Wednesday, May 25, 2011

DEAD ISLAND: 20 MINUTES OF GAMEPLAY

Due out in "September 2011". Looks awesome!



And in case you missed it (even non-gamers will dig this one)...

YUCK: YOU CAN SEE ME IF YOU'RE TALL



Interviewing London rock band Yuck’s like yanking your own teeth with a pair of rusty pliers. Or so I’d imagine. I mean, I’m sitting back stage at Scala with one of the fastest rising international alternative rock bands of 2010/2011. They’ve got summer festival shows lined up at Pukkelpop (Belgium), Reading, Leeds, Glastonbury, Primavera (Spain) and Way Out West (Sweden). They’re touring the States again in July, stopping off in Chicago for the annual Pitchfork Festival. They’re heading to São Paulo for one show. Shit... they’re even playing Later With Jools Holland. But all I can think about in Yuck’s tumbleweed-strewn dressing room is the scene in 12 Monkeys where Bruce Willis rips his own teeth out. Considering the awkwardness of our encounter, perhaps my analogy’s an unfair reflection of DIY dentistry.

I’m still trying to decide if that’s just how they are: awkward, socially-inept misfits. Or if it’s just the introverted, art-rock characters they play. Before our interview, they were all laughing and joking, genuinely excited and enthusiastic about the sold out show and the fact that their buffet includes Quorn slices and “hundreds of chocolates”. “If we had this on tour all the time I’d just eat all day”, says lead vocalist and guitarist Daniel Blumberg as he makes a round of coffee for his bandmates and tour manager.



When I ask Yuck about South by Southwest, guitarist Max Bloom replies, “Yeah...” When I ask whether they’d like it if Beavis and Butthead could review one of their music videos, Japanese bassist Mariko Doi replies, “Yeah...” When I ask what Beavis and Butthead might say about ‘Holing Out’, for example, New Jersey-born drummer Jonny Rogoff’s impersonation goes as far as, you guessed it, “Yeah...” At least he did the voice. Sort of.

The only time Yuck’s faces light up during our painful 20 minute exchange is when my Dictaphone crashes and I lose the first few answers. And when I ask the band about any OCD behaviour and possible tensions on the road.

“I’m extremely OCD. There’s so many things. Where do I start?” says Bloom, animated for the first time. “Uh… Uh…” he continues excitedly. “I have to tie my leads up in circles so they’re perfectly tight coils on the ground. If they get tangled then I have to do it again. I have to set up my pedals myself just in case anything’s changed and check all the power cables. The amp has to be about two metres left and the pedal-board straight on. I feel more comfortable on stage if everything’s exactly how I like it.”

“So your ritual is you set up your equipment to play a gig? That’s a good ritual”, jokes Blumberg, shuffling and stapling books of his sketches to sell later at the show.



“What about annoying habits?” I ask. “You must get on each other’s nerves from time to time?”

“This guy burps”, says Doi, pointing at Rogoff. “It’s a new thing. I had a bad stomach. She’s just pointing out health problems, which I think is inappropriate”, replies Rogoff, jokingly.

“Daniel doesn’t let me go to the toilet in the room. He makes me go to the lobby”, adds Bloom, sounding slightly bitter but still joking.

“I think it’s a bit out of order for you to take a massive dump just before I wanna have a shower”, says Blumberg, taking the bait.

“I would argue that it’s my hotel room as well and I can go to the toilet”, continues Bloom, at this stage semi-joking.

“I would argue that it’s really nice to take a dump before you shower”, adds Rogoff, easing the tension.

“Yeah, but if someone else takes a dump before you shower, it’s like, aah, this isn’t as nice. You can’t shower in the scent of someone else’s inner waste”, concludes Blumberg.



Later on, when I ask the band if they’ve been to Reading, Leeds or Glastonbury as fans, Bloom replies, “I went to Reading once when I was younger. It was good. Got drunk, as you do. Threw up everywhere”.

“I told him to throw up in our neighbour’s tent ‘cos I wanted to take a shower in ours”, adds Blumberg, and for a moment, we’re riffing. Although in my haste to keep conversation flowing I kill it dead almost immediately.

