LIVE REVIEW: Marrapalooza @ Various venues, Ouseburn Valley (18.05.24) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Dilettante by Victoria Wai

On a sunny Saturday in May, the UK DIY scene took over the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle, commandeering The Cumberland Arms, The Cluny, Cobalt Studios, Little Buildings and Tyne Bar. Presented by local promoters Portions for Foxes, Flat Four Records and Tyne & Queer, the event creates a platform for the UK’s unsigned and small label talent. The festival’s second year is blessed with gorgeous weather as I head into the Ouseburn and I have a full schedule!

I start at The Cumberland Arms with a performance by The Early Purple. The air is thick with vulnerability, as Matt Saxon holds a guitar like a shield onstage. He relaxes into the performance, but a sense of intimacy remains as sparse instrumentation and hushed vocals are the only sounds in the room. Big Mistake is a standout track, with some lovely guitar plucking and harmonica, characteristic of soft folk. Then Ivies took the stage, a new band formed of students from Durham University. Fronted by a female vocalist on keys, they play indie pop songs about first love and drunk texting your ex. Their sound has that slightly janky quality like their 2000s-indie predecessors, though Drunk Honesty retains the messiness of that poppy sound but has a smoother melody, and later slower songs feel more cohesively polished.

Seeing No Teeth next was a change of pace. Self-described as experimental noise punk, their live shows are a definite experience. Starting with fan-favourite Stealing For My Own Gain, the frontman does not hesitate to step offstage immediately to engage with an unsuspecting crowd. The rest of the band pay little attention to his antics, and seem unexpressive toward the audience. Nihilistic vocals groan over driving guitars and fuzzy weirdo rock ensues. Everything’s Better Than Meat Night was a belter, a wry tune catapulting brass into the mix. Their performance is a cacophony of noise, expertly textured and layered in a way that somehow does feel cohesive, despite its demented nature.

I wander over to The Cluny for the next few acts on my list. Stepping in to watch Me Lost Me feels like entering a different world; from bright heat to a cool, dark interior. She plays Heat, an eerie ballad with a heavy bass rumble like thunder and gorgeous vocals with strength and projection. These take centre stage and naturally pull the song along, complimented by atmospheric electronics, at points lushly layered then sparse. The music is impossible to categorise, weaving genres on top of each other – art pop, ambient, electronic, folk. Jayne performs elegantly amid glitching futuristic sounds, and doesn’t lose a shred of calm when her microphone stops working. Her vocal layering is imaginative, akin to Björk, particularly during Mirie It Is While Summer I Last which featured Old English in stirring harmonies.

The calm doesn’t last long, as Straight Girl is next with a riotous punky rave set. Exhilarating sad-dance music with an unrelenting undercurrent of heavy bass, dark synths and feral vocals followed. Alice Glass is an obvious comparison both sonically and thematically, but that feels a little reductive. The synthesised thudding of Look At Me captures a paranoia that sharpens in and out of focus. They have a slightly manic grin while playing, jumping across the stage with mental amounts of energy like some kind of EDM-punk acrobat.

A small break in the sunshine, then I’m ready for Dilettante, whose performance features the most skilled usage of a loop pedal I’ve seen live. Frontwoman Francesca Pidgeon is a true multi-instrumentalist, switching with ease between guitar, sax, vocals, keys and percussion, and looping it all with quick and precise succession. Vocals are unarguably a key instrument here, distinctive and gorgeous, with varying inflections. The result is an expansive sonic world that experiments playfully with the possibilities of music creation. Highlights were Stone, a track overflowing with synth and sax melodies and sustained with a jazz-inflected bass; and Keep Time, a reflection on aging full of looped claps and ticking percussion, a driving bassline and off-kilter sax. Rich vocal layering and looping never feels too busy, but rather polished and intentional. Dilettante’s experimental, vocal-led art pop was a real highlight.

Then it was over to Tyne Bar which, of course, was heaving on the warm day. The crowd was a mix of gig-goers and non-gig-goers who had no idea what was going on. Stannington were gearing up when I arrived, a newish five-piece made up of members from various local bands. Guitar-heavy indie rock, with vocals reminiscent of The Smiths, theatrical but not overtly too much. Farmer’s Market is the most interesting track melodically, with lighter boppy riffs and discernible lyrics, though mournful repetitive Malmedy is catchy in a discordant sort of way.

Last on my list were Other Half. They have funny chat, and also make really really loud music (I probably should have worn earplugs). The post-hardcore trio are likeable with evident chemistry, having visible fun onstage. They didn’t seem to have a set list, which felt very DIY and organic. Losing The Whip is perfectly incisive blaring noise, all sneering vocals and angry drums, then short but sweet Midnight Visitors revolves around full-bodied waves of guitar. They are back to basics with drums, guitar and bass, but god they do it well. Furious and joyous, like the soothing adrenaline of early Fugazi. A wonderful, shouty end to a lovely day, showcasing the North East’s talent and grassroots music.

Image: Other Half by Victoria Wai

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