Slow Club

•July 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

It’s called indie pop for a reason.
Because it’s pop. And because it’s indie.

It’s a niche. It isn’t much on TV or national radio to break into everyone’s home.
You need to search for it. You need to desire it.
The only mainstream media to talk about independent music, and only in England, are national newspapers.

Only recently, thanks to streaming platforms, papers became multimedia channels to offer listening in addition to the traditional articles with photos.

The Guardian streamed Slow Club third album, Complete Surrender, before its official release. The newspaper capability to permeate the ethereal atmosphere of the internet managed to bring the band in many more homes including mine.

Slow Club aren’t new to the niche. They still are to the masses.

The first album, Yeah So, was out in the summer of 2009 (5 years is a long time in today’s music average band lifetime).
The album opens with When I Go a delicate country-ish lullaby and goes on with Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson multi-instrument playing along those melodic lines.

A Christmas EP followed the end of the same year, Christmas Thanks For Nothing. It was not a weird choice. Rebecca voice sounds perfect for a Christmas album. Big, deep, sound. Curiosity made me play Silent Night on Spotify on the warmest day of the year to discover it is an instrumental! The rest of the EP covers Darlene Love and has a couple of originals that, to be fair, are better than the covers.

At this point of their career Slow Club were still looking for a musical identity. I would classify them more among the indie-folk brigade together with the Laura Marling, First Aid Kit and the other girls that grew up with Mum’s Jony Mitchell vinyls.
Rebecca potential still has to come out powerful as it will be.

2011 arrived and Paradise, their second LP, came out late summer. From the first song the message sounds clear. Slow Club are moving to bigger songs. Arrangements gets more elaborate, rhythm is prominent and Taylor’s voice is finding her natural space and place.
A place which is not anymore in the folk tradition but not yet in a soul filled indie-pop.

Paradise deserved all the very good reviews it had worldwide, and in the indie-music blogosphere the band is now well known. They are played to a thousand people in the lovely London Koko to put them in contest.

At this point I haven’t seen them yet. I am much quicker to get in touch with rockier, garage, noisy new bands than more melodic, new-romantics.
But I get there in the end.

3 more years, another summer and another Slow Club album arrives: Complete Surrender. From the cover it’s clear this is a different thing. The colourful painting of Paradise is replaced by an almost monochromatic photo.

This is the piece that marks the division between two eras.
Change of label, they moved from Moshi Moshi to bigger indie Wichita, but most important they moved their sound to a contemporary indie version of Northern soul.
It does fit very well in the definition of blue-eyed soul for obvious reason but I would be unfair to Charles Watson.

Slow Club started as a duo and Charles Watson has an essential part in taking the band music to their sound, never drifting into clichés.

Both Charles and Rebecca are multi-instrumentalist and they alternate between guitar, keys and vocals. Rebecca plays drums too. I like when musicians move to their favourite instrument for a particular song. I imagine them composing music on a particular instrument and going back to that once in concert.

I arrive to the Portland Arms in Cambridge, delighted to see them in such a tiny venu. I know regret I sent my 14-24mm to service due to Deap Vally guitarist kicking it off stage and blocking the zoom ring at a gig the night before this.

One of the reasons that brought me to this show was a Rebecca Taylor interview at TLOBF where she gives her tips for dating.
It emerges an open, sincere, honest personality. Strong and at the same time fragile. The kind of frankness I love.

I get the same impression from the show. New songs have her voice stepping out and imposing itself over the band and the audience. Incredible performance that is rare to find nowadays. Suddenly Rebecca steps back, sit at the drums or at the keys. She hides behind the microphone, almost wispers, leaves space to Charles in a presence that is as essential as it is unobtrusive.

Indie fans love feeling the artist close to them. To be “one of them”. Slow club are indie to heart. Rebecca is inches from the fans, she chats, she asks for an elastic to tie her hair in the super hot room. She get one from ‘Fiona’ a girl in the audience that passes her a rubber band. She’ll then acknowledge Fiona when presenting the band. It all comes naturally and it is lovely.

She introduced the band. Indeed. Slow Club are a quartet on stage. Watson and Taylor keep control but are joined by a rhythm session, drummer and bassist at the beginning before they start exchange instruments depending on the songs’ need.

Expectedly the show rotates around the latest album (A pic of the setlist is here). They started with a couple of oldies but the new songs point to a different direction and the bands has more than a reason to emphasise them. Most of the album will be played and among my favourites The Queen’s Nose sounds as a soul classic, revisited for the third millennium. Number One is a powerful slow ballad where Charles singing finds a perfect place in the harmonics with Rebecca tapping in.

As it always happens when bands change directions (Bob Dylan anyone?) there will always be someone disappointed. It’s the artists the first that have to believe in what they do, and Slow Club ‘convinced me they are convinced’. They wants to bring their sound in everyone’s home. Together with the genuine approach of two young guys that believe in their songs.

Very much worth catching them live now, unless you like big shows in huge theatres in the next years.
For everything else there is internet: [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

So it is possible! So there are wise bands out there.

LED lights have been concert photographers’ nightmare in the past five and more years. They replaced most complaints that were dedicated to red spotlights.
Camera sensors never dealt well with red and too often B&W stopped being an aesthetical decision to become a technical necessity.

Since the LEDs arrived I almost wish for the red lights. LEDs are very cheap to run, give a variety of effects and many small venues have them as standard lighting. As the Portland Arms.
If they are set to a single colour from blue to red through purple, photos are going to have serious problem of sensor saturation as last photo in this post here.
It becomes again a B&W necessity with load of toning of saturation/hue/luminosity levels on the separate colour channels.

Slow Club showed you can set LEDs set to a more neutral colour that won’t make photography job impossible. For the beginning of the set light was good enough (still not enough) to shoot. Than it turned monochromatic for a bit, rotating all colours for another while and in the end stopped on a too pink tone but still this was enough for some photos.

If you are a band, and you want good photos of your show, tell the light technician to add enough green/yellow/orange to the LEDs to counterbalance the purple/red/blue.

It doesn’t have to be forever… give us at least three songs.

Neneh Cherry

•July 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Apart from the music, Neneh Cherry story is a nice biopic in itself.
There is a lot of (good) music into that too, which is a good complement.

