INTERVIEW: Massa Confusa | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Massa Confusa are possibly one of the hardest working bands in the region. Based in Newcastle, the DIY, post-punk group – comprised of Ally Morton and Matt O’Brien – do far more than play around the gig circuit. Instead, they’ve gone one step further by putting on their own series of gigs, Massa Confusa Presents, in both Newcastle and Durham with the support of Nerd Hutch, Empty Shop and Heart Rock Live. In their time putting on the series, the duo have showcased an extensive array of local talent, including Skull Puppies, Euan Lynn, Belafonte, Ilser, Year of Birds, Lovely Wife, Shades, Haikai No Ku, Sagan Megadrive and Ghurst. That’s quite a list. And it’s hardly exhaustive.

Recently, the pair have produced their first album proper, Amblyopic (available from their Bandcamp page) and scuzzy version of The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping for Another Xmas Alt Album, as well as compiling an album of rising local stars.

So what keeps Massa Confusa going and what drives them to be so heavily involved in the wider local scene? I asked Ally about the band’s gig nights and the local scene more generally.

You say that you don’t really see yourselves as promoters as such; why don’t you see yourselves as promoters and would you ever get to the point where you might adopt that title?

Because to me the term “promoter” implies a great deal more, and as we also have to focus on the development of our band I don’t feel like we can promote the shows to the extent that other “promoters” do just yet. Also, we are still in the early days of raising an awareness of our band name “Massa Confusa,” let alone “Massa Confusa Presents,” so the turnout can be variable; and although we always cover minimum costs for bands, at the moment I don’t feel like we can pay them the amount they deserve. But yes, I think in the future we would very much like Massa Confusa Presents to be recognised with the “promoter” title, but until then things are very much at a DIY stage.

How do you balance your work putting on the gigs with your work as part of Massa Confusa? Is it difficult being part of the band and also arranging so many gigs?

Yes, it’s very difficult! As I said, things are still DIY for us, and as some bands expect promoters to do all of the promotion this can affect the turnout to our shows. In terms of balance, we are very hard-working. As a band we practise for four hours every week, but consciously split part of this time to do what we call “band admin,” i.e. the promotion and arranging of our shows and releases. The rest I just have to constantly chip away at day by day…

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We are hoping we will eventually be able to put on bigger shows but until then I think the next step is just to keep adding more variety with the venues we put on at

You put on gigs at a variety of venues across the region but are you looking to expand into other venues in the coming year?

Yes definitely. At the moment we have put on at The Central, The Telegraph, Empty Shop HQ in Durham, The Dog and Parrot and Nerd Hutch (the free basement venue space in the comic book shop Travelling Man in Newcastle). We are hoping we will eventually be able to put on bigger shows but until then I think the next step is just to keep adding more variety with the venues we put on at. I would like to put on at Head of Steam, Cluny, Tyne Bar and Star and Shadow (which by then may be in its new location!) I’d love to be able to put on at Think Tank too.

Some of the bands you’ve put on in your series have become pretty big names, particularly on the local music scene (I’m thinking about bands like Skull Puppies, Ghurst and Shades). Are you kind of proud that you’ve had a bit of a hand in breaking these bands?

Yes, very much so! But I think “a bit of a hand” is the key phrase here. These bands are already very hard-working. Shades already have a following, Ghurst are new but have played some quite big shows already, and Skull Puppies have relentlessly played over the past few months, self-releasing two EPs.

Do you think the local music scene is pretty healthy at the minute?

I think it is healthy in terms of the amount of great local bands we have right now, but not healthy in terms of the amount of people that attend their shows. I guess it can be a bit overwhelming when you look at the gig listings pages for the area in terms of what to go to, but I still get the feeling that some people think that if they are not going to venues like the O2 Academy or Metro Radio Arena that they are not going to a “real show.” I also feel like some people will only see local bands they have heard of. I know that sounds a bit obvious but what I mean is you can put on a great line-up, but that doesn’t mean people will come unless the band have some kind of local following already.

This can also affect adding touring bands to a local line-up too. For example we put on Forever Cult from Huddersfield and Manuals from Leeds as part of one of our line-ups in June. Manuals are on Newcastle’s Get Into It Records so had a good turnout, but then most of the crowd left before Forever Cult played because they didn’t know of them, even though they were the headliner! The crowd definitely missed out because Forever Cult then went on to play Leeds and Reading festival and are now doing really well for themselves. We are hoping to play with both Manuals and Forever Cult again next year though.

Since it’s near the end of the year, is there anyone on the local scene right now who you personally think will break out more next year?

In terms of who we have put on? I think Skull Puppies and Euan Lynn will continue to break out because of their work ethic and involvement in their venue Nerd Hutch. I hope they do because they are good friends of ours and they are definitely making a positive contribution to the “health” of the local music scene in doing so! Shades have a new EP coming out which I think could get them signed, and I think Mouses will break out more too. They only have five songs at the moment but I think next year will be a good year for them. I also think if Knots and Big Fail continue to play they will go far!

Finally, what have you got planned for next year so far?

January 31st marks one year of Massa Confusa Presents and to celebrate we are co-hosting a double launch event at Nerd Hutch. We are releasing the free Massa Confusa Presents Compilation which will feature nearly all of the bands we have put on over the year, and the new EP Endless Summer from Euan Lynn, who will be playing a live set along with Mouses, Belafonte and of course us! We have some other exciting line-ups planned as well including the first Massa Confusa Presents show that will not feature Massa Confusa, although it will feature my side project Five Pence Game. The show will have more of an electronic focus and although we are awaiting full confirmation of a date, it will feature Gizeh records’ dark-pop duo Shield Patterns and Newcastle’s synth-pop act Fractions.

Massa Confusa’s next event is at the Nerd Hutch (in the Travelling Man, Newcastle) on Saturday 31st January, where the band will be launching both their compilation and Euan Lynn’s new EP.

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