On April 2nd and 3rd the Wharf Chambers, a small bar and venue off the beaten track in Leeds was host to StrangeForms, a yearly festival showcasing the best in up and coming post rock and math rock. I’m not normally the festival type- as much as I love live music I have a dangerously short attentions span and can’t abide standing up for any longer than a couple of hours at a time, but with such a sweet line-up of bands playing a stone’s throw from my home town I didn’t have to think twice about heading down.
First up at 3pm sharp on the Saturday were local post-metal act The Vitasound Projects, who were actually one of the more unique and memorable of the bands to play despite being first on. Their grungy, 3-guitar crunch served as the soundtrack to the classic cult horror movie American Werewolf In London, which was being projected against the back wall as they played. Their dark chugs and riffs packed some serious punch, and while it did start to drag a bit by the end the combination of heavy metal and cheesy 80’s gore is just the kind of nerdy, campy goodness I’m always in the mood for. Following act Those Amongst Us Are Wolves had the unfortunate fate to be completely out-wolved by the preceding band, but they acquitted themselves perfectly well with their traditionally melodic post-rock. Their set had some pretty tasty heavy sections and made good use of the guitarist’s loop pedal, but overall they didn’t exactly blow me away.
The first band to really make an impression with their performance as well as their music was Leeds based Bearfoot Beware. Their hyperkinetic, shouty math rock was matched by a manic performance from all three musicians- these guys were clearly loving every minute, and the crowd responded in kind to their mix of pop-punk vocals, melodic basslines, varied drumming and sheer deranged energy.
I missed the entirety of the next band We Never Learned To Live due to popping out for a meal at the nearby Persian restaurant, but given the fact that their description in the festival booklet contained the phrase “cathartic misery” I’m sure they were just lovely. Next up were Waking Aida from Southampton, who delivered a diverse and inventive set that ranged from dreamy post-rock to lilting Caribbean grooves and techy guitar workouts. As well as showcasing some questionable but weirdly hypnotic dance moves their live show made great use of the dynamics of the small venue, drawing the crowd into their sunny, idiosyncratic landscapes.
The only band I’d really listened to prior to coming were Halifax based math rockers Wot Gorilla?, who admittedly only caught my eye because of their cool name. On the night they delivered a powerful, slightly unhinged set that drew from a span of rock and metal styles, incorporating pummelling heavy riffs, disjointed proggy song structures and jittery, fleet fingered guitar lines. Their music was huge and muscular but also agile and intelligent. Kind of like a gorilla, now that I think about it. Genius.
Anticipation was high for the next band, liverpudlian Alpha Male Tea Party, and within seconds of them taking to the stage it was clear why. They delivered an absolutely killer show, smashing out tune after head-banging tune in a set that was oozing with testosterone and wit. Their punchy, no-nonsense riffs and fantastic stage presence displayed a showmanship and mastery of their craft worthy of a much bigger crowd (although I guess they probably wouldn’t have been able to respond to each individual heckler if they were headlining V Fest or Download).
I felt a bit bad for Signals. for having to follow such a genuinely roof-raising performance, and the shift in energy from boisterous lad-rock to quiet, moody math-pop didn’t exactly work in their favour. And yet they definitely deserved their headline spot- after a slightly hesitant start the band’s flowing, smoky music and Ellie Price’s sultry, unashamedly poppy vocals took hold and delivered a suitably captivating and polished end to a fantastic day of music.
Overall a fantastic and diverse day of music that demonstrated just how much the UK post rock scene has to offer. For me the highlights were Alpha Male on the strength of their performance and Waking Aida for the originality of their music. I couldn’t make much of the Sunday due to a whole bunch of other commitments but I did manage to pop in and witness the earth shaking ferocity of French post-metallers Fall Of Messiah and grab a quick pint with fellow Arctic Droner Christian. My overall impression of the weekend was that quite apart from offering two days of exemplary music, there was a wonderfully quirky, communal DIY vibe to the whole thing- from the hilarious two-way banter between the bands and audience to the vats of homemade/recycled food and cans of weird local beer on sale at the bar, this was a festival with a real personal touch. I’d like to say a huge thank you to all the bands and to Bad Owl for inviting us and for putting on such a great little event. If you like good music, good people and good vibes, StrangeForms 2017 is definitely one to put in your calendar.