Rocket From The East 2019: Semi Finals
Rocket From The East – presented by The Tilting Sky – has been launching the profiles of Norfolk’s musicians since 2012. The most recent instalment saw fourteen music acts contend across two nights of semi-final rounds at Epic Studios on 27 March and 3 April. From this eclectic pool of age and talent, only eight have progressed forward to 28 April’s finale: Front Bangs, Pin Ups, Ben Denny Mo, Telling Truths, Like Optimists, Mengelmoes, Purple Doors and WRECK – whose semi-final performances will be covered below.
Their triumphant return to Epic on Sunday will see them vie for the release of a single (recorded and mixed courtesy of Access Creative College), said single’s headlining launch show (courtesy of Epic Studios and The Tilting Sky) and a fully-styled photo shoot, simultaneously documented in a ‘making-of’ video (courtesy of Journal East).
Accepting one-song submissions between December 2018 and February 2019, the annual competition required entrants to be independent musicians, to write and perform their own songs, and to be resident to Norfolk. Those shortlisted were then invited to perform three original compositions with a maximum set length of fifteen minutes, in front of a live audience and panel.
Although just one act will ultimately claim the prize, all acts receive industry feedback and an invitation to play a Norwich show within the year as part of Craig Hill/ The Tilting Sky‘s ’60@60’ programme of events:
“Musicians who had their early experiences performing live under The Tilting Sky banner and are now playing to audiences all over the world include Ed Sheeran, Let’s Eat Grandma and Ida Mae.”
(Follow link for full article at EDP: EveningNews24)
Front Bangs, “three chums/pals from Norwich who met in high school and loved making a racket together”, comprises of Bradley Brown (frontman/lead vocals, guitar), Richard Cully (bass) and Alex Kennett (drums, backing vocals). Drawn to their respective instruments because “they’re wicked”, let alone music because “it’s the best thing in the world”, their influences include Red Hot Chili Peppers and Brad’s dog, Milson (of which their song “Millie” takes its name).
“Stray” their latest release at the time of writing, pulls me through a wormhole, turning a celebrated city-centre lane into a desert road. Bright, wavy lines rise from the concrete and contort cacti. A purple sky swirls around a black hole sun, as if it were a drain. We can’t stop here. This is bat country.
The single combines Rage Against the Machine with Red Hot Chili Peppers, dips that into a batter of Stone Roses and fries it until golden-brown in a pan of Audioslave and then drizzles Oasis over it. It tastes of both Britpop and American post-grunge with vocals that morph between Zack de la Rocha, Noel Gallagher, Kurt Vile, Van McCann and Richard Patrick.
Just over a minute into the song, it has gone from the quiet introduction of a passively strummed acoustic guitar, drawing out chords from a muffled distance, to a confrontational in-your-face boxer, gloves up and bouncing with electrified directness and volume. Then, a gentle wave washes over the jabbing grooves, receding into a dreamy “Sour Girl” soundscape.
They are cool, confident and cheeky. It comes across in bass-driven opener “Forever Yours”, which has the feel of a jam, but sounds just like its recording with the added perk of more gusto and extended shredding. Strutting back and forth across the stage, Brad points his guitar like a gun (which only accentuates the song’s Bondish riffs) and later falls to his knees in a serene state contradicting the Venetian mandolin sounds his gain-cranked rapid fingers produce.
The room expands with a larger crowd during “Millie”– all bearing witness to impeccable timing (especially the lyrical delivery of the chorus). Its recording is slower with a more grungey feel – but live, it is fast-paced with varying drum beats tisking with cymbals and akin to dance-rock in areas.
By the third, a new song fitted with discordant chords and sudden onomatopoeic outbursts, Front Bangs sets the bar high for the other thirteen contenders, some of whom they gig with across the venues of Norwich.
Brought together via “the magic of telephones” and the “inertia of doing nothing”, the “Postman Pat punk” trio channeling the youthful, rough-around-the-edges energy of Switches – is made up of Josh Gibbs (London guitarist) and Attleborough brothers Jesse (drummer) and Louis Baker (bassist). Their varied discography is due to all three members writing songs separately (apart from “Lunchtime”, which was a collaboration between Jesse and Josh).
