REVIEW: Hit The Road
Hit The Road: Sly At Last / Rising Pacific / Melophobia
AugustMad Hatters, Inverness – Thursday 13
With the internet allowing everyone and their dog a chance to record and release their music, it's becoming ever-more difficult for bands to make themselves heard above the constant din. How do you get exposure in a landscape in which everybody has a SoundCloud, a Facebook, a Twitter, everything needed to connect?
Well, thank heavens for initiatives like Hit The Road. The touring project, coordinated by the Scottish Music Centre, is designed to give musicians aged 14-19 live music experience – showing them the ropes of the industry, giving them a taste of the touring life, and providing the knowledge, contacts and tools to work in music.
Some of Scotland's most interesting new acts have gone through the scheme before – Model Aeroplanes, KLOE, and Man Of Moon have all taken part in previous rounds of Hit The Road – so expectations were high, certainly.
First up were Dundee three-piece Melophobia, whose recent personnel changes meant that this was their first live outing together as a band. You couldn't really tell though – their set was as tight as if this lineup had been playing together regularly for months. They even had merch! Merch!
If I had to use one word to summarise their music, it would be “earthy” - beneath the surf-poppy guitars lay a swampy core of pure grunge. Their songs didn't so much move as lurch forward, dragged by hypnotic, pulsating bass riffs and heavy use of the tom drums. All of this was held together by the guitarist and singer, whose voice was as savage as the music deserved. He howled, he spluttered, he screamed, and he held the tracks together. Top stuff.
Following on from that was something completely different. If Melophobia sank into the mudpits with their grungy tunes, then Stirling three-piece Rising Pacific soared with their airy brand of post-rock. Their music had a real sense of movement, restraining itself in the verses only to unleash explosive hell for the choruses. Throughout, the vocalist and bassist maintained an almost laconic detachment – acting as the anchor for the chaos unfurling around her.
And what chaos! Backed by some impressively powerful drumming, the music pulsed, exploded, lulled. As for the guitarist...where do I even start? He leapt, he moshed, he threw himself into the crowd with reckless abandon; all while hammering and battering the strings like he was Liam Neeson and the guitar had information on his missing daughter. At the gig's end, he threw his guitar to the floor in the traditional display of rock nonchalance – but it was justified. The guitar probably needed the lie down. I know I did. Stirling (HAHAHA wordplay) stuff.
Finally, the Inverness four-piece rockers Sly At Last took to the stage, and from the cheers that greeted them you could tell that the hometown advantage was going to give them an edge with regards to atmosphere. This might have been a factor in the band being easily the most comfortable on stage. The singer/guitarist had a real presence, and the band ripped through their set in that breezily cocky way that good rock bands get away with.
Material-wise, they were a roughly half-and-half mix of pretty great indie-rock originals – all jagged twangs and hooky choruses – and a really eclectic choice of covers. The Strokes' Reptillia was unfortunately marred by that most awful of technical problems in a broken guitar string, but it was still a storming cover – throw in some triumphant versions of Muse's Hysteria and Red Hot Chilli Peppers' Can't Stop, and a cover of Rage Against The Machine's Bulls On Parade that actually worked, and you've got all you need for a crowd-pleasing set to bring the curtains down on the evening.
As the initiative moves on, heading to Stirling and Dundee, it's important to reflect on what this night achieved. Over the three dates, all three young bands will get experience of playing in a variety of different cities, to a variety of different crowds. Each night they'll meet venue-owners, exchange numbers, make contacts. They'll have hacky journalists with bad teeth come and write reviews of their sets.
They'll come away, at the very least, with some good stories of the time they travelled and toured across Scotland. At the very most? They might just be able to build a life around it.
Hit The Road returns to Mad Hatters on Saturday September 5th, with Aaron Smith, Gus Harrower, Rhona MacFarlane, and Ruth Gillies. For more information or to book tickets, go to www.hittheroad.org.uk