Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Always the Quiet Ones
Freak Show
Self Released
Out Now
Rating: 4/5

For fans of rock in the mould of Butterfly Effect or Oceansize, albeit boiled down into bitesize four-minute prog-pop nuggets, Always the Quiet Ones have a virtual monopoly in the Northwest. More conscise than Trojan Horse, less aggressive than In Casino Out, more accessible than Cyril Snear... you get the picture. If there's going to be a Biffy-scale success from the current crop, it's going to be Battleships or ATQO. Anyway, I'm sure what you're most concerned about is how this EP stacks up compared to their excellent Headcase debut. 
The answer, most simply, is that it's kind of more of the same, and that's hardly a bad thing. A recent review of Metamusic's World to Come EP criticised its capriciousness; I would contend that consistency or variety are equally valid, so long as that is the intention of the artist. Freak Show is nothing if not consistently awesome. 
Though 'Sign of the Times' was never my favourite track live, a lashing of overdubs and Blas' trademark howl take the studio version to a different level, and 'Valentina' is a welcome change of pace somewhat in the mould of 'Beautiful Surrender', the bonus track from Headcase. Before its end it breaks down into some heavy riffing, highlighting the main progression between the records; the feeling that somehow chords have been largely eschewed in favour of a more riff-based heavy rock style, with the Smashing Pumpkins echoes now absent. 
The highlight of the set unsurprisingly is the title track, every bit as great as its live iterations, but with a slick, radio-friendly makeover. You've got to give it to ATQO; they aim for the big leagues, and they really do sound like they belong there. I defy you to get past the break at 0:24 and not jump onto something, air guitar in hand, power stance assumed, ready to fucking rock n' roll. 'Freak Show' is a bloody winner, and ATQO know it. Why it's the last track on here is anybody's guess, but if they play their cards right, it could well end up being their signature early career tune. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

New Podcast...

Okay, I know I've been lax at updates (God, I seem to have been saying that a lot this year...), but in fairness I had exams and moving to deal with. At the moment I'm working on an interview with Dan (of Modern Painters/Engineers fame), and about to start an internship with Mixcloud... so those are my excuses. Might be having my Amplifier review in Classic Rock Prog as well, but we'll see...!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning

So I sort of missed the announcement, but apparently Wilson is putting out his second record on Kscope. As you may be aware, Insurgentes was in my opinion better than Porcupine Tree's highly-praised Incident record, so the idea of a new one is welcome indeed. So far there's little to go on other than a teaser trailer, which you can see below.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Never Lose That Feeling: Club AC30

It's no secret that I'm a massive fan of the Club AC30 label, so it was particularly cool to have the opportunity to have a (virtual) sit down with Robin Allport, one of its founders. Over seven years after its inception, the label has grown to be truly a force to be reckoned with on the national music scene, and their continuing success (and indeed good taste) is an inspiration to bands, promoters and labels alike. Aside from the jealousy-inducing revelation that he saw the Verve supporting Smashing Pumpkins on their Siamese Dream tour (seriously!) we covered the past, present and future of the label, as well as the relevance of a record label in the digital age. 

1. How did the clubnight get started?

Due to lack of decent nights in London back in 2003.  We just got sick of going to gigs to see a band, and be stuck with a couple of other bands on the bill who were completely unrelated, and a "DJ" who was playing Newton Faulkner.

2. At what point did the idea of a label come about?

At the same time as we started the gig nights.  It made sense to do a small cdr release for some of the bands that were playing the nights. Nice little promo, and something fun to throw at the likes of 6Music.

3. Were you, or the other AC30 guys involved in the music industry pre-AC30?

Yeah.  I used to promote shows as a teenager back in 6th form college - putting on the likes of The Manic Street Preachers, Bark Psychosis, The Telescopes, Disco Inferno, Thousand Yard Stare and loads of others.

My brother Nick (the AC30 label guru) used to run Che and Cheree records alongside Vinita from Rocketgirl.

4. How do you feel about the way the label has grown? Has it come naturally and slowly, or were there some real 'fall or fly' moments?

It's grown at a nice gradual pace.  We have had a few times where things have gone nuts for a week or two, which is fun - and yes, also times when things just fell flat.  That's the nature of the game though... if I find something I think is amazing, everyone else might think it's not (and vice versa).