Josh sings the first song of a harmonic set that sees vocals rotate between all three band members. The opener is introduced with siren-like wails and driven with bass (flavours taste of Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Duran Duran, The Who and The Go Go’s. And although he sings of being alone again, he isn’t for long when joined by the others in ascending arpeggios and coarse choruses that sit somewhere between Switches and Palma Violets.
The second song, “Lunchtime” – which has a slight “I’m Afraid of Americans” cadence to it – is sung by Jesse and coincidentally continues a reactionary theme on stateside school shootings from an earlier set. The snarky song resembles the neglect of a rundown playground – verses like rusted roundabouts, spinning in circles and semi-circles, clockwise and counter-clockwise, and choruses like swings, screeching high and low with childlike exclamations over chalk outlines in the cracked pavement.
Its springy, flamboyant swagger is emphasised with bouncing knees, stomping beats, bending notes and flailing limbs seemingly manipulated by invisible strings. Jesse’s elasticity sees him leaning over the drums into a microphone to sing and then reeling back in a dab with every rest, all the while singing in tune and playing in time.
The last song is Louis’ to sing through a pale blue haze. Fusing elements of psychedelic, prog-rock blues together with flavourings of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Madonna, Michael Jackson and sleepmakeswaves. It starts off punctuated with marching beats and tambourine accents. Chord progressions build up only to sigh with defeat over lyrics that accuse laziness, before breaking into a fluid jam-out that grows with volume and intensity between throbbing bass lines, soaring tremolos (that exude a very ’90s trance feel), and drum sticks that play the drummer – whether sitting or standing. By the song’s end, Jesse languidly flings away the match sticks that remain in his hands, truly spent.
“Music is important because it makes you feel like something else is just around the corner. Or it will change the way you dress, or think about yourself, or a night out, or your job. I can go on, but you get the idea of where I’m going,” says Josh.
Ben Denny Mo
Fakenham singer-songwriter and guitarist, Ben Denny Mo, whose musicianship began when his parents bought him a guitar, takes influence from John Martyn, John Butler, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, his favourite concerts – Santana, The Skints, Prodigy and Earth Wind and Fire, and “wherever I am”.
“Music is my life,” he says. “It’s the only way I’ve been able to express my myself fully. I’m very dyslexic which has hindered every other learning activity except for music.”
Born in Greenwich, London, he lived on the island of Gozo for fifteen years, where he took lessons from a local pop star, before returning to the UK to pursue a music career that has since included playing Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party and Omeara. But tonight, he graces a Norwich stage and is joined by Fakenham bass guitarist Jake Osbourne, Walsingham drummer Dave Peake and Bristonian lead guitarist Russel Burrows.
“The band members are all friends of mine. I’ve been doing the solo thing for years and just recorded my first EP. We decided to form a band after that. I come up with a riff and start jamming until a song forms. They are all my songs. The band just plays them. I still perform on my own, too.”
Sampling his solo musicianship prior to, “Freak In Need” stands out because of its timings and accentuations, both lyrically and musically. It begins cyclically with a mbira-like sound to the strings, set to a beat that’s reminiscent of African folk music. Then, the acoustic guitar breaks over it like a gentle wave, transitioning the sound into one associated with country lanes. We’re suddenly between hedges. The sun sets over the vast fields of Norfolk, making silhouettes out of the occasional oak tree that pops up with each percussive punctuation – twisted, open-palmed and naked. But the folk song’s first, procrastinated lyric is a juxtaposition: “‘Cause I was only a freak in need”.
His voice is like a bicycle. It pedals forward with momentum – then eases the gear, spinning the pedals in quick revolutions (“like a ball and chain / is around my neck / pulling me right under / making me fall down / or making me go o-o-ohver”). At the top of the hill, it releases (“’Cause sometimes I feel’”) and glides down (“Sometimes I feeeeeel”). Only to brake and back-pedal (“like a rat in a cage”).
