Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Everything I Saw at Oxjam Oxford Takeover 2016

I think seeing twenty local bands between 2.30 in the afternoon and 11.30 at night was pretty good going, especially given that I took more than an 90 minutes for dinner. I saw the whole set of about a quarter of these bands, but most of the time I stuck around for around 15 minutes before moving on to see what was happening in the next room. I’m not reviewing anything where I saw less than two whole songs.





Atlanta Snow
Tight, earnest synth-heavy pop; at their best when they were at their loudest and closest to the commercial and clubby. Not really my kind of thing, to be honest, but they did make a tiny community hall feel a hell of a lot bigger than it actually was. Given that they were the first band I saw on the day, I may well have overrated or underrated them heavily.

Ghosts in the Photographs
Instrumental post-rock in the tradition of Godspeed You Black Emperor/Mogwai/Explosions in the Sky, with snatches of found recordings and bellowing waterfalls of guitar. They nail the genre, and it’s an aesthetic I’m happy to get on board with. If you’ve heard their influences there’s nothing new here, but that’s hardly a criticism when they do it this well.

Young Women’s Music Project
The YWMP seems like an excellent initiative; I only saw one of the acts they put on, and I missed the bit where they announced her name. She had a very good voice, and one of her songs contained an absolutely lovely keyboard break, but she was one of the few acts I saw where 15 minutes or so didn’t seem enough time to make a fair assessment of what she was capable of.

The Outside
Impossibly young, The Outside played indie rock with some pleasingly knotty structures. They were looser than their songwriting deserved, and I’m not sure that the wobbly squalls of noise from their lead guitar suited the overall sound. But just as I was about to leave, one of their songs mutated into a properly magnificent riff. If they were capable of that, they’ve got some proper potential.

Roberto Y Amigos
Laid back folk-pop with a male and female vocalist warping in and out of the threads of each other's melodies. It was all rather too trembly and fragile for my tastes; it felt like there wasn't much meat to hang onto.

Moogieman and the Masochists
With the caveat that I know these guys personally, so biases apply, this was really very good. They come across as what would happen if They Might Be Giants were English and repressed. Their songs are arch, eccentric and witty without ever feeling twee, whimsical or forced; brief blasts of harmonica or sudden keyboard explosions reveal the beating heart of the music, before being quickly boxed up again, hidden behind a gleefully artificial twitching clockwork facade.

No Dice Grandma
Heavy instrumental riffing. A lot of fun, and very well put together, but after less than twenty minutes I’d had my fill. If they’re more to your tastes, they’re clearly great at what they do.

Rob Harbour
Perfectly pleasant folky singer-songwriter stuff, with a well-used cellist. The brief diversion into acoustic hip-hop was welcome and surprising, and his band were tight, but it wasn’t enormously memorable.

The Dreaming Spires
Commercial soft-rock arranged with a thick smearing of synthesisers. They’re aiming for a genre I’m not fond of, but I can hardly criticise them for that.

Egrets
It didn’t help that I was stuck at the back of an overcrowded bar, so that the stage was invisible and the sound was blurred. It mostly felt like blandly loud guitar rock painted in broad strokes, but they well have been more interesting than that if I was better positioned in the room. One of their songs was called “Renegotiating Your Mobile Phone Tarriff”, so full marks there.

Dan Rawle
Solo singer-songwriter, with tight songwriting, and a good voice. A little twee, but I think deliberately so. If you saw him at an open-mic night, you’d think “He is one of the good ones at this open-mic night”.

Ute
According to a friend who knows the local scene, they were a Big Deal back in the day and have only just reformed. As a result this felt like a bit of a victory lap - an odd atmosphere if you weren’t there for the victory. It was an acoustic set, and used a lot of the grammar of the folky singer-songwriter, but there was a Grizzly Bear-ish refusal to bow to conventional structures and patterns, songs swerving off into odd, crunchy directions. It was possibly all a little too academic, but I imagine I could get into it after further exposure.

Crandle
They’ve got an oddball 80s synth thing going on, that I think would sound better in a studio than live (my brief excursion to their soundcloud page has borne that out). Their singer’s voice is appealingly Kate-Bushian. They are a curiosity rather than a delight, but like most curiosities, it’s good that they exist.

Storyteller
Wonderful, wonderful stuff. A reggae/funk band who didn’t do anything unexpected, but had an almost supernatural ability to create a party. Their bassist and their saxophonist were particularly superb - revelling in their ability to be flashy - but the whole band was tight and punchy, puppeteering the crowd with practiced skill.

Bright Works
The best kind of mad: knotty, mathy rhythms, tightly-coiled and vaguely African guitar playing, lead vocals that are barked and yelped in a way that is inexplicably charismatic rather than annoying, sudden lurches into virtuoso vocal polyrhythms from three-quarters of the band. But if this sounds like hard work to listen to, it shouldn’t: all the experimentation is caged by tight poppy songwriting; clean, clear melodies and structures cutting through the chaos.

Little Red
This hit exactly the spot I needed. Sixteen bands in, mildly exhausted, and having eaten slightly too much inexpensive Chinese food, anything too intense was going to knock me over. Instead, I was sat in a very comfortable chair in a quiet room, listening to a trio playing acoustic americana-tinged folk music and getting it exactly right. There’s nothing flashy here, but there’s warmth, peace, variety and just enough menace to keep things interesting. Highly recommended.

Coldredlight
Coldredlight have a hell of a gimmick: they are an aggressive, punkish duo with one member who is simultaneously playing both the bass and the drums. When you first see it, you wonder how he manages it. And once the gimmick wears off, you’re left with something tight, precise and agreeably nasty - certainly, the crowd adored it. Looking back at what I’ve written, I’m surprised I wasn’t more enthusiastic - If I hadn’t just come off the end of three of the best gigs I’d seen all day, I would probably have enjoyed it much more.

Jess Hall
More solo acoustic singer songwriter stuff, and with probably the best voice I heard all day. The guitar playing, too, was delicate and lovely. But the songs felt structureless and directionless: any five-second stretch was beautiful, but any three minute stretch felt a bit flat - songs like still lakes untroubled by the breeze. Which made it difficult to concentrate - the murmuring and clinking from the bar behind me quickly breaking the spell.

The Balkan Wanderers
I didn’t get the pun in the title until my girlfriend explained it to me the next morning. Balkan Wanderers mash up high-voltage ska with Eastern European folk music, and make heavy use of a clarinet. They were clearly anxious that they’d been forced to come on late, and weren’t going to get as much time as they’d been promised, but it hardly mattered. We got 25 minutes of high-energy, gleefully stupid party music and an absolutely delighted crowd.

The Fusion Project
It’s a shame I didn’t see more of this, really: the fusion of the title was between Western pop/rock and Indian classical music. The fifteen minutes I saw involved the western musicians setting down funk-like grooves while the Indian musicians swirled and spiralled around them. A startling, Jethro-Tullish flute solo was a highlight. All in all, an excellent way to conclude festivities.

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