This Easter weekend just gone saw a merry half dozen of the E&D writers pack their bags & head to Leeds for the very first Strangeforms festival. We decided early on that it would be impossible to do a band by band review, so here are a few thoughts.
Wow, so that was Strangforms then? I think I can confidentially say that the first of what we fervently hope will be an annual event exceeded everyone's expectations. From the moment that Sunwolf kicked proceedings off on Saturday afternoon to Codes In The Clouds' euphoric close on Sunday there was barely a bum note, let alone anything worse. The stage ran like Swiss clockwork and EVERY SINGLE BAND were amazing & played out of their skins. The most common phrase of the weekend from the stage was "how on earth are we going to follow that?" directly preceding them doing exactly that. Phenomenal.
It's almost impossible, and seems unfair, to pick highlights when everyone involved gave everything they had but on a purely personal level the run of Polymath > Lost In The Riots > The Firece And The Dead on Saturday night was about as close to nirvana as I think I'll ever get. That said, THE standout performance of the whole weekend has to have been Tomorrow We Sail, coming as it did just at the point where I was seriously worrying if I would survive my hangover they swept in like a summer storm and washed away all of the pain and suffering in the room. A moment of indescribable beauty that I shall never forget.
That this moment of tenderness was followed by the sheer brutality of Alpha Male Tea Party is a testament to bold, bordering on genius, programming by Bad Owl. The fact that the crowd made the mental juxtaposition without blinking an eye is a testament to the incredible open mindedness of this group of people.
And that brings me nicely to what made StrangeForms truly special; the people. Over the last few years I've had the feeling that this scene has been gradually coalescing, pulling together under it's own gravity gently pushed by the odd band breaking to a wider audience and pulling their mates up with them. This was brought in to sharper focus by ArcTangent last year which for the first time gave us a space & a critical mass of people to celebrate what is, quite frankly, seriously odd music.
Chances are if you are reading this you are already at least toe deep in these musical waters, but just for a minute take a step back and think about the music that Cleft, Polymath, Envoys & the like are making. It is not, by any interpretation, normal music (and some of what Cleft were playing I'm pretty sure is actually technically impossible). In fact, it often seems to be a constant source of surprise to many of these bands that anyone comes to see them at all so for a coherent scene to be developing is truly amazing.
There was a brilliant moment that really summed this crowd up for me. As Tomorrow We Sail finished their set the entire crowd turned as one, like a school of bearded fish, and made directly for the merch table. That for me says everything you need to know to know about this wonderful scene and it's people. Here's to Strangeforms 2015.
I write these words while I'm flying back from Leeds, UK, where I spent an awesome weekend at StrangeForms. StrangeForms is two days of 16 bands post rock, post metal and math rock. And it was massive!
Going to a live performance is more than just an experience that last the duration of the show only. It starts from that whole act of “going”, that's exciting and, even when everything is finished, you keep on living that atmosphere by continuously looking at the thousands of pictures taken and checking if you have all the music you listened on your iPod.
Upon my arrival I immediately began observing the people around me and noticed that I wasn't the only one impatient to see what was going to happen. As soon as I get into the venue I saw Sunwolf sound checking and the performance space suddenly took a more sophisticated atmosphere. The performance area had the right dimension for that event and it made everybody closer to each other and happier to share that experience. Once the music began, this configuration was particularly special to my heart: close to the bands in a cozy and intimate environment.
Individual tables were setup at the bar area and there was also a nice beer garden available: at the end at the first day we all knew each other and this is the part of the festival I liked the most. Being there having the possibility to talk with the artists you like and with other people with the same passion of music and sharing the whole experience with my beloved friends of (((O))) was priceless and for this reason I would never thank enough Steward and Kerry for the massive effort that let all these things come true.
I already knew and wrote about 90% of the bands that played at StrangeForms but having them all together playing live at once was fantastic.
Music flowed from every corner of the venue and I loved the familiarity between the bands and the audience. Even when something strange happened we laughed together because the main purpose of the weekend was to celebrate music.
The show started at 3.15 pm and ended at about 11 pm on both days. I've to admit that every band was so damn good and in the time they had at their disposal – about 30/35 minutes each – they offered us the highlights of their discography.
Picking up a best performance from the festival is really hard and maybe impossible but for sure there are bands from both days I want to mention.
I really appreciated the sound of the opener Sunwolf that are able to transform music into landscapes. Dominic and Matthew created a hugely dense sound and those of you that have never listened to Midnight Moon you really have to fix it because that album has a depth that few artists are able to achieve.
