Rise of the Two-Piece Band – Why Now’s a Great Time to Ditch Yr Bass Player

I’ve just returned from this year’s 2000Trees Festival and one of the things that struck me was the sheer amount of bands with only two members, leaving audiences wondering where they were hiding the extra guitarist or keyboard player! From Blood Red Shoes to Slaves, God Damn to Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip it seems that two is the magic number.

With new music on the horizon from stalwarts of the power-duo line-up Death From Above 1979 and the likes of Royal Blood and Drenge popping up on daytime radio there has never been a better time to ditch your lazy third band member, make dwindling gig fees go further, and claim some extra space in the van! Check out my top five new or underground two-piece bands that prove that whilst bigger isn’t always better, less is certainly more!

Slaves
Looking like you wouldn’t want to spill their pint and sounding like a cross between Gallows and the glory days of Dischord Records, Slaves are quite simply brilliant. From the unlikely hallows of Royal Tunbridge Wells, Laurie Vincent plays guitar through a wall of distortion whilst Isaac Holman skits around the stage playing a stand up drum kit and shouting. Live highlight ‘Girl Fight’ is only 15 seconds long, which says it all… Slaves are way more punx than you.

Also see: yr dad’s punk vinyl collection from the 80’s.

DZ Deathrays
If there’s one thing that two-piece bands like more than leg room its fuzz! This Australian duo play thrash punk that is loaded with the hairy stuff! Emasculating bassists everywhere, guitarist Shane Parsons has mastered the art of making his guitar sound like the apocalypse with double the amps and a floor full of effects pedals, whilst drummer Simon Ridley body-bangs his way through the gig smashing cymbals and eardrums in equal measure! Adding an extra guitarist for a few songs at 2000 Trees this year almost seemed unnecessary as they lit up the stage with pure party-starting fury. New album ‘Black Rat’ is out soon but in the meantime check out their often NSFW videos online.

Also see: Death From Above 1979, God Damn.

Slingshot Dakota
Carly plays keys. Tom plays drums. Between them they make happy-sad emo-pop with soaring melodies, intricate rhythms and thoughtful lyrics. The female/male vocal interplay and overdriven keyboard textures fulfil the absent-guitarist role as well as that of at least two other members. Latest release ‘Dark Hearts’ is out now on Topshelf Records.

Also see: Matt And Kim, Summer Camp.

Whoovez
Guitarist Jacob Campbell and drummer Dylan Chieffalo from Pittsburgh make feels-laden shouty 90’s emo in the vein of I Kill Giants or the recent output from Modern Baseball. Interlaced with film-audio samples and with titles such as ‘Do You Have A Kurt Vonnegut Book In Your Backpack?’ their latest release ‘Bantamweight’ is available on pay-what-you-want download from Bandcamp.

Also see: Nai Harvest, Playlounge.

Powder For Pidgeons
Another guitar and drums duo from down under that play the kind of hook-laden alt rock that takes Foo Fighters three guitars to pull off. Dirty low-down riffs and pounding drums, they’re everything a two-piece band is supposed to be.

Also see: Middle Class Rut, No Age.

2000trees 2014: The Definitive TwoBeatsOff Overview

This year, I decided to put a big middle finger up to Reading and Download. I said sayonara to Sonisphere and a big ol’ screw you to Glastonbury. No, this year, I decided to do something a bit smaller and a bit more local. I decided to do something where I didn’t need to camp, where I could just hang about and check out some stuff I’d never heard of before, and where I didn’t need to pay in excess of £200 for the privilege.

This year, I had a bloody nice time at 2000trees.

There were a lot of highlights, so I’m going to give everything nice headings and make it easier for you to dig out the good bits. There were a lot of great bands over the weekend, some gourmet food choices and plenty of glorious sunshine to keep us all going. Beautiful.

