Fri 8th December 2023
2023 was the year I finally got back into the groove of gig attendance following the Covid disturbance of this life long love and past time. Add in getting older, not having the same energy for nights out, a reduced number of likeminded souls for company, and that weird trepidation of solo gig attendance, and it has been slow going to get back to this point, but I by and large managed it, catching 84 band sets in a handful of different northern towns and cities. Best of all was the weird and unusual locations I found myself at this year, from cemeteries, to the oldest active village musical hall in the world, from a 16th Century Tudor House living room to several train journeys out to Rotherham for a surprisingly vibrant scene. Here are my top ten sets I was lucky enough to see this year.
10 - Moloch - Sheffield, Sidney & Matilda - 2nd November
Moloch have been around for so long now it is easy to take them for granted. Album releases are rare occurences, but they're still available to see live, and they are still one of the best bands in sludge to see, anywhere in the world. I seem to catch them roughly annually, and its always a highlight - a band so tight that their live performances transcend the collection of songs, never stopping between tracks, this one long tirade of fearsome sludge that is incredible to behold. At the excellent Sidney & Matilda, they did what they always do - and reminded everyone of their brilliance.
9 - Machiavellian Art - Sheffield, Hatch - 14th April
I owe a lot of my gig highlights and desire to go out to Strident Nights Promotions, primarily operating out of Hatch, formerly known as Audacious Art Experiment near Bramall Lane. It is a venue we used to frequent regularly, Mike of this parish used to put gigs on there, but its been a while and a name change since those days. Strident brought me back, curating gigs of noise rock and psych and all manner of weird things, bringing the best of the UK underground to Sheffield. Thee Alcoholics, Olanza, Like Rome and several more could have all made this list from their gigs, but Machiavellian Art's appearance - a late addition when a band dropped out - was something else. I arrived after work drinks, a little drunk, and they proceeded to scatter my braincells - young yet incredibly progressive, psychedelic but massively discordant, saxophone and static infused psych rock chaos. I picked up their record, out on Riot Season this year, immediately.
8 - Casing - Sheffield, Corporation - 21st July
For non-Sheffield residents - Tramlines is a weekend long festival that takes place in a park just out of the city. It is filled with pop bands across multiple generations. It's line up has never enticed me. But since its inception, the city took it upon itself to create the Tramlines fringe, where every venue (pub and club) or converted venue (street alleyways, parks) put bands on continuously. One of the joys is to just wander and pop in and out, find new things. But the metal scene has stepped up, most prominently through Holy Spiders Promotions' Doomlines event. This year was its largest, and I caught some amazing sets, most noticeably from Catafalque, Atvm and Chapel Floods. But it was the night before, at a pre-Doomlines gig that won out for this list - hosting the Diploid and Casing tour. Either band could've made it on here. Diploid, from Australia - I had presumed I'd never see, but here they were and it was face-meltingly incredible. But I've gone with Casing, because this was the second time in two years I've seen them, both times a spectacle. They've an album on the way soon, and if its half as good as they are live it'll be something to behold.
7 - Pohl - Sheffield, Speakeasy Bar - 25th November
I saw no band live more often than Pohl this year, and only long time ninehertz faves Kurokuma matching them (when I saw them 3 times in 10 days). I remember reviewing Pohl nearly a decade ago, back then Bristol based - so to find they're now native to Sheffield, giving me frequent access to their live shows, was a treat. They were the first band I saw this year, in Hatch, then opened up the Beehoover gig in Leeds in October. I've gone with the third and final time I saw them, in the Speakeasy Bar of Abbeydale Picture House, supporting Sly and the Family Drone. It felt right, they seemed to get better every time, and collectively their sets provided so much enjoyment across the year.
6 - Haress - Sheffield, Bishop's House - 24th November
Bishop's House is a 16th Century house maintained as a museum in a Sheffield suburb, and quirkily has started to showcase gigs in the front room. I've been once before, pre-Covid, to catch (most aptly) Circulus, but this year the number of gigs has increased significantly. After being made aware of an Aidan Baker (from Nadja) solo set there by means of a paper flyer (old-school) at a Bell Witch gig, I resolved to go again. Baker was great, the supports too - especially a solo artist going by Heavy Lifting, which involved live coding of a music programme manipulating the sounds of the presses on their keyboard. The second time I visited featured Haress - a band who made our top 10 albums of the year in 2022. It was a perfect union of music and venue - the low key drones and beautiful folk in a magical setting creating something truly memorable.
5 - Dead Cosmonauts - Sheffield, Samuel Worth Chapel - 24th March
It was a break out year for post-rock cosmic prog lot Dead Cosmonauts - an excellent album and a host of gigs, including several in strange places. I somehow saw them headline - at 5pm - a local community's fete in a tent stage within the park, following on from local choirs and the like. But that wasn't the strangest setting - that honour goes to Samuel Worth Chapel, set within Sheffield's weird and wonderful General Cemetery. Inside the fascinating architecture, Dead Cosmonauts projected videos on to the vast back wall, and with their space rock instrumental output, created a completely unique experience.
