Estradasphere - Palace Of Mirrors (CD)
This is the only Estradasphere album I’ve been able to find for a reasonable price - all the others are currently out of print and rather expensive second hand. This was brand new for £5! Estradasphere are a really awesome band… Musically they lie somewhere between Mr. Bungle and Secret Chiefs 3. A few of the members have played on Secret Chiefs albums and Timb Harris (the violin/mandolin/trumpet/guitar-ist) is currently a full time SC3 member (Estradasphere are on ‘indefinite hiatus’). In fact, all their albums prior to this one were released on Trey Spruance’s record label, Web of Mimicry. So yes, that’s a good start. This album is also the first after the departure of saxophonist and founding member John Woolley - he was subsequently replaced by not another saxophonist, but a shamisen player and an accordionist. As one might expect the band sound quite different on this album. It’s slightly less humorous than their older albums. They still sound like Estradasphere though - what hasn’t changed is how good they are. Musically, it’s practically impossible to fault them. There are some absolutely fantastic tracks - especially towards the end. The final track ‘The Return’ is surely one of the best endings to an album ever… Did you know Estradasphere are the first thing that come up when you type gypsy metal into google? This track and ‘Smuggled Mutations’ should explain why. ‘Those Who Know…’ is another highlight - it really showcases Kevin Kmetz’s shamisen playing skills and is epic in the cheesiest and way. How Estradasphere pull off half the stuff they do is beyond me. This album is great start to finish, yet it still has standout moments… It’s a fitting final album for such a great band and a must listen for any fans of Secret Chiefs, Mr. Bungle and any kind of experimental or genre-defying crazy music. Mind-bending stuff. Check out The Return.
Estradasphere - Palace Of Mirrors (CD)
I got to the festival just before it opened, which was around 9pm. Upon having my ticket checked I was given a wristband and a programme. I have to say the programme was absolutely brilliant… It had all the information you could possibly want - information about all the bands, the timetable of where and when they were playing and a map of the festival area. Since I hadn’t really done much in the way of research it was absolutely invaluable! It’s certainly helpful to be able to have all that information in one place and really helped me decided which bands to see. Upon entry I headed to the first area - Boxxed to see Slabdragger.
Very typical of their genre in both appearance and sound. Sludgy, heavy rock. The singer even had the sterotypical beard. It’s cool enough, but there’s so much of this kind of music around and Slabdragger didn’t really do all that much for me. I could take them or leave them - they weren’t bad, but they really weren’t exciting either. After two or three songs I did decided to leave them and went to the other area to watch APATT.
I already knew they’d be entertaining - it much the same as earlier in the week when they supported the Secret Chiefs… That’s no bad thing; I think I enjoyed them more this time round, possibly because I knew what to expect. They were very entertaining though - the frantic and frenetic show they put on is pretty great. I half wish I’d gone straight to APATT instead of checking out Slabdragger. Never mind. I stayed for the rest of their set and it felt like it ended far too soon. There was a little break before the next two acts so I headed back to Boxxed to catch an act who I thought sounded interesting - Drumcunt.
Despite sounding interesting… they were not. I stuck around for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and it was really really boring. Just this one sound repeating over and over getting ever so slightly more dense. Maybe they picked up and got interesting after that, but I figure if you’re going to play a festival you should start strong or people will walk away and watch someone else (which I did). I gave them a ten fifteen minute chance to be interesting and they failed miserably. I moved on to Space 2 to watch…
I’m familiar with Part Chimp. They are one of the few bands I had already listened to going into this festival. Thing is, when I did listen to them I obviously wasn’t really too struck by them as I never listened to them again after that (which is why I chose to watch Drumcunt…). They were a million miles better than Drumcunt, and definitely worked far better live than on record. They had a couple of songs which I quite enjoyed… So they were definitely worth seeing. I’ll give them another listen at some point. Back to Boxxed for the next act which was Scotch Egg!
That’s a great name isn’t it? Scotch Egg was one that really piqued my interest from what I’d heard about him, so I wanted to get down the front. I managed to do so, and it was brilliant! Scotch Egg is a Japanese chap who essentially plays music on a Gameboy and screams a lot into a distorted microphone. It sounds like it would either be shit or brilliant and it was, fortunately, brilliant. He had a great energy and was jumping all over the stage, onto the table and running around and stuff. Not just good, but funny. Wholly entertaining. Probably the most pleasant surprise of the day. I think I watched pretty much all of his set. After that I headed back to Space 2 to catch the very end of Mike Watt.
Mike Watt & The Missingmen
They weren’t really one of the bands I was bothered about seeing (otherwise I’d have left Scotch Egg earlier), but they sounded pretty great from the last one or two songs I caught. Looked like quite an intense performance. I might have to check out some of Mike Watt’s stuff. I stuck around afterwards and patiently waited for the Chiefs.
Secret Chiefs 3
These guys were pretty much the reason I booked my festival ticket when I did, and I was really looking forward to them, so I made sure to get down the front (I did, therefore, stand around waiting for a bit instead of seeing any of Cloaks, which was fine). They played pretty much the same set as they did in London earlier in the week. It was just as intense, but they had more room on the stage to move around in and there were visuals behind them this time too. Really really great. It was pretty late by the time they finished (something past two in the morning) and I was pretty knackered. It was a great first day!
This wasn’t the first time I had either seen Secret Chiefs 3 or been to the Garage, so in some respects I knew what to expect. The Garage is a great little venue and the Chiefs put on one hell of a show last time. Got straight in and straight down the front (always a must!).