Lyrics vary in speed – either rolling off the tongue in a downwards tumble of syllables, relating to “being pulled under” and “falling down” – or being stretched out to fill the same space with less words, such as “making me go o-ooh-ver” Choice words soar and plummet, fluttery and emboldened, quickened and slowed, stretched and compacted. Lyrics are repeated with different deliveries, sometimes switched in with different endings. The guitar can be gentle or dramatic, slow or fast, plucked or strummed with a Spanish passion. Time is relative.
Together with a band, he sways in a floral-paisley shirt to the grooves of “Shorty” – voice fluctuating between singing and rhythmic speech, and low grunts and high wails. “Horace”, which makes me think of a funkified “Chop Suey”, has guitars that almost mimic accordions and a reggae bounce that picks-it-up-picks-it-up-picks-it-up into a ska beat before finishing acoustically against lyrics that plead, “don’t you stop”.
In contrast to the songs that precede it, “Figures”, is introduced by a duet between the slow strums of an acoustic guitar and the wails of an electric, evoking a sadness that peaks in an impressive, gritty howl.
Telling Truths is a five-piece from Norwich and Lowestoft with a noughties American sound. Sometimes joined by guitarist Adam Hearth, the band includes second guitarist Rich Garlick, Natalie Cole on bass and Daniel Cooke on drums. Their influences include Marmozets, Pvris, You Me At Six, Don Broco, Boston Manor and “McDonald’s”, and they learned their instruments in school or else by listening to the radio.
Set opener, “Perspective”, the synth-padded first track off Desires and Visions, has a cyclical soundscape that tightly spirals around a darkening beach like thundering clouds of a forming hurricane. Violent waves form between the rolling drums and crashing guitars. And there’s even a section in the middle that resembles the momentary calm that comes with the eye of the storm. Georgi’s voice is almost cove-like, quavering but clear on top of guitars that rise and fall in steady rhythm and equal measure. On stage, she thrashes to the tube-riding wails of surfy guitars – a waterspout of hair in the pink-purple lights.
“All In My Head”, second in the set, quiets things down “just a little bit”. Although a country feel dominates two-thirds of the song, the addition of synth pads gives it a spacey twist. During the chorus, the repetition in the guitar riffs creates a drifting, “floating aimlessly” feeling.
“We Are Just a Memory” concludes their set, beginning with a wall of sound that parts to make room for breathy vocals that fill the void. The arpeggiating guitar of the middle section turns watery the second time around signalling a shift in the song – as if it’s slipped through to the Upside Down. Drumsticks patter off the snare, fingers pluck at strings (reminiscent of The Temper Trap) and an overlap of variations harmonise together in the repetition of “memory”.
The hinges of Purple Doors consist of Alex Gill (bass), Miles Clark (sticks) and Ross Wilson (guitar and vocals). Their sound dabbles in various shades, yet retains a smooth finish united in an emphasis of build- ups and story-driven lyrics with female leads.
In the first song of their set, Purple Doors exit stage left shredding. The lurching blues-rock opener, (flavours: Led Zeppelin, Lenny Kravitz and White Stripes) is laden with stop-start riffs. The lyrics have an almost Hamlet effect – watching a “boy and his guitar / playing songs that he made”. The way in which Ross owns authorship to the lyrics – describing in real time the very scene that’s before the audience – makes me second-guess for a moment whether his request to be taken away from here is part of the act or not.
The second song, “Walls”, has an entirely different feel to it – one that’s jazzy with elements of contemporary R&B (flavours: Bruno Mars, Jack Johnson and James Blunt). The lyrics bounce. The rhythms groove. The chorus echoes. Mimicking a sauntering stroll down the same stretch of street over time, the bass line observes an insatiable subject whose restlessness and recklessness renders relationships a series of walls springing up in place of former ones. The other side of these razed relationships doesn’t even get acknowledged, as if blocking out the damage.
Third and final song, “Astronaut” (flavours: Incubus and Finch), is studded with cosmic imagery and choice silences that reinforce a theme of waiting: “I’m screaming out for mission control / To send me back home / Is this how it ends? / Help me down / I’m stuck on Mars / From up here I can see Earth / She’s out of reach / But she looks so good.” That latter lyric sung like a sigh of stubborn determination.