This story began in the 60s, between a Swedish painter called Monica Karlsson (Neneh’s mother) and an African Drummer Ahmadou Jah (Neneh’s father).

The ‘Cherry’ comes in once Neneh’s mother marries Jazz musician Don Cherry who will raise Neneh since birth. The tale gets even more complicate when half-brother Eagle-Eye Cherry, son of Don and Monica, joins the family. He will have some glory with a single, Save Tonight, in the 90s.

Until today I wasn’t aware of all of this, and I always assumed Neneh was Don’s daughter.

Don Cherry to everyone slightly into Jazz, especially free jazz, was a constant presence in Ornette Coleman bands. He has credits in all Coleman’s masterpieces. Those albums, from Something Else!!! to Free Jazz through The Shape of Jazz To Come are key recordings that changed the landscape not only of jazz but modern music altogether.
Don also had sessions with most of Jazz and fusion artists including Sun Ra, Sonny Rollins, Paul Bley.

Neneh was born in Sweden but moved with family to New York and then to London on her own. Music and music cities surrounded her since her early childhood.

In London she met the Slits and abandoned father and jazz. It was the peak of punk and she claims to have discovered she could sing.

It took a few years before her Raw Like Sushi debut came out at the end of the 80s. The single Buffalo Stance was a hit and for the next 5 years Neneh was a superstar of the pop music scene. Grammy nominations, shocking pregnant set at Top of the Pops, rework of Cole Porter song and collaborations with Michael Stipe (REM) and Geoff Barrow (soon to become a Portishead).

Her career peaked again with the joint single with Youssou N’Dour in 1994. Their 7 seconds is present on both Neneh’s Man album and N’Dour The Guide (Wommat) and was a huge hit worldwide.

History teaches it is difficult to follow up a huge success and Neneh Cherry must have experienced it. She disappearing from the music mainstream for a very long time.

Blank Project her new album she brought to (this) Field Day and Meltdown festival gigs in London was released in February 2014. 18 years have passed since Man, her previous effort.

Differently from many late comebacks of the 80s and the 90s stars (Kate Bush, Sade and even Pixies) Neneh Cherry didn’t go the easy way, pleasing her fans with the music they’d expect from her.

She chose the high tipped electronic musician Kieran Hebden better known with his stage name Four Tet to produce the new album.
The result is electronic but not the Four Tet way, which I don’t like much.

Blank Project, as the title indicates, is a more minimalist approach to her vision of music. Neneh’s voice stands out. Across The Water the opening track is pretty much a statement of what will count in the next 9 songs: rhythm and vocals. And what will not enter. Frills and overproduction.

The record flows at a nice pace without ever becoming tiring. There is a cameo by Robyn towards the end for Out of The Black. The more recognisable influence by Four Tet arrives in the last track. Everything lasts 7 minutes and indeed contains a bit of “everything” in an antithesis of what the opening track did 40 minutes earlier. From Hebden electronic signature to the last seconds of the album where Neneh screams into the microphone in a way that recollects the singing experiments of Diamanda Galas, minus the eccentricity.

Field day tent was packed for Neneh live comeback. With a set all centred on the new album (I couldn’t stay the whole show, I have no idea if some surprises arrived at the end) the music sounded great and Cherry vitality was overwhelming.
It is nice to see an artist that is brave enough to step back when there is not the urge to perform and decide to come back when she has something new to say.

The album had great reviews pretty much across the world music press and I am sure the live concerts will not delude the fans. If you want to catch her live, book your tickets now. You’ll never know if it is going to be 18 more years for the next appearance!

Neneh Cherry is on the web here [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

At music festivals, there are several kind of stages which require a slightly different equipment and approach. Neneh Cherry played one of the Field Day tents. Let’s talk about The Festival Tent.

Field Day is a London festival happening in Victoria Park.
London + Park = Grass. The Tent was mounted on a field and the spacious photopit was on the grass.

Depending on the weather a tent can either be a shelter from the rain or a sauna because of the sun.
In case of rain the counterpart is mud all the way and you need to be very careful with your gear. Regardless what petapixel videos show trust me and avoid your body and lenses to see the ground and become muddy. Some water is fine but hard particles in the moving parts can kill even the best water sealed hi-tech pro equipment.

Thankfully the sky was clear this year. It avoided us the mud but it comes with a different backside. Thousands of people breathing and warming up the temperature under the tent’s roof, and the sun hitting it from the other side is like experiencing a bit of Thailand tropics in East London.
Cameras don’t have problems with these temperatures, we have. So wear light.

Festival tents also have the “advantage” of (coloured) stage lights and smoke even in daytime. Despite my eternal complaining about low lights, I’ll take a lit up gig versus a daylight one all the time. The atmosphere in the photos comes out much better and the coloured backdrop of the tent (black and dark blue in this case) works nicely as a unobtrusive background compared to the mess of a big stage in the sunlight.

One practical problem I often face is where to leave the camera bag. If the grass is wet or muddy, the ground is not an option (see above). To carry it with you is not always possible, especially if the pit is crowded as tents usually are and all ‘togs would be pissed off by the guy with the backpack. To leave it on the barriers would be great but you have to trust the audience and work with the stress someone could run away with your other lenses. Best is to arrive a bit early, look for the driest spot beforehand. A large plastic bag can be an easy solution in case of mud, too.

Last but quite important, tents are wonderful moments to shoot the crowd. The residual daylight arriving from all around does not leave them in total darkness as in theatres, the lower ceiling frames the fans and the light is usually diffuse and pleasing. You may have to balance the white (shoot raw!!). Look out for silhouette options too.

So if you are going to photograph a festival don’t stand all day under the big stage with the big names but organize your schedule with a few stops in the small tents which is where the best pics usually are.

Pixies

•June 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Confession. I’m a nineties guy, but I have never been a Pixies fan.

I own their records. The two key albums, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle are in my CDteque since the 90s and should be in any rock’s lover collection.
I can mention the names of all the members, despite I keep forgetting David Lovering and know few anecdotes about them. It’s when it goes down to music they have never clicked as other Americans alternative bands.

If I have to choose I’d definitely go Dinosaur Jr or even Nirvana, over Pixies.
When it’s down to the East Coast or Boston, well, Morphine you know are in my heart.