The first day also shined for the performance of Envoys and listening to Tom singing really impressed me. He was so powerful that you cannot remain indifferent from his performance. I enjoyed the brilliant math rock of the guys of Polymath that have always the power to put me in a great mood. Seeing them live and the way they move and involve the audience was amazing.
I was happy to finally listen to live Vasa band – considering also that their album was the first one I reviewed for (((O))) – and The Fierce & The Dead blew my mind.
The second day of a festival is always the best: you know almost all the people attending it and you are in between the happiness for what you have seen the first day and the excitement for what was still going to happen.
Tidings, Tomorrow We Sail and Cleft are the bands that impressed me the most. The riffs of the Scottish guys of Tidings were gigantic and the last minutes of 'For Rosa' performed by Tomorrow We Sail are one the best things I've ever listened to. I was lucky enough to see them live also the day before when they played outside Jumbo Records to celebrate the Record Store Day: seeing them live is never enough.
The “turbo prog” of Cleft, as they call their genre, combining heavy deep-toned guitar slaps and soft interludes, never ceases to impress. Last but not least I liked the performance of Codes In The Clouds and their really enjoyable post rock.
The show ended at about 11:30 pm and we were all tired and stoned but so happy.
It was the first time for me in Leeds and I discovered that there is a direct flight from Rome..so I'm ready for the next StrangeForms edition.
It’s been two days since the Strangeforms festival, and I’m currently working my way through music written by each one of the sixteen bands that basically took my brain and threw it into a sonic spin cycle for the best part of this last weekend.
I’m surprised that my chin isn’t covered in bruises with the amount of times my jaw hit the floor at the musicianship displayed by all involved, the sequence of bands fitting together perfectly like the order of days in the week. Everything from the great venue (Wharf Chambers was the perfect setting) to the dedication shown by the people involved with the bar/merch/food/door combined to make for an already epic atmosphere.
I’m not going to pick out any band in particular, but you’d be doing your ears a serious disservice by not checking out every single one of them at least once, and you will most definitely find something to quench your thirst for great music.
With the huge variations of auditory shades provided, Bad Owl’s Stewart and Kerry have outdone themselves in every possible way, providing the audience with a very well organized event that is going to take some beating in terms of the overall standard of bands involved. And let’s not forget the person who was the extra member of each one – Alex, the soundguy who had the formidable task of providing the quality of audibility for every set.
So to him, the bands, the organizers, the audience, new friends and staff: I salute you all, thank you very VERY much for one the best weekends I can remember in a long time x
Strange Forms 2014: 16 amazing bands on the top of their game, in small brilliant venue full of beautiful lovely people.
A word about the venue, a co-operative member’s community club that costs a whole £1 to join (for a year’s membership), divided into three sections with the a VERY reasonably priced bar area containing a well stock fridge of local ales (that I did my darndest to sample all of them (he really did - Ed.)), an outside smoking area complete with table football which resulted in the Scottish contingent getting VERY competitive and most importantly the music room which although small had a very good PA setup meaning no band appeared to suffer from sound problems.
So…how does one kick of a two day post metal extravaganza? Well with the loud as hell filthy sludge laden drone of Sunwolf of course!
In fact the opening salvo of bands present a perfect microcosm of the festival is action, as the detached/aloof assault of Sunwolf is followed up by the more crowd focused stream of conscious utterings of Himself including a brief passage of the vocalist heckling his own band!
Any festival that scores Polymath and Envoys and has the audacity to schedule them one after another is threatening to tip the world of its axis and the imperious magnitude of both performances very nearly succeeds!
The Fierce And The Dead close out the day with aplomb with a marvelous concoction of surging energy and cracking RIFF work
The bands on both days started 3pm which for this seasoned festival goer who is used to the ‘pleasure’ of watching all manner of bands at “fartooearly” o’clock this made a very nice change and allowed for further exploration of the fine city of Leeds,
Tidings set the early pace on Sunday with a cathartic set of post metal but Tomorrow We Sail promptly leave the room gobsmacked with a spellbinding performance of ambient post folk(?)
How do you follow that? Dressing in chemical overalls and continuous humorous stage banter works for Alpha Male Tea Party that along with their brand of up jaunty math rock gets people’s attention back on track.
One of the many mysteries of life is what happened first? Did the Monsters Build Mean Robots originally or was it in retaliation to a Monster Killed By Laser? The unscientific method of scheduling on the same line up failed to provide any major insights…but did provide us with some enjoyable music whilst we pondered all this and more
Codes In Cloud are given the honour of closing out the festival and they do so in some style.