The only support band tonight were a.P.A.t.T. They are an extremely interesting band it has to be said… There’s four of them, but since they all switch instruments at various points there’s not really any way to describe who was doing what accurately. No clear ‘roles’ as it were. There was drums, electric bass, clarinet, electric guitar, synths (as many as three at one time) being used in various configurations to make the music and they all sang (at one point there was a song they did which was entirely acappella). It was a really frantic, energetic and fun performance… To describe it musically… Well. That’s more of a challenge since it was all over the place. But I like that. They started with some weird thing, went onto something polka-ish and there was some funky dance kinda stuff and a bit where they were clapping certain rhythms. Plus all sorts of other stuff I can’t really remember. Then they ended with a hellishly loud drone piece. I’d listened to their first album before seeing them and they come across a million times better live.
Secret Chiefs 3
The last time I saw them was in 2010, and this time round they had a very different lineup. In fact, Trey Spruance and Timb Harris were the only members that were in the band last time I saw them. This time round they had a new chap on keyboards, Shahzad Ismaily on bass and Danny Heifetz (of Mr. Bungle fame) on drums. Trey, Shahzad and Danny came on first as a three piece and kicked the set off with an Ishraqiyun track (I cannot remember which one). It was brilliant. Then the other two guys came on and it got even more brilliant… They played Fast which is such a great track - they’ve never made a studio recording of it so it’s great to hear it live. Seemed to me like over the course of the night there was a large focus on the Ishraqiyun stuff which is cool by me; last time I saw them there was more of a surf rock slant. There were actually a few tracks they played that I wasn’t really familiar with (covers or tracks which have never been properly released). The thing with the Secret Chiefs that make them so good live is the sheer amount of energy… They’re jumping and dancing around playing these weirdly hypnotic rhythms and it seems really ritualistic. Trey in particular was jumping around a lot and eventually tripped over his own guitar cable during The 4 - he just carried on playing laying down. The 4 was one of the highlights for me. I absolutely love that track! I have no idea how Timb could see though… He was the only one not wearing a cloak; instead he had a scarf round his face… For the whole show. He was playing violin, guitar, trumpet and even a bit of keyboard with a scarf over his face. Seriously talented guy… I’m not sure exactly how long they played for, but it was a great set. You really do get sucked in by the music. They ended with Labyrinth of Light, which was absolutely brilliant. Still the best instrumental band I’ve seen.
After the show Trey was at the merch booth signing stuff, so as well as buying a few bits he signed my ticket. Can’t wait to see them again on Friday!
Secret Chiefs 3 - Saptarshi / Radar (7”)
Limited to 1,000
A split single by two bands who are actually one band. One band that is seven bands. Ah, the confusing mess that is Secret Chiefs 3… Each side features a track by one of the seven ‘satellite’ bands that make up Secret Chiefs 3 - an Ishraqiyun track on the A-side called Saptarshi and a FORMS track on the B-side called Radar (The Day The Earth Stood Still). Ishraqiyun is the more eastern-sounding of the seven groups which comprise Secret Chiefs 3 and they largely make use of both weird instruments and weird timings yet remain strangely danceable. There seems to be slightly less in the way of unusual instrumentation on this track though… Sitar, dulcimer and ‘modified diatonic guitar’ but most surprising is the lack of saz! It’s a cool tune though - my favourite of the two, but still not my favourite by Ishraqiyun. FORMS is a little harder to pin down stylistically - they’re perhaps the most Mr. Bungle-esque of the Satellite bands (I believe Trey has stated FORMS is his most natural compositional headspace). This track is actually a cover of a piece of music Bernard Hermann wrote for The Day The Earth Stood Still however. It’s quite repetitive - there’s this main motif which repeats quite a lot and different instruments which follow it. Also not one of my favourites from FORMS, but it’s still good. Overall I find the production of this release impressive, but the music less so. It’s good, but the Secret Chiefs have done better - there’s several songs they’ve written which they’ve not yet made studio recordings of which I prefer to these tracks.
Secret Chiefs 3 - Eyes Of Flesh Eyes Of Flame (CD)
Looking at the packaging it looks at first like it might not be that great; a bit of a throwawy release maybe. It’s a live recording housed in a simple card sleeve with no inserts or anything… The only information is on the front of the sleeve; the tracklist, the artwork, credits, everything. The back is entirely white except for the barcode. It doesn’t really create a very good first impression. Almost looks like a well produced bootleg or promo or something. That’s sort of irrelevant once it’s in your CD player though… It’s a great recording of early (circa 1998) Chiefs with a few odd tracks thrown in to spice it up a bit - Ciocarlia and a few tunes by the brilliant Eyvind Kang, who plays violin on this release. The rest of the band are pretty damn good too… As well as Eyvind Kang, Trey Spruance is joined by his Mr. Bungle cohorts Danny Heifetz and Bär McKinnon on drums and flute/keyboards respectively. That’s 3/5ths of Mr. Bungle right there! The other two chaps I must admit I’ve never heard of, but they do an exceedingly good job (particularly the bassist - could it be Trevor Dunn under a pseudonym? He did play with the band in their early days…). Anyway, this is one of the most exciting and interesting bands around playing a really tight live show with a great lineup and it’s really really nicely recorded, mixed and everything. Sounds perfect. The only thing I could possibly fault is the packaging… But then again, it did lull me into thinking that this might not be that great which subsequently left me really pleasantly surprised. It’s a damn good live album.