So, after the ritual humiliation of 2022, when the Pandaman’s target of seeing 365 live performances barely made it onto the last murder mile of the gigging marathon, pulling up with live band cramp at 318, what to do in the new year?
Obviously it’s time to mix up more metaphors and climb right back on that bike / horse / space hopper, or whichever apparatus you last fell off. Luckily, the Pandaman’s very own Pandamonium! festival lurched into life on January 6th at the Victoria in Dalston, with 21 acts acting up for the raucously retoxing crowds.
Many of the key names were mentioned in diary despatches last year, although in the case of one special night which threw together the anxiously splenetic A VOID, the bolshy artpop of BIKINI BODY, the shrieking hysteria of MOIST CREVICE and the shredded weightiness of EVILLE, they are all worth mentioning again and indeed again.
Elsewhere across the seven nights THE MANATEES thrilled with a really big hyper-indie sound and some unfeasibly large trousers; GULZ took the jaunty bits of The Libertines back to the ’50s, when proper preppy pin-ups ruled the world, and made the middle aged mums swoon; and Brummie beast boys BIG SPECIAL brought the meat and the raging veg to the two piece poet-punk party, all beefy brutalism mixed with gloomy introspection, like Rag’n’Bone Man assaulting Sleaford Mods.
Nor are we on our own out there: in the previous century the NME would ‘tip’ 20 new acts at the start of each year. In 2023 the NME has ‘tipped’ 100 new acts, five times more than in the years before. January has now become royally festooned with new band showcases and half-alarmed events and it seems barely a day goes by without some hipster mag magicking up some tipster newbies on some hip-and-presumably happening four band bill. Half-blinded by the wild choices and overcrowded rooms across town Pandaman plumps for an Eat Your Own Ears / Help Musicians night at the Shacklewell Arms up the road in Dalston, where bravery is the name of the live game, both in terms of the promoters’ line up and the live turns’ loves and musical truths.
To wit, South London openers BUGGS revel in a sparse, spangly sound which is casually epic and picturesque, with some lovely guitar and a very smartly dressed boy guitarist who looks like an extra from Wallace & Gromit. COWBOYY bring the blackened Black Midi-skirting post-prog vibes, all technical dexterity and deadpan onstage demeanour. One of the songs sounds a little bit like ‘The Spirit Of Radio’ by Rush being played backwards. This could well be a good thing. But then again…
DILETTANTE are from Leeds and make a delicate and swoony sound, sometimes so swoonsomely deliberate the rhythm is scarcely louder than a pangolin’s heartbeat. If you’re going to try out acapella vocals to a packed hipster tipster crowd you’ve got to have some cohonas about you. If you’re then going to roll with some totes jazz saxomaphone toting over some folkie pastoral sweetness you are probably secretly harder than a meaty Big Special special.
Last up, Canadian fruitbat JOYERIA crawls out of the Speedy Wunderground underground with a ragged, battered, poetic barrage of huggable melodic hubris, a little bit like Bristol noiseniks Blue Aeroplanes crashlanding into the modern world. Six blokes playing groovy thrusting proper art rock with a singer sipping from a glass of white wine? Worse ways to spend a rainy Wednesday night, we’d wager.
The end of the month sees the return of the Independent Venue Week, always a fine diary-filling event for live acts new and old, as well as ageing Pandamen. Our IVW venturing takes us to the John Peel Centre in midtown Stowmarket, where the local BBC Introducing Suffolk station presents a clutch of eager young locals.
New? We’ll give you bright and shiny brand newer-than-new. Opener DARCEY IOLA (as in eye-oh-la) looks about 12 years old and performs like it’s her first ever original gig, which is what it is and we know this because she tells us so. She is stripped back and solo, but no less lilting with her one-woman take on the modern R’n’B brouhaha. “This one is really upbeat” she breathes, one song in. Seeing as how she has just opened her set with a sincerely felt and seamlessly slow-moving version of Radiohead’s crepescular classic ‘Creep’ that’s not too difficult, to be honest.
Darcey’s ‘Picture Perfect’ track is 1 Xtra’s BBC Introducing Single of the Week, which seems like a fine achievement, although much like this live event itself, it might one of the last to be channelled through from the wee county by the North Sea as regional Beeb cuts are being announced. Small wonder there is a fug of sadness in the East Anglian air as all the local artists profess their love for the Suffolk radio outpost and its current incumbent, Angelle Joseph.
The curiously named STEPHEN OH follows and duly pays his local radio respects, and does it very well as he is very charming and has excellently handsome hair. The hair of a lion. Or a mane much like Michael Bolton’s old school mullet taking itself off on the number 9 bus to see ‘The Lion King’. There’s something regal and poised about the music too, just him and an acoustic guitar with a nice reflective tone and a tidy voice. He intoduces a song called ‘Becky’. “It’s about my mum”, he blushes. Is she called Becky Oh? Well, it seems we’ll never know. Oh, and indeed, dear.
THE PANDAMAN’S 2023 TOTAL: 29