4 - Sly and the Family Drone - Settle, Victoria Hall - 6th May
I was notified Boris were touring so quickly checked the dates. No Sheffield gig. But in amongst all the usual big cities, one place stood out - Settle. I had to double take, and confirm this was correct, as Settle is a small town in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales, close to my family's heart as my mum grew up in a nearby village and went to school in the town. I booked tickets for me and her to go. Boris were stunning - at their madcap, Heavy Rocks style best, and when they encored with Farewell and the smoke machine clouded the old venue, it was a spellbinding, joyous finale to a crazy day.
Victoria Hall is the oldest active music hall in the world, and we had balcony seats. The venue staff were all local and presumably not used to Japanese drone bands, but they were fully invested and seemed to enjoy it as much as any of the paying crowd. The day leading up was of walking in my mum's village, of pub gardens, the oddball gardens of the venue (think Portmerrion aesthetic) and surreally meeting many different friends who had travelled up. And in amongst all of that, the highlight and probably craziest element of a bewildering day was Sly and the Family Drone's set. They eschewed the stage, set up two (or was it three?) drum kits in the middle, and went for it, a whirring concoction of noise rock and pure noise that built and built until the stunning crescendo of amp climbing and crowd participation left everyone gasping for air and grinning like fools.
3 - Orme - Rotherham, The Bridge Inn - 28th April
Rotherham is a town neighbouring my city of Sheffield, and as such you'd imagine like-minded doom fans travelling into the city for gigs. But this year (in particular), the opposite started to happen, as the realisation that Rotherham arguably has a better scene than the big city has became clear. At the centre of this is The Bridge Inn, a large pub conveniently just off from the ramp of the train station. As told by members of Bodach, an excellent two piece who are involved in owning or running the venue, it was due to close following Covid, so a group of friends decided to give it a go as a rock pub and music venue. Their manifesto is to give bands a place to play, to make all gigs free entry, and try and make it all work. It is inspiring.
I visited three times this year, but it could have been more and hopefully will be next year. I saw Morag Tong, Everest Queen, Domkraft (from Sweden), The Grey and more perform great sets there, but on my first trip Orme blew my mind. I'd only just heard them for the first time - receiving their album into the ninehertz promos, immediately falling for the longform drone doom epics, and this gig, a week or so later dragged me to Rotherham for the first time. The self titled record is honestly brilliant - go check it out and invest the time it requires - but live is even better. They only had time for one song, but it was enough, the White1 styled drones with preacher's lament vocal style felt like an event, one that left everyone transfixed for the entirety.
2 - Ashenspire - Manchester, Damnation Festival, Bowlers Exhibition Centre - 4th November
I have been attending Damnation Festival for some years now, but have missed a few of the most recent (including last years move to the cavernous BEC in Manchester) and admit to being apprehensive about going again. The line up was bookended with enticement (with Electric Wizard headlining) but I did wonder about the middle section, especially taking into account beer-stamina combination and how I'd last the day. Yet it turned out to be one of the best I've been to, with some exceptional performances from Julie Christmas, Wizard, Coffin Mulch, Kurokuma and the superb Undeath. Cream of the crop though were Ashenspire, another band from our albums of 2022 list. I wasn't even expecting too much of them, early on in the line-up. But they were truly incredible - they looked like a band having the most fun, and that was infectious. It made me grin constantly, their energy transferred to us all giving me the push to power though the long day.
1 - Beehoover - Leeds, Wharf Chambers - 6th October
In 2006 we received a CD through the post from Exile on Mainstream records for review on the ninehertz website, an unknown German band called Beehoover. It was the most bizarre thing we'd been sent since the website's inception, but it wormed its way in and I loved it for its strangeness. A few months later, in February of 2007, we hosted their first gig outside of their home country, in the Cricketers Arms in Sheffield, and started a friendship with the duo. A year later I hung round with them at Roadburn, leading up their 4th day appearance, and I've seen then a couple of times on UK tours since, in Manchester then Salford. Which is my long introductory way of saying - I absolutely love this band, one of my favourites ever.
It has been a while, but they returned to the UK in October - originally with a Sheffield date, but when that fell through I resolved to go somewhere, anywhere to see them. The travel, the cost (I stayed in a budget hotel), the use of annual leave for the following day, were all worth it. It was my first visit to Wharf Chambers, a beautiful little venue with great beers, an anarchist library and a perfect venue room. Thank and Pohl supported, both brilliant, then Beehoover came on and they were - somehow (as previous experiences rate as some of my top tier gigs) - better than ever. They were so tight, playing songs from across their many albums, a stage presence you wouldn't think was possible from two guys both sitting down. The best way I can sum it up is to say it was my happiest gig moment of the year, a confirmation of how truly unique and exceptional this band is.