Notes from the Keybed – This Month In Synths [November/December 2014]

Merry Synthmas, y’all!

It’s the countdown to Christmas and you’ll all be writing your lists for the big man in red, I’m sure. Stuck for ideas? Well, aside from Moog branded mugs and Roland 808 socks, there are some fantastic records on the horizon to fill a hole in your stocking or plug your own holes whilst the family murders another rendition of Deck The Halls…

Kicking off December comes a (sort of) brand new EP from personal favourites, Issues! I say only sort of brand new as it primarily consists of stripped-back versions of the biggest tunes from their self-titled album, as well as a couple of oldies such as the fantastic ‘Hooligans’. The RnB-core boys were responsible for one of my records of the year, combining ripping synths with pop hooks and metulz chugs. Whilst Diamond Dreams is set to be a more sedate affair, there are still plenty of jazzy keyboards, chilled electronic beats and, of course, those songs that won us all over at the start of the year.

Speaking of records of the year, topping my list alongside Issues would be Heartsrevolution’s electro punk odyssey Ride Or Die, Death From Above 1979’s long-awaited return on The Physical World, the quite frankly mental debut from Emperor Yes on An Island Called Earth, and Get Cape Wear Cape Fly’s delightful swan song London Royal. All of these would make perfect presents for synth-hungry music fans.

Next year is already shaping up to be a good one for music, with a new album from synth pop pioneers Ok Go! Lead single ‘I Won’t Let You Down’ packs in some tasty disco strings alongside the quartet’s penchant for catchy choruses and retro guitar and synth sounds. In typical Ok Go style, there is also an utterly bizarre video that is well worth watching. Expect single wheeled scooter dancing, a troupe of Japanese girls twirling umbrellas, and some unbelievable choreography. Standard ‘band playing in a room’ videos have never been their modus operandi but this one goes even further with a HTML5-based interactive version… as long as you’re using Chrome. Hungry Ghosts is available on download sites here in the UK from February but you can get it now if you’re over in the US.

Another early contender for 2015’s record of the year will certainly be the new offering from rave-rock crossover kings Enter Shikari. Singles from The Mindsweep are already suggesting a continuation of 2012’s monumental album A Flash Flood Of Colour, with the radio-friendly chorus in ‘The Last Garrison’ sitting alongside the bass-heavy tribal rhythms of ‘Anaesthetist’ and ambient intro into surprise hardcore beatdown on ‘Never Let Go Of The Microscope’! It’s set to be another mix of intelligent songwriting and boundary-breaking soundscapes from the genre-hopping foursome.

We said a lot of goodbyes to some established synth bands in 2014, it was clearly the year that new rave finally gave up the ghost (sob). Klaxons returned with their pleasant, if a bit bland, third album before playing a final run of shows, grindie kids Hadouken went on indefinite hiatus, and even hip-hop heroes Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip went their separate ways following a triumphant farewell tour. In addition, we lost noisy electro duo Crystal Castles, with frontwoman Alice Glass departing with the tantalising promise of a solo career for her and a separate continuation from producer Ethan Kath.

With so many great acts throwing in the towel it seemed a perfect time to salute a much missed Keytar Hero, Pete Cafarella from Shy Child. Technically, the synth and drums duo are still a going concern, but having not heard anything from them since 2010, any hopes of a new album have fast dwindled. However at the height of electro indie, Shy Child stood proudly aside from their competitors fronted by the keytar-totting Cafarella’s dancey riffs and New York drawl. Although he hung up the keytar in 2010 to concentrate on being a ‘serious band’ with regular horizontal ‘boards he remains a true hero of the instrument and an influence to shy nerdy synthesists across the globe. Stand up and step out y’all!

2000trees 2014: The Definitive TwoBeatsOff Overview

This year, I decided to put a big middle finger up to Reading and Download. I said sayonara to Sonisphere and a big ol’ screw you to Glastonbury. No, this year, I decided to do something a bit smaller and a bit more local. I decided to do something where I didn’t need to camp, where I could just hang about and check out some stuff I’d never heard of before, and where I didn’t need to pay in excess of £200 for the privilege.

This year, I had a bloody nice time at 2000trees.

There were a lot of highlights, so I’m going to give everything nice headings and make it easier for you to dig out the good bits. There were a lot of great bands over the weekend, some gourmet food choices and plenty of glorious sunshine to keep us all going. Beautiful.

The one band you should have seen were…

The Blackout were on absolute top form this weekend. Those lads from Merthyr know how to party, as Sean Smith demonstrated early on by storming into the crown and starting a circle pit around himself. If you’re just a fan of witty stage banter, then The Blackout have you covered – during ‘We Are The Dynamite’, Sean Smith gave a bunch of uncool non-participants the choice of ‘have fun like everyone else or fuck off!’ And there were plenty of other golden moments too. But all in all, The Blackout have a great selection of big rock stompers, all of which came out to play at 2000trees and simply made the festival for me. Great stuff.

The five new bands you’ll love are…

Slaves – this two-piece punk band from Royal Tunbridge Wells are rowdy, abrasive, witty and disgustingly noisy. Entertaining to watch, unbelievable to listen to. Definitely your new favourite band and my top discovery of the weekend.

DZ Deathrays – it’s all about guitars and drums this year and nothing else. DZ Deathrays played a blinding set of scuzzy garage-punk thrashers to finish off the weekend. If you like it loud and proud with extremely catchy riffs, these guys are for you.

Youth Man – these Birmingham punks are equally terrifying and mesmerising. A bit doomy in places, a bit frenetic in others, they’re completely captivating. The music’s stupidly smart, and the live show is bloody mental. We reviewed them a while ago and loved them.

I, The Lion – if you like big Biffy Clyro-esque sounds but with more guitar smashing and lyrics that make even less sense, you’ll love I, The Lion. These Cheltenham locals opened up the Saturday and set the bar incredibly high for everyone else to follow.

Jamie Lenman – can you count Jamie Lenman as a new band? I will anyway. You may not have heard him as a solo project rather than as the former front man of the now-defunct UK titans Reuben. This year, he did a proper hardcore set based on the ‘Muscle’ side of his incredible album Muscle Memory (see our best of 2013 for more) and drew one of the biggest crowds of the festival.

Okay, the other bands you should have seen were…

Gnarwolves, Johnny Foreigner, The Bronx, Blood Red Shoes, Arcane Roots, Tall Ships and The Computers were all pretty good as well. However, special mention goes to Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, who blasted out an amazing set of beats and bars. A massive rave went down on Thursday night, and it was great to finally catch DLS VS SP live!

The one band you’re going to miss are…

The last Kill Chaos set ever happened at 2000trees. Gutting. At least we’ll still have the records, right? PromisesPromises only just came out after all! I only discovered them last year on Jamie Lenman’s first solo tour and I am sad to see them disappear already. Here’s to seeing what happens next…

The most surreal festival moment was…

Seeing Dave McPherson off’ve InMe stroll out onto Jamie Lenman’s set to do a bit of screaming, without actually knowing the words, was a little bit bizarre. I know he was playing this weekend, but InMe were never really a shouty band at all. Kind of weird but mostly wonderful.

The best food stall was…

Props to Wide Awake Café for their delicious iced lattes and veggie burritos! Check them out at a festival near you.

The coolest item of merch was…

Uh, 2000trees sunglasses for a fiver? Yes mate.

Festival Dickhead of the Year Award goes to…

There was a guy who sat down under a tree and pulled out The Diary Of Anne Frank to sit and peruse on Friday afternoon. What a knob.

So, will we be doing 2000trees again? The answer is a great big resounding yes. What a good festival.