We’re never going to get through this critique without discussing their band name, so we may as well address it straight from the outset. Friends is pretty rubbish isn’t it. Apart from the piss-poor Chandler, Phoebe, Joey et al connotations, it’s like the opposite of Search Engine Optimization. Search Engine Pessimization is perhaps more appropriate. Thankfully the music has enough gravitational pull to ensure people find them eventually. In fact, that’s exactly what ‘buzz’ is isn’t it? Anyway, lead protagonist and vocalist, Samantha Urbani, flips the issue on it’s head, stating “I am hoping we will dominate the search engine”. Well, we think they’ll start by dominating your iPods.
Friends are a quintet from Brooklyn that Samantha has forged together from those people around her. They seem a refreshingly natural collective, getting together in the way indie-kid hipsters look like they should do – dressing the part, having the attitude, acting like an impenetrable clique, hanging out at all the counter-culture places – except hipsters never make it out, instead selecting to stand around judging each other. Friends on the other hand seem to be an unorthodox community with genuine intentions and real abilities, perhaps born from Samantha’s free-spirited family upbringing. She ticks all the ALT boxes, even spending time studying in Berlin and working in the East Village’s vegan kitchens, yet what she’s created is a group that’s warm and welcoming.
They were first found on the scene at New York’s CMJ last year, where they played one of their first ever shows – not including their launch gig at Samantha’s birthday party some weeks earlier. This was quickly followed by a tour supporting Darwin Deez, with whom they now share the Lucky Number Music label. It’s being whispered that their first UK shows will be due this Autumn, as they arrive to support another pack of NYC label mates, Caged Animals. This will hopefully follow the release of their single, I’m His Girl, in September, although we may have to wait until 2012 before the full album is finally out.
The first track that had a handful of bloggers flirting outrageously with them was the single, Friend Crush, which came out on March 21st this year. It’s a wonderful introduction to their mixture of sounds. Dreamy 60s pop beats begin a tune that quickly merges into a blend of Best Coast and Santigold. Samantha’s vocals lead the melody as Lesley Hann’s bass throbs behind. The B-side, Feeling Dank, is just as low-fi and equally as mesmeric, as we find them pushing the Best Coast comparisons further, but it’s all backed by an enjoyable jangle of instruments and beats that sound like more of a jam on kitchen paraphernalia. It’s like they’ve decided to simply hit what’s next to them to see what works. And it works!
Ultimately this is music that has plenty of the addictive factor, pushing all the right buttons between simple pop and leftfield experimentalism. Their look, their sound and their history give the scenesters a well-needed facelift in a world where the word is hipster is now derogatory. Whether it will make you reconsider your disapproving looks at the usual bunch of unemployed wasters in your local alt-cafe is yet to be proven, but there’s clearly some hope here. The issues with the SEO may prove harder to overcome, but something tells us that these guys weren’t designed with the Internet in mind, more for the counter culture. It’s this story of an alternative kinship that gives them the kind of authenticity that other bands will never attain. If you have to try hard, then you’re just a ‘try hard’. With Friends the task of gathering together a band and making some excellent music was in fact the most natural thing in the world. (MB)
As bad as hangovers are, and they only get worse as you age, they somehow don’t seem to hold us back when you wake up in a good mood, at a festival, with a day of exciting treats ahead. The same thing happens when you’re on holiday. Those hangover blues seem to wash away that bit faster. The glorious sunshine we had helped too, but as we stepped out for day 2 of our mammoth new music festival we noticed the buzz around Brighton was palpable, as the swarm of industry and fans alike we swimming in the streets of our seaside city.
EXPERIENCE – We saw this Brighton four piece the previous night, but that was our Recommender vs Source after party, which, although an awesome show, became a far more drunken and raucous affair. This time we fancied catching them in an altogether different situation, with it’s own challenges for the band. We now found ourselves at 15:00, in broad daylight, in a tucked away courtyard in the centre of our city’s maze-like South Lanes area. It was delightful to catch a breeze as we watched this OMD-saturated electro pop as part of the festivals many daytime shows. These afternoon open air performances were to throw us some of the weekend’s biggest highlights, but more on that in the next post. We chatted with Mirrors frontman James as he was setting up and he suggested that they wanted to play during the daytime in preparation for festival shows, to see how it went down. This time the band were in Skint Records open garage, which couldn’t be less matched with Mirrors dark, clean, synthetic music, but they turned out yet another thrilling performance. The unrelated sign on the wall read ‘Massive Masters’, which although is not quite how we would describe them, is perhaps the kind of adjectives they should get used to if they fulfill the promise on display, daylight or otherwise.
EXPERIENCE – A couple of beachfront beers in this sunshine were quickly scoffed, before we headed off to The Foundry pub to catch this Welsh five piece. Although their Idolise LP is out, this group is unsigned and roaming up and down the country, as part of Dead Young Records mini UK showcase, where a collection of bands are playing their home towns together. This tour takes in Leeds, Bangor and this show in Brighton, before heading up to Liverpool. We chatted with Dead Young Records at the bar, who were indeed very young, but ultimately enthusiastic and refreshing with their many plans, setting their base in Leeds and aiming their sights on bringing fresh music to the UK. The band jammed through their garage rock sound, which seemed backwards when you consider that I’d just come from a performance that was inside an actual garage, but this was just as enjoyable. Powerful riffs and punched beats crunch out, with just enough keys to lift it, while the vocals garner the focus, sung with guts, style and gravel in equal parts. We spoke with the frontman, (who’s name we think is Cynyr), after the performance and he confirmed that they’d only been together since December, which is remarkable considering they’ve already churned out an album. You might be able to catch them at the Radio One showcase in their hometown of Bangor this summer.
