Riff Conspiracy: Living The Dream In A Nightmarish Fashion
Eytan is awoken to the sound of knocking. It syncopates wickedly with his pounding headache as Rebellion’s green room, with band names, logos and the odd phallic imagery sharpied all over the emerald walls, blurs into view. The bottle of buckfast, the bottle of rose and the countless cans of Red Stripe swish around as he heads to the door of the venue, sound engineer Emolin sluggishly waking up nearby. The first band is here and, without so much of a second to appreciate the monstrosity of his hangover, Riff Conspiracy begins; Eytan, a pillar in the local metal community is living the dream, albeit in a nightmarish fashion*.
It’s gone five o’clock by the time I arrive at Rebellion, accompanied by my Prognosis bandmate Hickson and our close friend Jaime. The sun has, considering it was snowing just a week earlier, a Mancunian answer to Beyond The goddamn Wall, made a pleasant, warming appearance. Things are in full sway already, the place coated in a thick veil of smoke as, through the haze, Eytan helps Wiganners Pedant load onto stage.
Here is a boisterous three piece, serving up uncooked, bass heavy slabs of primal groove. The gruff jitterbug boogie of Watchers is emphatically flavoured by Duncan Hannavy’s thick-as-pigs-shit Northern accent and the rambunctious punk of Palpitate bares traces of Melvins and Refused. It may only be Duncan moving about the stage and providing any sort of visual impetus, but as a unit they are tight and leave your ear drums punctured.
At times coming across like Kyuss jamming with Eddie Vedder, the fat stonerisms of Lester Verde are simply delectable tonight. Glutinous riffs, so large in size and backed by a knuckle duster rhythm section, the creamy soulfulness of their vocals draws you into their web, tangles you, hypnotises you and leaves you as the centrepiece for their post-set feast. A fantastic band, they’ve weaved a myriad of styles and influences into one hell of a melting pot.
At the start of the year, as an explosion of colour and sound pocked the midnight sky, Voodoo Blood weren’t really a band many people familiar within the scene were aware of. But after a string of scintillating live performances, supporting RavenEye and filling in for Boss Keloid at the MMC Weekender in January and performances at Grand Central, Joshua Brookes and beyond, they’ve not only imprinted themselves upon the minds of many, but so many of the audience here tonight hover around the bar with eager anticipation ahead of their set. Their classiness is unbridled, a potent concoction of sassy, shuffling blues and grinding doom, they are simply a sight to behold; some ethereal gravity oozing from the stage during their set that drops your jaw and has you enraptured to fuck. They throw themselves about the stage, in total command of their songs and crowd, the venomously sexy Get Nasty a rip-roaring opener where, from there on out, they give no quarter.
As the night progresses, more booze is consumed like feeding time at the zoo. Hickson sadistically persuades me to begin the downwards ascent that is Sambuca Wars - black liquorice tar in shot glasses - and the buzzing, community of atmosphere that defines Rebellion shifts through the gears. But Rhea (best known as Alan from Facebook), doing door duty tonight, has had too many riffs for one day and passes out by the door. Several attempts are made to wake her, but she’s motionless, comatose, even as Renegade & Retrospect begin to roll out the grunge n’ roll meteorites that are their songs and so I, graciously accepting free booze, step in to man the doors.
As such, I cannot heed as much attention to a band who seem on top form. Their performance is more resolute, firmer and more assured than what I’ve seen of them of late and the fact they aren’t overly heavy and more danceable injects diversity into the collective arm of the punters like an adrenaline shot. It seems to fly by, and that can only be a sign of just how enjoyable their set was.
Earlier in the day, as light still cascading from a clear blue sky, I was talking to Under bassist/vocalist Matt Franklin in the smoking area. “This is our third week in a row playing Rebellion” he said, a smile curling his lips. He readjusts himself in his black wicker chair. “We’ve got about 13 songs though so we’re going to make this as different as we can.”
Suffice to say that, once more, they delivered the weird, wonderful and crushingly heavy in droves. Passages of serene, creepy calm coalesced with avalanching crescendos and scattershot vocals, never quite in harmony but all the better for the resulting off-colour aesthetics. Indeed, their sound isn’t for everyone. Such fucked-upness can be alienating, while flirtations with prog, doom and a plethora of other ingredients can make them sound indecisive and confused, but for me at least, I’m damnably sold and the polarisation their music creates shows that it impacts the listener – for better or for worse – and that’s all you can hope for as a musician.
Snaking back to the more traditional rock n’ roll swagger embodied by Voodoo Blood and Renegade & Retrospect earlier in the night, 70s revivalists Silverchild continued the riff party. Yet, my verdict on this band is still pending. As far as entertainment goes, they can’t be faulted. Alex Hiley is a captivating vocalist, swishing her hair around like a shampoo commercial and interacting with her bandmates and holding the room like a dictator does his empire, only sexier. But I’m not sure if, as far as personal taste goes, they are brilliantly similar to an era when music was innovative and evocative or if it cuts too close to the bone to spark a true flare of excitement within me. I look around though, and see a room deep in the thrall of having a ball and a biscuit and frankly that’s all that matters.
With set times getting later and later – such is the way these events go – it was nearly 11pm by the time Barbarian Hermit, a bad who have shot up the ranks and evolved into a monolithic bastard of a beast in recent months, take to stage for their headline slot. Yet, no one’s buggered off early, Rhea is conscious and it all stands as testament to the quality of the scene. People don’t care about missing the last bus home, they’re here for the music, for the BROWN, and they’ll figure out the other minor details later.
Armed with new Zombie Dust Pickups in his bass, Chis Wood is the thundering heart, the earthquake inducing palpitations that underline a set of intrinsic brilliance. Their towering, muddy and imperious riff work besieges everything you own – brazen enough to cut through bone – their set is calculated and clinical. Frontman Si, ever the tongue-in-cheek entertainer conducts the masses before him with a flick of the wrist and, just as you felt with Voodoo Blood, you know right there in the moment you are watching a band on another level, a cut above the rest. And a rest, it must be added with the firmest of assertions, that is damnably illustrious in their own right.
Manchester Rocks put these guys on a bill in the latter half of 2015 alongside Wolf Company and Fantasist. In a short space of time they can look back and almost look at the band of then with pity. They are one thousand times better now and you feel their growth is only just beginning to spurt. They round an evening which hails the riff in all its glory; an evening responsible for many a late arrival at Mancunian offices come Monday morning.
Words: Phil Weller
*These events are based loosely on the truth, on Eytan’s own reports – but this pose was concocted from my own mad little imagination for the sole purpose of personal entertainment.