Tag: Brixton Academy

Ramblings: on blogging, The XX, IDLES and Secret Cinema (Moulin Rouge)

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There were four things I feared when I started Astralpenguins:

  1. I wouldn’t enjoy writing it
  2. People would react negatively to such a weird collection of music
  3. I’d run out of music that I liked and therefore end up plugging music I wasn’t that keen on
  4. I’d run out of time/energy to keep it updated.

Well the fourth of those concerns came about around the middle of March. Work, personal admin and commitments conspired to take my time away. It wasn’t that I didn’t have time to write the blog, it was that I didn’t have time to listen to music at all.

And yet, here I am. On the other side of a strange couple of weeks. I’ve had a blog post in my mind for a fortnight that I don’t really feel is worth writing in full anymore, but it revolved around two gigs I went to – with Gig buddy Matt – on consecutive nights.

The first was seeing The XX at one of their Brixton shows, absolutely smashing it. It was a total pleasure from start to finish watching that band – a band that I’ve loved since I first heard them on the radio around 7 years ago – stand triumphant in front of their hometown crowd.

I have to be honest, I was on such a high from The XX that I feared for the following night’s acts. I even considered not going. But boy am I glad I did. First, some history: one of the ways I check out new bands is from the email lists of various venues I like; they email out a list of acts who are playing soon and then I listen to the music of the bands I haven’t heard of before.

Back in the summer of 2015 I received an email from Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen advertising a band called IDLES. They had one EP on Spotify, and it was – from memory – pretty solid indie rock. Tickets were c. £5 and I thought ‘why not?’ – I even persuaded Gig Buddy Matt to come along. We were in for a surprise…

The band had somewhat changed their sound since that EP, eschewing indie sensibilities for a considerably more brutal punk sound. The audience was sparse – probably around 40 of us – and the band were intimidating. They looked like they’d be cobbled together in some sort of prison rehabilitation programme; all pent-up rage channelled – mostly – through their instruments. The lead singer jumped off the stage and paced around the audience, who visibly recoiled.

They were, in short, rather brilliant. The kind of band you need to see; full of eccentricities and chemistry, yet always bordering on an explosion. They were supported on that night by a 2 piece called John (which, they helpfully point out, is a terrible name for a band, as you can’t find them on Google). I’m delighted we spent the £5 – it’s one of those gigs we still talk about with joy and laughter.

And then late last year, something unexpected happened. Radio 1 started championing IDLES. They were getting radio play, invited in for live lounge performances … it gave them a level of exposure they’d previously lacked. And so they returned to London (Moth Club) a couple of weeks ago – once again supported by the once again excellent but totally un-google-able John) with a considerably bigger crowd.

What hadn’t changed is their spirit. The punk ethos, the chaotic live show, the humour… it was there. They were fantastic. If you haven’t seen them, don’t hesitate. This is a band who have worked incredibly hard to get themselves to this stage, and their live show is, right now, one of music’s most provocative experiences.

That was two weeks ago. Then things in my life intervened (see above). Then someone attacked the place I work, killing a policeman and four others, and injuring dozens more.

I haven’t mentioned I work in Parliament on the blog before because it isn’t relevant to the music or anything else I’m going to write about. I am reluctant to mention it now; because nothing that happened last week was about me and there are families grieving who deserve to have their loved ones at home; who were robbed of their joy by an abominable act. My heart goes out to them and I’m profoundly moved by those who came to help the injured and suffering last week.

But – as this is a music blog – I wanted to say one thing about it. Music is usually my escape from things, the place I go to for joy. Events last week left me wanted to skip music for a little while. I didn’t want to escape from the world; I wanted to come to terms with what had happened so that – like thousands of others who work in Westminster – I could, in some way, accept it and move on.

And here I am. Finding my feet again in the blogging world and hoping you’ll forgive the absence.

There is one other thing I wanted to mention from the past week. My favourite film in the world is Moulin Rouge (closely followed by Die Hard) and at the moment in London an organisation called Secret Cinema are hosting their version of screenings of the film. Essentially Secret Cinema try to recreate the magic and ethos of the film by bringing elements of it to life. My other half bought me tickets for one of their screenings (performances?) for Christmas, and we excitedly went along last Sunday.

I’m loathe to write anything resembling a review of the night, but the top line is that I thought the whole thing was atrocious. Lacking creative direction, artistic merit or a sense of how to add value to something that is already pretty much perfect, it is one of the worst cultural experiences I’ve had in London. I can only suggest – if you are thinking of going – that you avoid it. Better to sit at home and watch the film; it’s better than the second rate am-dram drivel you’ll experience at the Secret Cinema experience, and it’ll save you from shelling out for the ridiculously overpriced tickets, drinks, food and costume.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Back soon – and I promise to stick to music from now on.

Ramblings: on Zak Abel and being back on track

 

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Well the blog is back on track after my week of illness. The A List is done, the Bonus List introduced and the This Week Playlist posted. George posted a review of Cloud Nothings’s Life Without Sound last night and Antonia is back with her At The Movies column later today. Plus there’s a Track of the Day coming up at 0930.

Onto non-blog matters, I’m pretty happy as I’m off to my first gig of the year tonight, seeing Zak Abel at one of his two sold out shows at London’s Scala.

I first heard Zak Abel’s stunning soul voice on Sam Sumthin – which I only found out yesterday was produced by Kaytranada – back in 2015. It’s a voice that’ll please many audiences and belies his young age. Given that he’s a self-taught pianist and guitarist, and was also pretty good at table tennis, he also seems like a pretty determined man.

He also writes cracking pop songs. Say Sumthin was one of the best I’ve heard in years, an instant classic. And he’s followed it up with Everybody Needs Love and Unstable since.

His debut album- Only When We’re Naked – is due out in March and I’m looking forward to hearing some of the new material tonight. This will be my fourth time seeing him live, and every performance has improved on the last. He has an infectious charm on stage, his band are super tight and I fully expect him to be playing much bigger venues soon.

One of the things l’ll keep coming back to on this blog (because it’s something I care a lot about) is supporting young acts – particularly British acts – and the need to ensure they aren’t rushed. A few years ago it became a habit for acts to have a couple of singles or a debut album and to be playing Brixton Academy; it was sad watching them fall flat on their face due to a lack of material and a lack of stage experience.

Zak Abel has done it the proper way. He’s been gigging consistently for the past few years and knows how to work an audience. The first time I saw him was at the Oslo in Hackney, he was the second act on stage with a bill of four; it was perhaps an indication that he was destined for bigger things when half of the audience walked out after he’d finished.

Last year I saw him play the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, where he tore the place up – Drake One Dance cover and all – and was joined on stage for a duet by Paloma Faith. I had the rather strange experience of being stood next to Paloma Faith for a large chunk of that gig; but it does mean I can say with certainty that she was enjoying herself.

To reaffirm that he hasn’t been an overnight success, he was featured on the Radio 1Xtra Hot for 2015 List, a list that also featured Little Simz, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Raury, Stormzy, Lion Babe, which is a pretty strong list. Yet its interesting that you could easily hear his stuff on 1Xtra, Radio 1, Radio 2, XFM or any of the shit big commercial radio stations. He has a sound – and a quality – that could easily see him become Britain’s next big pop export.

So I’m looking forward to tonight very much and in anticipation below is Zak Abel’s new video for Unstable.

Until later,

Mark