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So… Leeds. Leeds, Leeds, Leeds. I’ve been here six years now… enough time to consider this place ‘home,’ and enough time to see and fall in love with precisely a zillion bands in the city, both local and out-of-towners, attracted by probably the most thriving DIY scene in the UK (certainly the most thriving non-hardcore-punk-orientated DIY scene). So, what better way to celebrate the realisation that I’ve now spent a quarter of my life in this crime-riddled corner of West Yorkshire than to attempt to chronicle what’s going on RIGHT NOW [September 2004] in this here town. I’d like to attempt a retrospective of every great Leeds band I ever saw, but I won’t because a) that’s backward-looking, and b) I can’t be arsed. I’ll just say that if you ever come across any recordings by Solanki (mega skronky Minutemen aficionados who I’m afraid I never saw) or Snail Racing (two of Solanki + two more = triple bass melancholy melody) then you should buy them.

The current Leeds band that’s (probably) next best known to non-denizens of West Yorkshire is, of course The Mighty Bilge Pump. I’m sure das Bilge will have paid a visit to your town (or one nearby) in the last couple of years, and if you decided not to go then I pity you, fool. All-over-the-place bass, squealing guitars and crazy jazz drums add up to create a heavy, noisy, yet utterly accessible and danceable mess. It’s made all the more loveable by the half spoken, half ‘sung’ vocals, about bastard scaffolders, Aga stoves and jumping out of windows. Et cetera. Certainly the best live band I’ve seen in years, and never more fun than when everyone (well, me) is slightly twatted. Debut album Let Me Breathe, while not quite capturing the wired insanity of the live experience, remains a classic and is still never far from my stereo, more than two years after its release. Apparently the new album is in the pipeline and if the new songs they’ve slipped into their live set (and Peel session) over the last year or so are on it, it’s going to blow Let Me Breathe (and everything else, ever) off the planet.

Also ‘in the pipeline’ is the new record from Polaris, five+ years after their debut Belated came out. Polaris count amongst their number the drummer and guitarist from Bilge Pump, but are an altogether darker, mellower proposition. Incorporating intertwining guitars, expressive drums and actual singing, Polaris create intricate, atmospheric tunes that never fail to captivate. But don’t be fooled (by me) into pigeonholing them as post-rock ponderers: listen to some of the choppier/shoutier moments on Belated (if you can find it) and I think you’ll agree that they can make a disconcerting noise like the best of them. They’ve been around a while, but they’re certainly not guilty of wallowing in past glories. While Bilge Pump seem to play every week, a Polaris show is always an ‘event’, and in my experience, each ‘event’ is better than the last.

About 10 years younger than Polaris and Bilge Pump, yet just as accomplished are the likes of Kill Yourself. A band who always used to get lumbered with a stoopid amount of Albini comparisons, in the last couple of years they’ve scoped out a more individual, creepier sound, as showcased on their cover of Devo’s 2 Much Paranoias (Jealous Records) and recent, gas-mask-assisted performances. Manic vocals in the style of a distorted David Yow are hidden under dirty guitars and dirty, dirtier, dirtiest bass, all backed up by the hardest-hitting drummer this side of, er, that guy who hits his drums really hard. The Soft Touch of Man EP on Gringo/Obscene Baby Auction is a MUST.

Only two-thirds of Kill Yourself are based in Leeds these days, so to stave off the boredom the bassist and drummer formed That Fucking Tank. As ‘trendcore’ (sorry) as two-pieces are nowadays, I have to say that TFT are something special. Drums and ridiculously complex (ridiculously catchy) baritone guitar combine to create a horrendous, danceable racket. Their mini album on Jealous and track on the new Obscene Baby Auction compilation Old Baby Sex Scene (which, as one half of the OBA empire, they curated) are both excellent, yet it’s the live show that really fills me with smiles and joy, even though sometimes I wish they’d wear clothes.

Seeing Brown Owl is also an uplifting experience. Made up from remnants/components of a million great bands including Diesel vs Steam, Tigers!, the Dragon Rapide and Bob Tilton, they’ve evolved in the last few months into a real force. Now totally instrumental (or they were last time I saw them) their blend of lolloping funk-filled bass, free drums and scratchy guitars gets better every time I see them. Their only release to date is the track Import, part of a split seven-inch with Bilge Pump on Obscene Baby Auction. Not totally representative of what they sound like these days, but recommendable nonetheless.

Tigers! are the logical conclusion to all of this noise, the asylum weíll all end up if we carry on fucking up our brains with this stupid, stupid noise. Another band for who clothes are an optional extra, Tigers! unleash a torrent of filth and depravity on the innocent audience* in one-minute bursts of stop-start maniacal hardcore. While wearing tigerskin swimming trunks, of course. Their seven inch on Chinchilla records is not something I’ve picked up yet but if the live show is anything to go by its going to be ace.
*Some audiences being more innocent than others: check out this video of Tigers! taking on a stage invasion of ten year olds at this years Unity Day festival in Leeds: www.theaudaciousartexperiment.com

Sharing one member with Tigers! and three with the now-defunct super-heavy Kito, The Dragon Rapide have fairly little in common with either of those bands. Drawn-out, vocal-free complex compositions in the style of Tortoise/a less abrasive Don Caballero is the name of the game here. The album Meetings with Remarkable Machines has been around for a while, a 45 minute collage of sublime melody and rhythmic horseplay that I need to buy and stop getting out of the library.

