When it comes to celebrating birthdays, one has to do it in style or not at all. When the birthday concerns one of the most well-respected labels providing progressive music, you can be sure that the event is going to be something spectacular. For two nights, Kscope Music celebrated its five-year anniversary, having brought out releases by The Pineapple Thief, Ulver, Anathema and a myriad of Steven Wilson-helmed projects to name a few. Two gigs on two consecutive nights were organized, showcasing some of the best talent of the label, although there was barely even an eyebrow raise at an attendee’s comment that there’s no bad band on the roster. The location choice was The Garage, an intimate venue with a superb sound system, marred only by the place’s ability to generate a sweltering heat in the current unnaturally scorching British summer. One look at the lineup soon negated this, however, and both evenings unfolded into wonderful experiences, also featuring one of the few rock concerts I have attended with a compère, Kscope podcaster Billy Reeves, to introduce each band.
First up was Henry Fool, a prog-rock band with a couple of notable names involved: regular guitarist Tim Bowness of No-Man and guest fretless bassist Colin Edwin of Porcupine Tree, along with humorous frontman Myke Clifford on saxophone, flute and what looked like a clarinet. The band rolled out their newest ironically-titled instrumental release Men Singing, an EP which swung from relaxed to energetic at the drop of a hat, with no singing involved. The last song in particular, featuring a prominent tenor-sax, had the energy of a New Orleans funeral. Other highlights included the unusual use of an e-bow on a fretless bass and some pristine musicianship on guitar, keyboard and drums. A promise of an upcoming re-release of their 12-year-old self-titled début rounded out a strong opening set for Henry Fool, with many a prog head nodding in approval.
Then came the Romans, specifically the atmospheric and ethereal tones of Nosound. Evoking elements of labelmates Anathema, Mr. Wilson and North Atlantic Oscillation, the quintet played a truncated set of four serene tunes, with warming guitar lines and an enveloping synth sound. Frontman Giancarlo Erra’s voice was almost ghost-like, floating above the music as his guitar wailed like a protégée of David Gilmour. The only ‘flaw’ of the set was a technical hitch that rendered Paolo Vigliarolo’s acoustic guitar muted for a while, although that was mercifully rectified by the time the 8-minute closer “Paralysed” came around. Despite the brief time onstage, Nosound left a lasting impression, and to paraphrase one famous Roman, ‘venerunt, viderunt, vicerunt’.
The compère hit the nail on the head introducing the next band; the event was history in the making. The first ever live performance of Wisdom Of Crowds, created by The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord and Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse, was something spectacular, although quite removed from the latter’s usual metallic outings. Drenched in electronica, overdriven guitar, soft piano and pounding percussion, it was a joy to watch the live band weave through each track of their self-titled début. Although stage movement was minimal, it was still an engaging experience, ignoring the over-excited use of strobe lighting that was more blinding than anything. Renkse’s instantly-recognizable breathy and emotional vocals perfectly complemented the music, backed up by Soord on several occasions for some cool harmonies. Soord himself was a wonder on guitar, incorporating slide sections, intricate melodies and rockin’ strumming. Combined with the above-mentioned electronic moments, the resulting effect had echoes of Nine Inch Nails at times, others a more Paradise Lost-circa-Host vibe. Highlights were numerous, but “Frozen North”, recently nominated for “Best Anthem” at Prog Rock Mag, springs to mind, along with the 7-minute brooding yet catchy number “The Light”. Oh, and the set wouldn’t have been complete without a pineapple being waved on the front row by some fans of The Pineapple Thief. Gotta love prog fans with a sense of humor.
And so, time for the headliners. Mancunian rockers Amplifier, despite having only been with Kscope for a short time, were very comfortable in bringing their amorphous sound to the stage. Blending in parts of shoegaze, prog-rock and groovy space rock, the band had plenty of opportunity to stretch out and explore their releases (except Insider, for some reason). With two guitars, a thick bass tone and a sizable effects-pedal box that had gearheads foaming, the sound was certainly huge. Extended instrumental sections were enhanced by a psychedelic video display that incorporated some of the words and song titles, and other times felt like an acid trip on Windows Media Player. Front-and-center in a black suit (brave man in this heat!), vocalist Sel Balamir’s voice was on fine form, although his astronomy-based lyrics were a little lost in the mix. As a friend remarked, Balamir resembled a young Paul McCartney as he swaggered around the stage, also encouraging the crowd to sing a rousing happy birthday chorus to the record label. After some time, a familiar face reappeared onstage: Bruce Soord joined the band on an acoustic guitar to add some weight to the addictive “Matmos”, before the band rounded out with “Paris In The Spring” and a one-two of “Motorhead” and “Airborne” from their self-titled début, spread out over the encore. The applause from the audience said it all: sweaty yet satisfied progheads who’d witnessed four high-quality bands, with the background knowledge that four bands were still to come tomorrow.