The one band you should have seen were…

The Blackout were on absolute top form this weekend. Those lads from Merthyr know how to party, as Sean Smith demonstrated early on by storming into the crown and starting a circle pit around himself. If you’re just a fan of witty stage banter, then The Blackout have you covered – during ‘We Are The Dynamite’, Sean Smith gave a bunch of uncool non-participants the choice of ‘have fun like everyone else or fuck off!’ And there were plenty of other golden moments too. But all in all, The Blackout have a great selection of big rock stompers, all of which came out to play at 2000trees and simply made the festival for me. Great stuff.

The five new bands you’ll love are…

Slaves – this two-piece punk band from Royal Tunbridge Wells are rowdy, abrasive, witty and disgustingly noisy. Entertaining to watch, unbelievable to listen to. Definitely your new favourite band and my top discovery of the weekend.
facebook.com/slaves

DZ Deathrays – it’s all about guitars and drums this year and nothing else. DZ Deathrays played a blinding set of scuzzy garage-punk thrashers to finish off the weekend. If you like it loud and proud with extremely catchy riffs, these guys are for you.
facebook.com/dzdeathrays

Youth Man – these Birmingham punks are equally terrifying and mesmerising. A bit doomy in places, a bit frenetic in others, they’re completely captivating. The music’s stupidly smart, and the live show is bloody mental. We reviewed them a while ago and loved them.
facebook.com/youthmanband

I, The Lion – if you like big Biffy Clyro-esque sounds but with more guitar smashing and lyrics that make even less sense, you’ll love I, The Lion. These Cheltenham locals opened up the Saturday and set the bar incredibly high for everyone else to follow.
facebook.com/ithelionuk

Jamie Lenman – can you count Jamie Lenman as a new band? I will anyway. You may not have heard him as a solo project rather than as the former front man of the now-defunct UK titans Reuben. This year, he did a proper hardcore set based on the ‘Muscle’ side of his incredible album Muscle Memory (see our best of 2013 for more) and drew one of the biggest crowds of the festival.
facebook.com/jamielenman

Okay, the other bands you should have seen were…

Gnarwolves, Johnny Foreigner, The Bronx, Blood Red Shoes, Arcane Roots, Tall Ships and The Computers were all pretty good as well. However, special mention goes to Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, who blasted out an amazing set of beats and bars. A massive rave went down on Thursday night, and it was great to finally catch DLS VS SP live!

The one band you’re going to miss are…

The last Kill Chaos set ever happened at 2000trees. Gutting. At least we’ll still have the records, right? PromisesPromises only just came out after all! I only discovered them last year on Jamie Lenman’s first solo tour and I am sad to see them disappear already. Here’s to seeing what happens next…

The most surreal festival moment was…

Seeing Dave McPherson off’ve InMe stroll out onto Jamie Lenman’s set to do a bit of screaming, without actually knowing the words, was a little bit bizarre. I know he was playing this weekend, but InMe were never really a shouty band at all. Kind of weird but mostly wonderful.

The best food stall was…

Props to Wide Awake Café for their delicious iced lattes and veggie burritos! Check them out at a festival near you.

The coolest item of merch was…

Uh, 2000trees sunglasses for a fiver? Yes mate.

Festival Dickhead of the Year Award goes to…

There was a guy who sat down under a tree and pulled out The Diary Of Anne Frank to sit and peruse on Friday afternoon. What a knob.

So, will we be doing 2000trees again? The answer is a great big resounding yes. What a good festival.

Review: New Town Kings – Pull Up & Rewind [EP]

New Town Kings - Pull Up & Rewind reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands punk, ska and reggae

It’s been a while since New Town Kings were assaulting the airwaves with their infectious brand of reggae-tinged ska. Since their second album M.O.J.O. and a fairly relentless touring schedule, they’ve had a bit of an issue with frontmen, replacing former vocalist Chris with the enigmatic Dabs Bonner. The result is this outstanding four-track EP.

