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Vieux Farka Toure / Za! / Gang of Four + more

by Now Then Sheffield

3 February
Yellow Arch

This is the latest in the excellent Talking Gigs series, where musicians from around the world are interviewed about their life and work, interspersed with songs that explain or expand the narrative.

Vieux Farka Toure is the son of Ali Farka Toure, the Malian guitar maestro. During the conversation Vieux talks about his upbringing in Niafunke, Mali, his relationships with his father and grandmother and the more recent civil war. He comes from a historical tribe of soldiers and his father, despite himself being a world renowned musician, wanted Vieux to follow in his ancestors' footsteps. Vieux had no interest in joining the army and eventually received his father's blessing to be a musician just before his death in 2006.

The first song Vieux plays showcases his dazzling fingerstyle guitar playing. He mixes traditional West African music with flashes of other styles including flamenco and gaelic. We hear that Vieux is not a fan of rehearsing and prefers a looser, less regimented approach ("I don't like perfect music, like from a machine"). This is apparent from his playing, with fantastic technique delivered in a fluid, almost improvised manner.

'Desert blues' is a catch-all term that is frequently used to describe the various musics of West Africa and, despite a common misconception, it is Vieux's absolute belief that the blues originated in Africa, and that John Lee Hooker's forebears travelled from Africa and took that music consciously or intuitively to the US.

Vieux has previously said that "the best moments in music happen when no-one is thinking," and towards the end of the evening Vieux is joined by a bassist and a drummer (from Cameroon and Ivory Coast respectively) to play a short set including a joyous eight-minute extended jam that is driven along by a galloping backbeat and throbbing bass. Layered on top are Vieux's shimmering, trilling guitar lines and sweet vocal tones. A final solo guitar and voice piece allows Vieux to beautifully capture the haunting and graceful spirit of his homeland.

Pete Martin

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12 February
DINA

DINA is a new arts space in what was the Stardust bar on Cambridge Street. The Stardust bar used to have a revolving dance floor upstairs, but the only revolving I was doing was on the bar swivel chair. It's a rare treat to sit at a bar in a club, but one I greatly revelled in. Usually the music is too loud, but shielded by a big red curtain I could hear quite comfortably.

Happily tipping back a can of Red Stripe - I'll never understand its position as the subversive arts event drink of choice - I chatted to various attendees of the night, largely from the university music society, who were a very agreeable bunch. I even bumped into a Latvian guy who worked at the climbing centre next door to the circus I worked at in London. They are very cramped for space down there. He is now studying robotics and heavily into his electronic dance music. Makes sense really.

It felt like an episode of Cheers, albeit without any of the cast there. I was joyfully entertained by Sheffield's eminent artist and all-round genius lunatic, Stuart Faulkner, who unleashed on the uninitiated music students a chorus of spontaneous hits, from the Poddington Peas theme tune to songs from his new musical about a hen do gone wrong.

When I did enter the arena of dance, I was impressed. The music was good, a heady mix of electronica and garage, and even finding time to squeeze in some Van Morrison. Everyone was dancing wildly. Not a hint of ego or pretence, just a real good sense of fun. I honestly haven't enjoyed a night more in ages. It had a fine house party vibe, where everyone is losing their shit on the dancefloor rather than smoke boxing a bedroom or being passed out on Beaver paracetamol.

I tottered home about four in the morning with tired feet, happily reciting "down at the bottom of the garden..."

Stan Skinny

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20 February
Picture House Social

Hot on the promise of a unique and remarkable musical experience, those with a taste for this sort of thing gather to enrich themselves. What sort of thing? Well...

This is the last date of Catalan duo Za!'s UK tour in support of their latest release, Loloismo, a rollicking, good-time stomp through their genre-subsuming, mathgroove circus. I'd say they're a band which defy expectation, but there are people here who know exactly what to expect, and they are excited.

The low, wide hall of Picture House Social benefits the miasmal qualities of opening act Magpies' sound - country plinking riding the warm fuzz, or blown about by the first of tonight's trumpets. I might recognise a song from NOPE's last album, but individual tracks can become lost in the spectacle of the performance - the two drum kits set up in front of one another, a steady momentum of rolling, rhythmic textures, the geeeeetars! NOPE foster a camaraderie that has you looking about to see if people can be enjoying themselves quite as much as you are. They are.