When I discuss how fashionable the ‘90s has become and how slacker, generation X bands are cropping up all over London, Yuck react nonchalant. They’ve heard it all before. “We’re the wrong people to speak to, we haven’t really been in London,” says Blumberg. “It’s funny, when we started this band I’m pretty sure everyone said it was really unfashionable”, adds Rogoff.



Another factor to consider is just how young Yuck are – they’re all either 20 or 21. And later on, while opening band Let’s Wrestle is playing, all four of them walk around Scala mostly unknown. At one point I see them showing security their passes to get back stage.

Even later, on stage and hunched over his guitar, Blumberg cuts an awkward, bent figure with Tim Burton hair and oversized work boots. “So we went to America and came back and now, er... there’s lots of people here. It’s nice”, he tells the crowd. So maybe it is just their way.



On stage, there’s no denying the intensity of Yuck’s performance. Things don’t boil over – not until the end – and it’s all pretty tempered and restrained. But Yuck sound electric, delivering a set of perfectly-executed, emotionally-wrought alternative rock classics-in-the-making with flare, style and emotion.

At the end of the show, Blumberg huddles over his extensive pedalboard as the other three band members leave the stage, eventually walking off with a very final, anti-encore-sounding burst of sustained feedback crashing around the hall

One last thing I remember Blumberg saying during our interview, just as I was packing up my things, is, “I don’t know what to say, really, ever, about anything”.

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: SECRET OF THE UNICORN

Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Weta Digital present...

www.tintin.com

8-BIT FASHION: UBER GEEK CHIC! ALL YOUR BABES ARE BELONG TO US



So it looks like God's premonition came true - the geeks have inherited the Earth. Now they're taking over the fashion world as well. That's right, they've nerded up the art world, now they're turning their attentions to couture. Earlier this month, Japanese designer Kunihiko Morinaga showed off his new 2011/2012 8-bit-inspired, pixelated-fashion Fall collection at Japan Fashion Week, Tokyo. The collection includes dresses, professional suits, shoes and athletic style sweatshirts, all showing off the soon-to-be-in-vogue new geek-pandering pixel look.

Using blocky 8-bit prints, cubic heels and pixel-inducing patterns, Morinaga and his label Anrealage's new range conjures images of old video games and primitive PCs. A world of Commander Keen, Zelda and Mega Man. Models also wore colourised, translucent eyewear and pixelated accessories made up of individually-pixelated squares and cubes to complete the look. All they need is a few 1-up mushrooms and they'd have had it down...





According to Designboom, the outfits are, "primarily composed of colourful square blocks of diverse fabrics and can appear relatively conventional from a distance". A line of shoes composed of similar materials completes the collection. Apparently, a pianist even played glitchy, chiptune-sounding music as the models strutted their 8-bit stuff down the catwalk.



But it's not all cubic heels and blocky camo prints. A quick look through Google images reveals a few less highbrow pixelated 8-bit accessories to go with all the high fashion geekery. How about these stylish 8-bit watches?



You could even complete the look with this 8-bit tie, just in case you've got a job interview with Bowser...



Or what about the ultimate geek accessory, fun for boys and girls: pixelated pantyhose! Do you think that's what Princess Peach has on under her gown?

VIDEO GAMING 2011: WHAT'S NEXT?



Last Friday, Rockstar Games’ latest adventure L.A. Noire took over lives and soured relationships everywhere. Other high profile releases currently sucking up time around the world include first person shooter Brink, blood-splattering blast-from-the-past Mortal Kombat and PC RPG The Witcher 2. Then of course there’s cult-favourites-without-a-set-date-yet like Diablo 3, Metal Gear Solid: Rising, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Max Payne 3 to look forward to. But what’s on the immediate horizon? What’s next? After you've tired of Portal 2, Bulletstorm and Crysis 2.

