Underground 39


1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ~ the number of performers in each band, it was a very mixed-bag of music and all were so great and so unique, thanks for playing for HK’s appreciative audience most especially me!
love Chris B xx


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The set list for U39 was interesting from the start. A solo acoustic set, a two-piece, a three piece, and two five pieces, thus building up to a thundering crescendo. Or something.
Anyway, first up, Gregory was a hard act to categorise. His blurb in the flier was a stream of consciousness, and it appears that’s how he approaches singing as well. Eschewing the traditional write-it-then-sing-it methodology, he prefers to improvise words over a loose framework of chords. His first song in this vein was a medley of three songs including Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence, and a couple of others which I didn’t recognise. Perhaps this was because instead of improvising three songs, Gregory actually improvised another one in there on the spur of the moment, making a total of four. A mystery caller joined in with the improvisational spirit by calling his mobile in the break between the first and second songs.
The next few offerings can best be described as song-poems. Words and concepts were repeated over a fluid bed of guitar riffs. Gregory’s voice is strong and emotive, and reminded me of Tracy Chapman or Janis Joplin, which I mean as a compliment rather than an insult to his masculinity. In between each song, Gregory treated us to more random thoughts and his personal philosophy of life, although these tended to meander off without focus and were probably better embedded into songs. During the course of the set, he also treated us to an acoustic beatbox improv – while still singing! — and decided to perform a song which he’d written “half an hour ago”. The final piece was an improvisation about a subject randomly chosen by the audience, which in this case was “Genetic Engineering”. Towards the last 216 bars of this, the MC ChrisB was clearly hovering to let Gregory know that his time was up.


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Bad Hair Year
A change of pace then, as Bad Hair Year took the stage. This is a two piece consisting of a guitarist and a drummer, both of whom sing. The opening song – called Opener, we were informed – was a chiaroscuro number (look it up!) consisting of a catchy guitar riff and cymbals, interspersed with chunky chords and blasting drums (think Song 2, by Blur).
The second song featured more growling guitars, but with the increasing volume of the guitars, the singing deteriorated. I’m not sure if the monitor speaker levels were partially to blame, but during the louder passages the vocals wavered off-key a little too far, which spoilt the song. Next up was a number which reminded me of the Smashing Pumpkins, and this was followed by one which sounded like a cross between the B52s and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Hard to imagine, but that’s what it sounded like. The set was rounded off by a song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Buzzcocks album.
All in all a very versatile and stylistically wide-ranging set, with an interesting sound and a lot of potential. If they can fix the vocals and tighten up the drumming a little then they’ll definitely go far.


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Hard Candy
The third band of the evening, was the all-girl three piece Hard Candy. Tuning up on stage before the first number, the contrast between the menacing guitar and the grinning face of the lead singer, Yan, was worth noting (liked the pj harvey black dress and red shoes as well!). The first number started slowly and built up into a crescendo. “Every time you say you love me, you lie to me” screamed Yan, bringing to mind early Siouxsie and the Banshees.
As the set progressed the musicians warmed up and started to play together better. The sound was predominantly punk, with catchy guitar riffs and solid bass and drums underpinning them, and most of the lyrics were something to do with lying cheating bastard boyfriends. During the six songs, I caught strains of Stiff Little Fingers, Pixies, Stranglers, Fugazi, all of which probably date me a little. The last track was my favourite: an instrumental offering as a tribute to Elliot Smith, which reminded me of the Cure from the Disintegration album.
I’ve always had a bit of a thing for girls who play guitar, so I’m clearly biased, and there was lots they did that was good here. However they suffered from the same problem as the previous band: the off key vocals, which may be attributable to the sound system, and the badly tuned lead guitar, which is less excusable. Nevertheless there was some good material here, and the girls are playing together better than they have previously, and have more confidence on stage. I’ll look forward to their new album which is coming out soon.


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Helium3 (formerly named “Skin Deep”)
Skindeep took the stage next, and despite their professionalism – they’ve clearly played together a lot – sure the songs they played were tight, but they remained too much in the Cold Chisel/Barnsey/Bryan Adams/Bruce Springsteen school of Formula Rock (just add cheese) for my particular taste. But if you like that sort of thing then I’m sure you would have enjoyed them.
The first song dealt with the important question “How do you feel when there’s something burning?, and personified the white rock of Bryan and Bruce. The second track started out more promisingly in a sort of Oasis-sung-by-Robbie Williams intro riff, but then slipped back exhausted into the country rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd … with a rap section!
The next two songs were again very accomplished, but somehow lacked an adventurousness that we’d seen in the preceding three bands. Nothing you could put your finger on, but perhaps the overuse of clichés was one thing, and possibly the fact that both guitars were playing the same thing rather than bouncing off each other. The next song “It brings me down” was the closest they got to something with drive and energy, but they sought refuge in their clichés (“drivin’ me crazy” etc) for the last two songs. Maybe I’ve been a bit harsh, but you can check out their songs yourself at http://mp3.com.hk/skindeep/


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Whatever you think of the music, you can’t accuse Maniac, the final band, of being pedestrian rock. I was worried at first, when during the soundcheck the guitarist showed off his knowledge of blues and jazz riffs, while a Yorkshire voice to the right of me ventured that in his opinion, Rancid were “just sublime”. A surreal moment. However, soundcheck over and the guitar went back to the standard deathtrashcore metal chugga-chugga-chugga-wheeeeeeeep! Game on.
I have to say the songs kinda merged together for me. Maybe this was because they were all shouted in an indeterminate language, or maybe the beer was starting to take hold. Anyway the main thing that struck me was their energy and passion, which was especially noticable after the previous band. The audience was appreciative as well, and there was a mini-mosh in progress before too long.
Musically they were hard to pinpoint. The main theme was a death metal thrash, with its attendant sudden chord changes and non-standard time signatures. However at points they wavered off into Thin Lizzy territory, and one of the songs was a cover of Radiohead’s Creep, which was bound to please me. In the end, this kind of music is more about the emotion than the lyrics, and they definitely pulled that off well.
All in all a very interesting Underground, and one that spanned the full range of musical expression. There was probably something for everyone there, and it reminded me why I come back time after time.

Poster by Sheli

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