There really is no space here to describe Za!'s music or do it any kind of justice. Luckily it's not more than a touchscreen away, so check it out. They are a band that truly give you a moment of their time. They're there with you the whole way, and tonight becomes as much about us, the audience. There's no ego. These guys just want to share what they've got.

Before the end, cymbals are removed and paraded around the room to be smacked by fans, the effects-laden guitar is given out to be played by anyone while the band weave about us, leading a chorus of chanting and whooping. This is the meaning of the Spanish word, 'loloismo'. All together now...

Billy Christmas

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5 February
Yellow Arch

Since 10 January he’s been on the cover of a hundred magazines, has dominated the download charts and has been the subject of art pieces and murals across the world, including one on our very own Division Street - a piece which, fittingly, divided opinions.

In aid of Cavendish Cancer Care and hosted by Yellow Arch, tucked away in the industrial hub of Burton Road, the Sound and Vision event sold out weeks in advance as fans raced to get their hands on a ticket to spend the evening celebrating a decades-spanning career, raising a pint to David Bowie and in turn raising money for cancer care in Sheffield.

The night opened with a lively set by well-established tribute band Aladdinsane, with lead singer Paul Henderson, who appeared as Bowie on Stars In Their Eyes back in the 90s, pouting and strutting his stuff to 'Diamond Dogs', 'Let’s Dance' and the lower-key 'The Man Who Sold The World'. The crowd, a mix of older and younger Bowie fans, had shimmied themselves right up to the stage, all wanting to catch a glimpse of Bowie’s magic.

Many of the faces in the crowd had been painted by in-house artists with the famous Ziggy bolt and a few fans even came in drag in honour of Bowie’s androgynous style. In the smoking area outside, the rain hammered down, but the Nether Edge Pizza Co lured the punters out to share a slice or two under the dripping tarpaulin.

In a statement following his death, Bowie’s family said: "Just as each and every one of us found something unique in David's music, we welcome everyone's celebration of his life as they see fit." The Sound and Vision event was just that - a celebration of that unmistakeable ‘uniqueness’ that everyone recognised in Bowie. And although the glittering event may now be over, Cavendish Cancer Care are still accepting donations, so you too can ‘get a pint in for Bowie’. You can find more information on the work they do and how you can help at cavcare.org.uk.

Danielle Mustarde

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11 February
Bungalows & Bears

Bungalows and Bears is one of Sheffield’s gems. The bar takes up half of the room, but its range of beers allows the inconspicuous journalist to lurk at the back with a pint of Guinness whilst the indie kids drink Red Stripe at the front.

The intimacy, the exposed brickwork and the noise metre, placed directly above the stage, give this bar its trendy character.

After local band Femur kick off the night with their haunting grunge, The Amazons take to the stage and explode into 'Stay With Me'. Thumping drums and colourful melodies typify The Amazons’ sound, no more so than on 'Millions (The Party)', which sounds even better live than on record.

Singer Matty throws his luscious ginger hair around like Dave Grohl, and has the confidence of him too. ‘’You know the words to this one – I know you do!’’ he says as he introduces the band’s biggest hit to date, 'Ultraviolet'. A true indie classic, it is instantly recognisable with its huge chorus and energetic deliverance.

They exude the effortless confidence of a veteran band, despite only having been together for 18 months. 'Junk Food Forever' has a punk rock bridge towards the end of the song, showing their unique blend of grunge and indie.

An extended ten-minute version of the anthemic 'Something In The Water' closes the show, leaving the crowd completely spellbound by the shredding guitar solos.

Having just signed to Fiction Records, of Tame Impala and The Maccabees fame, 2016 promises to be a huge year for the Reading four-piece.

Paul Stimpson

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27 February
Skate Central

As I stood in anticipation of Gang of Four, the influential post-punk band credited by the likes of Nirvana, the Chili Peppers and Franz Ferdinand, I was a little distracted by the fact that we were in a roller disco that was still going on. It was like someone had booked it out for a birthday and was reluctant to rescind their hire, so the gig organisers had to compromise and share the space.