Infamous 2
Release date: June 7 - North America, June 8 - PAL, June 10 - UK and Germany



Empire City courier Cole MacGrath's back in the saddle. This time, he's heading over to New Orleans-inspired New Marais, to build on the abilities he learnt in the original game. Cue the mutant-festering Militia and their random, barbecue-ready hordes. Expect new powers, new enemies, beefed up graphics and even more open worldliness. If the screenshots, opening battle and trailer are anything to go by, this one's going to be a electric.



Alice: Madness Returns
Release Date: June 14 - North America, June 16 - Europe



Eleven years after James ‘American’ McGee’s original cult PC and Mac adventure, dark, barely-holding-on-to-her-sanity Alice is back. And this time, PS3 and Xbox 360 owners are invited down the rabbit hole to Wonderland as well. Don't say we didn't warn you! But wait... On April 20, Electronic Arts confirmed that new copies of Alice: Madness Returns on Xbox 360 and PS3 will include a one-time-only download code for the original game (previously only available on PC and Mac). Or you could just buy American McGee’s Alice on Xbox Live/the PlayStation Network.



Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Release date: August 23 – North America, August 25 – Australia, August 26 – Europe



Set in 2027, 25 years before the original, Deus Ex: Human Revolutions is an epic-looking, dirt-dishing first person RPG prequel of the highest order. You're still thrown into the same dystopian-looking cyberpunk future. Only this time, body augmentations are just entering the mainstream. They're still primitive. Pre-nanotech. And in some cases, full-blown limb replacements. With a heavy emphasis on humanity's insatiable reach, playing as protagonist Adam Jensen, Human Revolutions is all about the beginning of the conspiracies. Every good conspiracy's gotta start somewhere, right?



Gears of War 3
Release date: September 2011



One of the biggest releases of 2011 is just around the corner. Well, almost. Head designer Cliffy B first unveiled the “conclusion to the trilogy” with a stirring teaser trailer on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in 2010. And here we are, almost mid-way through 2011, still waiting. But next weekend, we’ll be one step closer. Because the ‘official trailer’ premieres this May 28 during the Champions League Final the UK and Game 6 of the NBA Playoffs Stateside. Can’t wait? Well here’s a snippet.



Batman: Arkham City

Release date: October 18 – North America, October 21 – Europe, October 19 – Australia




Hot on the black leather boot heels of 2009 cult smash Batman: Arkham Asylum comes Batman: Arkham City, due out this October! Just like the original, Arkham City combines elements of deft stealth and all-out, audacious utility belt action. And according to Mark Hamill, it's the final time he'll voice the Joker. Other confirmed characters include Catwoman, Penguin, Harley Quinn, Riddler, Calendar Man, Hugo Strange and Mr. Freeze. Can't wait for this one!



Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Release date: November 2011



No money-spinning video game action hero ever dies. Just ask Lara Croft. The male version of Miss Croft, Nathan Drake, is back this November for the third installment in Sony's legendary Uncharted series. Developers Naughty Dog will no doubt be looking to build on the series' renowned animation with inventive motion capturing and rendering, maintaining the games' iconic, movie-like feel. This time, Drake's fortune may just lie in the desert.

Monday, May 23, 2011

YUCK & LET'S WRESTLE SELL OUT THE SCALA







Took some shots at Yuck's sold out homecoming show at Scala, Kings Cross last Wednesday. They didn't come out very well - first three songs ONLY, no flash! Here for some of the better ones...

FOKOFPOLISIEKAR/AKING DRUMMER JACO 'SNAKEHEAD' VENTER: ANOTHER BROKEN ARM?

Is it a case of lightning strikes twice or just some elaborate subplot to the latest aKING marketing campaign? Hopefully the latter. Otherwise, looks pretty grim. Is it just me or is Snake actually turning into Jack Parow?

BLACK LUNGS: UPSIDE DOWN CROSSES & TAR-COATED INTENSITY



"There's two guys here wearing the same Supreme shirt", says Black Lungs frontman Wade MacNeil in designer Wellington boots and a Captain Haddock beard. "How bummed are they?" he asks... "Fucking bummed!"

For a Canadian, MacNeil's done his homework. And in-between songs he talks about everything from Shoreditch fashion and Coronation Street to Cyberdog, Camden; "The label sprang for a whole new wardrobe."