Pixies history started in the late eighties when guitars from USA jumped on top of declining new romantics from UK. The plastic decade was over, Iraq war, anger economic downturn was the reaction to the hedonism of the 80s and music turned more aggressive, punkier.
Story is well known.
In Seattle subpop renamed punk as grunge and marketed it to make huge money, in LA last glimpse of politic in music from RATM or Living Colour stormed the simple minds. In Washington DC Fugazi from Dischord were taking their hardcore close enough to the white house to be heard by the Bush dynasty.

Pixies were in this and were also not. Not enough to be symphatetic.

Then they sort of disappeared too early for me to fall in love, in 1993.
Ten years hiatus till the comeback. We are in the century of music reunions, it’s accepted now to comeback regardless a band has said they’ll never comeback.
This reunion era will close only the day The Smiths comeback. Still a long way.

Pixies’s Brixton Academy comeback shows in 2004 are considered some of their best moments. I was told they were better as a band even than the nineties. I missed.
Since then they played for about 10 years umpteenth times in London and around. I managed to miss them all too. Partly because of coincidences, partly because I have never been enough into Pixies to challenge the websites and compete in the ticket-sold-out-in-30-seconds event.

When Pixies came back in 2004, they did with the original line-up. Kim Deal, their bassist was there on stage together with Black Francis on vocal and guitar, Joey Santiago Gibson and … what’s his name… yes, David Lovering drumming. Sorry David!
It made sense. I believe if you comeback you have to give the fans the real deal. Radically If some of the original band members can’t (or don’t care to) sit together in a rehearsal room with the original line-up and need to be replaced by another musician, it means there’s no reason to comeback. All band should accept it. I know, alternative 90s band didn’t make enough money to retire with it so everyone needed a comeback to fill the pension fund. Understandable… not sure?

When Pixies came back they didn’t recorda comeback album. Now, my position on comeback album can vary. If you have something to say, if you have a bunch of good songs to record an album OK. If you need an album to tour and pretend you’re still an active ensemble not relying on nostalgia, well, it doesn’t work. Better to be honest with you and cash on fans nostalgia. They want to listen to the hits, they want to remember how beautiful the boy/girlfriend was, they want to party as if it was still teenage kicks.

So we arrive at my first experience with Pixies headlining Field Day festival in London. I’ve been to this Festival few times in the past, it’s nice for being cutting edges, for bringing a slice of music to come in the future. This was still true on the classic Saturday line-up (even if I am not sure about Metronomy’s golden future).

Sunday was mainly about Pixies. The stages were much less, basically 2. With the exception of Future Islands that confirmed to have the best frontman to walk a stage since Morrissey got ill, it was mainly a guitar feast. Sounded good enough to me to go back to Victoria Park despite I was knackered from walking millions of miles the day before. I wanted to check few bands I didn’t know as Pond or Temples and see someone I watched growing up since the very early days, again, as The Horrors.

And Pixies, but which Pixies?
In the last year the band has seen Kim Deal saying bye and walking to her solo/Breeders stuff. No explanation given, not that I have read. Another Kim, Kim Shattuck, replaced the “real Deal”. It lasted about a year and then she was sacked or whatever happened… replaced against her will. Tonight on stage there is Paz, Paz Lenchantin. Formerly of Perfect Circle among others bands. Great musician, no doubts, but she’s not a Pixie.

There’s more. For the first time since Nirvana released Nevermind (hint A.D. 1991), Pixies released an album of new song: Indy Cyndi. It’s not bad it’s just… late. It’s like (actually worse) than the new Afghan Whigs. Good music but there have been 15 years of music under the bridge, history has changed, panorama is different, there is Internet, there is digital music, all of this can’t be ignored pretending it’s forever 1993.

Audience is young. There are some girls standing in the front row since the morning to get every Black Francis note before the rest of the field. Unfortunately the stage is very far from the pit and even further from the fans, which is something someone on stage (Temples singer if I’m not wrong) complained.

Pixies fans seem to be stronger than air separation and as soon as the first notes (at a moderately quiet volume) arrived started to get very excited. The band helped, Wave of Mutilation, U-Mass and Debaser are quite a good statement to open and the whole set was very steady and quite hit oriented.

I took my photos and walked back into the crowd to take more snaps of the party. Lot of excitement, good music, sunset and warm temperature made it a perfect chill-out moment after 2 whole days of festival shooting. When it got too dark and I lost my two friends I walked further back sat on the grass in front of the second row of speakers to listen to at a better volume.
I must admit, I wasn’t impressed. I blame my tiredness, I can’t blame an epic setlist. The songs are all there but… but if I have to speak with my open heart I had the feeling of perfectly executed song played by a former band known as Pixies or, to be a bit harsh, the best Pixies cover band you can see today.

It’s not a case, to me, that Black Francis in March and (what’s his name oh yeah) David Lovering hours before the Field Day set said they’ll be very happy if Kim Deal re-joins the group. No answer that I am aware of.

I am not sure Paz, that does a brilliant work on bass in both Kims’ places and also is on credits on the album (there’s the reason behind the replacement, maybe?) would be as happy as the rest of them, but I must agree.
If it has to be Pixies in the years to come, it has to be the real Deal. I used this “joke” twice, so better I close this here and you go check Pixies future plans online [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

I shoot for years on film, as you may guess from the title of this blog even if you’re reading today for the first time.
Those times I did with Contax cameras. Manual cameras, manual prime lenses, manual focus. It was fun and it was different.

Despite the common thought, the medium we use changes the way we express.
Writing with a pencil, a pen, a computer or a tablet deliver different results. Figure with a piece of technology as a camera.

To date, the digital part of this blog has been entirely shot on a Nikon D700, with nikon AF zooms. When I started I found it much simpler. Then I exploited the versatility to do different things, starting from using colours to more thought composition and straigther lines. I tended to tilt the camera far too often using film. High ISO also simplify life. My concert photography changed a lot.

This Field Day signed another turning point. About 2 years after I bought a D800 body for my other work (travel, photojournalism) I decided to introduce it to a press pit to cover the festival.

One reason is Field Day main stage is far away from the pit, even a 70-200 can be short (all these Pixies pics apart the whole stage shots were framed with a 70-200) and the huge resolution of the D800 allows for something I don’t really like doing:  cropping. You can crop vertical an horizontal shot and still have a file as big as a D700.

