Michael Clark reviews Messfest 2.0
There’s an elephant in the room. It’s galumphing around on the only three streets that you need to know to be street-smart. It’s watching an entire student body swamp Empire when the night is packing in at 2 a.m. And it would be in the Lizard if the Lizard wasn’t so damn cramped. Maybe we like to overlook it because of the assets of our town. This wholly unique institution replicated nowhere in Scotland. The tweed and wellies, the eccentric lecturers, the vast beauty of West Sands. And maybe when the Kate Kennedy Club/Fellowship/Magician’s Guild/Order of the Phoenix/Boys’ Brigade drama starts Bubbling over its all we can do to forget it. But sometimes, just sometimes, St Andrews is small.
Don’t worry, the solution isn’t Dundee. Go to Edinburgh.
It shouldn’t be an expectation that criticising St Andrews will receive a severe backlash. After all, it is hard to criticise the width of talent and musical prowess on show in our town. But sometimes it’s good to take a look outside, to see what else is out there, when one’s tastes have become perhaps a little too embedded in the culture of Scotland’s oldest university.
On Friday 30 March 2012 in Scotland’s breezy capital, five unsigned bands graced the stage of the HMV Picture House, the largest rock venue in Edinburgh, to provide what any self-respecting punter in the surprisingly-warm-city-streets would agree to be a fine collage of performances for a measly £5. Not suffering from any technical or audio difficulties, the HMV Picturehouse instead perfectly catered for each band’s sound, even providing high-tech video cameras to project the action onto two huge screens high up the wall and on either side of the stage.
First up for a relatively early 6:30pm start, Balerno rockstars Hold the Suspect jammed out an energetic half hour set with the chunky riffs of crowd favourites Are You Home Yet and Society gaining substantial attention and warming up the crowd. Despite being the first act on stage, Hold the Suspect outmatched the next two bands that followed, with a heavier sound that seemed somewhat lacking with People, Places, Maps and Six Storeys High. In particular it was Dreams from the more recent What Might Happen EP that truly showcased their musical development, the dance tune swimming with vocal harmonies that can’t help but conjure a sense of feel-good nostalgia; those visions of endless summers you can’t quite seperate and maybe never even had in the way you remember. New effort Time On Our Hands made considerable efforts to plant itself in your head and never leave, as did Fall Down, Recover which succeeded in doing so not without the help of a glorious key change in the chorus.
(I’m not being ironic. I challenge you to wake up in the morning, listen to a rock song which a key change and not immediately feel like your day will be great. And if you don’t feel that way, you’re wrong, because it will be.)
Keen to follow, People, Places, Maps captivated an ever-growing crowd with their more indie-driven sound but no less energised set. Highlights included single Plans with its chirpy guitar melodies and melancholic lyrics. The energy and charisma of frontman Ryan McGlone was palpable even from near the back of the room and certainly worked in reeling in the crowd that had substantially increased in numbers and was starting to loosen up. Single Plans proved a highlight in their set, coming across like The Vaccines meets Idlewild meets Twin Atlantic. Okay, not as much the Twin Atlantic part, but it seems to be an unwritten rule of journalism at the minute that all Scottish bands are compared to Twin Atlantic.
With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to Twin-Atlantic-hopefuls Six Storeys High, the next band up. Unfortunately something seemed missing from their set, perhaps a lack of energy on the part of the band, which somewhat undermined the excellent quality of their tunes on recording. With a good following the band has potential to branch out into more varied and riff-driven songs, an option that did not always reach fruition in their set. Ultimately however the band played well with songs like Ghosts showcasing their talents effectively. Check them out on Facebook or YouTube to hear more.
Often in such battle-of-the-band style shows there is a band that entices the audience into really getting involved, and it was the rapidly ascending (not literally) Bwani Junction who had this honour, as they threatened to steal the night from Jakil with their riotous set. Their confidence after picking up ‘Best Newcomer’ at the Scottish Alternative Music Awards was obvious and infectious, with layered indie pop licks and fresh instrumentation that you might have heard before on Chris Moyles’ morning show or at T in the Park 2011. Check out their late-2011 album Fully Cocked, in particular My Body My Mind and Two Bridges – the video for which shows the band miraculously painting the Forth Rail Bridge blue in possibly the most bizzarely patriotic-yet-not action performed by a Scottish band since Jakil soundtracked a SNP Party Political Broadcast with their cover of “Let’s Work Together.”
Speaking of Jakil, they were really good. Technically faultless as ever in their live performance, with crowd hits Break For The Border and Ok, I’m Ready lighting up the room. But it was the latter half of their set that really kicked it up a gear. If anyone from the band happens to read this article (alas, I flatter myself) I am genuinely sorry for not knowing what those songs were called, and hope this is because they were new. This array of two or three tunes showed the band in a different mode – tunes with a slightly darker and gloomier sound which still retained the Jakil stamp. There’s a reason why people rave about this band, and the quality of their brand of songs was only matched on the night by Bwani Junction. Keep up to date with Jakil’s movements on Facebook because as they work away on new material and release cinematic music videos it seems a sure thing that they will soon have much larger acclaim across the UK.
Image 1 - Messfest.
Image 2 – Hold the Suspect.
Image 3 - Markus Thorsen.