The stage is a sea of upside crosses. Black Lungs are an intense live act. Bassist Phil Waring headbutts the wall and rolls around the floor on his back. Drummer George Clark scowls in a Venom t-shirt. Guitarist Patrick Mathers steps on photographers with gammy Ramones legs. And Wade MacNeil breathes fire into 30 second punk-rock power ballads. Black Lungs' sound is take-no-prisoners punk rock with a Napoleon complex.



I still can't believe I missed Gallows' secret 'special guest' performance. In my experience, when they say 8:00pm doors at Old Blue Last you can expect things to kick off around 10:00pm if you're lucky. Unless it's Monday, it seems... Then you miss everything. Still, Black Lungs make up for it with their short, feral bursts of Minor Threat, Black Flag, Cancer Bats-inspired punk rock.



Near the end, MacNeil calls Gallows' ginger nutter Frank Carter Frank Turner. "I called you Frank Turner... I don't know why I did that. Frank, if you're here, I'd pick Frank Carter in a battle of the Franks any day"...

Black Lungs' split with fellow Canadians Cancer Bats is out now...

WORST ROCK MERCH: KISS RUBBER DUCKIE ANYONE?



You know band merchandising's gone a bit far when you can order a KISS coffin. I'm not talking about the cool stuff, like collectible action figures, metal lunchboxes and guitar picks. Or making any kind of moral judgements (except when it comes to John Lennon). No... I'm talking about the pasta sauces, baby-grows, perfumes and inflatable beach balls. The ridiculous band merch so shamefully over the top, you wonder who even buys the stuff. That said, legendary Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was buried in KISS Kasket. But did he play with a Gene Simmons rubber duckie in the bath? God, I hope not...



If you wanna rock 'n roll all night and party every bath time, the Gene Simmons rubber duck is the answer. KISS are the undeniable kings of weird merchandising. And if you're not laughing hysterically (or just turning your nose up in disgust), you can order one from Celebriducks for $11.99. I wonder if KISS have made more money selling merch or music.



When it comes to crazy rock merchandising, New Jersey punk band Misfits are hot on KISS' shiny platformed heels. How punk rock are these Draven Misfits Nightmare slippers? Perfect for a Sunday night in front of the tube. What I want to know is, seeing as how Jerry Only's the last original band member left (although he wasn't technically the band's first bassist), who does all the money go to?



Now this one's pretty mind-blowing: Sex Pistols perfume! According to French scent-smiths Etat Libre d'Orange, “Resisting tradition, fighting conformity and disregarding aromatic conventions it leaves a fresh, restless bite of lemon, sharpened and intensified by a defiant black pepper. Electrified by aldehydes, the fragrance exudes pure energy, pared down and pumped up by leather, shot through with heliotrope and brought back down to earth by a raunchy patchouli”. Shit... I thought the spirit of punk smelled like sweat, piss and heroin.



Can you picture Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister in a pair of baggy shorts, kicking a beach ball around while drummer Mikkey Dee and guitarist Phil Campbell build sand castles and eye out the waves? I'll bet Lemmy's feet have never even touched sand. Still, if you want a Motörhead beach ball this summer, they're $9.99 from the official Motörhead webstore. Weird...



This one makes me laugh. Bless him. Marky Ramone, just trying to make ends meet without Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey. Following in the footsteps of Paul Newman, Marky launched his own brand of pasta sauce in 2010. You can order a case "from the kitchen of Marky Ramone" from markyramone.com. Just have a look at the trailer...





There's a lot of God awful Bob Marley merchandise out there, from incense sticks to rolling papers. But with rolling papers, I get it. I can see the connection. Marley's Mellow Mood Ice Tea, on the other hand, crosses the ridiculous threshold. The drinks are made by the Marley Beverage Company and come in a variety of fruity flavours: Green Tea With Honey, Berry, Black Tea and Citrus. "Calm your soul, ease your mind", says the web site. Yeah, and line our opportunistic pockets.



