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Modus / Esmerine / Bat Makumba / Loom.

by Now Then Sheffield

6th December.
Fez Club.

Reviewer – Tristan Shorrock.

Since the reopening of Fez a little over two years ago it has become a hot bed for up and coming talent, veterans and anyone else who specialises in house and techno. As the genres continue to enjoy their renaissance worldwide, Sheffield and more specifically Fez continue to pioneer the sound that was so crucial to the late 80s and early 90s. It was only recently that the legendary Kerri Chandler took to the decks, setting the bar high for its autumn season of all nighters. A recent reshuffling of the layout lends itself to easier bar access, but despite better ventilation there is still little chance that you will come out of the club dry, making this adjustment very handy indeed.

Modus were the ones in charge of curating this night. For their inauguration they invited UK bass heavyweights Joy Orbison and Boddika to grace the opening night whilst Sheffield Bleep and Modus residents bookended the headliners’ two-hour sets, keeping people suitably pumped until the 6am curfew.

After a disappointing set at the Tuesday Club last January, in which the music was drowned out by a sound system tailored only to live music, Joy Orbison made his comeback with all the right equipment and all the right moves. The maxed out, post-dubstep producer who gave us the seminal record ‘Hyph Mngo’ has recently evolved his production to encapsulate the reincarnated spirit of techno through ‘BRTHDDT’ and a Donell Jones remix aptly named ‘Donell’. His set was certainly not shy of this newer material and worked an absolute treat.

Boddika is no stranger to Sheffield, having played an alongside Trevino earlier this year at Hope Works. His set then wasn’t for the faint hearted and neither was this one. Coming straight from Manchester’s Warehouse Project, Boddika had no difficulty seamlessly starting where Joy O had left off, weaving his blend of acid techno and minimal beats through his decks and leaving the crowd with no choice but to keep moving. A highlight came midway through his set when he dropped the collaboration with the evening’s predecessor entitled ‘Swims’, a beast of a techno groove.

After starting on such a high, let’s hope the next Modus night can compete with the stature of this one.

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7th December.
Sheffield Cathedral.

Reviewer – Pete Martin.

Formed in 2001 in Montreal by percussionist Bruce Cawdron of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and cellist Rebecca Foon of Silver Mt Zion, Esmerine has emerged as the pre-eminent modern chamber music ensemble. Their first two albums, released in 2003 and 2005, were recorded by Cawdron and Foon using overdubs to create a fuller sound, but with the addition of two semi-permanent members, 2011's La Lechuza and 2013’s Dalmak allowed a more collaborative and expansive recording experience.

Support tonight came from Woolly Mammoth, a local instrumental acoustic trio who played a wonderful 45-minute set full of delicate, intricate compositions. The interplay between the two acoustic guitars laid the foundation for Ben Eckersley's rich cello to soar and the between-tune banter was full of warmth and humour.

The cathedral is in the midst of huge renovations and resembles a building site, but Esmerine prefer to play venues other than the usual clubs and halls. The new album was partly recorded in Istanbul with some Turkish musicians and this has resulted in the infusion of some invigorating Middle Eastern sonic and rhythmic textures. The six musicians on stage (including two Turkish guests) nominally played drums, percussion, double bass, cello, violin and marimba, but as the set progressed they swapped and added instruments freely and fluidly.

They started with the haunting ‘Learning to Crawl’ which set the tone for the whole performance, with a heady mix of melancholic yet uplifting themes. ‘Barn Board Fire’ featured solo spots for some exotic Turkish instruments, including the lute-like baglama, and the piece climaxed with some frenzied pounding on the davul (or as Cawdron called it “the devil drum”, which “makes a dog freak out and everybody dance”). ‘Lost River Blues’ began with some rapid, hypnotic marimba from Cawdron and Jamie Thompson, but this was juxtaposed with a slow drone from Foon's cello. The overall pace quickened with the introduction of drums, electric bass and percussion, leading to a polyrhythmic climax.

Although Cawdron is the de facto leader of the band, it is Foon who is in the spotlight. Seated stage front, she is illuminated by the main beam and it is her elegaic and emotive cello which dominates the overall sound. Her confident and effortless playing is subtle but provides the main melody on which most pieces hang.