Returning to The Garage brought a mixture of excitement and trepidation. This night had been sold out, which at once promised a magical experience and a complete sweatfest. The four bands selected seemed to have little in common on paper, but a trend emerged as the night went on, which I will highlight at the end of this article. First up, time for some music.
This evening’s entertainment got off to a surprisingly mellow start with Leafblade, an acoustic/Celtic rock act of acoustic strumming and minimal drumming. The vocal harmonies of Anathema’s Daniel Cavanagh integrated well with the Irish lilt of Sean Jude’s voice, while both strummed away merrily. Occasionally the songs strayed to rockier territory with some electric guitar, but the atmosphere was still cozy for the duration of their set, probably because the heat hadn’t quite sunk in yet. Leafblade provided the perfect entry point, easing the crowd into what was to be a night of emotional and engaging music.
And now, a taste of the odd: Mothlite, masterminded by Daniel O’Sullivan of Guapo, Æthenor and recently Ulver fame. ‘Experimental’ doesn’t even cover what was heard; it became impossible to draw comparisons, as main members O’Sullivan and Knut Sellevold with the live band wove their way through a heady mix of tribal-esque electro, dark ambient-pop and prog-rock. The vocals flitted between a Dave Gahan-like low on “Seeing In The Dark” and an almost Tears For Fears-esque vibe on other tracks, while the guitar saw more than a bit of manipulation for some decidedly unconventional sounds. The result was fairly challenging music, but then prog fans are used to challenging in any case, and it certainly provoked this listener to check out the two releases under this name for a further immersion in the weird offerings of this project.
Delving into more unworldly climes, we had the climate-inspired North Atlantic Oscillation up next. Caught somewhere between the shoegazing tendencies of My Bloody Valentine and the noisy post-rock of Mogwai, the numerous keyboards and guitars were all put to good use in creating layers upon layers of melody and noise. The vocals also were used more as an instrument, with few discernible lyrics among the airy ahhs that I caught from the back of the room. While the songs themselves were pleasant and went down smoothly, they also lacked direction and seemed a little homogeneous, at least in the live atmosphere. Still, post-rock is nearly always a pleasure to see live, and NAO certainly did not disappoint. Their LP Fog Electric comes highly recommended.
And now, for the grand finale. Having climbed out of the murky mires of doom-death metal, the entity that is Anathema nowadays is quite far removed from those days, but no less powerful. The crowd were in for quite a surprise: recently the band had been playing most of their latest album Weather Systems, with a few older tracks tacked onto the end. This time, there was a much more balanced set of their latter-day output, curiously drawing more from We’re Here Because We’re Here, predecessor of Weather Systems. Nevertheless, the whole performance was stunning and dynamic, encapsulated in the transition between the energetic climax of “Untouchable Pt. 1” to the cathartic build-up in “Untouchable Pt. 2”, featuring Lee Douglas on vocals. She popped up on a few other tracks as well, her soulful voice harmonizing gloriously with the Cavanagh brothers, in particular the emotional tones of Vincent. Meanwhile, brother Daniel hopped between keyboard and guitar with ease, with guest bassist Tobel Lopes and drummer Daniel Cardoso putting in admirable performances on their respective instruments. There was also a brief moment of romance honored by Daniel Cavanagh, who announced that a fan had given him a letter to read out, proposing to his girlfriend at the show and gaining an “aww” from the rest of the crowd. By the time the gloomy yet explosive “A Simple Mistake” rounded out the main set, there was an intangible yet palpable spell over the audience, who were clearly captivated by the band. All that was left was to play “Closer”, appropriate as a closing track and showing a miraculously animated band given how stifling the temperature was by this point. An untold amount of respect is due to Anathema for having survived and delivered such a performance, considering the circumstances, and rounding out a spectacular evening and event overall.
Upon reflection, there were several signs of just how organized these two nights were. Firstly, there were virtually no delays in setting up, and both nights finished only a few minutes after 11pm, allowing for an encore on both occasions. Secondly, and more subtly, each night got increasingly louder and heavier as it went on; there were no jarring clashes of sound despite the very different styles of the bands described above. For that, and so much more, Kscope and the event organizers should be lauded for having put on a fantastic evening and summarizing much of what is so great about the label. If, by some unhappy coincidence, you don’t own a Kscope release and are a fan of progressive music, then have a browse of the website here and I guarantee that something of interest will emerge. MetalRecusants joins the rest of the community in wishing Kscope a happy anniversary, and to many more years of releasing high quality music.
More of the bands:
Henry Fool: Website, Facebook
Nosound: Website, Facebook, Soundcloud
Wisdom of Crowds: Facebook
Amplifier: Website, Facebook, Bandcamp
Mothlite: Website, Facebook
North Atlantic Oscillation: Website, Facebook, Soundcloud
Anathema: Website, Facebook