Now this is where it gets messy. Forget Ben & Jerry's John Lennon 'Imagine Whirled Peace' flavoured ice cream and turn your attention to Mont Blanc's John Lennon fountain pen. If you want one, it'll set you back up to £585. And that's just for a regular one, not the Limited Edition 70 version pictured above (released to commemorate John Lennon's 70th birthday). Is it just me, or does this cross over into the morally dubious side of the whole merchandising equation? I mean, do you really think John Lennon would have okayed this endorsement if he was still alive? And what about the Citroën DS3?



Lastly, no story on weird rock merchandising would be complete without mentioning German industrial outfit Rammstein's 2009 Liebe ist für alle da limited edition box-set, that includes six dildos, a pair of handcuffs and some lube. Now that's (tight) fitting...

THE PECKHAM TERMINATOR

KILLING OSAMA: THE VIDEO GAME - COUNTER STRIKE GOES GERONIMO



Video games have let trigger happy, kill crazy gamers relive humanity's darker side for decades. Long before Hitler turned up with a machine gun in Wolfenstein 3D and Call Of Duty: World At War demonised the Japanese. But these days, the turn around from 'history' to entertainment's so quick, it's getting pretty hard to spot the difference.

Less than a week after US president Barack Obama announced the overnight death of Osama Bin Laden, game modder Fletch created fy_abbottabad, a downloadable, playable map for Counter Strike: Source based on Osama's now legendary Pakistan compound. Personally, I'd rather mow down an old lady on the streets of Liberty City or rip somebody's spine out in Mortal Kombat, safe in the knowledge that I'm not buying into any kind of jingoistic, morally dubious, rah-rah bullshit.






"What a lot of people don't seem to understand is that the only thing this map has in common with Osama is location. I can see how people would think it is in bad taste, but honestly, if that's your opinion you may as well protest the whole game (as well as many others)", says Fletch. I just think it's so weird how hungry gamers (and modders) are to relive what's going on in the world. To get involved without actually getting involved. It's like the kid that comes home from Wrestlemania, desperate to tombstone his younger brother off the roof.

It all started on Reddit (what doesn't), with a post by user dilloj asking 'Do you think someone will make a cs_abottabad?' Currently, the post has 850 points. And if you're wondering just how quickly it all came together, Fletch started designing fy_abbottabad on May 3 - a day after the big announcement - and completed development three days later, on May 6. He then uploaded a new de_abbottabad version on May 11, with plans for it to "maybe used as a base for a bomb or hostage map at a later stage".

But don't you think it's just weird that there aren't any terrorist video games, reliving September 11 with a maniacal, demon-faced version of George W. Bush sucking oil from a gas pipe? Or some Japanese-designed war game where you get to bomb the evil Americans at Pearl Harbor? It's always the Russians, the Nazis or the Japanese. And the story these games tell is never balanced. It's always good vs. evil, without even a hint of any contradictory behaviour by the 'heroes' or any indication of the reasons behind the evil characters' actions. Just have a look at this leaked trailer for Modern Warfare 3, that features a Russian (who else?) attack on New York Harbor.



Tellingly, one user wrote "To keep with realism, will only one side be armed?" on GamePron's post about the Abottabad map. To which another user replied, "Fuck you".

Click here to download the latest version from Gamebanana.

Friday, May 13, 2011

IRON CHIC GO BANGERS AT THE WINDMILL



May 10 2011

Wallflowering around London without prejudice, I’ve seen a lot fully-fledged (and clearly defined) music scenes in action. On Tuesday night in Brixton, I saw my favourite one. Not the people – in particular – but the music that goes with it: gravel-throated pop-punk with soul (and melody).

Most of the punk shows I’ve been to so far are all leather jackets, studs, zips and ‘70s nostalgia fests, where a dyed Mohawk’s way more important than any hint of melody.

Tonight, The Windmill’s wall-to-wall flannel: big dudes, sweaty beards, cute punk-rock girls and thick-framed black glasses. Crass, G.B.H and Anti-Nowhere League shirts traded in for Hot Water Music, The Lawrence Arms and Dear Landlord. The underground band of choice – judging by the t-shirts, patches and badges – seems to be Swansea punk rockers The Arteries.

