Handmade Festival 2017 – Leicester, University - Saturday 29 April 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Saturday, 06 May 2017 04:30

While it might not exactly be sunny for the bank holiday weekend, there’s still a prevailing sense of “start of the summer” as we hit the motorway for Leicester. Hosted across four connected venues at Leicester University (namely the O2 Academy, Academy 2, Scholar and Cave), Handmade Festival has pulled together a line-up stacked with some of the brightest names in British music right now.


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With that in mind, it feels only fitting that our first band of the weekend be the superb Puppy. Having signed to Spinefarm Records in the not-so-distant past and released a stunning EP last year (Volume II – well worth a listen), it’s safe to say that there’s plenty of hype building around this band and their next release. Playing in the main Academy room, the band quickly assert dominance over the audience with their muscular riffing and melodic hooks.


On a Venn diagram Puppy’s sound would fall somewhere between the Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer and Metallica. Possessed of the imperious riffs of the latter, the ambition of the former and the best addictive pop hooks this side of Rivers Cuomo, Puppy bridge the gap between the metal and rock worlds seamlessly. Short and sweet is the nature of the day, so a carefully curated setlist featuring the likes of ‘Arabella’ and ‘Entombed’ seems to fly by in no time. There’s hardly any time for chatting between songs, but when the music is this good it completely speaks for itself.


With no break between stage switchovers, we rush upstairs and are greeted by the ominous ritualistic sound of Baba Naga. With a doom-laden sound that conjures the spirit of bands like Bong, Vodun or Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Baba Naga are something of an oddity as they are sandwiched into the decidedly pop-rock friendly line-up of the Saturday. But then, oddity is what rock is all about.


Shapes are projected onto a screen behind the band as they grind their way through meandering, metronomic riffs, creating a distinctive atmosphere in the venue. Even with only half an hour to showcase their prowess, the band sound at ease as they steadily power through their set. While big singalongs might be the order of the day for most bands on the Handmade line-up, Baba Naga offer up some primo headbanging and air guitar opportunities with a sound that could easily have dropped them onto the Desertfest line-up down south (which, incidentally was also this weekend).


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Once again dashing downstairs, we arrive to a lively crowd rocking out to the rock groove of Soeur. Creating the perfect punk rock dive atmosphere, the doors to The Cave are (fittingly) covered in condensation not five minutes into the band’s set. Soeur might not be as neck-deep in punk as the likes of Milk Teeth or even Honeyblood, but when they deploy a big riff you best believe that mother is pure toe-tapping, headbanging bliss.


Chunky grunge riffs vie for attention against saccharine pop vocal hooks, the end result an addictive and fun concoction that has the crowd bouncing along in no time. Playing rock in its primordial state, Soeur breathe the same sonic air as Queens of the Stone Age whilst retaining the abrasive clatter of Shellac or Nirvana at their most obnoxious, lending the band a timeless yet classic sound.


Heading to Scholar, we arrive just as Alligatr take to the stage. With a dream-pop indie inspired sound, Alligatr might have been better positioned alongside the likes of JAWS and Superfood on the Sunday line-up. Sharing a similar taste for jangly melodic rhythms and insta-nostalgia vibes, Alligatr are a feel-good pick-me-up, just as able to comfortably soundtrack a lazy Sunday afternoon as they would be getting the dancefloor swaying on a Saturday night. Bands like Alligatr are the reason that boutique festivals exist. Not only are these festivals a great chance to catch bands that have already built up a level of hype, but they are also great for offering bands the opportunity to make a name for themselves.


Keeping on with the local link, next up in the main Academy are Ash Mammal. When a band describe themselves as “dynamic, theatrical and exciting” in their bio, an instant level of scepticism will be created. This scepticism is entirely unfounded. Delivering on all of the above promises and more, Ash Mammal are rock in all its “otherness” glory. Inhabiting a soundscape entirely their own, the band combine the distinctive individual vocal styles of vocalist Cass Rowe and drummer Anya Greengrass for a fantastic duality that grabs the ears in a steel grip. Throw in some moody indie aesthetics, dissonant choruses and the fact that Cass is utterly captivating as the ringleader for the band’s theatrics and you’ve got the recipe for a great set which ticks all the boxes and leaves the audience braying for more.


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Though still at the early stages of their career (with one album and an EP under the belt by this point), the band’s sound is fully formed and powerful – a mixture of punk-like sonic anarchy and angst-ridden indie cool, Ash Mammal are a vital force whose live output somehow manages to outshine a collection of already-great studio releases. Cass is able to switch up between a personable, intimate manner of addressing the audience and spasmodic punk rock theatrics, generating a genuine sense of excitement as the audience stand rapt to see what happens next. By the time their set closes, it feels as though Ash Mammal could just as easily been headliners as a band booked into the early evening slot, half an hour stretched into a full dramatic performance.