EXPERIENCE – It was a relief to move back out into the fresh air once more, having seen a sweaty show in the tiny backstreet Foundry Pub and the next daytime performance on show was Ghost Poet. We can’t write too much about this as we only stopped for half of their set as we walked past. We also simply don’t know much about them either, short of researching. It’s worth giving them a mention as this is precisely the kind of unknown show (it wasn’t even on any listings) that crops up between your plans. We turned a corner on our way to meet friends at another bar and came across this lyricist chucking out his poetry. Simple, lowered beats with minimal basslines and keys stay in the background while his expressive vocals are delivered in his lazy haze style. Having subsequently checked out the Myspace, he rolls out an interesting, dark urban set of lo-fi tunes that are well worth your investigation. He’s clearly linked one of the tracks up with Micachu too, so with a bit of luck he’s perhaps around the (more important) metaphorical corner of the public’s wider conscience.
EXPERIENCE – Starting our first shows of the evening, we had planned to catch 1,2,3, but it was a waste of time as once down in the basement, it was so rammed we couldn’t even see the stage. We decided to leave and had a choice between seeing Warpaint and Darwin Deez. It turned out Darwin was also rammed and the queue was suffering from the common one-in-one-out policy that you sadly get at many of the tiny venues around The Great Escape. It’s even worse if you only have a standard ticket. Thankfully Jonny Cassell, this venue’s Promotions Manager, was outside and kindly allowed us indoors, but we knew he couldn’t do this all weekend as it’s simply unfair. Inside Darwin was halfway through his set, which didn’t particularly concern us, as we had seen him at the NME Radar Tour the previous week. We had urgently tried to book him when Velo pulled out of our Recommender party at the last minute, but their agent informed us that he planned to stick to just his scheduled Great Escape shows, as the NME Tour had knackered him out. This isn’t surprising considering how active they are onstage, with their busy dance routines, to tracks such as Walk Like An Egyptian, that are squeezed inbetween their own works. The crowd loved it, particularly the killer single, Radar Detector, which we’re glad we witnessed, even if it was from the back of the room.
EXPERIENCE – The great thing about being at the back of a crowd is that you’re able to leave first, which we happily did at the end of Darwin Deez’s show. Virtually next door is another large, decent, beach-fronted club, Coalition, where Wolf Gang (The Recommender’s booking for our end of June party) was due to play. It was still busy but the dancefloor area is broader and stepped so you can’t fail to get a good view. We headed to the photographer’s pit between the crowd and the stage so were in great position to watch him close up. Max McElligott is a talented music machine, with many singles in the bag, such The King And All Of His Men, or Pieces Of You, but watching the rest of his catalogue on show today, he isn’t relying entirely on them. Don’t get us wrong, they are the stand out tracks on this performance, but there’s a clever craft on display. Comparisons to David Byrne, Bowie and Duran Duran are a little over-bearing on anyone, but they also hint that this is a broad, but inventive musician at work, who’s aiming for the charts.
EXPERIENCE – We’ve written up plenty on HURTS before now and discussed them on other forums, as they are fast becoming a bit of a marmite band. In a nutshell their problem is that they’re easy to hate, but that misses their talent and abilities to pen a tight, timeless pop tune. Randomly bumping into The Recommender’s partners in crime, Matt Allfrey and George Nunn, always helps lift our mood, only for HURTS to come onstage and do their very best to lower it. Their songs soar and their show is tighter than an Olympic swimsuit, complete with that silly, out of place opera singer at the back of the stage. We had seen them headline the NME Radar Tour where the room continued to empty the more they played, which seemed a little harsh, but thankfully that wasn’t the case here. So planned out and so delicately constructed is every tiny detail of their set that you get a carbon copy of the NME show. One hand is placed in the pocket. Out comes the comb which he never actually uses. Even the frowns seem deliberate during what should be a genuinely emotional section. Herein lies the issues. With so many excellent, moody, emotive, often dark, but often equally uplifting tunes, they seem to have removed the integrity. Emotion cannot be this contrived and work for long. The fear is that with all their shunning of the blogs and the kind of planned control more common with the US President or Royalty, this spin will lose momentum. Good songs will get you far, but the really successful bands, who they constantly compare themselves to in interviews also have character and a humanity to them.
EXPERIENCE – This was our last showcase of the day and was to be found at one of Brigthon’s largest venues, the Brighton Dome. We arrived, half cut by this point, but buzzing like a power station, to a find another massive queue. We approached the front to see if our press passes were able to jump the queue when we noticed another, even longer queue, snaking away in the other direction. Turns out that was the non-press pass queue! Fortunately we secured photo passes too, so the doorman let us in. Anyway, once inside we witnessed an enormous climax to the day, with a show so spectacular and special that we will never forget it. Delphic are going to be massive and ruled the stage from the outset. We would even go so far as to state they are the new Bloc Party, with the their emotional, thumping set. The strip lights created a gorgeous look as their thundering indie dance tunes spun the crowd into a jerking frenzy. Their album takes a step up, no make that one giant leap, to a whole new level when played live. The drums punch right through, even breaking off for a monster drum roll for periods, like some kind of 70s drummer, but the real trick is their ability to properly jam. The songs are extended into seven or eight minute leviathans that build and build to a close. If that’s not a metaphor for our perfect Friday at The Great Escape then we don’t know what is!