Like a Kind of Matador have been around for ages and somehow I’ve managed to see them only once (and a half). An interesting blend of heavy-as-anything guitar, sweet flute-playing and a drumkit that’s not so much played as abused, it’s an experience I want to have again.

Dungeon Dungeon are a fairly new addition to the Leeds roster. Two guitars and two drummers combine to create a mesmerising experiment in monolithic droning noise. Occasionally they team up with Nottingham’s favourite pedal-pushers Birds of Delay to form the doubly mesmerising, even more experimental and extraordinarily monolithic Birds of Dungeon. Keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming (Dungeon Dungeon) release on Jealous. Meanwhile, why not amuse yourself by shouting ‘one more!’ at the end of their half-hour, one-song-long set.

It’s always nice when the best music is made by the nicest people. Or, in the case of Monster Killed by Lazer, when the best music is made by the nicest lunatics. ‘Post-talent’, they call it, and who am I to argue? Led Zeppelin riffs meet Bilge Pump beats at the world’s scariest Halloween party (too many freaky masks for my liking). They too have a track on Old Baby Sex Scene, which is like a more focused version of their crazy, lengthy live sets. Vocal-free rock power for unreconstructed metallers and pasty indie losers alike.

If all this ridiculously skronky noise is making your head hurt then I suggest you take refuge, like I’ve been known to, in the music of Deerpark. This Leeds/Sheffield based ensemble stalk similar territory to the likes of Nina Nastasia and Will Oldham, and their debut release It Made her Look Spidery (self-released CD) is the perfect way to relax after work (if it doesn’t skip like it does on my PIECE OF SHIT CD player). They’re just as soothing live, with up to eight musicians adding (only when they’re needed, like) traditional instrumentation including violin, trumpet and double bass to simple guitar and vocals, creating a mellow yet utterly captivating sound.

Sharing a family connection with Deerpark, McWatt plough a more experimental furrow, but one which is no less pleasing to the ear. Use of double bass, flute and occasional accordian set this duo apart from the bands you get used to seeing round these parts. Another band featured on OBA’s Old Baby Sex Scene, McWatt are the classical alternative to guitar noise and I like them a lot.

If you get tired of real instruments altogether then you could do worse than check out Printed Circuit, Leeds’ very own purveyor of C64-influenced electro pop. Her album, The Adventure Game on Team Catmobile veers between melancholy electronica and upbeat pop classics, entirely made up of sounds that are familiar to players of ‘Horace Goes Skiing’, circa 1986. Why songs like the super-camp Switch It On donít make it onto Top of The Pops is a source of constant bemusement to me. If I’ve one criticism of the record, it’s that there aren’t enough of these bona fide pop classics that she’s evidently capable of. There are cool mp3s dotted around the internet though, so I’ll get over it.

The Unpleasants actually consists of the very un-unpleasant meanderings of one (ex-Hood) man and his electronic gadgets. He used to have a talking toy monkey on stage but I think he’s grown out of that. His track on Old Baby Sex Scene is a soothing, melodic slice of music-box daydreaming that sounds OK to these tired ears.

So that’s Leeds. Fairly happening, I’d say, if I used words like ‘happening’. Let’s just say it’s swell. When I think about the bands, labels and collectives mentioned above (as well as the great touring bands who stop off here) in conjunction with the genuine diversity and general community spirit they tap into/contribute to, as well as the fact that most of the gigs take place in good old-fashioned real-ale pubs (maybe it’s just me), it makes me realise Leeds has been a pretty OK place to hang about in for the last six years. With new bands falling out of back-to-back houses every other day, and a project to build a new community space/DIY gig venue/social club getting off the ground, it looks like its going to be just as swell over the next few years.

Further Information
Solanki www.flatearth.free-online.co.uk
Gringo Records (Bilge Pump/Polaris/Kill Yourself) www.gringorecords.com
Jealous Records (That Fucking Tank/Dungeon Dungeon) www.jealousrecords.com
Obscene Baby Auction Records (Kill Yourself/That Fucking Tank/McWatt/Bilge Pump/The Unpleasants) www.obscenebabyauction.tk
The Audacious Art Experiment (Kill Yourself/Tigers!) www.theaudaciousartexperiment.com
Tigers! www.chinchillaweb.co.uk
Like A Kind Of Matador www.likeakindofmatador.com
Monster Killed By Laser www.freewebz.com/monsterkilledbylaser/
Deerpark www.deerparkmusic.com
Printed Circuit www.printed-circuit.net
Cops and Robbers (all of the above and more; gig listings and ‘chat’) www.copsandrobbers.net
Find out about the new Leeds community venue project at www.oblongleeds.org