Much more politically charged than their previous outings, Pull Up & Rewind is a fairly daring record. Lead single ‘Change’ is trad ska at its best, and is surprisingly intricate given its simple structure. Dabs’ vocals are absolutely spot on, and it’s really refreshing to hear a song of this nature calling for positive change, rather than just being a standard rant against the authorities. It’s about having to move forward – a sentiment that New Town Kings have no doubt had to embrace in the past 12 months. Although I keep expecting the track to speed up, but it never does. It doesn’t need to – it still manages to retain its power as an upbeat, but slow jam. ‘Luna Rosa’ meets my demands for speed, and the dual vocal approach in this reggae love song is really fun. I’m glad to see that New Town Kings have retained that same sense of fun that made their last two records so great. As far as the sound goes, it’s not a huge progression on M.O.J.O. but they already had that nailed. However, each song is tighter, and there’s more of that reggae flair coming through. Plus there’s some fantastic keys in tracks like ‘Grabbed My Hand’, some clever lyrics and perfect summer vibes. It’s punk for people who don’t like punk – ‘Cool The Pressure Down’ does a great job of hiding a wider political agenda under sweet ska rhythms and some bloody fantastic trumpets.

New Town Kings might have been testing the waters a little bit with Pull Up & Rewind, but have come back swinging to let everyone know that they’re still one of the best ska bands in the UK today, if not the world. Their next album is due out by the end of the year – if it’s anything like this, it is going to be massive.

highfivehighfivehighfivehighfivehighfivehalf

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Farewell, George!

It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to George this week. George is an incredible writer, and he’s published some fantastic articles in his two years or so with us. It’s been a pleasure to be able to show you his work, and we wish him all the very best for the future!

We’ll be linking through to all of his pieces on the Authors page, if that tickles your fancy.

We’re also on the lookout for fresh talent. If you fancy writing reviews and/or features for us, email ripper@twobeatsoff.co.uk with some samples of your work. Positions are voluntary, but you’ll be able to get your hands on some great music and share your passion with 5,000-10,000 unique visitors a month. I earn basically no money from this and every scrap we get from advertising goes on hostage costs. So we all do this because we love it – and that’s why I’ve kept this place going for nearly six years.

xoxo – Robyn

The Rise of the EP (and Why It’s Bad for Bands)

I think we can all agree that Bandcamp is a fairly wonderful thing. In our digital age, record labels no longer carry the power that they once did, so being able to put your music up at a price you control (or not, as you may prefer) is actually pretty fantastic. Streaming services like Spotify or Pandora, and even competing websites like SoundSupply and NoiseTrade, just don’t come close to the honest, flexible and simple format that Bandcamp provides. Indeed, where record labels have fallen down, Bandcamp’s put power back into the hands of the artist.

But what do 90% of them do with this power? Release EP after bloody EP after bloody EP.

We do a lot of reviews on here – in fact, we do more reviews than anything else because we get sent a lot of stuff by a lot of cool people. But the vast majority of our reviews are EPs, and the vast majority of promos we get sent are for EPs. Of course, we get sent a number of full albums too, but they don’t always get picked up first off the review queue because the time involved in reviewing them is longer. The reason for this is because the ideas presented in these records is often more complex, and there are often ties that bring songs together in ways that usually can’t be achieved in a shorter piece of work. In brief, it’s more effort to review an album because more effort’s gone into it. It’s not always the case, of course – there are plenty of albums rife with filler tracks and wasted opportunities – but on the whole, you’re going to find yourself with a record with growth potential. My concern with consecutive EP releases is that there’s no room to grow. Inevitably, those bands will fade out into nothing.

I’ve been going deep into nostalgia city lately, digging into the Long Island scene of the early 2000s. Plenty of bands who were part of that have been lost to the passage of time, but there’s two bands that instantly stand apart – Brand New and Taking Back Sunday. Rivalry notwithstanding, I genuinely believe that they’ve managed to keep going for over ten years with the same level of popularity because they had the opportunity to make great albums. It’s a different climate these days, admittedly – most bands these days are still working day jobs, touring opportunities are becoming less and less and nobody actually buys your CD any more (to be honest, don’t bother with CDs – vinyl or tapes are way more punk). EPs can be a great way to get noticed at first, but who still listens to the self-titled Taking Back Sunday EP or Brand New’s first demo? No, the records that we remember are Tell All Your Friends and Your Favourite Weapon, because they had room to grow. They provided the springboard for each band to develop new ideas, and by the time it came to record number two, their sound was more mature, more daring in places, and ultimately far more interesting than their humble beginnings. Putting out an EP that sounds exactly the same to your last one might keep your existing fans happy, but it’s not a surefire way of getting you new ones.

