DIY OR DIE: December 2014 | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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As I write this in the blissful cloud of self-disgust at my own gluttony that characterises the downtime between Christmas and New Year, it feels like a good time for reflecting on the year, particularly since the annual wind-down applies to bands as much as everyone else. Since you’re most likely to be here to read about the DIY scene rather than hearing about my appraisal at work or how I still can’t unfold a baby’s buggy after eighteen months of trying, I’ll try to keep my ruminations strictly focused on the matter at hand.

When looking back at my favourite DIY stuff released this year, it would be pretty remiss not to pay tribute to the fantastic albums released by Martha and Tyrannosaurus Dead, two shining beacons of positivity within the scene. However, I feel like I’ve spent much of the last few months waxing lyrical about these particular bands (including for this very website), so it seems fair to devote some space to other awesome artists.

First up is a record released back in April which lived up to my lofty hopes. London duo Playlounge hooked up with Dog Knights Productions for the first time to release Pilot, their first full LP and the follow up to the fantastic mini-album Thrash Magic a couple of years ago. The result was a heavier, meaner take on their previous work, but with none of the punk thrills lost in the beefing up process. As it turns out, they’re as prolific as they are energetic, because they’ve already released a couple of downloads and a split EP with label-mates Nai Harvest since the album, and apparently they’ve got another record lined up for the new year. It’s worth heading over to their Bandcamp if you haven’t yet explored their music, because it’s a veritable treasure trove for fans of all things shouty.

From the opposite end of the country, but a fairly similar place musically come Teesside’s Mouses. Their debut EP, which came out this earlier this year, is a brilliantly catchy set of fuzzy pop songs very quickly became one of my favourites of the year. It might not be anything we’ve not really heard before, but it still feels completely fresh because it’s so well-executed and exuberant that it’s near-impossible not to be swept along in its wake. They’re just as exciting live, playing fairly often around the North East this year, and hopefully it won’t be long before they’re heading further afield to play on a regular basis too.

Staying in roughly the same part of the world, Rick Dobbing’s project Dressed Like Wolves has inexplicably remained a hidden gem for more than five years. Christ knows why he’s not more popular, but the quietly heart-breaking nature of his voice and songcraft recall Withered Hand’s earlier work. His newest album In the End We All Just Walk Off Into the Sea in the Eyes of the Ones We Left Behind only came out in November, so there’s still time for the wider public to catch up. A good starting point would be the ever so sweet video for There is Always an Exception.

The people behind multi-faceted collective Tye Die Tapes have done a lot of awesome stuff for the Sheffield DIY scene for a while, running a gig space, playing in various bands and putting other people’s records out and they really deserve a ton of credit for the positive stuff they’ve achieved. May this year saw them release my favourite thing on their label yet, in the shape of Culture of the Copy by Feature. The EP is a lush set of songs driven by buzz-saw guitars and hazy melody, which comes off like a slightly sped up take on dream-pop. The excellent Supergrass cover which finishes the EP off is a little out of the blue, but a pretty nice surprise all the same.

I absolutely loved the first EP by Glasgow shoegazers Life Model in 2013. Sadly they were a bit quieter this year, but with a recent Twin Peaks cover emerging online and a new single due out in February, then hopefully we’ll hear a bit more from them in the new year. They did manage one release right at the start of 2014 in Come Round. It had all the gorgeous wooziness of the EP, but was more slow-burning with Sophie Evans’ voice floating beautifully over all that lovely dreamy guitar.

Grubs have been around for no time at all and they’ve released less than three minutes of music so far, but there’s already ample evidence to support the viewpoint that they’re absolutely great. They put out Dec 15th/Gym Shame on Flexi Disc in the summer, and it’s a truly tantalising piece of work. In less than a minute and a half on the A-Side they serve a masterclass in scuffed and melodic indie-pop, leaving me pretty hungry for more.

Ace Bushy Striptease called it a day this year, which was a massive shame. At least they’ve left behind a great set of off-kilter indie-pop as a legacy, including one final album, Slurpt, on Odd Box Records. It’s as good as anything they’ve done before, sounding more like a band with years left in them than one winding things up. The physical release sold out a while back, but it’s still available to download. I’d suggest starting with Ibiza Rocks as a recent example of their excellence and enjoy exploring their hefty discography.

I’ll finish off with a band to whom I’ve not paid anywhere near enough attention so far, but I promise you I’m chastising myself strongly for this. Doe are a trio from London who have put out four releases in a short space of time, which were subsequently compiled on the collection First Four. They’ve also done a split single with Taxa since then, contributing two songs including the brilliantly assured Bright Eyed. It’s a truly addictive piece of work from a band with all the energy of one just formed but all the polish of one who’ve played together for ten years.

All told, 2014 was a pretty good year for the DIY scene. It inspired a couple of pieces in the national press and while there’s always going to be a debate about the motives or the validity of such features, I guess it’s a testament to the people who constitute the lifeblood of the underground that their work is exciting enough to prompt the mainstream to peer over the parapet. Either way, I’m sure 2015 has plenty of great stuff to offer.

If you know anything which you reckon deserves coverage here then get in touch at paulbrownwriting@gmail.com or on Twitter at @tinylightspaul.

You can have a listen to all of the artists featured in this month’s DIY Or Die as a handy little playlist on our Soundcloud page.

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