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Green Man Festival 2014

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Green Man Festival 2014

Posted on 19 August 2014 by John Haylock

Prior to any festival, is it me or does every song you hear on the radio seem relevant to the possible weather options awaiting you? In the week before Greenman I unfortunately heard amongst many, Only Happy When It Rains by Garbage, She Brings the Rain by Can and Before the Flood by Bob Dylan.

Were these dreadful cosmic portents ? Or just unfounded climate based fears? Fortunately the latter, because apart from a little rain on Sunday morning it was unusually fantastic weather for Wales.

HGman

A sold out, grinning crowd of 20,000 descended like hippy bees to the musical honeypot that is the Greenman Festival, greedily anticipating the honey/music analogy I’m trying uselessly to express. Another line up of mind melting music awaited the faithful. Tent up, boots on, beer ready, let’s go.

Starting with some laid back beats from Babe in the Walled Garden, this act were kicked asunder by some kick-arse-moody-quiet-loud sonic mayhem from our Neonfiller.com favourite Happyness. They probably frightened a few of the more sedate members of the Walled Garden community, who were ensconced in deckchairs and seemed to think they were at the seaside.

Happyness

Happyness

Later in the evening Tuung were a revelation. They played a set of joyous, happy-clappy pop that was reminiscent of The Go Betweens. Tuung hadn’t played here for seven years, and were received mightily as they performed the the aural equivalent  of a chocolate box of love (minus the horrible coffee creams). Been here six hours, mind blown already.

Hailing from North Carolina, supercool skinny guy in shades, Jonathon Wilson and his band, cherry pick beauties from his first two solo efforts. Both albums of his proving conclusively that he’s one of the best singer-songwriters currently on the scene. Most impressive tonight were his rendition of Desert Raven with it’s lovely, lilting melody and his stunning lengthy version of Valley of the Silver Moon, complete with a staggering guitar solo that could have melted the South Polar ice shelf. Another name to be to added to the great pantheon of West coast, Laurel Canyon luminaries.

On the other hand Mark Kozelek and his band Sun Kil Moon, who’s current album Benji is the latest instalment in a body of work that goes back to the 1990s when he was the frontman for the Red House Painters, proved to be slightly disappointing. Kozelek writes confessional lyrics that can bring you to tears. It is unfortunate then, that where he usually surrounds himself with an acoustic backdrop in the studio, this afternoon the band want to be Metallica, the mix is too far in favor of the instrumentation when it should be the other way round, his vocals are barely audible in the sound man’s migraine of recorded sound. Oh well, let’s move on.

Toy only have one song. Fortunately it’s not that bad even if it feels like it goes on for five days. Better by far were the much lauded Policia. Access into the Far Out Tent for their set was impossible without a crane and winch. It was absolutely rammed and rightly so due to their polished and well executed happy Portishead vibe. The Augustines, however, are the polar opposite. Brash American, anthemic-punk, full of bravado but unfortunately not full enough to keep me from my bed as this correspondent collapsed from exhaustion and combined white wine overdose only to be awoken at 2am by what appeared to be The Ministry Of Sound next door, kids nowadays etc.

Angel Olson

Angel Olson

Saturday saw tremendous performances by the tiny Angel Olsen. Don’t be fooled by her demeanor, you wouldn’t get into a fight with Angel, not if her lyrics and psychotic country and western stage presence are anything to go by. Also covered by the word ‘riveting’ was Sharon Van Etten, slightly more rocky and atmospheric than Angel but equally fabbo.

My annual ‘ getting blown away by someone you’ve never of’ moment came at teatime as I strolled past the Cinema tent. Inside playing against a ludicrously trippy montage of images and films were a three piece called Thought Forms. If you like the Acid Mothers or Ride or Sonic youth or just the sound of out of control visceral guitars crashing into skyscrapers at 500 mph this was it. They’re from Bath, they’ve been going 10 years and are incredible.

