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A Magazine for Sheffield

Aldous RH / Melt-Banana

24 May
Rocking Chair

Out of the ashes of Nelson’s Rock Bar comes the Rocking Chair. The phoenix has risen with a commitment to bringing quality live music to one of the only basement venues in town.

Small Ideas are in charge of proceedings this evening and there’s a diverse range of musical talent on show. Tonight’s focus is on the lone musician, but with the affordable technology available today, their sets don’t feel at all sparse.

Opening up is one of Small Ideas’ own, That Far Sound. Sam is the 21st century embodiment of the one man band. His set is a whirlwind of genres and guitar changes, accompanied by his own backing track. There’s a lovely cover of Joanna Newsom’s ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’ and an impressive rapid guitar medley. It’s undeniably brave and he’s a talented musician, but despite heroic efforts of transition, the way forward may be to bring in live percussion.

Sad Eyes’ music consists of a succession of short stories about his life. Part heartfelt karaoke, part theatrical performance, he skirts the line between genius and hapless amateur a little too often. He just about manages to pull it off, largely due to his self-deprecating persona and a knowing wink which infuses humour into every song. ‘Waino Skank’ is the undisputed highlight, and an indication of what he’s capable of.

Aldous RH’s album MISC. DISC. is a retro journey of discovery, with the Egyptian Hip Hop frontman producing a series of delicate lo-fi pop songs. Channelling the 80s, at times sounding slightly reminiscent of ‘Careless Whisper’ era George Michael, his set is a succession of sublime little gems, slow dancing music for late night lovers.

Introverted and strangely hypnotic, there’s an understated experimentation to his sound which embraces elements of psych, soul and melodic balladry. Both simplistic and intricate, each song has a dreamy lightness.

It’s refreshing to see promoters who are prepared to put on something a bit different, and in the Rocking Chair we have a great new venue providing the kind of live space we simply don’t have in this city.

Rob Aldam


25 May
Queens Social Club

Everything seems to be shrinking these days. I last saw Melt-Banana about a decade ago. Since then they've shed live drums and bass in favour of programmed backing sequences, leaving just Yasuko Onuki (vocals, Star Trek handheld device) and Ichirou Agata (guitar, effects pedals, medical-grade facemask).

Agata comes from the showmanship school of guitar playing. What comes out of his amp may not bear much resemblance to the riffs of hair metal heroes, but the mixture of intimacy and brutality with which he approaches his instrument is clearly descended from the stadium theatrics of Van Halen and others. From lascivious little touches to savage strokes and slides, Agata treats his fretboard like Keith Emerson treated his keys, though he stops short of sticking knives into the thing.

His task is to provide the melodies of pop-noise tunes that routinely run at 150BPM or higher, backed by breakbeats and bass that could be studio floor offcuts from Alec Empire reinterpreting William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy through the medium of Hello Kitty merchandise and bathtub amphetamines. He spreads thick layers of distorted, phased and fattened guitar, making liberal use of pitch-shifters and effects pedals to produce industrial synth riffs and stuttering beams of tone. Meanwhile, Yasuko chatters and raps at high speed over the top while waving around the tricorder tablet strapped to her right hand. Your humble correspondant was unable to determine whether this device was at all functional or simply an appropriately cyberpunk prop.

A decade ago, Melt-Banana felt excitingly unusual. A decade before that, with VHS manga imports spearheading the influx of Japanese culture into the UK, they must have sounded like something from another planet. But now, with atemporality as the dominant logic of culture, they seem both futuristic and archaic at once, like the better sort of vintage sci-fi novel. Melt-Banana are a paleofuture, a pop-dystopian vision of 2014 from the perspective of 1994, and an all-out assault on the ears. Yesterday's tomorrows never sounded so wild.

Paul Raven


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