Published: 14/06/2017 18:07 - Updated: 15/06/2017 16:49

Box-fresh acts power XpoNorth

Written byMargaret Chrystall

Bloodlines' Jamie Coltart. Picture: XpoNorth/Paul Campbell
Bloodlines' Jamie Coltart. Picture: XpoNorth/Paul Campbell

 

by Margaret Chrystall

IDEAS fizz round XpoNorth, let loose during the discussions and panels at the two-day Inverness creative industries event - and they're buzzing in the air by the time the evening music showcases kick in.

And it was the words of Matteo Alessi – a fourth generation family member of the global Italian design company Alessi – that got you thinking as the first of the 80 bands kicked in.

Matteo Alessi
Matteo Alessi

Asked what idea he believed his company sells – in the way Nike sells fitness not sportswear – he replied.

"People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it."

And it can be true of music – its makers and fans too.

Garden of Elks with Niall Strachan and Dave Martin. Picture: XpoNorth/Paul Campbell
Garden of Elks with Niall Strachan and Dave Martin. Picture: XpoNorth/Paul Campbell

GARDEN OF ELKS sell a spiky guitar-driven slice of drum-heavy aggression with barely comprehensible lyrics wrapped in Inverness mainman Niall Strachan’s batty, sarcastic banter.

And as at the Phoenix last Wednesday, an Elks set is as much an art happening as a gig.

But the shining faces of the Elks’ fans on the frontline at the gig guarantee that the Creative Scotland cash contribution that’s gone into helping get the summer release of the next album out will be more than secure.

The band’s fans buy into the idea of this edgy sound.

Future Get Down at Scotch & Rye. Picture: XpoNorth/Paul Campbell
Future Get Down at Scotch & Rye. Picture: XpoNorth/Paul Campbell

The ‘why’ of creating music is also at the heart of Edinburgh’s FUTURE GET DOWN – Inverness-raised Oliver Kass morphing from last electronic dance band Homework into the purer and rawer sound you get from the latest live five-piece line-up.

A packed Scotch & Rye early last Wednesday night witnessed the part-human, part-machine sound with live drums, synths, keyboards, bass and – despite the white forensic-style bodysuits and set-aside dehumanising wire masks, Kass had never sounded more emotional, Scottish or less robotic.

Matteo Alessi had also pinpointed one of the points on his uncle’s "Success Test" to work out why a product is likely to be successful: "Design has to create emotions."

Music knows that’s true.

Tamzene at the Penta Hotel. Picture: XpoNorth/Paul Campbell
Tamzene at the Penta Hotel. Picture: XpoNorth/Paul Campbell

There’s a huge power from a performance where the singer opens up to a crowd of strangers – Jemma Tweedie from Nairn’s latest incarnation as LILURA is a good example. Also in Scotch & Rye, with live drums and tracks supporting the title track of Lilura’s last EP No Control, the singer’s abandon made it an early highlight of her set.

Also unafraid to open up, dues paid busking and a music degree underway, is Cromarty’s TAMZENE – the first signing for Belladrum’s new record label – looking fully at ease behind her keyboard in Penta as she introduced her first single Lullaby.

The Howling Lords at the Phoenix. Picture: Gair Fraser
The Howling Lords at the Phoenix. Picture: Gair Fraser

On The Rapal stage in the Phoenix, Stornoway’s HOWLING LORDS might have their setlist written on "a little pink post-it" but the heavy guitar and dirty blues of their songs adds up to a powerful sound from singer and guitarist Felix Saunders and drummer Jens Johansson.

Carma with Carmen Beaton and Kenna Ross. Picture: Gair Fraser
Carma with Carmen Beaton and Kenna Ross. Picture: Gair Fraser

Stepping over to the Penta Hotel to catch CARMA and the contrast couldn’t have been greater with gentle ukulele from Dingwall singer Carmen Beaton and Nairn’s Kenna Ross on keyboards for alternative folk and new song The Keep Song.

Carma's Carmen Beaton at the Penta Hotel. Picture: Gair Fraser
Carma's Carmen Beaton at the Penta Hotel. Picture: Gair Fraser

Caithness’s PURE GRIEF were packed onto the tiny stage in the Market Bar where singer Peter Bacon dedicated "a song to the ladies".

Pure Grief raging to rapt Market Bar. Picture: Gair Fraser
Pure Grief raging to rapt Market Bar. Picture: Gair Fraser

Maybe brave when serried ranks of bearded blokes were getting into the music.

Pure Grief from Caithness packing the Market. Picture: Gair Fraser
Pure Grief from Caithness packing the Market. Picture: Gair Fraser

And more bearded blokes were in force at the Mercure Bar where Inverness/ Glasgow band SCHNARFF SCHNARFF and frontman Myles Bonnar were rampaging in style demonstrating what "staccato grunge rock" really means with Flip The Cross.

