FEATURE: Teesside’s Alternative Underground | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Perfect Chicken, performing at Disgraceland

It is often said that the worse things get the more creative people become. While not necessarily true, what is exciting in Teesside right now is how a number of previously disparate creative scenes are suddenly overlapping and collaborating after the well-publicised closure of some of the region’s shared independent venues.

Ex-Pineapple Black co-founder Bobby Benjamin’s Flip The Script night at nearby Disgraceland in Middlesbrough is packed out every Thursday with a lively laid-back atmosphere including poets, rappers and storytellers, and an overlap of sorts occurs with another poetry/spoken word night, Gobful, at the delightfully monikered, ‘home of unpopular music’ Toft House, once a month down the road in Linthorpe.

Elsewhere in the art scene, paradoxically aloof performance collective The Word have recently collaborated with Tees Zine Fest, while eagle-eyed street art fans may have seen a number of retro pixel art paintings popping up all over the area. Going by the name of zx8bit, their popular and very visible Squid Games work in Middlesbrough town centre was recently tagged not once but twice by local newbie Isea, the second a direct response to a diss about their first and created a bit of graffiti beef in the process.

If any musical act on Teesside right now represents the underground ethos it’s Lazenby surrealist punks Perfect Chicken, whose scant online musical output bears little resemblance to their incredible but equally sporadic live performances where the trio arrive onstage in balaclavas and hazmats. The trio are seemingly unperturbed by associate hangers-on bombing their chaotic shows, which already teem with an unnatural comic delivery and onstage chemistry reminiscent of a young Vic and Bob. One of the venues they have played is Stockton’s NE Volume Music Bar which, along with Rhythms on Baker Street in Middlesbrough, has become the place for young musicians to get their first ever gigs.

Perfect Chicken initially cut their live teeth at an Industrial Coast event – they used to call it the no audience underground but Steve Kirby’s project now regularly brings fifty plus people to his A Monday Night In Middlesbrough experimental noise shows – which have become so successful he has even branched out into other nights of the week in Middlesbrough and other places. On Saturday 29th June Perfect Chicken will take over Lazenby Social Club for an all-dayer including plenty of local supports from deep in the underground.

While Industrial Coast’s spiritual home is The Auxiliary in Middlesbrough, other under-the-radar venues being utilised for anything and everything at the moment include Café Etch, Off The Ground coffee shop, the Mercuria Building (a stone’s throw from the old Westgarth Social Club) and the aforementioned Disgraceland, which also hosts micro-club nights (including experimental house by the likes of Abby Harris and KK Junker, open deck evenings and Bobby Benjamin’s Baby Picasso art/music shows). Meanwhile, Ben Muriel’s Ring of Iron Folk Club hosts monthly sing-arounds at The Chapel right next to the busy Newport roundabout in the shadow of the A19.

Finally, rap and hip-hop in Teesside has always seemed to resist the urge to move overground, so occasional Rhymer nights, a friendlier more inclusive version of the old cipher nights of the 00s, including artists such 97 Renn and Spini are still popping up occasionally at various venues, so keep them peeled…

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