Thursday, October 22, 2009

In The City, Day 1, Sunday 18th October

For those who don't know, In The City is the world famous conference for the music industry, where labels, journalists, and bands meet to discuss the big issues facing the business, and often, to do business. It's touted as Britain's answer to SXSW. That includes signing bands, and it's accompanying live shows, which are open to the public, have helped launch the careers of many major bands that have played, including Arctic Monkey (2005), The Chemical Brothers (1995), Oasis (1992), and Coldplay (1997).
This year will see performances by no less than 150 bands, some of whom have just been signed, and some of whom will be signed at the event, so this is the place to be to get an idea of what acts may breakthrough into the charts in the next year or two. I decided to get in on the action, so what follows is my review of the acts I managed to catch on the first night of the event.

Ou Est La Swimming Pool, Night And Day

It's early evening and the ITC festivities are just beginning. Members of the public who have bought wristbands are mingling with jaded industry types, waiting to be impressed. One of the first acts of the 3 days are Radio One's favourites OELSP, presumably named after a tricky lesson in GSCE French, in which they didn't pick up the word 'piscine'. Unlike many of the acts over the coming days, they are signed and rapidly in the process of becoming an established name, with an album to come in November, and so the 4 piece North Londoners decided to head north and grace the tiny, cramped stage of Night And Day with their presence.

It turned out to be a gig that set the tone for much of the evening, in that their 'boys with synths' schtick was repeated throughout the night – evidently this is what major label A & R execs think the forthcoming year is about, and the only variation apparently lies in the execution. Thankfully, OELSP did have charm and a sense of fun in their favour, and having supported the likes of La Roux, Mr Hudson and Reverend and the Makers, the live delivery to charm the punters in what is essentially a very tough gig.

First up was 'Jacksons Last Stand', and lead singer Charlie Haddon's energetic and forceful delivery, alongside cohort and fellow vocalist Khan gave their Pet Shop Boys sound a hip hop feel as they jumped about the stage, and walked up and down. With his shock of blond hair, and the fresh faced look of the front pairing, this made the act strangely reminiscent of East 17, or perhaps the Beastie Boys covering the Pet Shop Boys. Good or bad? You decide.

By OELSP's third song, a new number 'Better', described by Charlie himself, with his tongue firmly in cheek, as a 'love ballad', they had switched gears, and the result was like a footy hooligan getting in touch with his feelings and talking about his love for his bird. With another, more uptempo number, then breakup song 'The Key', singer Haddon said farewell on behalf of the band, and the Camden quartet finally ended proceedings with current hit single 'Dance The Way I Feel'. One suspects it's not the last we'll hear from those boys.......

Kirsty Almeida, Band On The Wall

Meanwhile, across on the other side of Manchester's hip Northern Quarter, the re-opened venue Band On The Wall sees the industry unveiling of Universal's new signing Kirsty Almeida, accompanied by, wait for it, an 11 piece backing band, including a 3 piece brass section known as 'Hornography', and a 4 piece string section.

This Gilbraltar-born singer songwriter has her work cut out for her finding her own space in the crowded marketplace that has become that of the female solo artist in recent years. Her sound fits somewhere between Norah Jones and Corinne Bailey Ray, but her take on that radio-friendly combination of jazz/folk/soul is slightly more esoteric, at various different times taking in styles as diverse as swing jazz, country (not the Alt. Stuff) and Latin, so she does make a different, and distinctive proposition.

Tonight there is a sense of occasion in the air, and as I chat to members of the audience, I discover friends of hers who tell me she has just returned from Spain, where she had been recording with a top producer (it turns out to be none other than 'Youth') for the last month working on the songs, so this evening is the first occasion to air her newly refined sound before industry bods.

After being introduced by her guitarist, who looks and dresses a bit like Mark Ronson, she begins her set rather appropriately by singing 'Gather Round', with it's country feel, funky bass and slide guitar, sounding like a jazzier Morcheeba. Almeida has a resemblance to Mel C of the Spice Girls, and, with her hair up, glitter on her face, and wearing a billowing black dress (which she later tells the audience, apparently in all serious, is a parachute!), looks very much like one of the beautiful people.

