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

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Here we are then. Welcome to NARC.’s lovely new website, and the first taster of DIY OR DIE, a monthly column that aims to leave snotty tissues and muddy footprints all over the nice clean lino. First, an explanation of sorts as to what I/we hope to do with this column. The idea is to bring you a regular digest of the best music emerging from up and down the DIY scene in the UK. Who knows, I might stray from our borders if something grabs me just right, but for the time being at least I think there’s more than enough exciting things happening here to focus primarily on the confines of our funny self-important little island.

So, first things first, what constitutes DIY? Well, there’s countless opinions on this subject, and defining it can become a pretty emotive argument, but I’m of the opinion that it’s best not to be prescriptive about this stuff. To me, a big part of the magic of the DIY scene is its fluidity and inclusiveness, so I think there’s nothing to be gained by getting all punker than thou and excluding those you consider unworthy. Sure, you could argue very reasonably that a band with a professional record label or a booking agent can’t possibly be DIY (a point eloquently contended by a good friend of mine, himself an active DIY artist in a recent conversation we had on the subject). As far as DIY OR DIE goes, though, I’m going to try and avoid imposing restrictive definitions where I can, and focus more on stuff which I feel embodies the ethos of DIY, whether it defines itself as such or not. While you won’t read about U2 or Coldplay or whatever here, at the same time I don’t particularly want to exclude active contributors to the DIY scene like, say, Martha just because they also happen to have a record deal.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of stuff that’s been doing it for me lately.

To kick off is a release I’ve only just picked up and I’ve already fallen hard for. Virgin Kids share members with Witching Waves (more on them later) and H.Grimace, and their self-titled EP is brilliant. It’s a head-clearing blast of catchy garage rock, with the highlight for me being Go Slow. That bit where the heavy distortion and the anguished vocal kicks in is just to die for. Save yourself the terror of Googling their name and have a listen here:

It’s been a pretty big year or so for Ellis Jones, aka Trust Fund. After a stunning EP at the end of 2013 on Reeks of Effort, an equally awesome contribution to a split with Joanna Gruesome on the same label earlier this year, Jones and the interchangeable cast of pals  who play alongside him have recently unveiled Cut Me Out. It’s the first song to be taken from debut album No One’s Coming For Us which is out on Turnstile on February 9th next year. Cut Me Out is among Trust Fund’s best work yet, with Jones’ curious, emotive vocal sitting atop some great 90s slacker-pop riffs. I’d be amazed if the album is anything less than fantastic.

One of my favourite new DIY projects to have emerged this year is the Beech Coma label. They’ve released two compilation tapes this year, the last one being in September. Both have sold out now, but they’re still up for download on Bandcamp, and I’d suggest that they’re very much worth exploring. I particularly loved the Lazy Day song Oldest Friend which was on Volume 2. Featuring Tilly of the now-departed Hella Better Dancer (also on Vol 2), it’s a wonderful piece of faintly summery jangle-pop anchored by the gravitas of her vocal. Lazy Day was originally a bedroom project, but a full band has been assembled now, so I’m looking forward to what they come up with next year.

Bruising are a duo from Leeds who appear to have been together a mere matter of weeks, and there’s only one bedroom recording out there so far, but Honey is an absolutely lush (and aptly titled) sliver of swirling, swooning garage rock. There’s a fantastic duality to it, with the energetic buzzsaw guitars dragging along a softly sweet vocal that refuses to be hurried. Really exciting, promising stuff.

From a relatively similar place musically to Bruising, although perhaps with bit of a harder edge are London’s Witching Waves. Recorded by their particularly busy band member Mark Jasper (also of Virgin Kids) at his Sound Savers studio, their debut album Fear of Falling Down is out on Edinburgh label Soft Power next Monday and it’s one of my favourite albums to have emerged in the last few months. Mixing euphoric 60s pop and garage punk, it’s a thrilling ride from start to finish. The whole record is streaming at the Soft Power Bandcamp, with Better Run being one of many highlights.

Under the guise of King of Cats, Max Levy has released a load of gorgeously weird stuff in the last few years, including HA, an excellent tape on ASDFG which was packaged to look like a chocolate bar and which I’ve never dared unwrap because I just know I’ll never be able to put it back together again. He has just released new LP Working Out on Art Reeks (a collaborative venture between Art is Hard and Reeks of Effort), featuring a pretty stunning rework of Ulcers which was on HA. It feels drenched with emotion, although I suspect with a voice as unique as Max’s it would sound like he was wrenching primal feeling from his soul no matter what he was singing.

Craig Pollard has had a hand in a number of great projects in the North East over the years, the most recent one being Rice Milk who are one of my favourite bands in the region. Throughout that time, he’s recorded a lot of stuff under the name Alright Lover, and the aforementioned ASDFG have just released a tape of his latest work Parallel Stress. The EP features four tracks created from samples of the same piece of music and the result is a beautifully hypnotic and disconcerting trip. iii in particular sounds like someone got a Go Team record stuck, and it’s absolutely lovely for it.

Staying local, Whitley Bay artist Euan Lynn has a new EP ready to release early in the new year. Having had a sneaky preview of it, it’s probably his best material yet. It retains all the energy and blistering directness of his usual Gameboy and guitar assault, but this time round it also feels like Euan has infused the new material with a bit more diversity, slowing things down to allow a little breathing space on occasion. He’s previewed the EP with a self-directed video to the addictive paean to skating Slappy Hour.

Of course, there’s hundreds upon hundreds of bands up and down the country making amazing music in their bedrooms, and no matter how many hours I spend hunched up in my arm chair with Bandcamp flickering in the background as my tea gets cold, I’m going to miss some. By all means then, if you reckon there’s an awesome DIY band out there who I’m flagrantly overlooking who deserve a nod then please feel free to drop me a line at [email protected].

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