The diary of AUDIOSCOPE 02 by Stuart Fowkes, aged
23 and 3/4
So yeah, the second AUDIOSCOPE. For those of you who don't know
what the deal is, it's an annual all-day music mini-festival put
on jointly by myself, Mr Simon Minter of diskant Towers and our
esteemed colleagues Kate (now in London) and Ben (now out in Venezuela
- flying off at 4.00 am the morning after the show). Basically,
we put on bands we think are good and who all sound a bit different
from each other, try to raise money for the homeless charity Shelter,
and people come along and have fun.
10. 25 am
All of which is exactly why we were at the venue (The Zodiac in
Oxford) at 10.25 am, for what was to be a mammoth 14 hours without
daylight during which I ate two damp tuna sandwiches. Fighting Red
Adair left monging about listening to records at our flat, we cart
the Sunnyvale stuff down in a taxi only to discover no soundman
and no backline, but hey, there are sandwiches and I had a dream
about Jim Morrison telling Kevin Costner something about baseball
and Waynestock, which means it'll be OK.
No bands to be seen. Soundcheck started 47 minutes ago.
Appliance arrive, after negotiating the legendary Oxford one-way
system for 35 minutes or so. And they're polite, my goodness
if they're not polite. The kind of rock band that you could take
home to meet your mum, they've even brought their own soundman along,
and posters too, bless. Merchandise stall starts to take shape with
the arrival of Shelter balloons and posters about homelessness,
which we begin to plaster the venue with. Blu-Tack, marker pens
and balloons - the venue looks more like a Bring and Buy sale in
a school hall than the throbbing palace of ROCK we intend to turn
it into for the next 11 hours.
The beer arrives. Ten shiny crates of Stella. Organisers becoming
nervous, and start drinking just before Souvaris (featuring diskant
Dave) roll up, garishly-painted amps in tow. Sadly, the band providing
the drum backline ain't here, and won't turn up until 3.00 pm. Lucky
the first band doesn't have a drummer.
Everything's going to be OK - the voice of Oxford music has arrived
in the form of our master of ceremonies, Sarge. The venue's starting
to look ship-shape and we've managed to soundcheck a whole one band.
No bass amp for the backline. Beg local guitar shop to lend us one,
which, bizarrely enough, is full of cobwebs. The amp, not the shop.
A quick line check for Sunnyvale (we're opening in what the
optimistic and generous could see as a Shellac-at-ATP curation,
rather than a 'let's play on the same bill as Pram and Nought' tactic),
and we open doors. Amazingly, there are people queuing outside (queuing!
For our festival! If only my mum was here
) and the bar opens.
Sarge introduces us as 'Oxford's most improved band', only for the
sound in the monitors to alternate between a) inaudible so we can't
tell what we're playing and b) DEAFENING. Sound problems also cause
the front of house sound to go all weird, and what was a carefully
concealed bongo break hidden away in one track becomes a comedy
bongo-fest. Impressive slideshow notwithstanding, it's the worst
set we've played in a year, and I break both my bass and our keyboard
by flinging them at things. Not the best start to the day from a
personal point of view. Resolve to get a drummer.
Calm down enough to check out local heroes Dustball, who
are playing specially early 'cos one of them has stuff to do later.
And they're GREAT. Totally unfazed by the mid-afternoon slot, they
treat us to three new songs (at least, there are three I don't recognise),
and by the time they finish, they're clambering all over the stage
furniture yelping like Fugazi in a pet shop. And what with them
being a band people have heard of round these parts (other bands
have to work harder), there's a more than healthy crowd to cheer
Sadly, the dangers of passouts mean that the less hardcore fans
(about half of the total), not enticed by the prospect of seeing
two bands they've not heard of in Souvaris and Fighting Red Adair,
naff off for assorted lunch/shopping/wat
ching England vs. Portugal
duties, leaving a far less impressive (although still only just
shy of 100) crowd to enjoy the next bands.
Sarge encourages people to buy raffle tickets and compilation CDs
for the twelfth time. We fully expect him to interrupt a band mid-song
to ask if they've bought tickets later.
Oh. The drum backline's not arriving till half past five now. Better
see if we can borrow another drumkit, sharpish. Dustball kindly
Still only mid-afternoon, but I've been in the Zodiac for six hours
and my body clock is starting to play tricks on me. Dustball were
headlining and it's time to go home now, surely.
Time for Souvaris, actually. They've been to Oxford a few
times and seem to polarise opinion in that half the people that
see them think they create soaring post-rock epics and that having
songs ten minutes long is an all-too-rare commodity in today's nasty
reduced pop world. The other half think they're pish Mogwai copyists.
The former group can hold their heads high on the basis of today,
which is the best I've seen them since last year, when they made
my ears bleed. The songs get loud when they need to, stay loud when
they're supposed to and end when they have to. Of course, they nearly
have to do the whole thing without their piano after keyboardist
Simmo forgets the power adapter for it and has to run to the music
shop to buy a new one five minutes before they start.
Stage manager goes mental when Nought arrive with an entire trailer
and a van full of enormous amps and we have to find another storage
room for them. End up
storing them in the cloakroom.
