STA is now Ten Years Old

FREE Magazine Review The STA All-Dayer

'The riffs come thick and fast, accompanied by sweeping violin, and the songs sprawl out before the audience like great works of art being unfolded'

PART ONE

The Smalltown America Records all dayer took place in Shoreditch’s 93ft East in aid of Cancer Research UK and The Connection At St Martin's. Bands playing included the beautiful Blood Red Shoes, Brainlove Records’ Pagan Wanderer LU, Cribs-esque three-piece Dartz, Billy Bragg-a-like Frank Turner and vocal free 65daysofstatic, amongst others in no particular order.

It is hardly one in the afternoon, and already the first band of the day are taking to the stage. The Retro Spankees walk out and look thoroughly awkward. “Oh dear” is the first thought of the day, as the band stare at their feet.

They chug through a bland pop song that The Magic Numbers might reject. But don’t be fooled. This is all an act, designed, presumably, to throw the audience. Because at the drop of hat, they turn into a ferocious, mentalist, hyper-pop, force of nature. The guitarist is a comedy genius, his facial expression ranging from a “What’s that smell? Did a fairy just fart by my ear?” look of dazed confusion, to the raging, shouty look of a deranged killer. What started so ordinarily transforms into a lesson in noise pop, complete with crazy synths that are reminiscent of Polysics, albeit toned down a little. The highlight is bonkers song about being an ant, ‘Smarty Pants’, which features the genius lyric “I bet you can’t see me, cos I am really small” shouted repeatedly.

To add to the confusion, somebody on stage begins singing in an incredibly high-pitched voice, and instinctively, attention is drawn to the female bass player. Obvious you’d think, but her closed lips point to the singer, whom it turns out is able to switch from standard indie vocal to Joe Pasquali on helium at the drop of a hat. A surprising, and thoroughly enjoyable start to the day.

Then its off to the sweltering side room which houses the 2nd stage to see Leila Zerai, whose simple acoustic balladry is exceptionally pretty, if lacking invention and originality. What’s most striking is quite how much
her voice sounds like that of Howling Bell’s front woman Juanita. It’s uncanny.

Back to the main stage then, for The Mighty Roars, who churn out bland, uninspired garage rock. They try hard on stage to be ‘rock’ (bassist kicking the air now and then) but frankly it just left a feeling of embarrassment hanging in the air. Also, songs about "sack back and crack" waxes are neither big, nor clever. Back to the sauna next door for Tiger Force. Was it made up on the spot? Did it have a structure? Were there any actual songs? Did it work in a “we’re crazy and kooky and we make noise that isn’t very good, but everyone will love in an ironic kind of way?" No. Tiger Force are absolutely awful. Painful even. It just made no sense. Am I being blinded and blinkered by the standard conventions and traditional rules of music, as might be claimed by fans of the Force? No.

Dead! Dead! Dead! Take to the main stage and the comparisons to Arcade Fire that are often thrown at them are dispelled immediately. They are nothing like each other. In fact, they sound more like a less conventional and slightly louder Maximo Park, which is obviously a good thing. The shared vocals and big crashing guitars work well, at their best during 'Waltz', but were a little over-loud. As the set goes on, influences shine through and they begin to sound like the bastard offspring of Franz Ferdinand and Biffy Clyro. Good solid indie rock.

And so it is on to the after show, where the stunningly poor design and cramped conditions of the On The Rocks Studios play host to Cats and Cats and Cats. They are a band of teens who look barely old enough to shave. Yet, the noise they make goes against what those so young should be capable of. The riffs come thick and fast, accompanied by sweeping violin, and the songs sprawl out before the audience like great works of art being unfolded.

With barely one song under six minutes, the obvious comparison is with Pure Reason Revolution, who also have a violinist and make giant prog masterpieces. However, where PRR have mastered the art of multi-layering and harmonising, Cats are content to limit the vocals and just make big with the guitar noise, which they do to terrific effect, the two guitarists sparring with each other during the set closer, apparently trying to convince us through the art of the riffs that each has suffered more heartache than the other.

PART TWO



Brainlove Records’ electro extravaganza-minister Pagan Wanderer LU preceded beautiful post-punk art rockers Blood Red Shoes with a pathetically poor performance on the behalf of the sound man. Alex, a fellow FREE journo, ended up barking commands at the poor confused sound guy assigned to the Second Stage sound, presently ambling aimlessly behind the big set of knobs on audience level adjacent to the performers.

Following suit, Brighton/Try Harder Recordings’ Blood Red Shoes were late. Late to the extent that they were only able to play four out of the five songs the animated blonde hostess had promised having just announced that Laura-Mary was in the building.

Laura was late because the tubes had cocked up. She arrived indifferently onstage, having reached her backdrop-facing microphone they immediately launched into A.D.H.D. A large crowd promptly materialized into the clammy atmosphere swarming the raised platform; 93ft East’s permanent stage.

The simple combination of a guitar, drums and twofold boy-girl vocals complimented their centralized focus; when playing they play to each other, facing each other rather than the crowd. They fitted in a new song by the name of Take the Wake, which kept in step with their regulars, featuring a low stringed riff and hectic drums under anarchical lyrics “The man makes us go to work.”

Following on from BRS’s charming miniature performance came Dartz; a Cribs-Automatic hybrid three-piece from up North with pre-recorded keyboard thrown in for measure. Their fans were few and close between one another; all down the front ready and waiting to pounce on the stage. Which, they promptly ascertained.

The band’s enthusiastic approach of pausing at times for the crowd to sing along and/or clap was miscalculated, but got bonus points for effort. Between a guitar change came jeering, that the remaining guitarist reacted to with a riff – the ASDA theme tune.

Next up was Frank Turner; his first solo gig was here two years ago. He sang songs about playing Nambucca, on his acoustic, by his lonesome. Musically, he recalled aspects of Holloway Road’s finest; Beans on Toast, thus recalling Billy Bragg, and fellow ‘bucca-boy' Kid Harpoon.

Again there were sound problems, but Turner remained confident and unhindered, breathing an amicable rapport into the crowd through his beautifully cohesive self-depreciative shits and giggles between songs.

His one love song was a sad and bitter stream of consciousness on the subject of a making tea for a girl he loved, while his feelings were not mutual. “I’m definitely going to hell/ But I’ll have all the best stories to tell” he sang of his scene-swapping tendencies.

65daysofstatic then played the last and longest set of 93ft East’s day, thus attracting the largest crowd. These vocal-free tracks were played over an ever-changing backdrop of mind-stimulating imagery.

Their metal-head stage moves were mirrored by the crowd and promptly saw both sides sway into their guitar pieces, implicating varying levels of pathos behind each individual group member’s addition to the whole. The lack of vocals opened a hole in which thought and reflection were placed for the duration of the pieces, resulting in what was unquestionably the most engaging performance of the day.

- Victoria McNaught-Davis, FREE Magazine