[Festival Season] Constellations
The weekend’s proceedings began on Friday with a pre-party at the Brudenell Social Club which boasted a particularly brilliant line-up of local, national and international talent. Leeds based ethereal and epic Heart-Ships were first on stage. Their music is best described as a mix of post-rock and new folk and many in on the local music scene have hailed the band as the new Wild Beasts. Their track ‘Heart of a Wrestler’ was particularly memorable and is certainly worth a listen to get a clear idea of the band’s sound. The second band on were Shark Teeth, an act I have written about before on The Blue Walrus, back when they were known as Blood Oranges. They played a standard, if not a little rushed set of indie pop, while apologising throughout for their speedy performance. It was a shame to see the band unable to apply their usual crowd pleasing banter, nevertheless, their set was good but perhaps a tad predictable. We should all be glad to hear the band has a new release coming in the near future.
While JEFF and the Brotherhood played an impressive set of Ramones-like guitar heavy indie-punk, it was the fourth act, Alt-J, that I was really looking forward to. A lot of hype has surrounded this band (formally known as FILMS) and many have them down as being one of the big breakthrough acts of 2012. They play genre defying music, infusing a heavy presence of keys with guitar, bass and scattered tinny drums. Front man Joe Newman vocals were really refreshing, with an engaging mix of subtle and harsh tones which added something to the bands already impressive vocal harmonising, particularly noticeable in ‘Breezeblock’. You are best to listen to this group to really get to grips with them; they have the musical sensibilities of Bombay Bicycle Club but offer something very different and conceivably unique.
London based Theme Park were up next, playing their fun-loving funk rock to the largest of the fluctuating audiences of the evening. I originally had my aversions about the act as I struggled to overcome their remarkable similarity to Talking Heads. Yet, after this impressive and bouncy live set I was fully converted. They do offer something very special to audiences, and their best known track ‘Wax’, which has had a serious amount of radio airplay, left everyone feeling very pleased with themselves. It seemed almost a shame to end such an amazing evening of new music by plonking Trophy Wife on the end of it. They managed to get on stage around midnight to a smaller and very tired looking audience, many of us had arrived over four hours previously. Their set felt average and a little dull especially after the energy of their predecessors Theme Park.
Saturday saw the city of Leeds fill with new music fans, ready to sample some of the most exciting upcoming acts for 2012. This was my second Constellations Festival, and my second review of it. Unfortunately, this year really struggled to live up to the brilliance of last year’s event, which in fairness would have been difficult, with Dog Is Dead, Sky Larkin and Local Natives being some my favourites. Yet, we cannot say that the festival didn’t pick up some of the most talked about new bands in Britain.
My first act of the day was the dreary Big Deal. Unfortunately Constellations had opted for the Riley Smith Hall rather than The Refectory which they had last year, a fantastic venue with a real music history. The former, was too wide and dark; it was beyond a joke. The two performers of Big Deal played a dull set of tracks from their debut album ‘Lights Out’ to a relatively outsized and disappointed audience. The band was so limited by their set up, an electric and an acoustic guitar, and this really came through with tracks blending into one another with ease. Most seemed to have come for ‘Talk’ or ‘Chair’ as the crowd shuffled out at the end of these tracks.
After the disappointment of Big Deal I really needed a band to change things round. Thankfully, that Summer Camp was playing in Stylus. We turned up to a packed crowd of hard-core fans and those just generally interested in seeing a greatly talked about act. I loved the band’s mix of styles and genres with the dreamy nostalgic feel that runs through them all. They played the majority of their debut album ‘Welcome to Condale’ as well as adding in few old ones including ‘Round the Moon’. The band opened with ‘Better Off Without You’ and I was immediately reminded of Elizabeth Sankey’s exceptional voice, even though she was complaining of a sore throat. To the right of the stage was a large projector screen which played scenes of dancing and singing from famous films throughout the enjoyable set, suggesting something of the band’s influences.
Next up were hype band Spector, who played in the small venue of Mine in the depths of the University Union. The guitar heavy but essentially indie band has become known for their exciting live shows and they did not disappoint. I liked the band’s appearance and attitude, all dressed in suits and rebuking those who wandered out at the back of the room. Frontman Frederick Macpherson, formerly of Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man vocal was imperious on their delivery, really grabbing your attention. They seem to write fantastic sing along choruses, with the track ‘Not What You Wanted’ playing over in my head for the rest of the day.
We headed back to the Riley Smith for American indie folk/pop band Givers. If anyone has been obsessed with FIFA 2012 they certainly will have heard their fantastic song ‘Up, Up, Up’, while anther track ‘Meantime’ has had a fair amount of radio airplay. Although we waited a good fifteen minutes for the band to set up, it was certainly worth the wait. Each track was long but brilliantly performed and crafted. The duel vocals were perfectly combined and their set was greatly appreciated by the small crowd that had gathered to see them.
After catching the end of an enjoyable set by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks we found a good place to stand and waited for Yuck. By the time the band came on stage the crowd had swelled considerably; it seemed that many had to come to check a band that has had an impressive year at the festivals. They played a tight and impressive set of tracks from their low-fi self–titled debut album including the fantastic ‘Suicide Policeman’.
After catching a little of 2:54 in Mine we headed back to the main venue for the day’s headliners Wild Beasts. They managed to pack Stylus to the rafters and we just managed to find somewhere to actually stand. You cannot fault the vocal of frontman Hyden Thorpe’s voice; it added something quite special to groups already impressive vocal harmonies. They played a striking set of enjoyable ambient and echoing alternative, you cannot deny thus band’s ability to write and a produce an amazing song.
This year’s Constellations Festival was a great opportunity to catch the rising stars of alternative music of 2012. I have to say that the pre-party at the Brudenell was easily as enjoyable as the main day of the festival, with Alt-J and Theme Park really impressing the audience. For £30 the festival seemed a little steep, particular as billed acts such as Spectrals didn’t appear.
[Photograph courtesy of Jamie Boynton]