Reportage. I like wondering among the crowd and taking some more genuine shots than rockstars on stage, so 2 cameras work better than one to havae two lenses always ready.

Reasons why I didn’t use it till now is because for online and editorial stuff 12 MP are more than enough for everyone, quicker to postprocess and to sell. 36 are pointless unless you are a heavy cropped which I, coming from film the Cartier Bresson way, am not. I also didn’t want to risk a new body into a messy moshpit, the D700 after hundreds of gigs shows signs of tiredness.
Field Day is relaxed and atmosphere is joyous so no worries there.

Todd Owyoung that all of you do (or should) know, convinced me too. He’s happy shooting gigs with a D800 so I gave it a go.

Outcome. It works brilliantly. It doesn’t have big issues with ISO up to 3200 similarly with the D700, but 6400 are well usable too. The AF maybe is less precise and slower, weakest point, but usable. I never burst shoot so I have no problems with its frame per second count.
One of the main problem is the unforgiving high resolution. Slightly wrong focus or too slow shutter time and you have a blurred image.

All the setting are pretty much like the D700 apart they shift the zoom button when chimping the shots.
I think I am going to use it more often and I already brought it to an Eels gig. I still believe a cheap D4 body (as the D700 was for the D3) would be a great thing to have, but Nikon invested in hipsters more than professional photographers and I’m sitting here waiting, actually… I’ll be standing there shooting with a D800.

Swans

•June 6, 2014 • 2 Comments

I turned 250 posts on this blog and my OCD disorder made me keep it consistent for about 8 years: Single monography of bands, all photographed by me live on stage (apart 1 post, RATM) and very rarely duplicated.

By heart I can remember only The National (1 - 2), Smoke Fairies (1 - 2) and The Horrors  (1 - 2) had the privilege of a double post even if the record is for Mark Lanegan appearing solo, with his band, Isobel CampbellSoulsavers, Gutter Twins (kind of). Thom Yorke is solo and there’s Atom For Peace too. While PJ Harvey has the film/digital combo thanks to a John Parish tour.

Now Swans join the group.
I wrote about them few years ago, after a set at ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror in London. I am duplicating it with this show at the Electric Brixton.

Before the comeback, I hadn’t seen Swans live, Gira was a sort of legendary musician doing anything from Swans darkest projects to songs sang on solo acoustic tours.

When Swans played their first comeback gig in London, at Koko in October 2010 I had sorted a photopass well in advance. Sadly I haven’t managed to sort out my flu before the gig. Stuck in a bed with high temperature for the first time in years and the last ever since (fingers crossed) I spent that night listening to Swans new album and reading my friends’ SMS telling how amazing it was. A very painful experience.

Since then, and before last week, I saw Swans live few more times. Shortly at Primavera in Barcelona, at the ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror in 2011, where I took the photos on the other blog post, then in London and at Koko about a year and half ago.

So why to talk about Swans again?

Of the several useless comebacks happened in this reunion century, the only I still found meaningful are Dinosaur Jr (oh they’ve got a double bill here too 1 -2) and Swans.

As any work of art I believe that to make a point you have to shape it out of a good idea. If there is a good idea, there is creativity, there will be a nice piece. If there are no ideas, there will be a piece recalling nostalgia or emptiness.

Swans came back with Gira, better put, Gira resurrected Swans after than 10 years hiatus.
It was a surprise, a nice surprise. As Gira said in many interviews it was also a new phase and the absence of Jarboe is the most tangible evidence of this.
He’s not into the band’s past. Swans are doing new things, as if they were a new band. That’s what “idea” means, this is why nostalgia isn’t in the equation here.

Three albums later, they’re biggest than ever.

My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, 2010 marked the return. It is a single album, sort of what the Bad Seeds would have been if, instead of Warren Ellis, they recruited Michael Gira to replace Blixa Bargeld.

The Seer, a double CD. After months of touring the bands rolled much “smoother” and the record is recognised with a 9.0 even by Pitchfork.
Crowdfunded selling live recording taken during the tour of the previous album it saw the light in 2012.

Tonight Swans came to London to present the third album since reformation. To Be Kind. Two more hours of Swans mayhem, from post-rock to post-experimentalism through obsessive repetition.

I embark in my journey towards the Electric Brixton on a miserable, rainy end of May evening of a post bank holiday Tuesday. On the train I think I’d rather be at home even in bed.

Instead I arrive early, wet, I enter the venue and discover that health and safety won’t leave me inside the too-narrow photopit. I’m safer with cameras and stuff in the middle of the crowd. God damn H&S silly rules in UK!
This means at 7.00PM I am at the fence and will stand there till 11pm. Better you get me rocking, Michael.

Thankfully Swans audience is intimidated enough by the band sound to be surprisingly calm and well behaved.

He will do.
Gira is on fire. He released many “kind” interview to promote To Be Kind (sorry :-) including a mammoth mother of all interviews here at The Quietus  where he clearly states what it is clear tonight from the moment, well before the gig, he enters the stage to check if everything is right.

The four years since Swans return, have seen Gira more and more at the centre of the stage. He has always been Swans but now Swans are Gira.
Compared to the early gigs I attended, Gira is now in total control.

His stage presence is more theatrical than ever, emphasize the music has he always had, highlighting all the song passages and changes, kicks the air and remarkably jumps the stage, there is more performance into it.
He has always spitted on stage. But he has never left the guitar to dance as a shaman for a whole song. That was a premiere.

Gira always interacts with the musicians, but he now pretend they must look at him all the time. He engages with all of them in turn. As Miles Davis used to do, he plays most of the set backward to the audience, to direct “his” orchestra.

There are wonderful moments with Christoph Hahn which, towards the end of the show end abruptly. I probably was the only to witness (and photograph) this scene. Gira lifted his right arms to communicate to Hahn something, but he wasn’t watching at him, he did it again, nothing. Gira walked to him and pointed his eye. Body language was precise: “you must look at me, pay attention”.

Hahn face was like the pupil who forgot to do the homeworks and from that minute on, Gira stopped that nice theatre which was giving me cool shots.

There is time for everyone, except Thor. Maybe he’s too big to have an argument with or too intimidating with those oversized mallets mistreating huge gongs. Perhaps he is simply too perfect and essential to Swans music.

