Monday, 20 July 2009


As regards context (for worthwhile music): London = Bad, Newcastle = Good.

I realize this is a gross over-simplification, a completely unforgivable, borderline-bigoted generalization. I’m brushing over the genuine opportunities a metropolitan centre affords new bands, ignoring the serious shortcomings of a provincial town without any formalised infrastructure to speak of.

But fuck it. After watching Post War Years in a sort of barren corporate Shoreditch-Gomorrah last week (see gig review below) I saw Findo Gask play to a Newcastle crowd as part of a small, completely free local festival, and it was without a doubt the best gig I’ve been to all year.

This could easily have gone the way of PWY @ Vibe Bar. Here were four young men in multicoloured sweatshirts, with a sound that ticked just about every box imaginable, musical zeitgeist-wise (synths – check, disco-redolent accessibility – check, post-punk edge – check). But instead of coming across as a cynical, shallow, manufactured pop-like gesture, as with PWY, all these elements seemed to click for me as I watched Findo Gask’s set this weekend, to come across as complementary parts of a sincere and harmonious whole.

There were no record company A&Rs present. There was no cocktail-strewn VIP room, and no banner on stage to proclaim the fashion industry-sponsored nature of the whole thing. Instead, there were lots of friends drinking on a Saturday afternoon, un-self-conscious people dancing, members from a wide array of incredibly good north-eastern and Scottish art-rock bands talking to each other in bullshit-free, self-deprecating terms. This was something approaching a mutually-supportive, autonomous community, and it felt utterly right, where Vibe Bar had felt so completely wrong.

Back to the band itself, and Gerard Black’s voice is a big part of what distinguishes the Gask from their less-imaginative coevals. Plaintive, romantic, and the opposite of derivative, something about his delivery in set highlight ‘One Eight Zero’ recalled early Morrissey in a really good way (perhaps it was the post-industrial-gothic, railway arch setting). And flanking him were Jehovah’s own backing vocalists Greg Williams and Gav Thomson, so soaringly and angelically in-tune that I thought they must be cheating in some arcane technological way (they weren’t, of course).

Other than that, as far as I’m concerned, the mystery of the Gask’s genius is a fairly straightforward one. They’re talented, and they’ve got something interesting to say. But this isn’t in itself enough. What sets the Gask apart from people like Post War Years is their knack for eschewing London-centric generic-ness, for breathing a unique spirit of independence and marginality into a music that might otherwise be degraded by a context of identity-distorting ephemerality and trends.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen at first hand music so appropriately located in context, so wonderfully comfortable in its own skin, so purely focused on the mere fact that it exists.


Wedge said...

I don't get this - findo gask are good because they're not from London and aren't playing a gig full of A&R people? Even though they will/have undoubtedly have to play these gigs.

I can't even think of more than 2 gigs I've been to with A&R people in attendence in London, but can think of shitloads of great gigs in good venues throughout the city, and what makes them good (apart from the ridiculous variety) is that no matter how obscure a band you can russle up enough people in London who are interested in them to make a good atmosphere.

It's easy to eschew the 'London-centric generic-ness' by virtue of the fact there is so much going on by people from so many different places. . .and good promoters

Alex Niven said...

No, I'm not at all saying Findo Gask are good because they're not from London; I'm reviewing the gig as an overall experience.

And my conclusion was: good band AND good context/setting = good gig.

I also think I acknowledged the ultimate absurdity of reducing my argument to that 'London=bad, Newcastle=good' statement, which is of course demonstrably not true.

But in order to make a very valid point, sometimes I think such provocative gestures are justified, particularly if you follow them up with what I though was a subtle qualification of this premise.

The gig review was coming off the back of the Post War Years one, which WAS full of A&R people. Live music in London is of course about as broad and disparate as international music as a whole, and as such, is of course about as good as it gets in terms of variety, quality etc.

However, what I think it definitely does lack is the sense of autonomy, community, and identity that I saw at the Narc Fest gig - the CONTEXT (sorry, this doesn't have italics, I'm not shouting).

My point is that you might always get more people at a London gig, but that in terms of a setting conducive to good bands in the wider perspective, places like Glasgow and Newcastle have something London lacks, that in London there is obviously going to be a higher proportion of the things that are inimical to good music - industry presence, indifference, cynicism, emphasis on commerciality etc.

The more general point is that, in the longer term, bands that play most of their gigs in London eg. PWY, who are based there, and countless other shit bands of recent times, are in danger of deteriorating in competitive, financially-motivated conditions of the sort that you don't get (or much less) in provincial, marginal towns.

So in terms of the consumer/punter oriented point-of-view you're talking about, I agree, London is undoubtedly better. But from an artistic/band point of view, I think often the inverse is true, and this was the point I tried to put forward in the article.

Tifton Muir said...

Unfortunately, they actually we're cheating re: vocals, "most of it was coming from Ableton" said Gav.
But it was canny mint all the same.

Alex Niven said...

shit. cheating scotch twats.

Pappy said...

hawd oan a minute boys.
when gav says "most of it was coming off ableton" he most definitely wasn't referring to the vocals. believe me, i've had to sit through numerous, blindingly dull practises where vocals are rehearsed, there is no cheating here.
Drums and, to a lesser degree, synths that we simply cannot play for lack of hands (and synths) come off the backing.
I don't want the good name of Findo sullied by callous accusations based upon the drunken ramblings of a bearded imp.