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Audioscope 2002


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.

11.47 am
No bands to be seen. Soundcheck started 47 minutes ago.

12.04 pm
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.

12.25 pm
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.

12.47 pm
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.

1.24 pm
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.

1.55 pm
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.

2.15 pm
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.

3.28 pm
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 them on.

3.50 pm
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.

3.52 pm
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 oblige.

4.02 pm
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.

4.15 pm
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.

4.36 pm
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.

5.15 pm
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).

6.02 pm
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 us up.

6.16 pm
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 next year.

7.14 pm
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.

8.15 pm
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.

8.56 pm
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 indie anthems.

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…who wants a gig?

www.audioscope.co.uk – more about last year, this year and next year at AUDIOSCOPE
www.shelter.org.uk – more about the charity