Also on Saturday the beautiful Viv Albertine was interviewed in the literature tent, she has an incredible story to tell. An original member of the first all girl punk rock group The Slits, she recounted tales that were funny, frank, and touching of her formative years hanging around with the Sex Pistols and The Clash. She spoke of her band and all the shit they had to put up with over the years, her battle with cancer and 10 years of IVF treatment. It’s all documented in excruciatingly painful detail in her autobiography ‘Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Boys, Boys’. Go buy a copy of ‘Cut’ the slits debut as well, it still sounds fresh as a punk daisy. Just a lovely, lovely lady.

War on Drugs

War on Drugs

War on Drugs and Mercury Rev were a headlining double whammy of mellow psychedelia. The former have changed beyond recognition since their last appearance a couple of years ago, embracing a more upbeat, throbbing, euphoric guitar driven, Byrdsian vibe. But as good as they were though, Mercury Rev had the edge and were just stunning as they recreated their 1998 opus ‘Deserters songs’. Led by their enigmatic frontman John Donahue, they were uplifting and heroic, heartbreaking and delirious and a perfect end to a perfect day.

Sunday, and a sprinkling of rain slowly gives way to increasing sunshine, the phreaks emerge from their womb like tents, bleary eyed and dazed and confused we do it all over again, but everybody experiences the Sunday at Greenman slowly, in a haze, there’s no rush, take it easy maaan.

Mercury Rev

Mercury Rev

A lovely way to wake up was in the presence of an all Welsh band called 9 Bach. They sing in Welsh as well but it is no barrier, indeed it only emphasized the ethereal nature of the music. Think Clannad but a GOOD Clannad. In the afternoon Nick Mulvey drew down the ghosts of acoustic Gods John Martyn and Nick Drake with his lovely, delicate and often percussive guitar stylings. Rains in the Walled Garden rocked gently but with great aplomb, Other Lives from Oklahoma were perfect for a balmy sunny Sunday playing dustbowl folk blues with great passion.

I got attacked by Wilma Flintstone at teatime, said goodbye to Marvel comics next potential superhero ‘Incontinent Battered sausage woman’, got a slight migraine courtesy of Anna Calvi and her incessant screaming guitar, had some more crumpets, finished of the Bourbon, missed Bill Callaghan, had a go on Oxford university’s astronomical telescope in Einstein’s Garden, saw far too little of The Deep Throat Choir and for some apparent reason bought a tin of HP baked beans. Greenman you spoiled us (again), can you do it again next year please?!

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes.

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Variety Lights – Central Flow

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Variety Lights – Central Flow

Posted on 06 May 2012 by Dorian

David Baker hasn’t recorded any music since his Shady project back in 1994 and will not have been heard by most people since he left Mercury Rev after their excellent second album Boces. Central Flow is the debut album by his new act Variety Lights in which he teams up with analogue synth player Will MacLean. I like Baker’s work with Mercury Rev (I prefer Yerself is Steam and Boces to most of the work they did after he left) and I enjoy analogue synths (the Soccer 96 album is one of my favourites this year) but this is pretty dismal stuff.

Variety Lights

‘Starlit’ opens proceedings with some sounds that whilst not unpleasant and not exactly pleasant either, and some fairly dreary vocals. The playing seems fairly amateurish (and not in a charming way) and it is hard to tell if the lyrics are interesting as it is fairly hard to hear what Baker is singing about.

Track two, ‘Establishment’, picks things up a bit with some quirky keyboards and multi-tracked vocals that bring Modest mouse to mind. A minute or so in and you’ve pretty much had enough though, it gets tired pretty quickly. This is the pattern for most of the album, songs that start encouragingly different from the track before, with indications of quality, before getting boring pretty quickly.