I’ve already forgotten the names of most of the pop-punk bands flooding into my inbox. Unless the record in question was really dire, I often can’t recall if we’ve covered it before without a gentle nod and a quick search through my Gmail. And the reason is because I’m presented with four tracks that don’t have much variation, either musically or in lyrical themes. These four tracks don’t sound wildly different to the other band I wrote about the week before, who also supplied four tracks with little difference in musical style and lyrical prowess. Usually, it’s not unlistenable – a quick three out of five, you’ll probably like it but you just won’t remember it after two weeks, enough said. However, with a little time, focus and ambition, most of these bands could easily become so much more.

I understand the appeal of EPs from a financial point of view. Less tracks to record and mix means that there’s less money to pay upfront. As a crowdfunding endeavour, you’ve got to raise less money, and when it gets to the end of it all, offering something at a lower price point means that people are more likely to pay for it. It’s a sad truth that people are less than willing to give a few quid up for a record they’ll play over and over again, and instead, they’ll sink that money into a few drinks on a night out. With an EP, you’ve got a greater chance of getting your investment back. I also understand that an EP takes a lot less time to put together and practise – with busy work schedules and the threat of every day life, I suppose it gets a little dull and a little impractical to try and create something bigger. But maybe, just maybe, it’s worth taking the risk and instead of doing that follow-up EP to your last two EPs, dare to do something a little differently.

There’s a few bands taking the EP approach and turning it on its head. Red Seas Fire, for example, are releasing a series of EPs over the course of a year which are all linked by a unifying theme. You can see a progression through the first two, and in fact, by releasing it in chunks (which will then later be combined into one record), they’re creating a lot of anticipation for their next release. Clever. Chronographs, on the other hand, are taking it to the extreme with single releases each month. Seeing as the band are split so far apart these days, they’re recording one song at a time and then releasing it, and they’re doing this for an entire year. It’s a bold move, and while I don’t necessarily agree with their musical transition – personally, I think that giving up the tech-metal was a real shame – I do think that their single-per-month idea has a lot of merit. In this case, they can evaluate whether a track worked or not and try a different approach next month if it didn’t. Like Red Seas Fire, it gives them the opportunity to remind their fans that they’re still around, and it allows them to generate continuous press interest. I also can’t think of anyone else who’s done it, which instantly gives them originality points. In the absence of time and a record label (and it’s not like they really give bands much funding these days – the average advance from an established label doesn’t cover living costs at all, and smaller, independent labels merely remove distribution and potential publicity costs… some of the time), there has to be a better way than the EP overload, and these guys have found a way around it.

Maybe the next generation prefers this non-permanence, always searching for something new, but me? I remember albums. Nothing beats the joy of listening to a record over a car journey (and having it last for a car journey, for a start) and being able to pick apart the best bits. Nothing beats that moment at a gig when a band picks your favourite track from album number three and the whole room goes batshit insane. Nothing beats hearing that story, or that emotion, evolve over 10–15 tracks, and feeling it all come together at once as the final song hits. That’s when music excites me. I’m not against EPs as a whole – they’re a great starting point, a handy stopgap between other records or a good opportunity to try out the unknown – but they shouldn’t be a band’s sole output.

If I could say just one thing to the bands who approach me asking for a write-up, it’d be to slow down. It can be tempting to try and get your name out there as soon as possible, but it’s worth taking the time to explore your sound and really discover what makes you unique. Don’t panic about being forgotten too quickly – if you’ve made something memorable, and you’re smart about your single releases and PR campaign, chances are that you’re going to be recognised a lot more readily than you think. And above all else? Don’t do a fucking mini-album.