People often talk about Glasgow as having a vibrant music scene, and in a lot of respects that’s a fair assessment to make – we are a UNESCO world music heritage site after all. However, the past few years have seen the reputation Leeds rocket – particularly with regards to new and so-called underground music. The dirty, scuzzy, slightly obtuse bands that I tend to be drawn towards seem to have been spawning, or at least end up connected in some way to the Yorkshire city at an alarming rate. Castrovalva is one such band, so I took the chance to hop on a train to join some of the other popdodger writers for the weekend and see what things were like on their home turf.
There was a definite enthusiasm and buzz in Leeds around the whole music ‘scene’ (for want of a better word) that is lacking in places that are a bit more well established. Rather than the sort of jaded attitude that one all too often experiences in other cities, people actually seemed excited and interested in what was going on… as well as everybody knowing everybody else. Come to think of it, every visit I’ve made to Leeds in the past has been musically related, and led to only seeing the inside of one of the many venues… which probably says a lot in of itself.
The gig was part of the 360Club, held in ‘The Library’ – a peculiar venue to behold. As one of the many ‘Scream’ bars, downstairs bore all the generic hallmarks of the rest of the chain, complete with a seemingly endless supply of drunk young folk in fancy dress playing pool. (Oh, and what’s with only half-drinking your pints then leaving them by the way?!) This is not the sort of place that you would usually expect to find housing a fairly decent sized venue at the top of a wooden staircase. It is definitely not the sort of place that you would expect to find Castrovalva and Exit International to be playing.
Like the bastard I am, I didn’t bother paying much attention to the first couple of bands. I know… it’s awful. Imagine not supporting new music like that… but there was alcohol to be drunk, and young people to harass. I must also confess to having taken no photos of Exit International, who were the main support for the evening. However, I can declare that the shouty Welshmen are well worth closer inspection if your thing is slightly unhinged, fast-paced and aggressive. They’re one of the few bands who’ve managed to have a track stick in my head after just the single listen, but don’t read too much into the title of that. ‘Glory Horn’. It’s a tune.
The guys are due to head back to Leeds in 2013 to record their next album, and it’s something that should hopefully give them a bigger chance to do their thing. At the moment they’ve got enough going on to be both unheard of but well experienced, which is an excitedly frustrating place to be in. Bands don’t always tend to move on from this point particularly well, as it’s apparently far too easy to lose a bit of the initial fire after going through the motions, but this lot might just have the potential to record something really impressive. I hope so anyway!
Castrovalva. The only other time that I’m aware of having seen these guys was a few months ago in Glasgow when they were supporting Nine Black Alps. Having listened to their latest release You’re Not in Hell, You’re in Purgatory my Friend over and over, I’d been looking forward to seeing how it would translate live. On that occasion though, an opening slot and lukewarm reception seemed to leave them feeling a bit underwhelmed, and so not exactly the best representation of what they were capable of doing. I was left desperate to see how they’d fare in different circumstances, and so when the chance came up to nip down and see them headline in their home city, it wasn’t really a choice I had to spend much time debating.
As soon as the first notes of I am the Golden Widow sounded, it was clear that the trio were far more comfortable, seeming every bit the weirdo geniuses that the album suggested on first listen. Rather than shying away and singing towards the centre of the stage as he had done previously, singer Noel Leeman seemed liberated… able to bring the songs to life properly, complete with the the theatrics they require. Backed up by the aggressive thundering of the bass and drums behind him, it was difficult not to be drawn to the way he got seemingly completely lost in what he was doing, hands swirling around in the air as if conjuring up invisible spirits. Or something.
Castrovalva are definitely operating in a space of their own at the moment. Both personally and musically they’re incredibly difficult to sit alongside any other act except the likes of Indiana’s Racebannon, and they’ve long since dropped off any sort of radar. Even in the obtuse circles in which we in the alternative music world can find ourselves, bands all-too-often lack a bit of definition – following predictable patterns or sets of similarities. I like the fact that I’m fairly uncomfortable with Castrovalva. I like the fact that I can’t quite work them out. I like the fact that the majority of people are probably going to hate them. I like the fact that they’re at risk of veering off into the realms of really terrible or really brilliant all at once. I have no idea what else to say, except that I really just want to see what they’re going to do next.
Whatever, both of these bands are doing some of the most interesting things in the scuzzy, dirty, fuzzy rock world just now, and thank fuck that somebody is.
I should probably go back to Leeds soon, and so should you.