There are signs of interest in the lyrics on the album but, coupled with Baker’s increasingly tiresome vocals and music that strays too far to the side of incompetence on too many occasions, you find it hard to care what he is singing about after a while. I suspect that MacLean and baker are capable of better than this, and that the style is  deliberately constructed in this slightly ramshackle way.  I don’t mind amateurishness and I can tolerate pretentiousness but when the final output is boring as well that is pretty unforgivable.

I wanted to like this album, I was glad Baker was recording again and think his contribution to Mercury Rev is under-appreciated. However, this album just isn’t good enough and fails to deliver on pretty much every level.

4/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Top Ten Indie/Alt Music Producers

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Top Ten Indie/Alt Music Producers

Posted on 27 July 2011 by Joe

While bands hog the limelight we thought it about time to pay tribute to those hardy souls sitting behind the mixing desks, dealing with all the tantrums and egos and helping to create some of our favourite indie and alternative albums of all time. This bunch of super indie producers have even managed to turn the most rough and ready artists into successful chart acts while ensuring they retain credibility.

Ladies and gentlemen, pull up a Phil Spector biography, sit back on the mixing desk chair, twiddle some knobs and enjoy Neonfiller’s Top Ten Indie/Alternative Music Producers.

10. Clive Langer/Alan Winstanley

Clive Langer (right) and Alan Winstanley (left)

These guys have been around for ever, well since the mid 1970’s anyway, and have worked with more artists than it’s possible to list here. They are best known for a 30 year association with Madness for whom they have produced 8 albums. Other career highlights include two early 1980’s masterpieces, The Tear Drop Explodes’ seminal 1980 classic Kilimanjaro and Dexy’s Midnight Runners 1982 celtic blockbuster Too-Rye-Ay. Kevin Rowland and Julian Cope are two of the real ‘nutty boys’ of English pop quite capable of giving Brian Wilson a run for his money in the eccentric genius stakes, working with them may not have been easy but must have been rewarding.

Add to the mix production credits on albums by Elvis Costello, Morrissey and Aztec Camera and Langer and Winstanley are worthy entries on our list of Top Ten producers.

9. Sean Slade and Paul Q Kolderie

If you listened to American indie-rock bands from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s then it is pretty likely you owned something produced by Sean Slade and Paul Q Kolderie.  Working out of the legendary Fort Apache studios they produced a number of genre defining albums including the Lemonheads’  Lovey, Hole’s  Live Through This, Buffalo Tom’s Let Me Come Over and Morphine’s Cure For pain. As well as this Belly, Big Dipper, Firehose and the Gigolo Aunts all had albums produced by the prolific pair.

If you add their engineering duties to the list you can include the Pixies, Throwing Muses, Dinosaur Jr, Come and The Blake Babies to the list. Added together a pretty comprehensive list of American alternative rock from the era. They didn’t only record out of Fort Apache and decamped to Chipping Norton to work with Radiohead in their nascent form. The pair produced the debut album Pablo Honey featuring ‘Creep’, the song that would break them in America.

8. Martin Rushent

Martin Rushent tragically died earlier this year (2011). He left behind a legacy as being the go-to man for punk and new wave bands wanting chart success.  Among those he helped into the charts were the Buzzcocks, Human League, Altered Images and The Stranglers. His work helping the Buzzcocks to create their stellar first two albums Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites (both 1978) is among our key landmark in his career.

But arguably he is more famous for turning the rather dour electronica of Human League into one of the most successful bands of the early 1980s through his production of their breakthrough 1981 album Dare. He died while working on a 30th anniversary edition of this seminal album. Other notable landmarks in his career are The Stranglers’ 1977 album No More Heroes. His workload slackened off towards the end of his life, but he still found time to work with Carl Barat and The Pipettes among others.

7. Jim O’Rourke

Jim O’Rourke is another producer who has a relatively small body of work behind him, but his work as a musician means that producing albums is purely a part time vocation. He has released a number of solo albums as well as records as part of Loose Fur, Gastr Del Sol and famously as the fifth member of Sonic Youth for six years up until 2005. His leftfield musical style is informed by jazz and electronic noise as much as indie rock music and that has informed his collaborations and production style.

