock, but also as an erstwhile post rock musician. I intend no insult, either. I thoroughly enjoyed tonight's set, and I will almost certainly chase down their new album next time I have some spending money. But I think it only fair to say that if you already struggle to tell your Explosions In The Sky from your If These Trees Could Talk, Caspian aren't going to overturn your assumptions.

For confirmed connoisseurs of the genre, what Caspian lack in novelty is more than made up by quality. Their show may not be a new chapter of musical history, but it's a solid telling of a familiar tale.

Paul Graham Raven

Everything Everything

16 November
Leadmill

There's no greater satisfaction than hearing that album you've been going nuts over, live and lively, in the company of hundreds of other fanatics. The Leadmill was always going to be at capacity for Everything Everything as they passed through on their Get To Heaven tour, an album which has won the hearts of the masses, and has certainly found its way into my top five records of 2015. Excited to finally hear the raucous falsetto of Jonathan Higgs in person, I'd planted myself in a good spot long before the support act climbed onto the stage.

Sporting wayfarers and fluorescent tights, Stealing Sheep's new 80s electronica image tied seamlessly into the sound of their new album, Not Real. Leaving behind their folk roots, they have moved their music into something much more heavy on synth. As a big fan of their former album, I was surprised to find I was more drawn to the experimental tracks, like opener 'Sequence'.

From the moment they stepped out, Everything Everything had the whole room under their spell, dancing, chanting and singing along almost word perfectly. Aside from a couple of hecklers standing to my right, who made it very clear that they knew one line from 'No Reptiles', everybody seemed on the same page, there to appreciate how hard this band have been working to create one hell of a show.

I really can't fault this band on their performance - playful harmonies, funky beats, the most amazing light show, as well as compositionally interesting pieces of music, track after track. They made their way through the new album almost in its entirety, whilst still squeezing in a couple of old favourites, including 'Schoolin' and 'MY KZ, UR BF'. Finishing with an encore of 'No Reptiles' - happy hecklers - and 'Distant Past', nobody was left unsatisfied. Best show I've been to in ages.

Tasha Franek

The Great British Trance Off

31 October
Hope Works

My first emotion on stepping into Hope Works’ dark and draughty warehouse was fear - fear of the seriously menacing noise bursting from the venue’s astronomical sound system. But who knew how easy is was to become engrossed in dirty music at this dirty location? There’s no denying that volume is a key characteristic of trance, and on this occasion it really did hit you like a ton of bricks. There was no choice but to get involved.

Incredible visual effects were another winning feature of Evian Christ and Oscillate Wildly’s event. Strobe lighting was beautifully co-ordinated with the music, as bright as the music was loud, so it was easy to get lost unless you were particularly familiar with your friends’ silhouettes. Dark0 did warn attendees on Twitter just before the event to "expect full scale laser warfare", and we weren’t disappointed. The music and the lighting were a mesmerising combination.

The whole night was reminiscent of a 90s rave and the crowd reflected that. A tidal wave of 30-somethings relived their youth with mask-clad Altern8 pushing loud tunes and heavy baselines, but for trance newbies there was some light relief. Evian Christ introduced some real bangers, namely the classic ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’. Dark0 also became a popular member of the line-up when he whipped out massive curveball ‘Where Are You Now’ by Justin Bieber. Loud and sassy Venus X was also responsible for dropping some new, electrifying trance rhythms, and it was refreshing to see a woman taking centre-stage in such a male-dominated genre.

Congratulations are in order for Evian Christ and Oscillate Wildly, who did a fantastic job of making trance accessible to novices without stripping the genre of its loud, bolshy essence.

Jennifer Martino

Dubcentral

14 November
Yellow Arch

All who came to Dubcentral’s 16th birthday party were treated to shelter from storm Abigail, the smell of Caribbean food and the resonating boom of roots music from Jah Tubby’s World System. The main arena was a stimulant for the senses - decor by Galactic Traveller created a colourful aesthetic, animated graphics presented on screen caught the eye upon entry, and beside them stood the towering sound system that made roots music palpable throughout Jah Tubby’s excellent six-hour session.

Some of the best compositions in roots, reggae and dub were given appropriate treatment by the audience, who were a vibrant collective, and Tubby himself, whose track selection was consistent and without fault. The contributions of MCs Gregory Fabulous and Macki Banton were near paramount to everything else. Their performances, which lasted for the majority of the event, were raw and a vital part of the experience.

Despite the main focus being on Jah Tubby and crew, Dubcentral’s Universal Hi Fi powered the smaller room but was still big on vibes. Well-versed DJs such as Venga, Skati, Fatta and Alex Deadman provided ska, drum & bass and jungle, whilst Cool Runnings Café served delicious food connected to the music’s culture.

Yellow Arch's versatility and creativity has continued to grow with their feature of Dubcentral and Jah Tubby. Not only was Dubcentral’s birthday a celebration, but it was also an opportunity to be part of an audience who were passionate about the music’s history and to really feel roots music thanks to Jah Tubby and crew’s system.

Akeem Balogun

Radkey

29 October
Leadmill

Missouri trio Radkey recently returned to the Steel City after forging their debut album here (see last month’s interview). Embarking on their longest ever tour to promote the album, how would the three brothers, all under 21, take on the task of translating their anthemic punk record to the Leadmill stage?

Walking through their adoring cult following to take to the stage, the band burst straight into the punktastic 'Out Here In My Head' and 'Le Song'. Each tune is ripped through with no hesitation as it's paired with Dee Radkey's jaw-dropping, melodic solos, whilst other brothers Isaiah and Solomon maintain a pounding rhythm section.

