What a fantastic night! Huge round of applause first to The Underground team who handled everything; the bands, audience, voting, beers, judges & all that stuff that happens at The Underground 🙂 It was a super special event and big thanks to the judges: Steve Grindrod, Edwin Lo & Cliff Babbs. The judges’ votes counted for 75% and the audience got to vote and their votes counted for 25%. Congratulations to the five bands who had made it all the way to this final event. Thanks to Backstage for hosting the event. Thanks to Albion for loaning us some very impressive amps. Big thanks to all our sponsors and media partners. And of course a big High Five to the winning band “Shotgun Politics” who will be flying (all expenses paid) to Canada in September to perform at Envol et Macadam. Finally thanks to Faye, who stepped into my shoes as MC that night!
love Chris B x
1. Settle From Cradle
2. The First Filth
3. Dromos Home
The first band on were all-local metal band Synergy, with their slightly-alternative, thrashy, screamy metal. They are a somewhat unusual animal in that they have a diminutive female singer, innocent-sounding speaking voice and all, who does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to screaming; there is little to no singing in their songs. What’s rarer is that she pulls it off – she’s good at it, and it’s consistent. They have solid musicians in their band – their drummer in particular, who pulls off double bass pedalling, and has interesting and unexpected fills to add in most areas of songs which are fairly standard metal. Their guitarist too is good, and while fulfilling the typical requirements to play thrash, being very shreddy, and having the requisite beard, also sometimes adds an atmosphere of 7 Year Bitch or Alice in Chains-style creepiness, and can do a bit of the Kirk Hammett-style elastic solos with a touch of emotion to top up the technical display. This was particularly so in Dromos Home, where they almost sounded like a mix of Seaweed and Soundgarden at points, and Peter Frampton-like at others; the song in general was a long-form song, done quite well. However, their other two songs let them down a bit. While Settle From Cradle started off sounding a bit like Second Hand by 7 Year Bitch, they are too true-to-type to be of much interest as of now. To put it simply, there simply isn’t enough there to differentiate themselves from the many other metal bands that play; there’s a lot of noodling, heavy bass, headbanging, soaring guitars, but not enough style. However, I should stress that this is the case as of now.
There is, however, plenty to suggest that they will get better with experience; aside from everything I’ve already mentioned, they have a crucial thing going in their favour in that they are able to maintain a connection between different sections of one song that goes beyond just calling them by the same name. Metal songs typically have sections of different speeds and rhythms; a problem I frequently find with bands, from anywhere really, is that very often these sections don’t sound like they stem from the same song. Synergy, however, does not do this, and have learnt to construct sections so that they sound similar enough to maintain an audible sense of continuity. This is why I am hopeful that they will soon develop into a better band, because they already seem to have a knack for writing songs holistically. I’m sure if they find their groove they will be huge on the scene
— Shashwati Kala
1. Growing Pains
2. Son of Sam
3. Hong Kong
5. I Quit
6. Pretty Please
7. Eat the Pessimists
Say Mosquito, I must admit, is a band I’ve been wanting to write about for a while; for one thing they are one of the few bands around that I can say sounds like no one else on the scene, and I’m willing to stick my neck out for this claim. If any other guitarist (in a non-funk band) is willing to play the opening four chords of Son of Sam in their song, I am yet to see them. Their music thrives on its odd-weird-funny-cute feel, and sounds like a vigorous combination of indie, funk, grungy, psychobilly and slightly punky music with just a touch of jazz. I imagine if 90s Pearl Jam ever covered a Mojo Nixon song with Jello Biafra on vocals and Ed Crawford on lead guitar, they would sound something like Say Mosquito. Perhaps the comparison to Jello isn’t quite accurate – singer/guitarist Steve’s vocal style is far more conventional than the Dead Kennedys singer’s overblown theatrical style – but his approach has a similarity to the way Jello Biafra moves between notes. But, if you’re still not happy, let’s split the difference and say Metal Mike Saunders?