The concert is fantastic. The band has almost 4 years of touring and you can perceive every minute of it. They are an incredible ensemble that decides eithr to punish or delight the audience at their will.

Compared to my other Swans performances, the new songs live sound more structured. They still morph in a sonic magma erupting at ears-bleeding volume (even if Swans volume isn’t as disturbing as other loud bands) but in a less, radical, less controversial way.

Hardcore fans could read this as Gira compromise to a much more “mainstream” success. Recent 9.2 Best New Music on Pitchfork and praises from everywhere including NME (yes the same magazine looking forward to the Libertines reunion) isn’t so predictable.
It must be my ageing but I find myself less open to radicalism everywhere, even in music, and the fact that a Swans composition can plea me from start to end, without going through a layer of pain isn’t something I tend to ditch nowadays.

Gira is less angry and maybe pleased by the recognition his music deserved since the 80s. He’s a happier man and sublimates his positive mood in a sound that remains Swans’ sound with the intimidation moved away.

Swans still are one of the best live bands out there, maybe they are the best of all. It is not to me to say.
Swans are here [website][facebook][Swans are not on Twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

I have been a few times to the Electric Brixton. It’s “the other” Brixton place, considering the temple of Rock music in London, the Brixton Academy is just down the road.

Electric Brixton is up the road, towards Brixton Hill. Getting out of the Tube, because the Victoria line is The way to get to Brixton, turn left and walk about 5 minutes. On the right, where the small queue is forming, there is the venue. That is the Electric Brixton.

You may remember it as the Fridge, a place famous to have launched the New Romantic movement. The Fridge closed in 2010. Electric Brixton opened in 2011. Same place different everything else.
Recently Electric Brixton is gaining its momentum as a concert venue for cool event.

I shot here Franz Ferdinand comeback last year , with also gave me a couple of pics sold to the Telegraph and already faced a too narrow pit with not enough space to move, if someone else is in it with you.

I am prepared for Swans to do the same, until the security girl tells me it’s not going to happen. The tiny pit is there not for us to access. Damn!
It 7pm and can’t do nothing else than reach the front barrier, slightly stand on the side and stay there all night.

I have shot Swans few times so I know the best place to be, central slightly on the left looking at the stage. It is were Michael Gira spend most of his stage slot.
No pit means no chance to move around. All the images will be from the same perspective and sometime (as this time) even with the same lens. Impossible to switch.
No pit, on te positive side, also means we could shoot the whole set, which I probably prefer over shooting three songs with freedom of movement.

The stage is average in height and size. Swans use white lights with backlight which I love so I can’t complain on this for once.

If you are less stuck than me and have freedom to roam around, there is a nice room on the right of the venue, with a bar and some sofas. It is detached from the gig area so is the perfect place to have a chat before the show and especially during if you belong to the people going to concerts to chat all the time and ignoring who’s next to you. There’s a window in the wall to look at the stage if your friend love drama gets more boring than the live set.

The Merchandise desk usually is on the other side, next. There is a circle upstair, look small and interesting, but I have to admit I haven’t had the occasion to go up there yet.

Wolf Alice

•May 28, 2014 • 3 Comments

It all starts simply sometimes. I saw some photos of Wolf Alice playing SXSW 2014 some months ago and put a note down on my telephone to remember to go to their Cambridge date.

Since then I travelled, worked, photographed and forgot… till about a week before that.
Sent and e-mail to sort a pass, went to youtube and Spotify, gathered everything I could hear from them.

A single, a bunch of songs. 2 EPs

In the last year Wolf Alice popularity grew exponentially.
Probably helped a bit by a comeback of guitar music (at last! n.d.Valerio) surely not only for that. Some tried to catch the train and dropped miserably (Fratelli’s comeback anyone?)
These years mark the 20th anniversary of some landmark guitar albums. The early nineties were all about superfuzzy guitars. A decade of over underwhelming synth-pop sets the music thermometer back to 6 strings and distorted amplifiers.

Guitars are vintage now, fender mustang, jazzmaster and telecaster. The stratocaster is banned by the uncool etiquette for reasons I am still waiting to read, must be Clapton/Gilmour/Knopfler’s fault. Nevermind (yes, that album too).
I am a 90s boy and I love guitar bands. So… far so good.

Wolf Alice are beyond being just a guitar band. Every teenager, apart from me, has been in a guitar band.
Wolf Alice are a great band. With guitars. It’s a substantial difference.

They are from North London. London is a good place to set up a band, competitive sure. No money, those are nowhere to be found but let’s state this, never good rock music has started by someone with a pocket full of money.

In London you are where things happen. They do it is not a common place.
With a debut album still to be released, with a year of relentless touring in UK and beyond, Wolf Alice are climbing the ladder, reached the cockpit and set to take-off.

It all started with a self-released free download single, Leaving you, back in 2012. It was catchy enough to get Radio1 airing. That bouncing guitar string opening is so familiar to anyone who turned 30 years old that I wasn’t surprised at all to read it was onto Radio1. Still does not happen everyday to debut with a single picked by BBC.

On the other side I am surprised to realise how important radio airing still is to break through a market that we are told is dominated by streaming and the internet.

Fluffy was their second single. Despite the title, it’s a more aggressive song. Drums kick in, guitars follow and the riff is one of those you don’t forget.

Few months and the debut EP, Blush arrives. The title song slow things down, Ellie Roswell voice take the place of guitars and crafts a wonderful song.

I was still in the distract listening phase at this point. Skipping through Spotify tracks that I read on twitter were worth.

The turning point happens when I realise all Wolf Alice songs tend to stay in my mind, I dug into them.
The more I listen the quickest I love them.

Papers and blogs too. Nirvana and Hole came out when journalism is lazier than ever, but there are interesting articles even if every journalists tries to put his or her own mark. I read comparisons from the XX to Elastica, which have the consequence of making me remember bands my memory removed.
They covered Katy Perry Roar in the meanwhile, very good move and even better cover.

Honestly, Wolf Alice have so much ideas in their ‘chords’ that the band is more the consequence of a personal evolving path, built among the grooves of the records they spun, rather than someone dipping in others music to fill up a lack of personality.