Album title track 'Dark Black Makeup' turns out to be a new crowd favourite, as well as the older 'Cat & Mouse' and 'Red Letter'. This is a showcase of how Radkey write more than just two-minute punk songs, but dark, brooding and sultry songs as well.

In between tunes, special shout outs go to Henderson's Relish and Kelham Island as the band share their memories of recording here, before wrapping things up with the crushing, tribal rock beast 'Romance Dawn'.

Radkey have the perfect recipe. With excited young girls, old punks and everyone in between making up the audience, a set list overflowing with well-written rock songs (plus a cover of 'Personal Jesus'), not only do they translate their anthemic sound through a three-piece band but, with age and time, Radkey will become straight-up rock behemoths.

Lewis Budden

THE MOUSE OUTFIT

21 OCTOBER
PLUG

Fun was the order of the day when The Mouse Outfit took to the stage at Plug. Fronted by hyper DJ Sparkz, with his satisfying Mancunian accent, supported by the charismatic Chini, Defty and Pitch, The Mouse Outfit worked a small but excitable crowd. Curious about the set up of a band consisting of 9+ members, I interrogated a few of The Mouse Outfit’s fans, who raved about them. The use of Plug’s ‘little room’ made dancing side by side with the group’s wildest fans inevitable. Spitting out every word of every song as if they’d been members of the band for years, they were beaming.

The Mouse Outfit were supported by Bradford, Bristol and Brighton group Normanton Street, whose suave moves kept the audience’s gaze fixed on the stage. Vocals from Phoebe and Nicholson and rapid MCing by Ned were a real pleasure. They also proved a popular addition to the line up after handing out free copies of their new single, 'Take Time',and mingling with the crowd after their set. The intimacy of the whole gig made for a friendly atmosphere, where hip hop newbies wouldn’t feel too intimidated.

What made The Mouse Outfit stand out from other UK hip hop acts was their original fusion of genres and selection of instruments. Twinkly keys, groovy sax solos and impressive guitar skills blended perfectly. The group cleverly merged jazz, touches of reggae and hints of drum and bass, each tune adopting diverse musical styles. A perfect example of this style coalescence was a cracking rendition of 'Get Down'by Nas, which samples James Brown's 'The Boss'. A crazy guitar climax was an apt ending to a truly joyful gig, and fans left with smiles plastered all over their faces. These hip hop addicts will certainly be back for more.

Jennifer Martino

This Is The Kit

27 November
Harley

Cristobal and the Sea opened the night with a slow burner that pulled the crowd closer to the stage. João Seixas then made a careful transition from the band’s first track to the following song, 'Guidance', playing a few strings on his guitar and letting the music linger whilst the crowd applauded.

Once the lights were dimmed, the earthly atmosphere of the cross-European band was set, and they were able to contain the audience’s attention and reduce the chatter so that their instruments and phonetics were the main focus. Cristobal and the Sea's performance was energetic and wholly different but far from weird, and they were successful in creating an excellent sound reminiscent of something abstract and unidentifiable.

This Is The Kit complemented this with their own performance, which was immediately more exposed thanks to Kate Stables opening with a banjo solo. Her performance felt vulnerable, given the previous band’s united act, but it cleared the atmosphere for the vastly different style her band would bring, a gradual set that progressed without losing direction, clarity or the crowd’s interest.

Stables carried her band well through their almost contradictory blend of soothing voices and harsh sounds. Thought-provoking lyrics allowed This Is The Kit to pierce the audience and, along with Stables’ humorous crowd interaction, make their entire set effective and memorable.

They didn’t have the same atmospheric pull that Cristobal and the Sea did, but songs like 'Moonshine' and 'Bashed Up' kept the audience just as entertained, if not more, than the excellent performers who had preceded them.

I left the Harley with a line Kate Stables and Jessie D Vernon had sung together - “Who’s been teaching you? - circling my mind as I thought about the earthly sounds of Cristobal and the Sea.

Akeem Balogun

The Wytches

21 November
Corporation

Tonight saw the psychedelic doom rock of The Wytches, who have been gaining additions to their cult since 2013’s debut album, Annabelle Dream Reader, come to Corporation, alongside Demob Happy, playing numbers taken from their newly released grunge-laden debut album, Dream Soda. Support came from the 70s stoner rock-loving Bear Chest.

Demob Happy took to the stage with the confidence of a band who have just released one of the best debut albums of the year, who wear their influences on their sleeves and immediately delve into them. The Queens Of The Stone Age-inspired ‘Suffer You’ opens the set, while ‘Wash It Down’ and ‘Junk DNA’ sound like a cross between The Stooges and Nirvana. The set closer was raunchy, bass-driven ‘Succubus’, a gritty, off-kilter stoner grunge anthem, dealing with the anxieties of consumerism.

Channelling the spirit of Alistair Crowley and Anton LeVey, The Wytches opened with the raucous ‘Digsaw’, instantly sending the feral audience into a frenzy of built-up angst. ‘Rope For Judas’ was the highlight, with its flesh-hunting bass, trippy guitar and vocals that lie between the raw death grip of Iggy Pop and a playful Syd Barrett. ‘Grave Dweller’ crossed The Beach Boys surf guitars with the apocalyptic vision of The Rolling Stones ‘Paint It Black’. Leaning on their slower numbers made for a mid-set lull, but the held-back intensity of ‘Gettin' Lucky’ managed to transcend the room into the darker, moodier atmosphere they were attempting to conjure, at its most powerful on the melancholy ‘Summer Again’.

While Demob Happy were gathering the audience up in their energetic slacker DIY grunge, The Wytches summoned the audience through their infectious melodies, psychedelic undertones and menacing vibes, both bands proving to be at their finest in such an intimate venue.

Alan Byatt