Anti-Social Media Underground

12-01-13

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Well well well. Even the most social members of The Underground team were delighted with the attendance, the ethos of ‘leave your phones off’ and disconnecting from the ‘digital age’ to just enjoy the music. Thanks so much to Innisfallen, Dr Eggs and Macau-based Forget The G for creating the music that must be listened to. Big thanks to Backstage for hosting the show. Thanks so so much to The Underground team.

Love Chris B x

 

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Innisfallen

1. Slow Motion
2. Jugglers
3. Pink Elephant
4. Snow Lion
5. No Reply (The Reprise)
6. Butterfly Effect

The Underground gig with a difference started off with a band that hadn’t played the Underground in ages, the duration of which included hiatuses, changes in lineups and general ambiguity about the state of affairs of the band. Which is why it’s been a relief to see them recently playing gigs around town, in gradually increasing frequency. These guys, in some form, have been around for quite a while, and since the earliest days, it seems, they have conjured images of beautiful music and shimmering tunes with an added rock ‘n’ roll punch. The years, it would also seem, have not taken away much from this approach, since it’s very much the sort of music they play now too. There are lots of shiny-sounding guitars, used to express resonating and dramatic melodies, which vary from being peppy and dancey (Snow Lion, Pink Elephant) to slower, more anchored tunes (No Reply). They do use a tone of effects, especially for the lead guitar; however, it’s not wanky noodling or flashy overlong solos that these pedals serve. Instead, the guitars are atmospheric and sweet but firm in their tone, and it creates a rich, fresh-sounding wall of sound against which the very smooth bass and singer Erik’s odd-but-soothing voice can work to bring together their engaging sound. They generally play tunes like the Killers do, but with more richness in the arrangements and experiment in guitar tones, making it more akin to what Arcade Fire or Fleet Foxes do, and with a dose of the Cranberries’ energy to top things off (particularly in Butterfly Effect, which actually sounded like one of theirs, even with its oddly harmonium-toned guitars). In songs like Slow Motion was manifested their main strength, which is that they can be forceful in their sound without added abrasion from the guitar, which is a useful form of musical brevity to have. This does, however, make the music come off a little bland at points. Also, the singing is a bit more nonchalant and off-key than the songs call for, since the laidback voice in a slightly off-kilter tone is the primarily used mode of singing, but this is manageable and doesn’t much detract from the songs (though some might disagree about the magnitude). Overall, it was a very fitting, way to start off a very promising show.

– Shashwati Kala

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Dr. Eggs

1. Back
2. Take on Me (A-Ha cover)
3. Whisky and Passport
4. J’vais t’pecho
5. Contre Moi
6. Little Thing
7. Human Behaviour
8. Boost

The second act of the night, too, was an act that had not played at The Underground for a solid few years, and were evidently missed. Unlike the case with Innisfallen, almost the entire membership of the band was changed, except, of course, for core member and the good doctor himself, singer Joul. Now, as I have said before, I am close to allergic to the word ‘electro’, and almost distrustful of it. It, to me, is permanently associated with lame synth and stupid booping sound effects that were the staple of music videos in the 80s and early 90s (despite the number of good electronic musicians I have heard here in HK, I should say). So, naturally, I was skeptical of what ‘electro-punk’ might mean too.

In hindsight, I’m glad to report, these worries seemed superfluous, as the music was quite consistently awesome. There’s a LOT of Noughties rock in their sound, in particular the manner in which the instruments come together to form one thrashing yet slick mass of heavy and compressed, heavy beats. This is covered by the alternating rapping/singing of Joul, in his adenoidal yet forceful voice (which, unusually, sounds quite good when singing), and the concoction is completed by a liberal dose of frenzy. Performance and music are both frantic and wild, and they’re quite the spectacle on stage, running about like balls of energy looking to exhaust supplies, and are quite good at the stage prattle as well. Which made it a particular pity that the crowd that night were the sort who wouldn’t respond to repeated requests to move closer to the stage; they seemed much too taken aback to do so…. Oh well.

The set started off with a medieval-like recorded bit and on to a piano concerto-like thingy, and on in this vein, while the band on stage made funny faces. The music is something like a mix of the style of Faith No More and the spirit of bands like The Screamers and Nervous Gender, in its mix of (very generally) rap rhythms and hardcore punk melodies (like on Contre Moi or Boost, or the almost Defiant Scum-like J’vais t’pecho). Their cover of A-Ha’s Take on Me was a real surprise, because of how much and how well they changed it up – I would say it’s almost as good as Reel Big Fish’s cover, in terms of taking a mediocre song and making it interesting and fun. The electronic bits added texture to the whole heavy rock sound without being jarring or interfering with the songs’ sound, as in the more dancey Little Thing. There is a more RATM-like side to them, like the storming Whisky and Passport. Their particular pastiche of post-punky-hardcore-punk-funk is solid, heavy, danceable and VERY fun to watch live, and all the flash is backed up by genuinely good tunes, though I have to say that the songs verge on sounding samey. A good example indeed of a band that must be watched live to understand what they’re about, and they certainly drove home the purpose of the show that night.

– Shashwati Kala

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Forget the G (Macau 澳門)

1. Intro
2. Prologue
3. I Wish
4. 困
5. 別

What Forget the G (another band that is a long-time returnee to The Underground’s stage) is like can be summed up quite well in something that singer Eric said during their set – “Welcome to our dimension”. Indeed, listening to them is to step into a different dimension, but in more ways than one. Aside from the obvious fact that they play a very specific type of music that most bands don’t, they also go for the long-form song, which is also very unusual. However, I have always been of the opinion that a band has to really earn the right to play a single song in front of an audience for times approaching and above eight minutes. Many, many bands do not actually have enough to say in musical terms (lyrics, not so much) to justifiably fill that space, and it tends to be taken up by the bane of heavy bands’ existences – wanky and pointless noodling. So, does this band hit the mark? Yes; and how.

They earn every minute that they take up of your attention, and don’t use the ‘experimental’ tag to aimlessly wander down sonic alleyways. Their music is focussed and laser sharp, managing to be minimalistic in its grandeur. The sparse, nagging piano and tortuous, thundering, atmosphere-creating-and-destroying guitars are based on the unmoving bedrock of solid, and nuanced drum-work, and the impassioned, almost desperate singing serves to elevate this feel even higher. They contrasted nicely with Dr. Eggs, by embodying a completely different kind of frenzy that’s purely in the very nature of the music rather than in its effect and delivery, but being no less in magnitude. If Innisfallen create some sonic atmosphere, Forget the G wield it as their primary weapon. Perhaps the best thing about the band is that while singer Eric has a typically thin, almost whiney voice, he can actually sing – the vast number of long-held high notes they wrote into their songs are all executed with gusto and competently, which is not a typical feature of such bands. I apologise if my description of their music seems vague, but because of the way they write songs, they sort of defy description since the songs are written without so much a focus on every one having its own character, and more on making the transitions to and fro different feels and tones count. I can say this – there is no shortage of big hooks (I Wish in particular had a massive tuneful hook). They even use an e-bow, and are one of the rare bands than can actually justify its use rather than its just being a cool doo-dad. The haunting nature and gruesome beauty of their songs, the sheer calculation in their dynamicism and their obvious ear for interesting feel-changes makes them a band that really must be seen live – possibly the most so of the bands on that night. There could scarcely have been a better way to close out the night, and entering their dimension provided a great closer to a great night of music.

– Shashwati Kala

Poster by Jesseca Dollano

photos © Copyright 2013 by Steve Schechter

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