Deaf Balloons bring light from darkness with The Black Country

At the best of times, Wolverhampton is a bleak place. Nestled in the Black Country, in the middle of Grey Britain, fun is a commodity in short supply. Whereas other cities across the land boast of their “scene”, the closest we get to a scene is a crime scene.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop bands from trying to be the best Wulfrunian export since Beverly Knight. Or Steve Bull. Or orange chips.

One of the latest bands to give that a whack is Deaf Ballons; arguably an indie band, but their sound is a bit fizzier than that. They’ve just released their first ‘proper’ EP The Black Country, hoping that much like their city’s motto, out of the darkness of Wolverhampton shall cometh light. And if you’re so inclined, out of Sandwell cometh shite.

Still in their infancy as a group, they could be forgiven for taking baby steps on their first EP (and their headline show at The Sunflower Rooms in Birmingham), but as the show opened up and the first notes rang out, they took total control of the rather full and sweaty room with complete confidence.

Another important thing is playing around your problems when you’re taking baby steps, and any technical woes were brushed off or laughed off by frontman Ed Scott, already owning a stage without any issues. The band look well glued together as well. They all seem to be enjoying themselves and the company of their bandmates, rather than being rooted to the spot. A good indicator of whether a new band are gelling and comfortable in their own skin: does the bass player look like they’re plotting a murder-suicide in their band? If they look happy, everyone’s happy.

The set was a fully blown one, comprising of the old songs from roughly recorded EP Dreaming of Somebody Else followed by a few new tracks with punk inclinations, before moving onto the real meat – the new EP. Let’s do the same, shall we?

Starting off slow and melancholic, The Black Country paints a dull and grey picture, inspired by life in the city. It doesn’t move past a slow crawl, and accurately captures a dreary day in a grey and anonymous scene. As a opener it works fantastically, settling you into the EP before something a bit more uptempo. Gangster Lean does just that with its heightened drum beat and brighter feel.

It feels unfair parcelling the band off as “indie” when they don’t stick to a linear blueprint, but there are some really light and airy beats on here, with Gangster Lean being a fantastic example of that. In terms of notes and feedback to improve their performance, you can’t really pick up on any glaring errors, omissions or black holes that need plugging. The only thing for Deaf Balloons to do is to keep doing what they do until they can do no more doing, and that? That will do. They have a solid foundation on which to grow, and the only thing is to keep it simple; save the flashy shit for the arena tour and the experimental shit for at least the fifth album.

A good example of deviating from a linear blueprint is EP highlight Crocodile Tears. A throaty scream opens the track, before a grungy riff starts to rattle your eardrums. There’s also the lighter indie bits in the verses, but the hefty part of track is that big, meaty riff. Let it in your ears, let the sludge permeate your soul and corrupt your children.

The Black Country is a solid EP, and a statement of intent from the band. Nothing’s a given in the music business, but Deaf Balloons are showing they’re prepared to work hard on the stage and in the studio to get the results they crave. All that’s needed now is to make sure they don’t float off, and to make sure they’ve always got a solid ear on what they’re doing. – oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)

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Gig Review: The Prodigy @ Wolverhampton Civic

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Let’s face it; it’s now officially the Christmas wind-down, and this week you’re going to do bugger all, or put all your energy into replying to two emails and one “maybe” to a meeting request. Always keep it maybe, keep ’em guessing. Unless you work in retail, then, in that case, I stand in absolute solidarity with you.

So of course, when you’re slowing down & getting yourself ready for the festive break, the only thing you should be doing with your evenings is making merry at a Prodigy gig, yeah?

Embarking on a wee little yuletide tour of some of the UK’s smaller venues, The Prodigy rocked up at the Wolverhampton Civic, ready to drop some festive beats on these Voodoo People. The last two times I’ve seen The Prodigy, one was in the open air at Sonisphere, and the other was in the airy comfort of the Birmingham Arena. Wolverhampton Civic is a sweaty little box in comparison and as much as I love it, sharing it with a few thousand other people is not a tantalising thought.

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Photos courtesy of Chris Bowley | Twitter

But either way, as the lights went out, smoke filled the hall and Liam Howlett himself took to the stage, shit was about to kick off, and when Maxim Attack and Keith Flint arrived, shit got incredibly real. Opening with the ominous Omen, it was pretty clear that Wolverhampton was more than up for it, with the crowd shimmying through a frenzy of lights, lasers, and beats. But Omen is getting on in years now, so why not something new?

Resonate (citation needed) just goes to show that despite nearing their 30th anniversary, The Prodigy knows how to keep it fresh & interesting. It’s not a frantic tune and feels more like a bombastic dance track – something you can confidently strut down the street to. Does this, coupled with a micro-tour mean that a follow-up to The Day is My Enemy due? Sure hope so, and judging by the sleeves-up and stuck in reaction of the crowd, they sure do, too. My city, my people!

Need Someone (citation needed) will catch you off guard as it starts off with a slow synth line, with resident scary person Keith Flint saying he needs someone, then all hell will break loose. It’s still got the same stomping feel as Resonate, but instead of strutting down the road, you now realise you’ve been poncing about too much and you’re running for the bus. It sounds like the Alton Towers theme tune snorted… some unmentionable powder… Two big new tunes with a LOT of promise here.