In his career he has produced albums by Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Superchunk, Quruli, John Fahey, Smog, Faust, Tony Conrad, The Red Krayola, Bobby Conn, Beth Orton and Joanna Newsom. As a producer he is probably best known for his work with a fellow Chicago act Wilco, and was a big part of their move from being a popular Americana act to achieving widespread critical acclaim. It was his mixing work that gave Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the left-field sound that alienated the band from their record label. O’Rourke returned to produce A Ghost is Born, the album that won Wilco a Grammy Award for the best alternative music album in 2005.

6. Don Fleming


Don Fleming is one of the peripheral figures of alternative rock music. His work with Velvet Monkeys, B.A.L.L and Gumball is not widely known and his collaborations with bigger artists have garnered him with little attention. As a producer he hasn’t got a huge body of work to his name, but in his case it is quality not quantity that is the significant feature.

First off he produced ‘The Wagon’ the greatest single that Dinosaur Jr have released, and one of the best singles in the history of indie rock. He has also produced music by a number of other alt-rock acts such as Sonic Youth, Hole, Screaming Trees, Peter Yorn and (ahem) Midway Still. However, his greatest contribution to music is producing the two best power pop albums of the 1990s, Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub and Frosting on the Beater by The Posies. In those two near perfect sets of indie rock perfection he has a place in musical history.

5. Gil Norton

Gil Norton has had an incredibly prolific career. He’s from Liverpool and worked with fellow Liverpudlians China Crisis on their 1982 debut album Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, their synth pop sound beautifully illustrated by their second single Christian. Among his best work has been with Boston indie rock acts the Throwing Muses,  whose eponymous debut album he produced, and the Pixies, for whom he produced their classic 1989 album Doolittle that includes the tracks Debaser and Monkey Gone To Heaven .

But we, and he, don’t just dwell in the 80’s. Bringing you right up to date in 2011 Gil has worked with the Futures on their forthcoming debut album and Scottish alternative rock act Twin Atlantic.

4. Phil Ek


If we may have strayed slightly towards pop territory with some of the other producers in our Top 10 we’re firmly back in the land of indie with American producer Phil Ek. He is the man behind both Fleet Foxes critically acclaimed albums  as well as work by Modest Mouse, The Shins, Les Savy Fav and Built To Spill. As a young man he moved to Seattle just when Nirvana were helping to establish the city’s musical reputation, as The Beatles had done with Liverpool several decades before. It was here that he began to learn his trade and build connections with the Sub Pop Records and Up Records labels whose artists helped define his career.

3. Dave Fridmann

Fridmann is another musician who decided to spend more time behind the mixing desk. As bassist and founding member of Mercury Rev his place in indie and alternative music history is already assured. But it was his decision in 1993 to focus on producing that gives him a special place in our hearts. Described by Mojo as “the Phil Spector of the alt-rock era” his focus is often on big epic sounds, with The Flaming Lips, MGMT and Sleater-Kinney among those that have worked with him.

Fridmann is not without critics. His Grammy award winning work on The Flaming Lips At War With the Mystics (2007) sparked a fierce debate about loudness in mastering. But his work on The Flaming Lips’classic Soft Bulletin (1999), Ok Go’s best album Of The Blue Color Of The Sky (2010) and Tama Impala’s wondrous Innerspeaker (2010)  more than make up for this blot on his otherwise superb CV.

2. John Leckie


By far the most mentioned producer in our Top 100 albums of all time list is the eclectic and prolific John Leckie. His work with XTC’s psychedelic alter egoes Dukes of Stratosphear, The Fall during their mid 1980s heyday, helming Radiohead’s breakthrough album The Bends and his  innovative work behind the decks on the Stone Roses’ debut album means he has a deserved place in our list.

