The current independent music scene is a fragmented one to say the least. All manner of monocultures exist in their own digital bubbles of ultra-specific tastes and influences and, for an outsider unaffiliated with the burgeoning music culture centred around the art schools of South-East London, Upset the Rhythm and more specifically, their three day festival ‘Yes Way’ is a blessing. Showcasing the best of new and established bands from the underground, collective founder Chris Tipton and Co play host to a myriad of distinctive and interrelated bands on the DIY network worldwide.
Taking place at the Bussey Building in Peckham, just days after the riots made a brief dent in London productivity, the two stages over as many stories of the old industrial building this year present mostly UK talent. Stage times are announced on the day and only by way of programs taped to walls and pillars inside. The staff are tightlipped about what band will be playing when, in an effort to encourage people to see acts they might not otherwise. There is little doubt though that the UTR crew will leave the best till last, with the early proceedings including the likes of synth/drums boy-girl duo Yola Fatoush apologising for their set and Manchester’s Saturday’s Kid’s experiencing some technical difficulties.
Their front man offers a vote of confidence before launching into a heavy post punk song with, “this is going to sound shit”. Sex Hands to follow on the ‘Way’ stage provide a shy but tasteful rendition of the proto dance rock, pioneered by the likes of Gang of Four, submerged in the gentle fuzz of a contemporary preoccupation with psych rock led by Archie Bronson Outfit. The immobile scrum of performers is in direct contrast to the excessive punk rock energy of Saturday’s Kids but their style, including a wisely chosen cover of The Clean, betrays a musical temperament more akin to the sophisticated indie referentialism of the day.
Each band receives (very) roughly 30 minutes on stage, with acts following the other from 3pm on wards. By the time Tipton’s own husband-wife project Way Through has finished a protracted sound check, the room is full and afternoon light begun to dim. Tipton’s impeccable vocal delivery and kinetic approach to minimal live guitar and tape manipulation is carried by attentive drumming, while song dynamics shift through all manner of styles as eclectic as the Yes Way roster.
The lights have been switched on by the time Fear of Men take to the stage but their performance –although an apparent draw card among the more hip elements of the Yes Way crowd –isn’t nearly as dazzling. As the excessive showmanship from the male drummer and second guitarist overshadows the nuanced delivery of the fronting girls, it’s as if they are playing in two different bands, the girls really having something to really be afraid of.
Gross Magic is a picture of grunge revivalism among scenester youth just out of their teens. Adorned in 90s pop symbols of recent memory, from a Beavis and Butthead t shirt, Wayne’s World hat (backwards, of course), ripped jeans and Peace sign pendant popularised by none other than New Kids on the Block, Gross Magic present the dynamic shifts and unashamed guitar soloing that has long been lost since the self-conscious College rock days. Having just released an EP, Teen Jamz, Brighton-born songwriter and front man Sam McGarrigle has a refreshingly high-pitched vocal over songs with the shambolic grunge aesthetic of the Lemonheads above the breaks and livelines of Bon Jovi. The sound of their guitar is so distinctly guitar-y that it eschews the current scene’s repulsion from the standard guitar/drums/bass set up toward synthesizers. Instead, Gross Magic embraces the liberal joys of rock before Nirvana made it depressing.
Possibly a less drug-addled UK counterpart of the late-Jay Reatard, Wes Gonzalez fronts what is the better known of the lineup, Let’s Wrestle. Having just released their second album to moderate press buzz their songs are energetic pop gold compressed into the minimal punk format that informs them. Elemental track ‘I’m So Lazy’ from their recent Nursing Home gets a go around, while not yet surmounting the vocal adrenalin and acerbic humour of the ‘We Are the Men You’ll Grow To Love Soon’. Gonzalez’s vocal acrobatics maneuver around lyrics like, “we aren’t the most reliable guys in the world/ But we got enough money to buy some G&Ts for the girls,” while engaging in amiable heckler backchat and enjoying himself so much that the set goes way over time.
Following an exhausting day of hours standing and hot rooms, one is tempted to skip out before the closing band –after all how good could they really be? As the synth/ drum duo Peepholes begins through a mire of synthesized noise it quickly develops into a magnetic rhythm as mesmerizing as drummer Katie Barrett’s androgynous appearance. Her incredible stamina carries the minimal repetition of Nick Carlisle’s exploration in keyboard samples, as Barrett unbelievably manages her vocal duties –the single indisputable betrayal of gender –that burrows through it all. Overwhelming noise and trance-inducing loops feature over a convulsive beat that sends the crowd into a frenzy making Peepholes the clear highlight of the day.
On finishing the visibly spent duo reluctantly agree to an encore at the ecstatic behest of a newly energized audience and the strange sentiment that the last band automatically assumes the role of headliner when there is not headline to speak of. That’s not only testament to the command of Peepholes’ Cyborg-like musical expression but also a festival organizer with its finger firmly on the pulse of great music.
(and this was only Saturday….)