It feels like an insurmountable task, to follow in the footsteps of such a theatrically inclined act, yet Shame rise to the task admirably. Possessing the furious energy of IDLES tempered with the dance-friendly beats of the Happy Mondays, Shame are polar opposites to Ash Mammal, sharing only a propensity for providing a great live set. Vocalist Charlie Steen prowls the stage with dogged intensity, barking his lyrics in a way that evokes the glory days of classic punk.


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Where Shame differ from the heyday of punk is their approach to politics: this isn’t a band that artfully dances around seething dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. No, Shame borrow much more from the second wave of British punk, instead taking the ‘Dance on Maggie’s Grave’ approach. Which is to say, hitting it hard and loud with a sledgehammer, allegory be damned.


A sizable crowd has gathered for Muncie Girls in the main Academy room, drawn in by the band’s singalong-friendly crowd pleasers. A band that clearly thrive on a big audience, Muncie Girls have all the makings of a breakthrough act, with huge choruses providing plenty of high-points through their set. The fact that these choruses are married to bouncing melodies and insta-nostalgia vibes doesn’t hurt anything either, the band feeling like they couldn’t be more at home than playing to a sizable festival crowd.


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Demob Happy on the other hand are as natural to the classic rock club as the perennial condensation that coats the walls. Brimming with chunky, fuzzy riffs and radio-friendly choruses Demob Happy embody the spirit of the modern post-grunge band. Two years have passed since the band released their debut album ‘Dream Soda’, giving audience plenty of time to wrap their ears around the bulk of their half-hour set. Luckily, songs like ‘Succubus’ exist in the consciousness even if you’ve never heard them previously, straight ahead in their ear-pleasing quality.


With a 45-minute set list and a brand new album to support, Leeds rockers Pulled Apart By Horses are certainly one of the “must watch” acts of the day. PABH’s latest effort ‘The Haze’ inhabits a very similar sonic space to Demob Happy (which is to say, radio-friendly post-grunge rock) but the band’s eclectic punkish back catalogue is betrayed by their sheer manic energy onstage. Bounding, bouncing and only just stopping short of invading the crowd, Pulled Apart By Horses put on one of Saturday’s more excitable set lists, met with great approval by the amassed crowd.


Hits new and old crash heads throughout Pulled Apart By Horses’ set. Massive single ‘The Big What If’ offers an anthemic sing-along (not bad for a song which only aired on YouTube at the start of the year), while ‘High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive’ is pure bottled lightning, the band’s back catalogue offering more variety than in the other bands’ limited releases.


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A varied back catalogue is just a small part of the appeal of Saturday night headliners Twin Atlantic, who take to the stage like bonafide rock stars. The band’s fourth album, ‘GLA’ has been out less than a year, but the heights to which it has taken the band are enviable. Launched from a steady position as one of the UK’s most reliable (yet inexplicably overlooked) radio-friendly rock acts to Kerrang! Cover stars capable of selling out Academy venues, it’s fair to say that the elevation that Twin Atlantic have received in the wake of ‘GLA’ suggests that the band are one of the hottest properties in UK rock.


You’d have to be mad to argue with the measurable results the band get – met with the kind of roar usually reserved for stadium bands, the band hit hard with bouncy headbanger-friendly opener ‘Gold Elephant; Cherry Alligator’. Singalongs are the order of the evening, the crowd all too happy to oblige as the band blast through hits new and old. ‘Heart and Soul’, ‘Ex El’ and ‘The Chaser’ feel like genuine anthems as the crowd roar along, songs with a universal accessibility that elevates them beyond the realms of being just a collection of great songs.


Throw in the fact the band are clearly seasoned in the ways of showmanship yet also approachable and affable in their manner and you can see why they are so hotly tipped for big things. Ending on the brilliant ‘No Sleep’ (with the biggest, chunkiest riff this side of Audioslave), Twin Atlantic feel like conquering heroes of the British rock scene, their status hard-won on the back of a full decade’s experience and refinement. Should the band retain their earworm-friendly songwriting chops for album #5 and beyond, believe that this lot’s biggest headline show lies before them. Headlining Handmade Festival is more than just another show for Twin Atlantic – it’s proof that they are worthy of sitting atop the cream of UK rock, indie and punk acts.


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