Review: Big Busy @ The Star & Shadow
By Mark Hammond on June 13, 2012 in Music
There are particular things that gall me; enrage me; cause my composure to haemorrhage irrevocably; render me so unequivocally riled that it inspires in me the energy to travel to the ice floes of Atlantic Canada, pick up a club and beat a baby seal to death. Vernon Kay would be one of those particular things. Another would be people who say things like ‘I know, but I was there the first time.’
As a contributor to both Narc and KYEO (and, goshed-darned it, as a fan of music) I have been to see many performers, many of whom were releasing albums when I was but a flutter in my old man’s shreddies. I can’t really be held accountable for this; I was born in 1985, against my will and a lot of great music has come out before, during and since. What can I do? A lot of the music I really enjoy belongs to the American Indie-scene of the late 80s/early 90s, though truth be told (and at the risk of sounding devastatingly un-hip) when I was growing up in the 90s I would likely be found tapping my toe to The Outhere Brothers rather than Sonic Youth.
Fortunately for the whippersnapper, Johnny-cum-latelys such as I, the 90s seems to be enjoying a resurgence in both the mainstream and the peripheral of today’s cultural subconscious. Hi-top sneakers are back in vogue, Gary Barlow is all over the place (in his early 90s, inoffensibly-unobese-phase) and Noel Edmunds currently befouls our television screens with his grisly and wholly unforgivable personality. Music in the 90s was a swings and roundabouts affair, just like any other decade (though I say that as someone who was not, in all likelihood, there for said decades the first time around). Heralding this new interest in the music of the epoch is Big Busy, a night which focuses on ‘Alternative, Indie, Grunge and Dance’, thankfully. I say thankfully because whilst the 90s gave us some great alternative, indie, EDM and important hip-hop, it also dispensed some fetid doggy-dog-shit. I might have been ensconced with the similarly whiffy Scatman John circa 1995 but I am still qualified, if only with hindsight to say that for every Jeru the Damaja you had a Lil’ Wayne. For every Prodigy you had a 2Unlimited. For every Soundgarden you had a Bush. Plus the 90s bore The Word, and nobody likes Terry Christian.
The arena for this séance is the Star and Shadow, which the nascent promotion has used to tremendous effect. One of the cinema’s many projectors is casting Mario Kart 64 upon the stage with a notice declaring “Mario Kart competition: before you ask – no, I do not have Goldeneye’. The tunes are pleasingly apt as I pick out some Teenage Fanclub and Wilco. Not before long The Young Property Developers have taken to the stage. Despite the plural, the ‘band’ consists only of the awkward-but-alluring Paul Stewart who embodies 90s Alternative Indie with his scarecrow hair and over-sized knitted sweater.
The Yo Props, as nobody calls him/them, launch into his/their set of acoustic songs that effuse a Daniel Johnston charm. Simple as they may be, they’re effective; a kind of less-plaintive Evan Dando coupled with the wryness of The Mountain Goats. Paul’s affability and skill to pen a simultaneously incisive and hilarious lyric have those present laughing along and enjoying the night immediately.
I wander through to the cinema’s actual screen which is playing host to Tiny Lights’ very own Philip Glass, Rejections. Rejections, AKA Michael Hann sits behind his laptop, demarcated by several flickering candles. Let the séance continue, I think though Rejections’ blast of discordance is more likely to wake the dead rather than try to communicate with them. Wearing a white Bill Shatner mask á la Mike Myers, Rejections plays two sets throughout the night which sound like they could score a horror movie or twenty. One set is of ‘The Tower’, which Hann performed at Leeds InXclusion festival in February. The show explores the links between the 2011 riots and the myth of The Tower of Babel. As the soundscapes envelop, sounding like what must be going on ED-209’s mind when he’s having a night terror, evocative images swell hypnotically upon the cinema screen.
Last up are one of Newcastle’s best kept secrets and event curators, Calf. The band open up with the hooky ‘Letdown’ and suddenly I realise how much this band have in common with Stephen Malkmus’ output of the early 90s. Having recently recorded a live session at guitarist John Gill’s guitar workshop, the audience are vaulted into these enchanting Sebadoh-esque ditties that imbue the night with a genuine spirit, reminiscent of the halcyon days that it doffs its cap to. Lead singer, Dan Rose established Big Busy having grown up admiring the likes of Dinosaur Jr, The Pixies and Pavement.
Cues unashamedly taken, Rose felt that he needed to get away from the block-booked, promoter-led franchises of the region and establish his own thing. Nothing close to the kind of nostalgic irony reserved for douchebags who wear Knight Rider T Shirts, and more than well-meaning revivalism, Big Busy, with a gorgeously extended set from Calf, has its Doc Martins/hi-tops/tatty Converse firmly planted in Newcastle’s music tract.
- Preview: Big Busy @ The Star & Shadow