“This is gonna be the jumpy bit,” Ross says, to an audience that’s clapping along to a build-up. It builds and builds with a throbbing intensity, like a re-entry capsule burning through the atmosphere.
Just before the next band takes to the stage, I nip to the ladies’ and find myself in the twilight zone between the nineties and noughties – the alternative, grungey side of it: White knee-high Adidas socks paired with white platform shoes. Tank tops layered over tee-shirts. Chains dangling from hooped belts. Loud colours. Abstract prints. The only thing that’s missing is the smell of cigarettes and the sound of the bell.
The source of this phenomena soon becomes apparent between did-he-just-break-out-of-prison Diogo da Silva (vocalist and bassist), Kurt-Cobain-double-take Matty Kennedy (guitarist) and perfect-hair-forever Sam Sezarin (drummer). COUNTRYSIDE PUNKERZZZZ, WRECK, YA NAN’S FAVOURITE BAND. The opener to their opener already tells us what’s about to go down.
It’s fun to watch the three of them (although it fries the vision mixer behind my eyes). Whether in their own zones or playing off each other – it’s very evident that they’re having fun and enjoying themselves. Especially when both guitarists crouched down like vultures, and crept steadily towards each other only to fling back.
One of my favourite parts of the opener is when lyric “But I can’t be ON MY OWN” sees a shift in tone, taking the song with it from passive observer to assertive protagonist. The audience, in turn, goes from listening and watching to jumping and moshing with each other. “Oh, do you feel out of place / When I’m BREATHING IN YOUR FACE / AHHHHHHHHHH!” The scream evolves into a raw, melodic lead into the chorus. The stop-start song is dotted and dashed with distortion, crashing with cymbals and hole-punched with drums. It ends with the rumbling engine of a getaway car that is the guitar.
Diogo’s vocals blend speech, singing and shouting. There’s a pedal in there, sustaining choice words with force. In the instrumental between songs (grimace against the machine), Matty starts a playful exchange with Diogo over a whistling crowd. “Keep it plugged in! What you doing? Yo – stop!” A tiny touch worth noting is the continuation of music, which reminds me of a radio deejay filler.
The bookends of “Drowned” are slower, conjuring an empty bar serving warm beer on the side of the highway, next to a deteriorating motel parked with motorbikes and tractor-trailers, and advertised with flickering, neon lights. The song rocks in slow, sad sways (that aren’t meant to be sad – just stuffed down like ‘Shiny Happy People’) of repeated stop-start sentences until Sam raises both arms and clicks drumsticks together over his head: 1-2-3-4!
“Six Hours In” begins with ominous undertones. Its announcement appeases a crowd that erupts in screams. The sound that escapes the guitar is like oncoming headlights of a lurking vehicle that turns at the last moment, only to resemble a stretch limo without end. Infinitely duplicating like the bellows of an accordion. A menacing bass lurches forward to the beat of a death march leading to a hanging. Of ten. The song takes a sudden and surfy turn. Riding a wave that rises with the clapping build-up from the audience, it crashes in a release of punk that ends with metal.
Their lean steak of a sampler set ends with cravings for second servings, but is packed with the same energy of a full-course gig. They’re a little bit Nirvana, but sped up. A little bit Sex Pistols, but louder. A little bit Leftover Crack, but lighter. A little bit Fidlar, but heavier. A little bit Bad Religion, but rawer. A little bit Social Distortion, but British. In other words, in a genre where you’ve most likely heard it before, WRECK is hard to pin down between eras, countries, genres and their own spin.
A soft-spoken introduction throws the audience off-guard:
“You probably don’t know what we’re called,” says the frontman. “People have a lot of trouble pronouncing our name. Mango Juice. Mangled Noise. Men Kelly Mo. Mango. Moes. But anyway – to clear it all up – we are mmmmMEH-EH-EH-eh-EH-EH-MEN-GHEL-MOO-OOOH-OOHSE.”