They changed, started without a rhythm session, went through a milder sound, recruited drum’n’bass and moved to heavier sound never forgetting melody and song structure. I love bands that write songs with a melody.

When Bob Dylan said that a good song is still a good song when played just voice and guitar, he was right.
But it was half a century ago too. Computers were a NASA only privilege and electric guitars something to be plugged in a jazz orchestra to make them audible over saxophones.

We’re in 2014. Decades changed the music, music changed the society, computers shaped it and now are uncool enough to be relegated in an office desk at work, we use gadgets at home.

Almost the entire music ever produced in the world is available to stream in seconds at a google search. The game of being influenced by someone else needs to be adapted to the way a musical project develops nowadays.

With their ideas and styles still changing in their first handful of songs, it’s good that Wolf Alice wait to record and release their debut album.
It is such an important step in a crowded scenario, it sets you in a defined niche that has to be carefully shaped around who you are.

In the meanwhile the demand of a growing fan base for new music has just been satisfied with another 10” EP released recently: Creature Songs.
4 more songs, sing-along choruses Mona Lisa Smile with a dancing themed video just released. Eergy, energy and Ellie persona standing out.

It’s clear from these photos isn’t it? The band will excuse me but Ellie is Wolf Alice ‘s soul. She’s the front girl, she’s the one.
We are not in front of a mediocre bassist put there to balance testosterones level on stage and gather some lads follower. We are not in front of anouther beautiful Scandinavian girl fronting a synth-pop combo from behind her toy keys.

Ellie is the voice. She is the guitar. Wolf Alice won’t be the same band without her. There are bands where you can replace members, there are bands where you cannot.
Ellie has magnetic eyes. She plays and she stares beyond the stage, the audience, the venue. She’s into the performance so deep that even an earthquake would not stop the song.

I could go centimetres from her nose with my lens without noticing a hint of distraction. I was invisible. Venue is invisible. She inhabits the songs. She’s there but she is unreachable. Which is what makes her so attractive.

To supply the absence of earthquakes in UK, there’s the audience that had already learnt all the lyrics by heart and crowd-surf singing along despite in such a tiny venue there isn’t really a surfable wave.

I have seen many nice show this year, went to see Swans yesterday (wait…) and The Fat White Family still leads the league, but Wolf Alice come close. The UK tour ends tonight at Scala in London, be sure to read your festival program carefully, there will be plenty of tents’ slots this year.

They still don’t have an album which I do hope will come out soon. They have the songs, the fans, the band and they have Ellie.
They also have the:[website][facebook][twitter][Spotify] as we all have

Photo tip

It’s post 250 on this blog, which means I have written 250 photo tips all about concert photography, the way I see it, the way I do it. With film, digital, big festival stage or a small pub room as this one.

You may think there’s not much to discover or learn for me, I can tell you otherwise, every gig I improve, I learn something, I get upset or surprised by something else.

This Wolf Alice gig was at the Portland Arms in Cambridge. I wrote about it when it was about to be closed and dismantled. In a rare twist of events a petition worked out and this landmark Cambridge pub was not only saved but totally refurbished.

Now the concert room is bigger, cleaner and the acoustic much better.
Lights are not, though.

I know the light technician and before every gig I ask him about the setting and plea of turning them a bit up, in vain.

For this Wolf Alice gig the answer was almost funny. “They are going to be the same, all colours rotating, just wait 10 seconds and you’ll get the colour you want”
This is easily achievable with the new spots made with loads of leds. They change colour as a cool designer lamp, save a load of energy and look cool to everything in the room apart from camera sensors.

Blue and purple are no go. Red is bad. the wavelenght around green yellow orange slightly better.

Concert photography is pretty much about catching the right moment during the song (that is why three songs suck, too few right moments to catch).
Questino: Can you calculate statistically how many time in three songs the right moment and the right light colour converge to deliver a decent image? No? I’ll tell you: two.

I hate to go black and white because lights are bad, I believe B&W isn’t a solution must have a reason.
Thankfully B&W suites Wolf Alice well so I liked it… but I had no other option between this and a 2 photos post.

I’ll write about Swans next, it’ll be a B&W post.
The lights there were brilliant and the colour pics look good, but I still wanted to have them B&W. For a reason, to remove colours with the same approach the band remove anything unnecessary from their music… leaving the essence… but this is going to happen next

Future Islands

•May 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

This is a difficult one for me.

In 48 hours I crossed the USA and the Atlantic (with the help of a plane) I am fighting an 8 hours jet-lag, I worked for two days and photographed 2 gigs in two different cities in two consequent nights editing the photos till early hours in the morning to realize they haven’t been uploaded onto REX feed. Good, actually bad.

The first of these 2 nights was an incredible outburst of energy provided by a double bill, Wytches + Pulled Apart By Horses in a Cambridge pub. You can see some pics online and I will tell you about this maybe at a later time.

Here I will go through the second of my jet-lag recapping nights (#fail) which was London yesterday and is pushing my resistance to the limit.

I travelled to the Electric Ballroom in Camden, got a crappy falafel wrap discounted from 4 to 3£ because of the late evening order, all salad and pickled pepper included except the chilly sauce cause it had a hair in it but the guy didn’t even bother removing. I took an Instagram (not of the hair!) of Camden lock while eating it on the bridge over locked waters (after too many snaps of Far West landscapes it was difficult to get some inspiration for my IG followers).

I enter the Ballroom, I show the security I have cameras in my bag. The way they ask “what’s in it?” make me believe there must be a solution to be a photographer without a camera, if anyone knows please tell.

This is the short (not) intro, to justify my tiredness and any mistake in this post.

Hordes of touts outside are eager to: “buy or sell spare tickets for Future Islands?”. The band recent TV appearances have been seen by millions but when I enter the Electric Ballroom, minutes before the first support, Kristian Haring, there’s no one. It is the first time I see a venue completely empty. Where is everybody?
He does a very good job mistreating an acoustic guitar and people gathers close to the stage.

Maybe they are all taking advantage of the discounted wraps and one will even win the chilly-sauced hair.
Fact is, in the space of few minutes and another support, it gets busy, then crowded, in the end packed.

By the time Samuel T. Herring walks on stage there is an adoring crowd ready to dance, sing, clap in the front.