‘Histories Repeating as One Thousand Hearts Mend’ closed the hour-long main set with slow cello and bowed marimba. The second section pulsed with faster malletted marimba allied to a sympathetic combination of cello, violin and double bass. They returned for a 15-minute four-part encore which, again, let the band stretch out and deliver a mind-blowing array of sounds and rhythms. In one section Cawdron played drums with backing from both double bass and electric bass in a post-rock freakout before the pace slowed for a reflective, dreamlike coda.

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13th December.
Audacious Art Experiment.

Reviewer – Jack Scourfield.

If the brains behind Bat Makumba were cursing themselves for choosing Friday 13th as the date for their latest party when one of the speakers in The Audacious Art Experiment came tumbling down half-way through, they need not have worried. A miniscule yet delightful curiosity, the BYOB venue provided the perfect level of ramshackle intimacy to host one of the most unique artists operating in the electronic music world at the moment, PAN Records affiliate Heatsick.

Whether the half-formed disco ball suspended from the ceiling intentionally resembled the incomplete second Death Star from Return of the Jedi, or it had merely been the victim of someone walking head first in to it, it certainly added a suitable parallel to Heatsick’s unearthly sonics. Part of a growing trend of British producers living in Berlin, his Re-Engineering album of this year sits on just the right side of peculiarity – one track contains a sample of Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’, for instance – without disappearing too far down a rabbit hole of convoluted opacity, meshing mechanical clanks and whirrs with a flurry of different vocal grabs and instrumental intrusions, including the customised Casio keyboard that he’d brought along this evening.

Billed as “a testament to the creativity found in simply limiting one’s tools”, his live set certainly impressed in spite of – or rather, because of – the lack of bells and whistles, allowing him to connect with the crowd in the kind of raw, unpolished manner that his recorded material demands. Given that, due to the tiny square footage of The Audacious Art Experiment, this was all taking place a mere few inches away from the nearest revellers’ flailing, sweaty arms, it felt like a genuinely special event – one that not even the imposing presence of the Galactic Empire’s evil space station just above our heads could destroy.

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8th December.
The Riverside.

Reviewer – Jordan Lee Smith.

A Sunday night in the Riverside. A weathered goth couple occupy the long bench under the window, looking like they might drop off at any moment. A bloke passes by my table carrying a cup of tea and a Muller Rice. Yes, definitely Sunday.

I’m here expecting something a little more lively. Londoners Loom, famed for their energetic brand of hardcore post-punk and featuring Tarik Badwan (younger brother of The Horrors’ Faris) on vocals, are appearing for a free gig in support of their recently released Lice EP. The only indication I’ve turned up on the right night is a girl with a haircut like Grimes, swinging a Horrors tote bag impatiently.

Support act Autobahn – though their amateurish racket suggests they’re definitely new to this – at least succeed in stirring the slowly inflating spectators out of a collective doze.

When Loom take the stage around 15 minutes after schedule the atmosphere has again begun to fade. But the decision of a group of older punters to instantly up and leave as the band break into their set-opener – a juggernaut performance of The Jesus Lizard’s ‘Seasick’ – is confirmation that Loom mean business and there’s no place for a lazy Sunday crowd here.

The energetic frontman throws his all into the set, executing an acrobatic forward roll off stage and biting a mistletoe sprig off the stage mic, although his vigorous performance can’t help but look slightly odd under the naked bulb of the room lights alone.

‘Bleed on Me’ is perhaps the highlight, driven by a heavily distorted chugging riff and Badwan’s half growled, half screamed vocal delivery. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if downloads of Bleech era Nirvana meets stripped-down Birthday Party number ‘Acid King City’ didn’t peak after tonight’s blistering performance. It’s only in the mercilessly short gaps between songs that you realise just how loud Loom are in a venue perhaps more suited to folksy acoustic types.

The set is almost Jesus and Mary Chain short, but you get the impression Loom don’t care. They’re confident they can say all they need to in just over half an hour, and if you can find the bloody things for sale their cassettes will provide the rest. Tarik casually announces “And that’s it” before stepping carefully from the stage, weaving through the crowd and upstairs. There’s a glimpse in his eye that if this is what it’s going to take to chase down his big brother’s success, he’s all for it.

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by Now Then Sheffield

Next article in issue 70

Live / stage review Greg Davies at Sheffield City Hall.

The above-average height Greg Davies takes to the stage to a barrage of woops and hollers. Over the next 80 minutes or so he speaks of his f…

The above-average height Greg Davies takes to the stage to a barrage of woops and hollers. Over the next 80 minutes or so he speaks of his f

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