Underground 107

23-02-13

U-107-0000.jpgWhat a blast Underground 107 was! The venue was packed from the start and it’s great to see so many new faces at The Underground events – brilliant thanks for an enthusiastic & lively audience. Big thanks to the four bands who crafted great sets and made for one of the most memorable Underground events we’ve had in a while. Heaps of applause to The Underground team for making these events happen and of course thanks to Backstage for hosting the event.
love Chris B xx

 

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Purple Eye

1. 隨光隨
2.
清晰畫面
3. That’s My Way to Love You
4. Colour Wheel
5. Waterfall
6.
鯨魚又會出
7.
劃破黑白

Purple Eye has been around for a few years, in one form or another, and for fewer of those few years, they have had a different singer, Carol. Now, I have primarily heard them with their previous singer, so I was curious as to how they would sound with a different style of singer. As it turns out, Carol suits their style quite a lot better than their earlier singer, with her less forceful, more melodic manner of singing and, frankly, more focus on singing. Indeed, her lighter touch suits the light pop-Latin elements in Purple Eye’s sound better, giving them greater finesse. She also avoids several singing pitfalls that many vocalists do fall into, such as over-breathiness. She sings well, and no hamming, perhaps best exemplified on 隨先隨影. They’ve tended towards lightly broody melodies, always sounding sweet by dint of the acoustic guitars used, like That’s My… and Colour Wheel. But, it’s more than that, the sweet sound is created as much by the melodies as by the instrumental timbre, which is a mix of the delicate generic acoustic-pop sound, mixed in with some Gipsy-Kings overtones and a Joan Baez-like folky feel. It was interesting to see, though, that some of their songs which were apparently newer compositions were indeed more stripped down, as they announced, and didn’t have the same veneer of slightly gloomy sound that their earlier ones tend to have. This works out differently on different songs, while Waterfall is much like 90s throwaway pop, 鯨魚又會出 has the feel of a serene-yet-rousing lullaby, like a non-whiney Alanis Morissette.

Now, there’s nothing really revolutionary here, so there is a feeling of already-covered ground there. Their lyrics in English are a tad hackneyed, but I’m reliably informed that this isn’t the case in Chinese. They do their best to keep things interesting with some deep-toned spoken word and jokey trumpet-imitation by guitarist Bonnie. Combine that with how the styles of the two guitarists contrast with each other – one stolidly laying the foundation of the music and the other gently elaborating on the base – is fascinating, and they’re engaging on stage, judging by the reaction from their audience, and they clearly seem to have identified a new line of attack that’s promising, so perhaps there are even better things to come in the future.

– Shashwati Kala

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Ninetynine Floor

1. Demo 1
2. As if I’ve Met Life and Death Again
3. Cold Night
4. Run Run Run
5. Dying Rose
6. A.I.

Ninetynine Floor started with a short self-titled level check number, and its frantically-strummed, slightly weird-out feel was the perfect way to introduce themselves to the audience. Their sound is clearly inspired by Radiohead and their ilk, with its oddly static, floaty feel, but also with the Suede/Blur-y side of britpop adding some punch to proceedings, as on A.I.. The result is a hard-hitting soundscape, very much like that from the early 90s. And it would be a bit too much so, if it weren’t for some unique elements they’ve managed to include. The singer has a strange, thin voice with a papery quality, almost whiney in the vein of Jewel, but in a likeable way. The lead guitarist tend to play towards the higher end of the fretboard, with an almost-math-rock approach, using a wall of short notes to create an undulating, shimmering yet weighty feeling, while the singer’s style of soloing is to play melodies of an almost tragic-heroic nature, soaring and affecting, as on Run Run Run. These elements combine well with the fact that they play a few genuinely sad-feeling (as opposed to broody tunes, which is a far more popular approach), giving their set some real thrust. Cold Night was a bouncy, joyous number, but with the same richness of atmosphere and a celebratory feel, making it catchy and upbeat, almost like fIREHOSE. This was perhaps brought out best in the song that wasn’t so, Dying Rose, which was gentler in its emotional momentum, vaguely Killers-like, and with its trite lyrics was just okay. However the deep colour that their songs tend to have was still there, so it wasn’t an intolerable departure from quality. Still, it would’ve been served better if the song had a bit of punch. One might be tempted at this point to tag their music as overly derivative of the britpop style and in terms of pure stylistic tendencies, this might not be entirely unjustified. However, they have already developed significant unconventional features, and I would imagine that they would only get better with time. I’d rather describe them as trying to sound like,for instance, Radiohead, without actually copying them, which is at least worth a listen. All in all, they’re a winning band with some distinct and interesting things to say musically, and they certainly impressed on the night.