By the second song, which brass led, bossanova type number, with Latin horn stabs reminiscent of the Buena Vista Social Club, the singers' voice takes on a Billie Halliday like quality, before the third track, 'Cool Down Rewind'. Clearly the most commercial song of the set, it's a love song with big commercial radio hit written all over it, very much in the vein of Corinne Bailey Rae.

Similarly accessible 'You're The Wrong Mr Right', with it's playful lyrics sounds like it was made especially for the soundtrack of a Hollywood romcom. After singing the title in the chorus throughout the song, she ends by telling her mystery man 'But You're The Right Mr Wrong Tonight'. The truth is songs like this may indeed end up in a movie soundtrack. After a couple more numbers, 'Wishing Well', and another, Beatlesy big brassy number, I hurriedly leave Band On the Wall and make my way across town, reflecting. It strikes me that she will sit well alongside the likes of Jamie Cullum on Radio 2 or Smooth FM, and though her more esoteric influences may require a little effort to follow, it's entirely possible she will be coming to a supermarket CD rack near you.

I return to Night and Day to catch the end of Wolf Gang (pictured above at the ICA earlier this year), expecting a 80s throwback synth-driven solo artist. On closer inspection, what I get is actually a 4 piece band with lead singer switching between the guitar and synth for various songs. The result generic 80s rock which may grow on me, but at the time is underwhelming. They end proceedings with forthcoming single 'The King And All His Men', which I do enjoy, reminding me as it does of 80s synth dudes like Nick Kershaw, no bad thing. For me, the jury is out on this guy. He may have the potential to appear to a wider audience than OELSP, who seem to be a band that kids will love. One thing's for certain. The nation's radio stations are going to be hit with huge tidal wave of 80s synth music. Damn you, La Roux.

Continuing the theme, Newcastle/Kent act Everything Everything make a surprise last minute inclusion to the bill at Night And Day, and I am befuddled by them. I'm not the only one, I think. I don't even know where to begin. There's something of the cod-African guitar work of Foals, the dissonant jerky beats of Aphex Twin, and the pop sensibility of Duran Duran in their song My KZ, UR BF. You can hear the North East influence of bands like The Futureheads and Maximo Park in there somewhere too, I think. It's too much for my ears to take in in one go, like a Friday night in 1984 refracted through the lens of some very strong drugs. They're signed to XL subsidiary Salvia, their first single 'Suffragette Suffragette' is out in November, they're easily the weirdest of tonight's synth wave, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Music Go Music, Night and Day

Finally, the band I have been waiting for all night, Los Angeles' 5 piece Music Go Music. I've sort of fallen in love with their Myspace songs, with their perfect mixture of 70s disco influences, which come together to create pop perfection. Mostly, that means they sound almost exactly like Blondie, and I love Blondie, so I'm a happy boy. And somewhere in the bar, DJ and superstar producer Mark Ronson is watching, surely a celebriy endorsement that can do them no harm.

Resplendent in a white waistcoat and all black leotard, lead singer Gala Bell looks and wiggles a bit like Roisin Murphy, as the band crank into action with the first number 'I Walk Alone'. The combination of boy rock and girl vocals is intoxicating. If they ever get anywhere, I suspect Bell will have herself quite a few male (and probably many female) fans. They look like a band from LA, an odd, mismatched bunch with bassist (Torg) looking like Neil from the Young Ones, the guitarist looks like Neil Young after a hard night's drinking, and keyboardist Kamer Maza may have escaped from The Killers. This makes them very, very cool.

Sadly they ruin this by playing 'Light Of Love', which sounds a lot like Abba. And I hate Abba, because they sort of stole my first name and ruined Primary school for me. Thankfully Gala Bell smiles and shimmies like Karen O, and all is forgiven, and they take on the 60s psychedelia of Reach Out, which helps a lot, brilliant as it is. They end on the high note of their best song 'Caught In The Shadows' ( , which boogies with the funk of a glitterball, extending it to triple dip on the wonderful chorus, augmenting it with some incredible guitar soloing, and the crowd, myself included, are up and dancing, hardened music journalist that I am. And if they can melt the heart of hardened industry bods on a night like tonight, Music Go Music can surely do anything.

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