He belts out their name over a theatrical blast of Phantom of the Opera proportions like a wailing saxophone until the quiet trickle of keys returns him to speech. The crowd is stunned. There wasn’t a transition between song and speech.
It gets even more bewildering when the band erupts like a confetti popper – spraying the audience with modulating jazz-infused funky grooves, math-rock rhythms, fluid, proggy tempos, and bold textures – including the xylophone, harpsichord, organ and clavinet tones of two keyboards (as a keyboardist myself, I was chuffed to see a keyboard-driven beat in the last song as we are often swept to the side of the action).
There is scatting. There is shredding. And within the contest itself, a sub-contest ensues between members of the band – who each showcase their abilities in solo sections I later learn to be improvisational.
Their stage presence is engaging and as lively as their sound. Even keyboardist and bassist, notoriously stereotyped to be the less energetic members of bands, are showmen – moonwalking across the stage or else lying down and kicking like an upturned beetle.
Mengelmoes (Men-ghel-moose) consists of Tiago Dhondt Bamberger, (lead vocalist and bass guitarist), James O’Donnell (keyboardist, who, I’m told, doesn’t even play keyboards, miscellaneoust, and backing vocalist), Jake Brown (drummer) and Taegan Venner (guitarist and backing vocals). Each member produces the energy and sound of two or three members.
A “deep, fiery, romantic passion” and a “general love for creating music that makes everyone think you’re a bit nuts” are the forces that brought them together. Also, when Tiago and James heard Jake playing drums and decided he was in their band (with or without his consent) and then suggested the same guitarist to each other without realising they were “talking about the same good-looking guy”. Since then, it’s been a mixed journey of heavy metal, folk, funk and jazz.
Lowestoft band Like Optimists (which funnily enough once played a gig with Pessimist) have a pop-punk early noughties America feel to them without the nasal sound attached (says me, an American).
Their influences include Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Nothing But Thieves, All Time Low, blink-182, Don Broco and Fall Out Boy, and their name couldn’t be more fitting as the finishing act concluding two nights of neck-in-neck semi-finals rounds. Going out with a bang, a contagious, electrified energy saw the crowd singing and stomping along.
“Fake” starts the harmonic set with lyrics: “It’s over now / We’re moving on / It’s over now”, of which the bouncing band sings and shouts in unison, as if channelling the circumstances that currently face them. The song twists with unwavering chords that resemble a knotted stomach writhing with an admission of guilt. Nathan’s voice, which has shades of Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World) and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), exudes a sense of hopelessness about the relationship that’s ending throughout the song. What I particularly like about “Fake” is how it repeats “it’s over now” before the song ends, as if a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Devil’s Game” has a mischievous bounce to it like a silhouette shrouded in the mist of a mysterious, phased guitar. The almost gypsy-punk strumming pattern conjures something of the occult – perhaps Dexter Holland (The Offspring), who seems to possess Nathan at times.
The final song of the final set of the semi-finals sees Like Optimists go all out. Pulling all the stops to punctuate the end of an era with an epic performance, the energy that radiates from them – between them – bounces back from the audience with increasing intensity. It’s all a poetic ending with the full-stop being Will’s bass, lifted high over his head like a raised glass – half-full.
“It was a close thing,” says Craig Hill, The Tilting Sky at the end of it all. “Really close. Commiserations to those who didn’t get through, but thanks again. Everyone was brilliant.”
With it nearly being a month since the semi-finals rounds, these remaining acts have been busy rehearsing their original songs and signature performances for an epic battle of the bands.
Eight independent groups from Norfolk will contend for the recording of a single, its headlining launch show, and documented photo shoot with three-song sets.
Come down on the 28th of April for what promises to be a top-quality show, and what might just be the birth of something big. It’s just £3 – supporting local, independent music couldn’t be easier.
Tickets here: https://www.epic-tv.com/events/rocket-from-the-east-final/
A massive thank you and all writing credits to Monique Guz AKA MO WRITES for her kind words – please visit her fantastic blog or social media channels for more music news local to the region…
For more information about upcoming shows at Epic Studios please follow the link: What’s On