His ability to find the best in each band he works with, whether its honing the indie rock of Radiohead or allowing  The Stone Roses’s creativity to shine, is perhaps his greatest talent. To this day he is still working with a diverse range of artists across the alternative and indie music world. Among our highlights from the last few years has been My Morning Jacket’s Z.

1.Steve Albini

From the Pixies to Nirvana, from Wedding Present to PJ Harvey, Steve Albini is perhaps the most prolific producer in alternative and indie music. Part of his popularity is his lack of ego as a producer. He prefers either no credit or to be credited as recording engineer and his hallmark is to ensure the album is a reflection of the band’s true sound without interference. He encourages bands to play live as much as possible and achieves a warmth to the recording though a careful attention to mic positioning.

As a former member of Big Black and more recently Shellac Albini is very much a musician and a  producer, which adds to his popularity among the bands he works with. Those such as David Gedge and Jon Spencer often returning time and again to Albini, who each year produces between 10 to 20 different albums.  The sheer range of artists and ground breaking albums he has worked on, including Pixies Surfer Rosa, Mclusky’s Mclusky Do Dallas and PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, make him for us the greatest indie and alternative producer of all time.

Compiled by Martin Burns, Dorian Rogers and Joe Lepper

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Mercury Rev live at The Roundhouse, London, 21/05/11

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Mercury Rev live at The Roundhouse, London, 21/05/11

Posted on 25 May 2011 by Dorian

The single album concert is all about nostalgia, a classic band playing one of their classic albums to a partisan crowd. This is a theme that ATP Concerts have been promoting for some years now since they started their ‘Don’t Look Back’ series of concerts. Tonight it was the turn of Mercury Rev to bring their Deserters Songs album to the Roundhouse in London.

First up, and sticking with the nostalgia theme, was ChamelonsVox, the current version of 1980s act The Chameleons. The Chameleons are an act that I’d heard of, but never knowingly listened to. In advance of the gig I checked out a couple of tunes on YouTube and was surprised to find a couple of songs that I knew amongst their early output. Original singer Mark Burgess was backed at this gig by a bunch of musicians that were able to pretty perfectly replicate that early 80s Manchester sound, complete with guitar pedal effects overload.

There were elements of many of their contemporary north west acts in their sound, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and Joy Division all came to mind during the set. It was a professional performance but the lack of song familiarity, and a rather dour overall sound, make it hard to get too enthusiastic. The fans in the crowd seem to love it and I can’t really offer up a very educated opinion on the set. It is hampered a little by the slightly variable Roundhouse sound, several places in the auditorium offering up a very washed out audio experience. I move to find a better position to listen to the main event.

ChameleonsVox

ChameleonsVox

I’ve not been to a single album concert before, and it is slightly odd to know not just which songs will be played, but also the order they’ll be played in. First up is album opener ‘Holes’ and the song, performance and experience is pretty magical from the start. The band, lead by the angelic voiced Jonathan Donahue and the enigmatic Grasshopper, seem to be enjoying every minute and this is reflected by a very appreciative audience.

Mercury Rev

Mercury Rev

Listening to the set I’m left wondering why it has been so long since I listened to the album in full. The singles sound great, and get the best response from the crowd, but it is impressive just what a consistent concise and well paced album it is. It is also an album that retrospectively deserved a place in our top 100 list, but you can’t remember everything. Despite some extended versions of tracks the set ends quickly, limited by the length of the album, and the band leave the stage to rapturous applause.

The band return to the stage and play a very well chosen set of songs as the encore. ‘Car Wash Hair’ showcases the quirky early incarnation of the band and ‘The Dark Is Rising’ epitomises the overblown orchestrated drama of the post-Deserters Songs band. After four songs in the encore they leave the stage and the house lights go up. Some of the audience seemed unhappy with the overall concert length, but that seems to miss the point somewhat. What we got was a great set of songs played with passion and that seems like more than good value for money to me.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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