It is quite mesmerising to watch people going round in a circle, and when the band did come on, it took some persuading to twist my head to greet them. It helped that they fired out with deep thundering bass lines, a dirty disco funk mixed with distinctive, clipped, distorted guitar and hammering drums, which is difficult to ignore and harder to not enjoy.

This new line-up of the band added new vigour and they all looked great. The new lead singer especially, looking like sick boy from Trainspotting, with tussled, dyed blond hair, two-day stubble and piercing eyes. Vocally, at times he wasn't as convincing as his look. There was a hesitance, like he'd won a competition, but now a full member he was taking some time to convince himself.

He did have a vulnerable charm about him though, as he restlessly moved about the stage, flitting manically between the three microphones. It added an enjoyable element of chaos in what was a very tight professional set, and if anything I would have liked a bit more chaos.

The guitarist tried, listlessly dropping a guitar on the floor. A very novel way of playing. I was only hoping it was an Encore Argos special, in these parsimonious times.

During the big hits, there was finally some motion in the crowd - it being too early and there being too many dads with daughters for it to really kick off in any spectacular frenzy - but the band proved they're still capable of producing a rich, invigorating and vital sound.

Now, where did I put my skates?

Stan Skinny

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13 FEBRUARY
YELLOW ARCH STUDIOS

Seriously, who doesn’t like garage? A venue filled with garage lovers moving at the perfect speed of 130bpm, LSS’s 9th birthday was destined for success from the outset. Unlike other fans of specific genres, garage fanatics aren’t necessarily out to see a particular artist or DJ. They’re just there to get a fix of their beloved genre. Liquid Steel Sound did not disappoint, showcasing a fruitful selection from their DJ collaborative: garage originator Sticky, LSS rep Stush and bass veteran Deadbeat. Yellow Arch’s crowd was absolutely feral but you’d expect nothing less.

A thorough history of garage set by Sticky allowed the crowd to indulge in every classic imaginable. 'Fill Me In', 'Heartbroken' and 'Gotta Get Thru This' made your ears hurt, not because they were played too loud but because attendees were screaming along. Collaborator Kele Le Roc followed with memorable vocals on Basement Jaxx’s 'Romeo'. This live element made for a dynamic change from others nights at Yellow Arch spent watching DJs spin records. Kele’s voice calmed the crowd, albeit momentarily.

Wild party animator Deadbeat provoked more raucous cheering and untamed dance moves. This lead to slow but energetic bar service, with staff taking some time out from pulling pints to focus on performing their best garage sass. Rowdiness levels only increased as the music became more acidic. To an outsider the evening could have looked like a decline of sanity, but it was joyous to watch people lose themselves (and their friends) in garage heaven.

Jennifer Martino

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18 February
Lughole

Shoestring venues come with shoestring problems. You wouldn't know from watching opening act Conjurer who, against tradition, have the cleanest and crispest sound of the evening – as clean and crisp as doom metal ever gets, at any rate. The guitar tone is gloriously foul, the pace alternately funereal then manic, the vox guttural and screechy. There may not be much originality going on here, but I'll take solid competence from an opening support act any day of the week.

Less competence from Kurokuma, but they make it up with ambition. Doom metal with Latin rhythms, you say? That's quite an offer, but a challenge that the band aren't quite up to. They make a good fist of it, but early in their set the PA goes down. The spectacle is further enweirdened by some guy in a red anorak and black balaclava wandering around with a camcorder.

Slabdragger have to play without any vocals at all, but they gamely get on with it anyway. It takes a good band with solid tunes to pull off an unplanned instrumental set and they do so with surprising good humour, despite sounding like someone killed two members of Clutch before locking the other three in a room containing only codeine and bathtub amphetamines. To be clear, this is a good thing.

The sound-person manages to kludge up some vocals for headliners OHHMS, though the earlier acts have hammered my ears so hard I can hardly make them out. It doesn't matter, though. No one sees bands like this to hear the words. You see bands like this because you want to hear the musical equivalent of Satan driving a steamroller through the smoking ruins of Disneyland. And once you have, a grotty former industrial unit with no windows seems an oddly appropriate venue, broken PA or otherwise.

Now, can anyone help with my tinnitus?

Paul Graham Raven

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by Now Then Sheffield

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