– Shashwati Kala

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The Sinister Left

1. Heartworm in My Head
2. Her Drive
3. MSG
4. The Vulture That She Is
5. Lap of Mystery
6. The Coldest Man in Summer

Now, the one thing that stood out before these guys started playing was that they were the only band to have played the Underground 10 times, and they’ve been with us from very early on in the process. However, once they start playing, it tends to drive out all other thoughts from the mind, since they are a band that commands the attention of one’s mind (or mine, at any rate). Making clever and judicious use of reverb on the vocals, a variety of guitar effects, imperturbably fluid bass, theremin-like accents from the keyboards, and a drummer who’s probably the most enthusiastic I’ve seen (Okay, actually second-most enthusiastic. The first is definitely good ol’ Freddie Gunn from Shotgun Politics and Kestrels & Kites), and uses the toms to good effect (also unusual). These components fit in together perfectly, to form an alternately soothing and discomfiting, abrasive scenery, with snaking melodies, and a fuzzy, slightly psychedelic intensity that may well leave you seeing stars. They’re almost like a mix of the Butthole Surfers, Arcade Fire and the Fuzztones, in a Butch Vig, Neo-Zeppelin kind of way (Lap of Mystery in particular). Perhaps what’s best about them is just how realised their sound is, because it’s definitely identifiable. A valid criticism of this would be to say that their songs are a bit samey, and it would be were that true, but I haven’t seen any evidence of that yet. They have a definite menace to their sound occasionally, that’s great for the kind of atmosphere they tend to create, and it’s often mixed with slightly Arabesque turns of tune, as in Heartworm… while Her Drive sounded a bit like early Smashing Pumpkins, with its driving, winding rhythm and the sharp attacks of guitar. The Vulture… had shades of Paul Leary-like guitars, with the rare clean tone making an appearance, and some really frantic fills by the drummer, and this general treatment they give to their songs was brought into relief by the almost-jazzy interlude in the middle of The Coldest Man… They certainly showed why they’ve been around for as long as they have, and hopefully they’ll be around for a lot longer. They don’t play too often, though, so you should catch a gig when you can.

– Shashwati Kala

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Who Shot Holga

1. The Lie
2. Ino Uno
3. Killer Heels
4. Curiosity
5. Halfway In
6. F-Song
7. Let it Burn
8. Clair

U107 has provided one of the most eclectic line-ups in recent memory and, as the final act sets up and line-checks to a synth-punk backing track, that seems likely to continue. Welcome to the stage Who Shot Holga: a girl-girl-boy trio featuring subtly punk stylings on guitar/vocals, diffident rock vibes on oversized bass and a stern leftie drummer perched on a largely right-handed kit.

“It’s our last gig so you better get fucking drunk!” yells frontgirl Tilly as WSH kick into The Lie, their high-energy opening number. Instantly reminiscent of Juliana Hatfield’s Blake Babies, but with significantly more power, hints of Le Tigre grrl punk quickly creep in – the sass without the politics – and there are even suggestions of the pop sensibilities of Veruca Salt – including the sex appeal but dropping the candy-coated self-consciousness. This is a great start deserving of a bigger crowd. The only weak link is the guitar tone. Crunchy to a fault, it’s been chosen for its raw punk sound a la Operation Ivy but lacks the bottom end to compete with the strong back line.

Ino Uno is classic 3-minute pop-rock, wry enough not to be saccharine. Drums are impeccable and bass is absolutely charming in every way. All that’s missing is a backing vocal which would add so much more texture. Marie’s Song survives the un-deux-trois-quatre count-in to deliver a classic nugget of lo-fi guitar pop, and I wish the sound at Backstage was better so I could make out more of the lyrics. The refrain “never wanna see your face again” evokes the Angels but the sound is too joyful and this could easily be Bidston Moss singing about their new ten-speed bike. I love it.

Curiosity is up next, and this one features on an Underground compilation. “So buy the fuckin’ CD,” barks Tilly. As with her previous command, disobeying doesn’t even cross my mind. This one brings a change of pace, with thumping kick drum shifting up to toms as the group sets up a mesmerising mid-tempo grind. It’s a significant change and showcases a much bigger dynamic range from all three players. As the vocals hit a high point, my friend leans over wide-eyed and remarks “it’s gotten really sexual”.

That isn’t quite maintained for Half Way In, where the guitar tone flakes out again, but the band is clearly hitting their stride, especially the drums which are now huge, and there’s some wailing that would win Wayne Campbell’s heart. F-Song smells like Green Day off the bat before returning to the favoured 90s sound with undertones of Belly, but Tanya Donnelly would never pen something this unpretentious. Finally the backing vocals are cranked up and WSH fill the room with their sound as all three members revel in a song of back-seat shenanigans.

Let It Burn suggests Tilly has been listening to Tegan and Sara lately, but there’s nothing derivative here and her voice absolutely owns this number. It’s a winner and I wish it’d gone on for longer. But we’re almost done and the set is closed out with Clair, an uplifting pop-rock dash with Cantonese count-in (correcting the earlier faux pas), hand claps, nah-nah-nahs and woah-woah-woahs.

Who Shot Holga have talent, energy, passion and the songs to back it up. But while they’re individually confident and competent, they weren’t as well-oiled a unit as they might have been, and they didn’t always touch the level promised by their obvious potential. With members now dispersing around Asia, WSH may remain a question of what could have been. Start the petition for a reunion now.

– Brendan Clift

poster by ANGUS LEUNG
photos © Copyright 2013 by ANGUS LEUNG

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