5. What are your plans for the future?

To continue releasing records at a sustainable level within the turbulent environment for music. Oh, and doing occasional shows now and then.

Specifically though:

Ringo Deathstarr compilation album "Sparkler" on various different flavours of vinyl, and new album being recorded throughout the summer. Deep Cut second album and single out in the summer. Exit Calm are writing their second album right now. The Megaphonic Thrift just went into the studio to start on their second album. Daniel Land & The Modern Painters' second album is being finished at the moment too.

And a few other projects that we're keeping under wraps for now...

6. What keeps you enthusiastic enough to continue?

That little tingly feeling when I hear something great.

7. What's been your greatest achievement so far (in your opinion)?

Each new step feels like a massive achievement for us.  I know that sounds a bit trite, but each bit of positive press from a major publication... or one of our songs on a Hollywood trailer - that kinda thing.  Being interviewed on Radio 1 for Huw Stephen's "Label Of Love" was also a bit special.

8. Conversely, what's been the lowest point in the life of AC30?

The panic before doors opened on the first AC30 night. It's been positive from that point onwards.

9. Which are the bands you've been most excited to work with?

It'll be the heroes from my youth - so bands like Swervedriver, Chapterhouse, Slowdive, Adorable, Revolver, Drop Nineteens, Ride, Telescopes and so on.

10. As regards business models, what do you see as more important moving forward: luxury limited runs, lower unit pricing, streaming, or something else I haven't thought of? Are we facing an inevitable 'rush to the bottom' as the doomsayers predict, or is there still a viable model in the age of free music?

It'll be a combination of many things. Clouds will eventually replace files as the digital media - so the likes of itunes will adapt and change, likely drastically reducing the revenue from that side of
things. There will always be a place for good quality physical product though, especially vinyl.

The main thing is, there's an entire generation coming through where 99.9% will have no concept of paying for music. So if they are going to be coaxed into paying for something, it's got to be seriously fucking cool - something they'll be proud to own, not some shitty CD in a plastic case.

11. With the previous question in mind, and the advent of platforms like Topspin and Bandcamp, what do you see as the role of a label, in an age when bands can be to an extent genuinely 'DIY'? Do you think there's been a change in the way rights and duties (formally and legally as well as informally) operate between label and artist (i.e. does the label have more of a duty to the artist than in the past)?

Bandcamp is great.  For DIY it's perfect.  I advise loads of bands to DIY - just makes alot of sense nowadays.

However, if you really want to go for it, having a label helps alot. Contacts, PR, budget, touring, logistics, merch and all that useful stuff. Given that most bands nowadays have full time jobs to make their money, having a small label to help do all the other things is handy. However, the more that they pay for, the longer it'll take for the band to recoup (if ever).

12. What's your take on the modern music industry, and how it's adapting to these changes? How are you hoping to 'future proof' AC30?

We're constantly changing our outlook in many areas of both the label and gigs.  Some areas struggle, while other areas grow.

It's hard to see how the industry will go, there's enough experts out there spouting off about how it's all fucked. We just make sure we're not relying on it for any kind of income, so the focus is purely on releasing really good stuff and putting on fun shows.

13. As somebody who's very much a tastemaker within the contemporary genre, do you think there's been a shoegaze 'resurgence' in the last few years, or is it simply the function of the internet creating a virtual community for niche genres?

I wouldn't say it's a resurgence, just more that there's a few bands coming through that grew up listening to the early 90s shoegaze stuff. The internet, combined with the ability to record stuff at home easily, certainly makes it seem alot busier than it really is.

I mean, there's not that many "shoegaze" bands that could pull over 200 people in London is there?  By that, I mean proper reverb-laden wall of noise shoegaze bands, not ones that the media lazily tag as shoegaze when they sound vaguely like Twisterella or something.

14. What would you say you've learned in the last seven years? If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Just loads and loads of tiny things, that all add up in the end. I'm not sure I could give myself one piece of advice really... aside from maybe being patient, as it just takes a long time to come to fruition.

15. Finally, what do you love about music?

That it just keeps on surprising me.