ILL - Wharf Chambers, Leeds - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

ILL - Wharf Chambers, Leeds

by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date:
ILL - Wharf Chambers, Leeds
ILL - Wharf Chambers, Leeds

ILL might just be the perfect band for 2018. The Manchester bands eclectic mix of post-punk fire, politics and surreal humour providing the ideal soundtrack to Brexit, Trump and the feeling that we’re just one ill thought out Tweet away from further chaos. Just put the phone down Donald. But that’s enough apocalyptic talk for one day, it’s Friday and Wharf Chambers has a whole night of amazing acts lined-up for us.

Providing the punky thread that ties the whole thing together, poet Elise Hadgraft will be psyching us up for each act and treating us to some raw, funny and effortlessly cool poetry straight from “the spiritual home of low-self-esteem” or Stockport to you and me. There are the trials and tribulations of dating people in bands, 4pm drinking sessions and philosophical musings on being in the “just over 27 club”.

It seems like a lazy comparison but there’s definitely some John Cooper Clarke vibes going on here; the wry, knowing humour and the snapshots of the everyday filtered through a particularly punky and poetic perspective. With only a few minutes between each act to make an impression Hadgraft manages to weave herself into the fabric of the night, an indispensable and brilliantly entertaining guide.

First on is a band I’ve been well and truly hooked on since I first heard them 8 years ago, The Wind-Up Birds. The Leeds four-piece deliver dark and passionate social-commentary to blistering, impressively intense indie-punk. Guitarist Mat Forrest brings some unruly feedback to ‘The Strewing Area’ as the band kick things off in suitably urgent style. The songs hit hard from the get-go; riding along on Oli Jefferson’s limber and adaptable drumming and Ben Dawson’s reliably meaty bass lines.

By the second song, they’ve ramped up the energy even more with the narky one-two punch of ‘Bus Drove Off’. Vocalist Kroyd yelling at the top of his lungs as the band race through just under 2 minutes of rabidly energetic punk, “he’d be sorry/ he’d be sorry/ he’d be dead!” The Wind-Up Birds music, as always, feels blissfully cathartic. The two-minute hate in the midst of Orwell’s all too recognisable dystopia.

Kroyd muses whether another Coronation will bring about new and exciting sandwich fillings before delivering the bands Brexit tune, ‘Where We Built Our Settlements’. The lyrics dissect the mess we’re in as the band builds a tense, tightly coiled, pressure cooker of a song. That feeling when you’ve been priced out of the bogs at Leeds bus station. An inspired and typically exciting set from West Yorkshire’s best-kept secret.

There’s a representative from Leeds Anti-Fascist Network and a few more words of wisdom from Elise Hadgraft before the “highly charged political rampage” that is Radio Partizan. Now, I’ll confess, the band has been around for quite some time but tonight will actually be my introduction to said rampage.

First impressions can be important and Radio Partizan clearly know how to make one. Raw, radical and ready for action; it’s the sound of Billy Childish jamming with Joe Strummer and The Sonics in a sweaty basement at three in the morning. It’s the sound of rock ‘n’ roll ladies and gentlemen and it’s in rude health. I’m glad we've been introduced.

Political and on-point, the band's songs cover everything from the banking crash and the plight of sex workers to the 7/7 bombings (the ace ‘Divide and Rule’). It’s exciting and refreshing to hear a band so engaged. Put simply, we really need bands like this. Tim Dawtry and Emma Mckee swop places at various points, taking it in turns to deliver the band's fuzz-laden, political and passionate public service announcements (with guitars!).

There’s a lot of fantastic songs but the highlight comes with the riotous, defiant and life-affirming racket of ‘I Will Not Compete’ with Mckee howling, “I’ve got my shit to do babe/ this is where my life begins”. Hell yeah.

Eagle-eyed audience members might have noticed some of ILL in the crowd, enthusiastically dancing to the other bands and generally having a whale of a time. Introduced as “Manchester’s greatest fucking export” by Hadgraft, that energy isn’t about to let up.

Vocalist and keyboardist Harri Shanahan tells us, “I know I’m preaching to the Pope at Wharf Chambers but we don’t like the Conservative Party”. This leads into the ominous, mangled psych-sprawl of ‘Slithering Lizards’, the band chanting “they’re coming for you” as bassist Whitney Bluzma and drummer Fiona Ledgard put us into a trance. It sounds like the end of the world. In a good way.

Gang-vocals, unexpected tempo changes, and This Heat-level craziness; ILL isn’t your average post-punk band. These are heavy and defiantly surreal jams that sound like an invitation to dance as the world collapses around our ears. Guitarist Tamsin Middleton rhythmically hitting her guitar, summoning a beautifully discordant, heart-racing noise. The songs bursting with ideas, anger and inventiveness throughout. The band's performance unrelentingly energetic.

There’s a song about the deconstruction of the NHS, annoying guys trying to flirt in outer space (it’s called ‘Space Dick’) and a song about “getting married to please your priest”. There’s also a song about drinking that contains the immortal line, “I like swearing at your mother”. The set takes us through spaced-out psych-punk, industrial-like clang (‘I Am the Meat’) and, according to the notes I made on my phone, intense disco vibes. It’s all here.

The set ends with Bluzma starting a reverse stage invasion and heading out into the crowd, Middleton laying into her guitar while lying on her back as Shanahan screams in her face. They look like they’re having an amazing time and the feeling is mutual. They end with a subversive and noise-ridden run through The Stooges ‘Cock in My Pocket’. I’m thoroughly blown away and can’t wait to snap up their debut album after the show. As they promise in the glorious ‘I Am the Meat’, “this is just for starters”.

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