It helps a lot that bassist Maggie has crazy-fast fingers and yet a very measured, cool style. Combine this with drummer Tatsuya’s rockabilly, in-the-groove drums (and his ability to come up with multifarious fills and to know just where to put in these flourishes) and you have a very compelling band Their music is very fun and has that toe-tapping feel that good rockabilly/psychobilly songs do, and the funny lyrics add to that significantly. The lyrics also flow really well and don’t sound contrived; things are kept very conversational but wittily so, with few recourses to cliché, which is an impressive achievement in itself. (As an aside, if you haven’t, you really should have a look at their video for Hamster. If what they are like as a band could be summed up in one video, this comes closest to doing it.)
Perhaps the main star of the show, though, is Steve’s guitar playing. It’s cheeky and quick, but with a strong sense of melody, sounding like a stylistic mix of fiREHOSE’s Ed Crawford (particularly on a song like Epoxy For Example) and Sublime’s Bradley Nowell. Hamster is something like one of those short songs that early punk bands used to play (think Orgasm Addict, or Stab Your Back), while I Quit had shades of Mudhoney in its feel and structure (the increasing repetitions of the guitar refrain in particular). Hong Kong was dedicated to recently departed drummer for WWTBTS, Andy Gilmore, and its quality of being a farewell song without descending into needless emotion made it an appropriate tribute. I have to compliment them for retooling the song from its former half-ballad-like form, because this suits them much better. Eat the Pessimists was a speedy, punchy ending to their set, with a more Fugazi-like “lick” (if it can be called that), but the feel of a Reel Big Fish song. I don’t think Pretty Please, despite its use of a beat not heard outside of vernacular forms of music, fit in with their set and interrupted its pace, while also kind of going nowhere as a song. Still, a very good set overall, and a terrific way to debut at The Underground…. Now when’s the album coming out?
— Shashwati Kala
2. Whisky and Passport
The 20-minute-set format adopted by many band comps is unforgiving. A lot of acts find it constraining and struggle to hit their stride. This was absolutely not the case for Dr Eggs. Despite a relatively complex set up including pre-programmed backing tracks, so often responsible for confounding band members and engineers alike, everything about this group screamed self-assured professionalism. And with all four kitted out in matching uniforms and unified by their energy, enthusiasm and sense of fun, there was plenty of on-stage chemistry.
Frontman Joul was joined tonight by scenester Yan on guitar and an unfamiliar drum/bass backline. Starting with an eyebrow-raising sample, the foursome slammed into their first track and were loud and tight from the outset. Joul is obviously the focal point, spitting out a relentless chain of lyrics through a range of different effects, dancing like the stage is twice its actual size and getting right up in the audience’s grills. The mood is infectious, most obviously inspiring his fellow band members and gradually winning over the crowd as well. Although arguably an electro-rap band (I say arguably because I have no idea if that’s actually a genre) there’s a nu-metal bent to some of their material which meant that the regular instrumentation was able to strut its stuff. The bassist was rock solid and had a few dance moves of her own, while the drummer was a real highlight, laying down fast, heavy beats in perfect time.
Dr Eggs dealt with the short set by playing just four songs and seguing seamlessly from each to the next. This was probably to their advantage as they were able to play their strongest two or three songs, there wasn’t enough time to become repetitive or outstay their welcome, and they were able to build energy and maintain the crowd’s attention. They were also lucky not to be the first or second act on stage, as the sound crew had figured out the right levels by the middle of the night and Dr Eggs had the best mix up until that point. Having said that, I had the sense that dodgy sound wouldn’t have derailed them tonight anyway. A dynamic performance by a group of seasoned pros.