East London trio Cynics go on first. Vocalist Giles Bidder sings with his eyes shut so tight he reminds me of Tom Gabel. Cynics’ sound is gruff and country, belted out with heart and soul. But things sound a little too neat and tidy for me. A little too contained. And straight away, Lincoln’s The Living Daylights blow them away with a hailstorm of distorted awesomeness – it’s like witnessing the invention of the electric guitar and three part harmonies (might have missed a band in-between).

The Living Daylights sound like a cross between The Flatliners and The Loved Ones (with a hint of old Mest). I actually couldn’t believe how good they sound. Like I say, most of the local punk shows I’ve been to are stuck in the past, coughing up crusty, out-of-date studs-and-leather punk.

Up next, Bangers look just how I’d imagine a punk band from Cornwall to look - I can picture them now, sitting in a small pub down south, wearing flat caps, eating a ploughman’s lunch… Musically, they’ve got that classic three-piece punk-rock sound: ultra-rhythmic, palm-muted guitars, solid, muscular bass lines, tight, busy drums and bag loads of gut wrenching melodies. Up-tempo, road-hungry, DIY dudes with issues to burn!





Finally, the main course: New York “supergroup” Iron Chic, featuring Jason Lubrano (Small Arms Dealer, Wax Phantom) on vocals, Phil “Bear” Douglas (Latterman) on guitars and backups, Dumps (Jonesin’, Down In the Dumps, Get Bent) on bass, Rob McAllister (Capital) on guitar and Gordon Lafler (Jonesin’) on drums. Phew…

“Defend against the hordes, with rusted shields and broken swords. All we need are words. A handful of drunken slurs…”



Iron Chic are such a great band. They deserve fame and fortune! From the lyrics to the attitude, it’s an all-heart, no-bullshit combination of Scooby Doo, DC Comics, Seinfeld and punk rock. My cup of tea exactly! Phil Douglas doesn’t even look like he was made for this world – but sure as fuck, we’re glad he was.


On stage, The Windmill has Iron Chic surrounded. Hands point back at them, mouths throw lyrics right back in their sweaty faces – “You know the words, you know every verse”. The Windmill’s a small place. The walls are bursting at the seams. The energy’s electric. And Iron Chic, as unlikely a supergroup as they look, are on fire tonight!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

BEASTIE BOYS: MAKE SOME NOISE



Check out the music video for new Beastie Boys track "Make Some Noise", starring Seth Rogan, Danny McBride, Elijah Woods, Will Ferrel, Jack Black, Steve Buscemi, Jon C Reilly, Will Arnett, Chloe Sevigny, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ted Danson, Jason Schwartzman, Kirsten Dunst, a DeLorean DMC-12 and more... Gotta be some kind of cameo Guinness World Record or something? Apparently there's a 30 min short movie version out there somewhere as well...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ELBOW TOE: STREET THEATRE, POETRY & PHYSIO



New York street artist Elbow Toe sees all. To him, the streets are alive with creative possibilities. From commuters nodding off on the train to vine-hemmed, dilapidated ‘theatre spaces’ crying out for a new 'interactive' piece. For Elbow Toe, it’s all about the setting and the way his art works with its surroundings. He lives and breathes the city, reflecting his fellow commuters in lines of poetry and sketches, running its streets barefoot and decorating its walls long before the rest of us have sunk into our daily grinds.

In studio – as unmasked alter-ego Brian Douglas – he spends more than three months on one piece, working on giant paper collages and woodcuts with a kind of blind determination and work ethic that’s inspiring (and humbling). In February, Brian was in London for his first solo show Due Date, at Black Rat Projects. And while he was here, Elbow Toe crept out to see what the city had to offer him (and vice versa).

I caught up with Elbow Toe after a “nightmare” two months of “personal family issues” and physio, just as he was settling into his new studio space in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Predictably, he seemed as creative and focused as ever.



Where does the name come from, are you a contortionist?

Ha ha, no. Elbow Toe pays homage to another street artist named Neck Face. I believe he’s from California originally. I’d seen some of his tags around New York City. And one day at work, joking with some friends, I said I’d call myself Elbow Toe if I was ever a street artist.