Schnarff Schnarff - tableside rock at the Mercure. Picture: Gair Fraser
Schnarff Schnarff - tableside rock at the Mercure. Picture: Gair Fraser

THE OXIDES had packed them in at Tooth & Claw where the Inverness rock masters of mod/grunge were showing off new Hungarian drummer Tamás with a set-topping Going Overboard.

The Oxides steamed up Tooth and Claw. Picture: Gair Fraser
The Oxides steamed up Tooth and Claw. Picture: Gair Fraser

Edinburgh’s urban indie foursome JAMIE & SHOONY were tearing it up with punter dancing wild enough to match Jamie’s impeccably choreographed hip hop moves and rabble-rousing set-opening "Ah Woo! Ah Woo! chorus.

The Oxides' Jake Bolt and Archie Stewart. Picture: Gair Fraser
The Oxides' Jake Bolt and Archie Stewart. Picture: Gair Fraser

MIRACLE GLASS COMPANY’s Trouble was ending a set in Blackfriars that seemed to have been an object lesson in astounding first-time listeners with the melody and guitar-wizardry Xpo had first witnessed last year.

Miracle Glass Company, ramming out Blackfriars. Picture: Gair Fraser
Miracle Glass Company, ramming out Blackfriars. Picture: Gair Fraser

TIJUANA BIBLES in Hootanannys fronted by Tony Costello still grab a set by its throat – sharing new single/video Pariah late into it with 13 "I’m a Pariah!" chants to join in with in the run-up to their double date at King tut’s this weekend.

All-singing, all-guitaring Miracle Glass Company. Picture: Gair Fraser
All-singing, all-guitaring Miracle Glass Company. Picture: Gair Fraser

Frustratingly, sound check issues had meant that the restrained glacial promise of the EXCITE exchange musician from Sweden MIRA ASAMA could only be heard in half a song – before catching the performing power of DECLAN WELSH AND THE DECADENT WEST.

Jamie & Shoony got the Mercure dancing. Picture: Gair Fraser
Jamie & Shoony got the Mercure dancing. Picture: Gair Fraser

Declan was one of around 18 acts that also played last year’s XpoNorth – progression evident in both emotional performance and ideas from the evolving magnificence of three favourites MEDICINE MEN, MIRACLE GLASS COMPANY and TIJUANA BIBLES.

Declan is a frontman who has no fear of looking his crowd straight in the eyes with a tight band performing grade-A songs.

Jamie - impeccably telegraphed moves from Jamie & Shoony. Picture: Gair Fraser
Jamie - impeccably telegraphed moves from Jamie & Shoony. Picture: Gair Fraser

From the political chant of No Paseran, Declan harvesting election night energy to get us pumping fists in the air, to the relatively mundane business of a broken relationship in Useless, it was all good.

Well-observed lyrics in Useless picked out the kind of thing that makes a partner’s loss sore – "You said my name like no-one else ever did".

Passionate delivery all the way from Jamie. Picture: Gair Fraser
Passionate delivery all the way from Jamie. Picture: Gair Fraser

And just when acceptance seems to be kicking in, there’s a mood-change with the broken-voiced last line from Declan – "What am I to do?".

Big finish from James Mackenzie and band at Blackfriars. Picture: Gair Fraser
Big finish from James Mackenzie and band at Blackfriars. Picture: Gair Fraser

Move on – might be one answer and it’s what a fixture on the Inverness music scene, JAMES MACKENZIE, is doing as he heads for Berlin this week, though not before a packed Blackfriars witnessed one more good-time set, Let’s Go Fishing the big finish.

Bloodlines seething with intent. Picture: XpoNorth/ Paul Campbell
Bloodlines seething with intent. Picture: XpoNorth/ Paul Campbell

But it was BLOODLINES from Fort William, the Black Isle and Ayrshire – all now moved to Glasgow – who created a melting fireball of energy in a Mercure set that included crowd body-slamming and lead singer Jamie Coltart bare-chested and body-surfing across the crowd.

Bloodlines rock the after party. Picture: XpoNorth/ Paul Campbell
Bloodlines rock the after party. Picture: XpoNorth/ Paul Campbell

It crowned a devastatingly aggressive performance that also delivered the band’s new single All Your Love – impressively "released about half an hour ago" – an idea Alessi might have loved: box-fresh product united with pure emotion.

Bloodlines' Jamie Coltart, taps aff and bodysurfing. Picyure: XpoNorth/ Paul Campbell
Bloodlines' Jamie Coltart, taps aff and bodysurfing. Picyure: XpoNorth/ Paul Campbell

It made an all-guns blazing finale to XpoNorth - built on later by SPRING BREAK who added big bad beats and a gutsier than ever sounding vocal from Emily Mackinnon to counterpoint Ross's raps and Ben's musicianship in The Slouch and Alone To The Metronome  "a sad song masquerading as a happy song".

That worked for those of us who had been XpoNorthing for two solid days of 16-hour stints packed with new ideas, fresh perspectives and an onslaught of music to get emotional about.

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