LIVE REVIEW: Rifffest – Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds – 25th January 2020

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Crows

Another year another Rifffest, and yeah I know it’s only the second time around but it has the feel of something that’s been going for ages. A change of venue from The Lending Room to Belgrave Music Hall (my new favourite venue in Leeds). And yet another banging line-up – some bands I know and indeed love, and some I haven’t seen or heard before, that’s a really great mix.

99% Cobra

Opening band 99% Cobra (who hail from Hull) set out to start the day with a bang, I say a bang but the level of noise this band produce is loud, fucking loud. They grind out riffs that pummel their way into your ears. It is fucking glorious. And the distortion is almost painful but it’s a pain I found I craved.

And when their singer/guitarist leaves the stage to sing in the crowd, does it get any less loud, no way, the drums pound louder, the other guitarist cranks it up. It seems, strangely and weirdly, louder.

99% Cobra
99% Cobra
99% Cobra
99% Cobra
99% Cobra
99% Cobra
99% Cobra

This makes them sound like what they do is pure out and out noise but it’s structured, there’s care in the way it’s put together. 99% Cobra are a band I want to see again. It’s good stuff, really good stuff.

DENSE

Next up were DENSE. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a huge fan of the band, even though this is only the second time I’ve actually seen them live. This means I can just listen, now I know that the three members of DENSE do produce the levels of sonic noise I experienced first on their recorded material.

So for those of you that don’t know what DENSE do, and I know there are some of you out there who’ve not yet got on the DENSE trip, they play ‘psychedelic garage rock’. Although if truth be told this doesn’t even begin to describe the music they play. Their songs build in layers of swirling sound, it comes in waves, wave upon wave of sound. And sometimes, just when you think you can’t take any more, they gave us a brief respite from the noise only to build it up again.

And yes there are layers and layers of distortion but it’s controlled distortion, it’s controlled so we realise that these are songs. These are songs with, I swear there are, tunes, and these may be buried deep in that sound, but they’re there. It’s completely mesmerising.

But it’s the second time I’ve seen them and this means I can listen more closely. And listening closely, I notice more that the drumming is important to DENSE’s music. Sam’s drumming holds all those intricate layers of distortion and fuzz together, it provides the foundation on which their sound is built.

DENSE
DENSE
DENSE
DENSE
DENSE
DENSE
DENSE
DENSE
DENSE
DENSE
DENSE
DENSE

But it’s a show people, and you can’t help being drawn to Dylan – the band’s bassist. He twists and turns, he throw shapes. And somehow, lord knows how, he manages to play the most wonderful bass while doing this. The contrast over on the other side of the stage where Charlie wrings out those fantastic guitar sounds and sings in a way that sounds as though it’s doing irreparable damage to his vocal chords but he does this almost quietly, is compelling. DENSE rock people, go see them if you haven’t, go see them if you have. Although I don’t really think you’ll need me to tell you to go see them if you’ve seen them already, you already know just how good the DENSE live experience is.

Dead Naked Hippies

It’s time for a change, a change from bands who play loud distorted music. And it’s time for Dead Naked Hippies. This isn’t to say that Dead Naked Hippies aren’t loud, they are, it’s just a different kind of loud. They play a kind of alternative rock but it has this angular thing going on – it reminds me slightly of New Wave, just a hint you get that? There’s also, sometimes, something of a grunge-y pop edge.

That hint is reinforced by Lucy’s vocals, she has that New Wave approach. Her vocals are way cool. She’s also very much the visual focal point of the band, striking poses. As a three piece – vocals, drums and guitar – the playing has to be good, and it is, Joe and Jacob really know their stuff.

Dead Naked Hippies
Dead Naked Hippies
Dead Naked Hippies
Dead Naked Hippies
Dead Naked Hippies
Dead Naked Hippies
Dead Naked Hippies

There wasn’t a point during their set when said to myself ‘well that sounds a bit too much like the song they played earlier’, there’s variety. The songs are really great.

The last (and first) time I saw the band I liked them, this time around I loved what they did.