When I walk through the sea of people to the back of the venue (need rest) after the three songs slot, I also meet many that chat, take pictures, drink beer, kiss and ignore the show.

It’s getting more and more a London (modern?) thing to go to a gig and, instead of listening and watching aiming at being listened and watched.

For the ones who wants to see the gig, either they opt to sweat to death in the first rows of the moshpit with the hardcore fans or you have to tolerate to listen to the music and also listen to the latest adventures of girls with men, men with beer, hipsters with “this is fucking cool, mate” and bloggers writing everything down to tell about it in the next post.
Irritating to say the least. Unavoidable, am I not doing the same? Maybe.

Future Islands are 4 guys, drum, bass, keys and Herring singing. The first two things I notice are the lack of a guitar (negative) and the lack of an instrument in front of the singer (positive).

Rock history tells that the best performers, from Jim Morrison to Morrissey are the ones that limit to sing without messing up strumming a guitar or hiding behind a piano.

Samuel T. Herring is undoubtedly one of the best performers I have seen in a long time. He’s magnetic the way he stares at the audience, his dancing is different from anyone else. Unpredictable, he looks clumsy but become harmonious if you follow his body along the music.

He has the opposite of a rockstar look. He’s not the kind of guy I like at a first glance. There’s something too theatrical and melodramatic in this moves. Being (myself) uncomfortable with dancing, as 99% of indie-music listeners we love this music because it is impossible to dance, I must have a sort of unconscious rejection to anyone comfortable with his body. My superego needs to be escavenged.
Herring dance moves have nothing to do with sinuous steps but it’s entirely personal and passionate, hence unique.

So put it sounds this show is all about Herring which, to be fair, it’s true. The rest of the band has a support role on building a solid dance beat, synth oriented pop to host is singing. Stage-presence-wise this is a one man show.

someone between Morrissey and Henry Rollins come to my mind, if the clone doesn’t frightens you.

I am not an expert of Future Islands music. I can’t name the title of their best single, despite I know the album they are touring, their fourth. It is also the debut with the ever brilliant 4AD label and is ambitiously titled Singles. Deserved ambition because I still have to read a non very-positive review.

The three other records have been recorded in the last 5 years or so. It is the typical indie-hyperbole. it started with self-released EPs and singles, then first album Wave Like Home on obscure label. Than they get noticed by Thrill Jockey for the subsequent to acclaimed LPs, In Evening Air and On The Water.

Here is when the magic slowly happens. Endless tours in any small venue of the western world, the words of mouth spread the gospel about the performances and reaches any small place of the blogosphere including my ringing ears (that’s because of PABH show the night before).

Thrill Jockey is an amazing label but I struggle to see Future Islands sitting next to Pontiak, White Hills, Arbouretum or Tortoise.

They sound more at home on 4AD, next to the calibres of The National, Bon Iver or Daughter.

Singles charted both in UK and USA, it is true I recently read that only few thousands copies bring you in the top40 but still is an achievement and surely, the begin of a rise. It’s tough to be a musician, not that a music photographer is easier but at least you know you can’t live out of it and need a planB ready. Musicians cannot, brave people.

For this Future Islands are beginning to tour all the summer festivals and surely there will be a lot of buzz around them. Support music, check them out online at [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

Aperture.
It’s bizarre that after several years happily using Aperture, I decide to write a photo tip about it the week I opted for Adobe Creative Cloud and imported my first photos into a Lightroom library (or whatever it’s called).

The reason is that my first impression with Lightroom, overwhelmed by reading how marvellous the software is, so far has been underwhelming.

Lightroom and Aperture do pretty much the same thing, surely in terms of library management, basic control of a photo, workflow and editing.
Lightroom has the addition of correcting distorsion, something I rarely use after I invested thousands of pounds in distorsion free Zeiss glasses and something I don’t consider essential at gigs.
I am sure Lightroom does much more, I promise I’ll write on it when I got my hands on it.

So far I wanted to praise aperture, especially for gig photography, telling about my workflow…

Import is straightforward, a project about the gig, backed up in an external HD with the same name. To be precise I delete a lot of pics straight from the camera card, I know it’s a bit naïve given how cheap storage is, but I hate keeping photos that will never be used.

Photos go through a couple of rounds of starring. I suggest to start with one star, than go again through the ones without rating to double check you missed something. Starting with about 200 photos I end up starring around 50. At this point I add metadata, and keywords in batch to all the starred ones. Then I go through a second and eventually third round of starring.
The end point is something between 10 and 20 photos I am ready to edit.

I don’t post-edit much, white balance in Aperture is brilliant. Levels and curves also help fighting the LED channel saturation. When they don’t it’s time for some desaturation. Vignetting and sharpening sometime keep the viewer focused on the subject. One thing Aperture doesn’t handle well (or at all) is noise reduction, so the 6400ISO images aren’t always state-of-the-postediting-art. Lightroom is said to be much better. Look forward to double checking.

From downloading (Aperture is faster than Lightroom to download photos from the card) to final edit it doesn’t take me more than one to two hours.
So the question now is, why did I go for Lightroom? I don’t know, I am open to hear your experience, I have time for another 3 weeks to cancel my subscription.

We Are Scientists

•April 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I Are Scientists.
Grammar aside this is true and the reason why this post is scheduled is because I’m giving a scientific talk at a conference the other side of the world and can’t edit this blog in real time.

Live music photography does not pay the bills, you know. (if you don’t and are thinking of a career, consider this statement)

Nevertheless, with the approaching of the 250th post on bands, reviewed and photographed on here, with more than 3 thousands (yes thousands) photos for you to browse, in about 7 years, I haven’t left this place abandoned, have I?

“I Are Scientists” has been the best T-Shirt We Are Scientists have been selling since I saw them. They still do.

The first time was a long (very long) time ago. We Are Scientists supported The Editors first tour in the winter of 2005 (never scanned those photos I will one day,but I have these for you) and indie-pop was jangling all around.
The second time they played the Corn Exchange in a NME tour with Arctic Monkeys headlining, it was Febryary 2006. In that tour they become close friend with the emerging Sheffield rockstars.
Third time was their own headline show, still at the Junction Cambridge. April 2006. 8 years ago they played 3 shows in Cambridge in less than 6 months, a record.