Click here to read the full interview on Don't Panic Online.

TITLE FIGHT: 27

ORANGE: NOTHING RHYMES WITH OUT-OF-TUNE!



Islington Academy, May 8


The smaller upstairs section of Islington Garage is still pretty dead around 7:30pm. There's a weird Tim Burton version of Michael Jackson with Robert Smith hair lurking in the corner. For a second, I wonder if it's Orange singer Joe Dexter. Nah, the guy in the videos looks way cooler than that. Subtler. More stylish - I mean, he's friends with Tim Armstrong. This guy looks like an over-compensating Nutcracker Prince/Joe Dexter groupie that got got the look wrong...



Meanwhile, there's an intense young dude on stage playing ska to a backing track. It's pretty weird. The midi-sounding repetitive backup music (simple drums, same two bass notes) makes it sound like he should be playing a mall with a cymbal on his back and a pet monkey. Only it's much darker than that. His up-tempo, Desmond Dekker-sounding numbers are peppered with titles (and choruses) like "Ain't Got No Soul" and "That's Why I Hit the Bottle".

The empty hall and the intensity of Robb 'The One Man Ska Explosion' Blake's angry ballads makes it a pretty awkward scene to swallow. And to make matters worse, in-between songs Blake banters like Salisbury's version of David Brent, going on about "all the real musicians" coming up next. "I've got some CDs on sale", he says. "Buy them, steal them, whatever... They're only five pounds. Go on. Just enough for the train ride home..."



Using the back of the room as a kind of awkwardness buffer, I'm stirred to my feet by the post-hardcore, punk-rock growls of Hearts Under Fire. Without laying eyes on them, they sound like a young Thrice (maybe more Aiden in the end). And I'm actually shocked when I get up and lay eyes on four chicks - I just wasn't expecting it.

Lead vocalist Mary O'Reagan has a powerful voice that sounds best under duress, tailing off in a series of powerful screams and note-perfect power melodies. Drummer Lexi Clark keeps things tight and interesting at the back. And guitarists Nicky Day and Steph Forrow keep things tidy in the shadows. But the bass is way too loud, overpowering everything else on stage. And overall, Hearts Under Fire's fast, edgier songs sound much better than their slower ones, that skirt that dreadful Evanescence, relationship power-rock sound - their new single's called "It's Not Me, It's You".



Suddenly, Tim Burton's Michael Jackson doodle emerges from the cobwebs and hits the stage. It is him! I'm genuinely shocked. This is a guy Tim Armstrong signed when he was 16? He looks more like one of the kids that didn't make the Mickey Mouse Club. Or the kid that tries so hard to fit in it's actually a bit creepy. I still can't believe this pointy-footed urchin covering amps with Union Jacks and wrapping microphones with faerie lights is the same guy.

After a long change over, Orange kick off with new single "Everything I Need". And straight away, their performance is alarmingly unimpressive. The sound is terrible. The sound-guy has to be a bassist, because again, the bass is the loudest thing on stage. Unfortunately, it can't hide Dexter's inability to hit a note.

At one point, guitarist Perry Laddish takes over lead vocals and suddenly the band sounds half decent. Which leads to another pretty awkward moment when, after the song, Dexter says to Laddish, "Sounds like I've got some competition after that performance Perry". Meanwhile, tumbleweeds crash into each other on the empty dancefloor.

On stage, Dexter's just such an unlikeable character. He doesn't reign in his performance at all to compensate for the small turn out, terrible sound and weak performance. Instead, he raises his arms like Jared Leto on a mountain top and winks and pulls these stupid faces like he's playing to a stadium full of 13 year old girls. It wouldn't matter so much if the dude could sing.



After Orange I'm pretty shell-shocked and don't stick around for much of New Riot's set. But straight away, their fun blend of party-starting ska-punk sounds like a million bucks. Suddenly, playing after Orange doesn't seem so bad. They remind me of old Less Than Jake, Mad Caddies and Zebrahead. Tight, in tune and ready to riot.