Calva Louise

The last (and again the first) time I saw Calva Louise was at Falsetival (This was also where I first saw Dead Naked Hippies, coincidently). At Falsetival I must have hit that mid all-dayer low energy point because my recollection of their set was very very hazy. All I remember is that I was somewhat impressed. So it was almost like seeing them for the first time again.

This feeling of ‘well I don’t remember the band being like this’ hit me even more listening to the band this time around. They play music that’s punky in places, alternative with these wild exhilarating psychedelic pop sounds. And there’s one song that stands out in my mind, a song that reminded me of Cardiacs – it had that manic energy and those plinky guitars.

Calva Louise
Calva Louise
Calva Louise
Calva Louise
Calva Louise
Calva Louise

Their set is wild, the energy of the music is grin inducing. They put on a show as well. It’s exciting. This is music that’s meant to be seen and heard live. And in the middle of that excitement they play wonderfully – Jess’s guitar stands out but that’s because she’s a great guitarist.

If you want a live band band to be exciting both musically and visually, and grin inducing, Calva Louise are for you. Go see them.

Refreshed by Dead Naked Hippies and Calva Louise, we (the impressively crowded room) were ready for the final three bands – Brooders, Strange Bones and Crows.

Brooders

Brooders – Founders of Rifffest – were a band I was looking forward to seeing again. Their riff heavy psychedelic grunge is something I really like. And they didn’t disappoint.

So while the casual listener may have Brooders pegged as one of those riffy grunge-y bands, they are way more than this. Yep, they do that locked into a groove loud thing, but it’s not just a set of the that. Their songs have variety – sometimes there are hints of grunge-y space-rock, sometimes they sound a bit garage-y. And their sound is dense, it’s amazing that just three people can make that sound.

Brooders
Brooders
Brooders
Brooders
Brooders
Brooders
Brooders
Brooders
Brooders
Brooders
Brooders
Brooders

Their set is just this all out sonic attack, they play with very little gaps between their songs. As a result you feel drawn in, submerged, in that sound, it’s hypnotic.

Strange Bones

I was looking forward to Strange Bones, a band I’ve heard good things about. By the end of their set I felt drained.

Strange Bones are a riot in musical form. It whipped the crowd into something of a frenzy. Their sound is punky but with this wild rave-y edge. And visually this band are cool, exciting, all of that kind of thing. Their vocalist – Bobby – is a force of nature, stalking the stage, crowd surfing at the drop of a hat.

Strange Bones
Strange Bones
Strange Bones
Strange Bones
Strange Bones
Strange Bones
Strange Bones
Strange Bones
Strange Bones
Strange Bones
Strange Bones
Strange Bones

Seeing a band like that for the first time, it was difficult to ‘think like a reviewer’ I was swept up (swept up as much as I could attempting to take photos) in the energy. Snapshots remain – Bobby crowd surfing with his guitar, a lasting impression that this is a band who back up that energy with great playing, the near impossibility of taking the band as a whole in – this is a band that you can’t take your eyes off.

Like Fudge, a band I love, I am drawn to Strange Bones, it’s that all out riotous thrilling excitement, it’s that the sound the band make is addictive, it’s that feeling you get from the crowd. Strange Bones I will be back.

Crows

And so to the fest closers – Crows. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I’d never heard of Crows before they were announced for Rifffest. I hadn’t the slightest idea what they were like.

I was basically completely blown away by the band. I stood, in the gaps between trying to take pictures, open mouthed.at their music. It’s post-punky, it’s punky, at times it’s almost goth. And at times it’s a noisy wall of sound. And it has something of the intensity of Joy Division – a band that Crows’s music has hints of sometimes.

Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows
Crows

Visually you are drawn to their singer, he stalks, he glares at the crowd. But you are drawn to his vocals – swapping between two mikes – one producing an echo-y vocal sound that is ethereal and disturbing.

Crows are a band I want to, no have to, see again, soon, very soon.

All photos on this page © Frank Roper Photography – see more from the day on his Facebook Page