@ Newcastle Riverside, May 1 2011
Ever tried to get a goth out on a beautiful sun-filled, cider-swilling day? It’s not the typical association you’d make with the sub-culture.
There may have been other factors determining the over-estimated body count before this goth/electro all-dayer, but that didn’t, however, blunt any sharp desires to see Sheep On Drugs make their return to the stage this year, or indeed to see a fresh assortment of other up-and-coming UK acts.
They could cloud your vision with a smoking haze of anarchic punk backed by a rigid industrial core, but with Action Directe it’s not only this to be excited about. The Leeds-based band have stabilized the delicate scales of minimalism and excess by utilising the skills of guitarist Charlotte Winchombe – consistent in producing a feisty set of simplistic powerchords whilst showcasing some unsuspected shredding.
Drum machines may have been common ground on this day, and despite the fact Action Directe use the ticker well enough, their rugged sound could do with a drummer in the flesh to further exploit the jagged edge that’s best typified by frontman Joel Heyes. Collecting a decent response for an early bird, the four piece began the frivolous all-dayer.
If the slightly modest numbers at The Riverside were anticipating a heart-tugging goth band, then their delight must have excelled when they first got a taste of The Last Cry. When lead singer Andrew Birch holds his head in writhing passion for his lyrics, his visible mental anguish is also manifested into a soaring, beautiful voice that could well be goad for goth attention in the coming year. The fact that their line-up has only been assembled for three-years should give them no right to blend their dark ambient backing into an emotive context with this kind of impact. The Last Cry obviously have other ideas.
Poles apart from the previous and with retro, red British Officer jackets segregating their appearance from the majority, Scary Bitches announced amid a quantity of things that they were a marmite band. The statement couldn’t be truer.
After the live five-piece took to the stage, they pushed their weird brand of quirky comedic rock to see the day into evening, rattling off the classically titled Piss All Over Your Grave and I’m The Woman That Killed Jack The Ripper.
These mavericks of eccentricity don’t stumble blindly into their panto punky nuttiness – it’s all intended to generate one-hell-of-a jovial hoo-rah. They might have delivered the title track from their 2002 album Lesbian Vampyres From Outer Space with mad-pomp and a great deal of conviction, but The Island Of The Damned was the ultimate track to turn even the most stern of initial haters. One question – Why have they not yet applied for Eurovision? I’d be disappointed if the Scary Bitches never represent Great Britain in the wacky contest. Quite frankly, it’d even give Lordi a lesson in the bizarre.
A well-placed and much-needed break ran over-time for some, and when it was time for London’s Deathboy to plug their anticipated industrial, numbers were dwindled. Despite this, main-man Scott Lamb did all in his power to rekindle a stubborn few, but the uphill struggle only worsened. At times his vocals seemed very strained, like he was having some trouble nailing notes in the way he does readily on record. Reluctant to embrace Deathboy, the atmosphere sunk somewhat and there was a marked dip in proceedings.
Nevertheless, Luxury Strangers sought and succeeded in turning things around, but not in industrial fashion. Poised somewhat as black sheeps of the all-dayer, the Nottingham band bled with the sentimental insecurity of The Cure but revealed more post-punk influences. Paradise Untouched crowned an impressive start, but the work of the trio increasingly improved. Chris Tuke’s underlining scratchy deep bass line drove the verses forward with dynamite-force, but sometimes the slower percussion work of Neal Spowage was as equally effective when reverting to a simple tom-centred beat. If that wasn’t enough, the diversity of the three-piece was polished by Simon York’s unfaltering vocal-lines. There’s more than enough room for a dark punk band like this one in the UK scene.
The only booked appearance of Sheep On Drugs this year was beckoning, but before the descendency into madness Sheffield’s Dyonisis (pictured) performed a set that was nothing short of spectacular. This unconventional four-piece features Marcus Cave on bass, Tom Chaffer on guitar and two female singers to head the band – Louisa Welsby and Nel Cave. If you tend to think of Evanescence, Within Temptation or Nightwish comparisons every time you so much as hear an utterance of the words ‘female-fronted metal’, then you’ll have to revise your trail of thought for this one.
Dyonisis are masters of timing and tempo, steadily gathering pace under a magical sound scape until they harbour the epic breakthrough, where a radiating aura of wondrous harmonising, hypnotic bass lines and classic rock guitar picking all come to life.
Removing oneself from the immersion of the dreamlike spectacle, it was time for the eagerly awaited headliner.
Nowadays constituting of original member Lee Fraser and his now-partner-in-crime Johnny Borden, the entity that is Sheep On Drugs came to bring debauchery and lunacy in equal measure – which is exactly what the duo did.
Firstly, it was a shame that a misunderstanding meant that they went without a projector for the whole gig. The unfortunate mishap was obviously a frustrating boulder for them, and even so the dance punkers still gave it a shot in their own respective way.
It’s likely that anyone as intoxicated as the pair might not have realised the state they were in, but regardless, the show went on. Rip It Up provided the bumpy start, with vocals incoherently lost in the fug of chaotic sound. In making her own noise, Borden adopted a noise stance with her keyboard and her droning, machine-like distortions worked in some sections.
Fraser and Borden did enjoy their time embracing the blood capsules that they had brought on stage to burst, making the gig an even messier one in more than one aspect.
Motorbike was the obvious floor-filling favourite and the anarchic, rapid rendition of Velvet Underground’s Waiting For The Man was met with a decent reception. But underneath, this was a performance that wasn’t up to scratch, even considering the intensely wild erratic nature usually associated with good showmanship in punk or electronica music.
Ironically, much like the initial intentions found in the moniker, Sheep On Drugs make music for sheep on drugs. In their own, almost sarcastic take on things, they have represented that with their live performance by still managing to reach a number of ravers on the dance floor despite an average performance musically. Whether planned or not, it’s almost poking fun at the societal statement that primarily defined the band in its embryonic stages. Those Sheep On Drugs. I’m not sure whether it’s stark lunacy, sad irony or bloody genius.