— Brendan Clift
3. Every Breath You Fake
Fame were on fourth, and were the unknowns of the night for me. They started off with a sombre-ish arpeggio, and moved into a chugging bit, reminiscent of Zombie by The Cranberries. The singer has a decent range, and has a deep, off-kilter voice, very similar to that of Eli’s Sun. Unfortunately he, by virtue of this, has the tendency to sound off-key while singing; and while this could be construed as something of an advantage when one considers Eli’s more Radiohead-like style, the straight pop-rock of Fame is not very amenable to sounding off-key. While I strongly feel that this sort of voice just sounds off, several people seemed to think otherwise. This aside, Fame has nothing special to offer the dedicated music-listening audience; their style is very radio-friendly, light-on-the-ears rock, with fairly run-of-the-mill topics, and hackneyed lyrics. Perhaps it was a function of their video for the first stage of the competition being more impressive than they are live; in any case, I have to regretfully say that they’re not really ready for competing at this standard yet.
The combination of voice and style do not work well with each other, and Fame should strongly consider a change in musical direction. This said, they are exactly the kind of band that please audiences, and if one takes this in one’s stride, they are a competent, entertaining band. Just don’t expect to be blown away. Indeed, their bassist showed a propensity to play some smooth runs when given the chance, and their guitarist is well-versed in the standard rock requirements of being able to compose catchy lines on the guitar (their drummer could’ve been more enthusiastic, though). He also took the Nirvana approach to solos, which is to essentially play short variations on the main tune, and not to noodle wankily, which is also positive. Grave was a semi-ballad that had moments of emotional appeal, and Every Breath… was a fun, typically pop-rock song. Still, Fame have a lot of work to do if they want to be musically interesting, and a lot more enthusiasm to put in if they want to be a particularly entertaining band; I wish them the best for their future.
— Shashwati Kala
2. Chucks and Pearls
4. Carry On
Shotgun Politics. The fifth band of five at the Planetrox China final, and if the order was drawn at random then the gods of rock knew how to script it: save the best till last. Assuming the audience response was an indicator of which way the popular vote went, it wasn’t just the three official judges who were responsible for these boys walking away victorious, clutching their oversized boarding pass to Canada in lieu of the classic novelty cheque.
How did they do it? Their set was a barrage of upbeat, anthemic, radio-friendly, good-times rock ‘n’ roll. Like an inexplicably awesome, bizarrely loveable, illegitimate lovechild of Matchbox 20 and Blink 182. Well, whatever it was, it was fun. The group’s energy was huge and filled the venue. Regular shout-outs to the crowd made it a real love-in at the front of the room, bolstered by singalong chorus after singalong chorus. Want a catchy, uplifting lyric? Try “turn it up, turn it up, turn it up,” “hands up in the sky,” “one more chance, one more try,” “can’t stop, no” … you get the idea. Not only was every band member singing in chorus by the end of the set, but the lagered-up college football bros in the audience were practically mosh-hugging in joy.
All that aside, this was a serious performance by some of HK’s finest. Lead vocals are delivered with power, aplomb and showmanship – it’s a great voice used well. Guitars and bass are tight, every one playing their role but also capable of busting out a strong lead when called for, and very well-drilled as a group. And this review would not be complete without mentioning Freddy on the drums. I have never seen a happier drummer in all my days and I probably never will. Singing along whether there was a mic in his face or not, he spent half the show literally out of his seat, unable to contain his enthusiasm and belting the drums from a standing position. Not to mention declaring his love for the audience between songs. We love you too, Freddy.
It was a strong and diverse range of bands at the China final, but there wasn’t really much doubt which band had inched ahead of the pack. Shotgun Politics have all the tools and charisma to play on the bigger stage, and tonight’s show and reception confirmed it. Well done guys.
Plus they had the song intro of the night: “This is for anyone who’s ever been in love or is just f***ing horny.”
— Brendan Clift
Winner of limited-edition Underground Zippo lighter
Runner-up band – DR. EGGS – Winning an Albion 40 watt hybrid guitar combo amp
Winning band – SHOTGUN POLITICS
poster by Natalia Bodomo
photos © Copyright 2013 by ANGUS LEUNG