But it’s not just about the new tracks, we want to hear some classics! And our boys duly obliged as they got the crowd working through Nasty and Wild Frontier. Good pit consistency, a lot of half-naked sweaty bald guys but needs must. Everybody in the Place also made an appearance, still feeling modern despite being part of the 90s rave scene.

 

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Photos courtesy of Chris Bowley | Twitter

 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Prodigy gig without Firestarter and good lord, when this track started I saw Keith Flint look down the middle of the hall, and I swear to you now, we locked eyes and I’ve never felt more scared. Despite my numerous mental health issues, which we won’t discuss, I feel I’m pretty resilient, nothing wobbles me, but Keith Flint, my friends, frightens the everliving piss out of me. It’s one of the biggest tunes in the world, and commanded a prize effort from the Wolverhampton crowd.

The Day is My Enemy didn’t get the love it deserved, I feel. It was a solid album, didn’t top Invaders Must Die, but few albums could. Which is why it was such a treat to get the title track from that album, plus a thousand heartbeats a minute filthy drum ‘n’ bass remix, straight into Roadblox, with Get Your Fight On also elbowing its way into the set. Seriously, go have a listen to it and tell me what you think, I think it’s great and needs a bit more loving. Of course, I wasn’t reviewing albums back then, but rest assured, I’d have marked it highly.

But nothing could come close to Voodoo People. The eclectic mix of people, from the retired ravers to the long-haired moshers, straight through to yer da was actually brilliant. To see such a strange but interesting mix of people all giving the same reaction to the same songs was fantastic. Only truly great acts can transcend genres and generations alike, and The Prodigy are one of them. We also enjoyed a hot-to-trot mix at the end of this too; good for the ears, terrible for unfit music writers such as myself.


Jesus Christ, I’m tired just writing this. The shirt I wore is likely contorted out of use because of sweat, and I’ve got blood all up my nose right now. So you’ll believe me when I say it was the most fun I’ve ever had on a Tuesday evening.


Oh yeah, where were we? Despite needing to Breathe, all I could get in return was Breathe, and it was around this point in the set that the crowd started to die out a bit; mosh pits became staggered dance pits, which became synchronised stumbles, which slowly decayed into outright nudity. You ever had some bald guy rub his head against your shirt? I’m not a violent man in any way shape or form, but it took a lot for me not to crack his head open like a boiled egg.

 

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Photos courtesy of Chris Bowley | Twitter

 

Not one for slowing it down for an acoustic number, we got dealt Run With the Wolves, Poison, Invaders Must Die before reaching the crescendo of Smack My Bitch Up, and when Maxim tells you to get down, you dutifully oblige. Are you really gonna refuse that man’s wishes? I thought not.

The encore comprised of classic tracks No Good (Start the Dance) and Their Law, two massive originals for the jilted generation, no matter which generation you come from. Take Me to the Hospital closed off the set, by this point all people wanted was a glass of water and yes, to be taken to the hospital.

All in all, an absolutely top-notch set from the kings of electronic music; classics played with outright precision, modern tracks landing like bombs and new tracks giving so much promise. Last gig of 2017, but you’ll see a lot of me next year, live and kickin’ from the pit.

Gig Review: Arcane Roots @ The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton

Arcane Roots must be the ugliest bastards in the world. What gives me right to say that? For over an hour on Thursday night, we were treated to just fleeting glimpses of the Kingston three piece as they played in the shadows. However, vision is not the sense required to enjoy them. Shut your eyes, open your ears and let their ethereal assault wash over you, wave after wave.

Hitting the road to promote their new album, Melancholia Hymns, this was their second attempt at reaching Wolverhampton, with the original date being postponed due to, in the words of frontman Andrew Groves “these things coming in threes, well this came in millions”. However, what they brought in behind schedule more than delivered.

Opening with Before Me & Matter from Melancholia Hymns, it was a darkened, ethereal introduction, bursting into life from the stage. The smooth, haunting keyboards are mixed in with heavy riffs, with the vocals sounding studio perfect. Good things indeed come to those who wait, and Arcane Roots were more than making up for the delay.

The lighting set up added to the atmosphere, with the band bathed in darkness, only to appear through bursts of light. For a band that deals in the haunting, heavy and ethereal, it was incredibly fitting to have them move in the gloom as they bounced through the old favourites and the new classics, including Off the Floor, Sacred Shapes, Leaving & Indigo, with every vocal assisted by the audience.

Clocking in at just over an hour long, the set left everyone wanting more, but what the set had in shortness delivered double in sweetness, with Arcane Roots playing an inch perfect set, not a hair out of place or a riff out of sync. It did however feel like all the songs joined up perfectly, with the band being able to segue between songs as if they were written as one piece of performance art, a concept that crosses albums. Despite the fact a three piece band were trying to incorporate big synth sounds along with their heavy riffs, nothing was out of place; there were no missed cues, unappealing sounds or confusing intervals. It might not be rock and roll to show up on time (which they did) and play a smooth, seamless set, but it’s certainly impressive.

Closing out with their big numbers, Curtains and If Nothing Breaks, Nothing Moves, it’s clear that nothing can stop this band, even if it does come in millions. Their slick production, ethereal sounds and all-encompassing riffs are the booster rockets to take their music to the moon and back.