An assortment of curious people are dotted around the venue (mostly
by the bar) by the time Fighting Red Adair hit the stage.
And this being their first trip to England, let alone Oxford, they're
not going to go without being noticed, so they refuse to play until
a healthy circle has formed down the front. And they're terrific,
tearing through their instrumental 'Gatekeeper' until they break
a bass string. Not losing any momentum, the remainder of the band
tease us with some choice Slayer and Shellac snippets until they're
ready to resume. All over the stage, screaming vocals, insistent
Jesus Lizard basslines and taut guitars, you'd never have them down
as the same band who stayed up till 5.00 am the night before talking
about Transformers. At least not until they become a drunken mess
in the after show club later (much like everyone else).
Things are by now starting to get a bit messy - two people try to
hug me while I'm Djing (must be all the Kathleen Hanna-related records),
and there are rumours doing the rounds that Tony Wilson (out of
that film) from Factory Records is backstage. Someone's winding
Cat On Form have made Oxford something of a happy hunting
ground, and the venue's as good as full for the rest of the night
by the time they arrive on stage. Only their third gig in the city,
and there are people shouting along to the words of 'Everything
Has A History' at the front. Nought aside, the band of the day hands
down for a lot of people, and the first (and only) to say something
about the homeless, Steve's brief, impassioned speech sobering a
lot of people up and receiving possibly the most heartfelt cheers
of the day. As usual, the Cats are all over the place. During
'Soiled Skulls', guitarist Dan flings his instrument to the floor
to concentrate on screaming the refrain, and little difference it
makes to the sheets of noise that leave the Zodiac picking itself
up off the floor. It's aggression, sure, but it's well thought out,
positive aggression, which a significant proportion of the audience
(those hiding at the back, mostly) manage to miss. If there's any
justice, Cat On Form will be too big to play 300-capacity venues
by the time AUDIOSCOPE 03 comes around. And it's true, Tony Wilson
was sniffing around backstage for Cat On Form (he looks nothing
like Steve Coogan etc etc), although how he got backstage without
a pass I'd still like to know. Mark my words, security will be TIGHTER
And it's Oxford's very own hip-hop-noise-pop-sample types eeebleee
to follow the Cats, and they look totally at ease doing it. When
they hit their form, there are few bands as good as eeebleee (certainly
not round our yard), but tonight's set sounds slightly flat. I blame
the soundman - the double bass doesn't have its usual churning throb
and the beats sound a little tinny, although Dave's vocals sound
great coming through the special sparkly Sennheiser mikes. They
still manage to win over a lot of fans from the not-yet-converted,
closing tune 'Dirty Choir' greeted with rapture.
Fighting Red Adair drummer becomes unconscious out of Stella, and
is buried backstage under amps and beer cans.
One set of late 60s psychedelia from Mr Minter later, and it's the
turn of arguably the day's most commercially successful band, Appliance
(or Mute Records' Appliance, as they seem to be forever tarred).
And they're almost surprisingly great, concentrating on the more
Spacemen 3 driving-guitar-lines side of their records than the considered
electronica that bloops its way across Imperial Metric in
particular. Vocalist James Brooks seems surprised at how well they
go down (especially the as yet un-road tested new songs), and leaves
the stage with a big grin on his face. Oh, and they played a request
('Land, Sea and Air') for me, which will probably be the first and
only time that ever happens.
Special mention to Steve McColl's DJ set, taking us on a trawl through
his hip hop 12"s, scratching like a pro on the inadequate venue
turntables. Very drunk by this stage. Chief bloke from Mute Records
also bumming around the venue as well as Tony Wilson. Fully expect
Alan McGee to be backstage nicking Stella.
Sarge's introduction of Nought last for a very long time.
The first time local legends Nought have played Oxford in over a
year, since they moved to London, and there won't often be an atmosphere
like this in the Zodiac. A mixture of dru
nk people, curious people
and people who have been waiting for a VERY LONG TIME to see Nought
play live. Big build-up, but they don't disappoint, and never before
has arty jazz-tinged extremely heavy instrumental guitar music got
so many people thinking they can dance down at the front. Drinks
are shared, and the entire half-hour set ('Nought II'! 'Ignatius!')
passes like a religious experience (in a good way).
Which makes Pram either a chilled out or a slightly disappointing
end to the day's music, depending on who you ask. The set's almost
entirely new stuff, and floats along on a carpet of Moog-powered
tweeness with less impetus than Helium-era Pram, but no small
share of charm.
I can't remember much after this.
Clearout time at the venue, bands mostly vanish home in various
Transits, with only Fighting Red Adair and eeebleee braving the
upstairs club for Drunken Chaos and a wide selection of terrible
Fighting Red Adair and eeebleee are still drinking with us, and
Ben's on a plane to Venezuela.
So yeah, cheers to everyone that came along, and to everyone that
said nice things to us on the day, either on stage or off. We think
it all went rather well, and it looks like we'll be able to give
something in the region of £2,500 to £3,000 to Shelter,
which is the best thing of all. Roll on 6 September 2003
wants a gig?
more about last year, this year and next year at AUDIOSCOPE
www.shelter.org.uk - more
about the charity
where it all happens
article by Stu Fowkes