I shoot all of those 3 gigs on 35mm b&w film so what’s better than keeping this domain’s name alive and sit back at the computer to scan old negatives?

Songkick tells me there was another stop in Cambridge, in 2010, but for some reason I missed it.

Today, 8 years later, they’re back. My fault, their fault too. I lost track with the band.

I also lost my addiction to photographs concerts exclusively on film. The conditions are not ideal to cover a gig on film, with manual focus fast prime lenses too. It is more expensive, is slower but the main reason no one cares of having a film photo. All they want is a JPG file, possibly in colour.

In these years We Are Scientists have lost Michael Tapper their drummer (and beard of the year 2005 and 2006). They replaced him with Andy Burrows who was drumming for Razorlights (yes I know. This is the first time I cite Razorlight on the blog’s honourable career, I promise is the last).

At this point I should mention also Keith Murray and Chris Cain, because to everyone’s knowledge they are We Are Scientists.

Keith is the quintessential indie-rock guy. Skinny himself, skinny the jeans, slim the fit, converse the shoes. Scrappy Fender Telecaster and nice haircut getting sexier with some grey spots.
Chris is the quintessential indie-rock nerd. Funny, thick glasses, moustaches, tall enough to match his bass good at jokes.

The first We Are Scientists album, With Love and Squalor (I can still remember the title by heart) was one of the nicest, more uplifting records of that era. I remember it being compared to the Killers debut. It has less Vegas and more NYC. More guitars and less synths. It is plenty of hooks to sing-along.

Listen to it if you haven’t. Also watch my photos of The Killers  because since those NME tour years (Killers NME tour was Feb 2005, the year before) they never allowed a freelance photographer in their pit anymore. Ah, fame.

In this 8 years that we walked apart We Are Scientists have continued recording music and playing gigs. I continued to take photos and be a scientist too.

(Wiki) says that 3 more records have been released since that debut. I spotifyed them all before this gig, to keep up to date with what has been going on, but I must admit I haven’t missed anything major.
Brain Thrust Mastery was out in 2008. Barbara was released in 2010… (now I remember this title) and TV en Francais which is the one they are touring is just out now, early 2014.

We Are Scientists never stopped playing. Their style hasn’t moved much from the beginning, what is missing is the hooks that made the hits.

What is left is the humour. They have plenty. It will never leave them.
Here is the big pros of We Are Scientists and also their main problem. They are a hell of a fun.

Actually, when I read about this Junction “comeback” gig I went. For the fun.

If you used to browse the website at their beginning they pretended to be doctors answering fans medical question with hilarious humour. It was a laugh out loud before LOL even existed.
On stage the show is a mix of jokes between them and songs, chat and interaction with their fans.

One of We Are Scientists concerts is one part comedy and 2 part music.

They are almost the alter ego of Flight of the Conchords where the New Zealander comedian duo, Bret and Jemain, are 2 part comedy and one part music.

We Are Scientists gig is a place to dance, to have a laugh, to interact with the girl next to you.
All things that the indie-rock fan is emotionally incapable. Here is the problem.

Pop fan is there to have fun, frills, no hard thoughts. Indie-rock is about being shy, having issues approaching people, chatting only through twitter and FB. Not finding easy to mate in person. Physical contact is taboo. Rage moshpit is the only way.

We Are Scientists are indie-rock music with a rare indie-rock attitude.
They are here for the fun, for the beer, for the girls. They’re not shy to show off, they don’t take themselves too seriously.
They’re not fashion obsessed as the Strokes, not literate as The National, not melancholic as DCFC

To mention Zappa, they’re not in here for the money, they’re in here for the fun.

I doubt they made enough money in the years to have a guitar-shaped swimming pool in Florida, but I bet they had a lot of fun.

If you (you indie depressed fan) cannot put aside your fashion obsession to look cool, the pathological shyness that blocks from dancing, try a gig of We Are Scientists. If they don’t uplift your mood, if you don’t feel the urge to shake your ass, science is not enough, but good therapist can do good for you.

On the contrary, if you find yourself in a moshpit jumping up and down, sweating and dreaming of having a one night stand with Keith I would consider knocking at the dress room for the after show party.

The tour is on now, catch with We Are Scientists online to see where they play. [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]
I’ll be back very soon with more concert photography and some bad written music blogging.

Photo tip

Long time keeping of files.
Don’t know how many of you are bothered. I am worried, to be honest. No, I’m not talking about copies of raw on HD, portable Hard Disk, cloud server. Neither I am talking about raid, mirror disks and all this hi-tech IT that saves our photos from a fatal error of the computer.

Whatever you do, is important that you have copies at least of your raw files somewhere in case of serious disruption. Not as serious as earthquakes, fire, house collapse or the end of the world, in that case no one would care of your concert photos.
Not talking about this, It is plenty of good tutorial online explaining how to back up photos and best keep your files.

What I am bothered is really long long times.

It came to my mind a couple of weeks ago when I found old negatives with photos of my young mum. they were shot more than 50 years old and are perfectly readable, usable, printable.

Now that I am scanning 10 years old negatives of a We Are Scientists gig, same thought. These negatives have been stored in a folder, with an index, in 2 minutes they are in the scanner, previewed, processed, photos. They are perfect (dusty, scratchy without snapseed texture filters) as the day I took them, and they can produce endless copies of good files and or prints.

What when I will have to do the same with my perfectly backed-up digital files in, say, 10 or 20 years time?
Will the Mac OS chimpanzee 25.1 new OS read them?
Will the USB 8.0 hard disk socket plug the cable 5.0 and the computer?
Will those raw files be readable by Lightroom 16.3?

If you’re saying yes to all of this I envy your optimism.
To make an example I have already some problems with pics stored in some recorded CDs and DVDs 6 or 7 years ago. It was state-of-the-art at that time.

New machines don’t even contemplate a CD reader, the one on my iMac stopped working. If I had to import them it wouldn’t be that easy.
It would be worse if I want to recover my thesis which is in floppy disks? It isn’t even 20 ys, it was normal to store in floppy those days. People said you’ll always read them. I would never see that word document anymore (not that I want, but)… would even word eventually open it? Or was it written with Lotus suite?

Yes all of this it doesn’t make me feel sure I will ever be able to show my digital photos to my niece. Surely I will have the film ones with me.
Live on, 35mm.

 
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