When it all starts with a free cookie from the subway guy you know it’s going to be a good night. Then when you glance over at the lineup (and realise your not paying for it) It’s sometimes hard to believe this is considered “work.”
Tides from Nebula (TFN), Sleepmakeswaves(SMW) and Skyharbor at the Legendary Camden Underworld, still in my mind one of the best, and sweatiest, venues in London. However I have personal history with this place so I might be a little biased. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a queue of people trying to get into a gig at the underworld, especially on a Monday night, which goes to show the dedication of the fans for these guys, all of whom stayed to support all the bands, displaying a wonderful tight community amongst the fans of this spectrum of music.
Admittedly Skyharbor was the only band on this bill I actually knew of and listen to on a regular basis (being a self confessed Dan Tompkins fanboy) so I made sure I did my research before arriving. TFN and SMW both being instrumental bands I was keen to see if they could pull off the same kind of show as top dogs Animals As Leaders, and although I had faith as Tosin Abasi is an extraordinary talent, they would have to go a long way to impress... and they did. Essentially more Atmospheric than in your face, TFN displayed a careful understanding of their music and of the stage with a well crafted set list of impressive music and enthusiastic performing, showcasing some of the best from the Polish Progressive scene (which I’m not sure is actually a thing).
On with the Australian Post-Rockers of Sleepmakeswaves, and it would be hard to imagine a more mismatched group of people on a stage, clearly hailing from rather varied backgrounds and opting for the more old school looking guitars as opposed to the modern Axes that so many favour. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from their set, but before we get onto that I had a chance to interview Otto (guitars) and Alex (Bass, Synth) before hand, so here is Sleepmakeswaves in their own words:
1. Your music is generally coined as post rock, for people who have never heard your music before can you give a more accurate description of what it sounds like?
Otto: It sounds like you picked up a bunch of pretty twinkly guitars, some beeps and boopy electronics, and some low-tuned sludge guitars, then jammed them together in some sort of twisted experiment. Oh and we also don't have a singer.
2. At what point when the band was first starting up did you think "yeah we're on to something here, this could be big"?
Otto: For me it was when we first got invited to showcase at South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas in 2012. It was our first time abroad and we went through America and Europe that year.
3. The band first got together from responding to a Myspace ad, what type of role do you think social media plays in music today, and how has it evolved since you guys started up in 2006?
Otto: Platforms like facebook and twitter are super useful for their ability to deliver targeted messaging based on interest or location. We're pretty isolated down in Australia and being able to tell the fans in Germany that we're coming and how to buy tickets is pretty great and useful. I know our manager loves all that stuff. In terms of how it's evolved since the days of myspace and top-8s, I guess it's been mainly in how it's moved from being a niche/community thing, to just a totally global phenomenon.
4. The industry sees a lot of top bands coming out of Australia these days, do you feel the industry there is peaking at the moment, or has it got a lot more to offer the world still. Also why is it that so much good music is coming from there, do they do something different?
Otto: Yeah we're really cooking here at the moment! To be honest it's always been great in the underground scene here. It's just that a few bands have struck it big recently so more people are taking notice. We have a great arts scene supported by awesome national and community radio stations like Triple J and FBI radio, and a broad range of interests and genres.
5. 2012 was a big year for the band, how have you built on that success? Was it difficult getting back to work on new material and did you feel you had to try and live up to your success?
Otto: Yeah, that was fun. We've kept the pressure on by working hard, playing a load of shows, and trying to write more music that would be fun to perform. In terms of 'living up to success' it's never felt like that. We all work day jobs and until that changes, this is still just a wonderful hobby on the side.
6. What are your plans for the rest of 2015, what are your goals for the year?
Otto: Currently typing from Leipzig in Germany - we have a big international tour that will see us through to mid-June. After that, hopefully some writing and some relaxing. Goals are to keep enjoying what we're doing, to play to some new places in China and New Zealand, and keep stepping the shows up so that every time we come back they're bigger and better.
7. If your band was a plate of food, what would be on the plate?
Otto: I'm going to let Alex field this one.
Alex: The entree would be Watermelon Gazpacho soup, served with a side of black caviar and olive oil drizzled raw fennel. The main course would be a sous-vide cooked Atlantic salmon steak cooked in Dill, butter and lemon, served with beetroot ravioli. The dessert would be black forest cake and ligonberries.
8. Everyone knows that touring schedules can be ruthless and constant, how do you guys chill out, what do you guys do to relax during a hectic schedule?
Otto: In Europe especially touring is mostly dominated by long long drives across expansive european highways. You get this time to relax, listen to music, watch movies etc. It's also good to take the time to talk to loved ones, to hear their stories from Australia. You miss them while you're away.
9. What is your favourite moment with the band to date?
Otto: Probably watching Alex and Kid both trying to eat a piece of fried chicken in between two krispy kreme donuts in Texas. That was pretty great.
10. What was the most bizarre experience you've had to date?
Otto: Going to the ARIA Awards in Australia in 2012 and 2014...so surreal to be surrounded by these incredibly famous musicians. And let me tell you - the snack buffet was just off the charts. There were two chocolate fountains, unlimited beer, delicious canapes, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I almost met Taylor Swift but got bounced mercilessly. We would have had so much to talk about. Oh well.
The set was in truth, fantastic. Well crafted music that feels like honey to the ears. I am becoming more and more astounded by the trend of instrumental bands becoming more and more popular. It challenges the musicians to be more daring and engaging with the music itself rather than relying on a front man to make you look or sound good. They may not be instrumental prodigies but that doesn’t mean they aren’t well established with what they play, Instead they focus more on the integration of the instruments rather than face melting, mind blowing chops and riffs. Everything fits so perfectly, it blends beautifully together creating an incredible soundscape for the listener, and you love it, because you can see that they love it. They do it because they are passionate about it, and show their passion with vigorous displays of hypnotic yet sexually awkward hip thrusting.
Skyharbor are in my mind on the forefront of the modern alternative scene. With their second album, and a music video from it, being entirely crowd sourced and members working in various other projects and collaborating from across the globe these guys are some of the hardest working musicians on the scene, and it definitely shows in their material. Well rehearsed, well performed and patiently put together I would be highly surprised if these guys dare not one of the biggest names in alternative music come a year from now, they are certainly playing their cards right.
So from free cookies to awkwardly sexual hips it’s been a great night. Once again the Camden underworld has delivered a night I won’t soon forget and made me a fan of three more bands that have a permanent place in my ipod, what more could this reviewer ask for?