LIVE: StrangeForms 2017 @ Wharf Chambers, Leeds

By Mark Johnson

StrangeForms is a celebration of math-rock, post-rock and clever instrumental music that sees eighteen bands perform over the course of two days in Leeds. Set in Wharf Chambers, a small venue that once again sold out this year at around 100 tickets, it’s an event that provides a fantastic opportunity to witness some of the finest math-based bands in an intimate setting.


On a beautifully sunny April weekend it might seem crazy to spend it in a darkened room so why choose to spend it in a darkened room but within 30 seconds of Classically Handsome Brutes’ set, it’s clear there’s no better place to be. With chaotic, multi-time-signature riffs and frantic vocals that would make The Fall of Troy proud, the local three-piece kick off the weekend in stunning style. You can judge the complexity of math rock by how much pain the drummer is in and with open wounds all over his hands by the end of the set, it’s fair to say Classically Handsome Brutes’ mind-boggling transitions don’t hold back.

Lost Ground counter the sledgehammer approach of the openers with a rapier-like execution of their fantastic math-rock/alternative style. The trio work through tracks from their recent, superb EP ‘Absent’ with precision and their perfectly tight set is further proof that Lost Ground are a band to keep a close eye on.

And So It Goes produce a torrent of sound from start to finish, mixing elements of post-hardcore, post-rock and pure noise. It’s not very refined, but it’s certainly entertaining, drummer Sadie Brown stealing the show with a vocal performance every bit as hard hitting as her pneumatic rhythms.

Literal one-man band Steve Strong uses loop pedals and samples to help execute his post-rock concoctions all by himself. Sat at his drum kit with a guitar across his lap, Steve layers in various tracks to great effect, before tearing in with blistering rhythms. It’s a unique and highly creative project that’s as pleasing to the ear as it is interesting to the eye.

Fall of Messiah brought the Wharf Chambers to its knees last year with their ultra-intense post-rock and to prove that wasn’t a one-off, they bring the goods again this year. The French quartet are able to inspire such raw emotion with their music, from sublimely positive and uplifting to clenched-knuckle aggression and as they cycle through their set, the awestruck crowd cycle through every emotion, ending with pure admiration.

Another of the returning acts, Vasa increase the level of complexity with their technically impressive instrumentals that race through various tempos, time signatures and moods. It’s not easy to make math-rock groove, the jagged patterns usually making it difficult to nod the head to, but Vasa have unlocked the secret and throughout the set they get the crowd moving with infectious rhythms that demand to be danced to.

Poly-math bassist Joe Branton takes the crown for most eccentric performer of the day, contorting his body into shapes as jagged as the trio’s dynamic riffs. As the most proggy instrumental act of the day, Branton’s charismatic stage persona is a welcome form of entertainment during the more drawn out, sprawling sections of the band’s set.

Due to technical issues, Gallops’ set is delayed by over an hour and though the show did go on, sadly we had to miss it.



Irk start day two with bags of groove to get the crowd shaking off any hangovers from the previous day. A math rock band with just drums, bass and a vocalist? Seems absurd but with so many interesting rhythms and patterns to try and count along to, you’re so preoccupied that you don’t even notice the absence of guitars.

Flipping the formula on its head, A-Tota-So take to the stage with two guitars and no bass. It’s hard to not appreciate the musicianship but there’s a lack of groove running through the set which makes it a little drawn out and strangely monotonous despite the obvious complexity.

Bear Makes Ninja cycle through various styles from instrumental math-rock to indie-pop and everything in between. When it works it can be charming but too often the set diverts on a tangent and feels disjointed . It’s a bad day at the office for the band, with technical issues hampering them onstage and a few timing wobbles and missed harmonies, but there’s a promising band here waiting to get out.

Ex-Maybeshewill bassist Jamie Ward brings the spirit of his former band to his guitar playing in Dark Dark Horse, layering in the same beautiful, uplifting chords we came to love from the post-rock giants. In contrast to  the majesty and warming tones of the instrumentals, the vocals are sadly downbeat and uninspiring, which leaves the set a little flatter than their potential deserves.

Three quarters of the awe-inspiring Dialects choose to play on the floor with the crowd and after the first song it’s clear why. The stage simply isn’t built to stand this kind of intensity; each song is a huge slab of instrumental brilliance and with the band members racing up and down the floor feeling every note, the crowd is the safest place for them. Dialects’ highly engaging and intricate set makes them one of the stars of the weekend.

On a festival bill personified by tempo changes, clever transitions and dynamics, the repetitive nature of Gug’s riffs and screamed vocals seem sadly flat and uninspiring. The band have only played a handful a gigs so let’s hope there’s more entertaining stuff to come from them in the future.

Body Hound are almost offensively good. If you’re a musician, whether it’s drums, bass or guitar, Body Hound will make you question everything you thought you knew about your chosen instrument. An outstanding performance that’s the most technically complex and musically tantalising of the weekend.

Being the filling in a Body Hound and Axes sandwich is always going to be tough ask and with tuning and timing issues not helping their cause, Lost in the Riots fail to live up to their place on the bill.

The simply magnificent Axes are a perfect choice for the weekend’s last act. Their complex, yet groove-oriented songs are as consistently uplifting and infectious as their collective onstage persona, leaving the entire audience with broad smiles from ear to ear at the end of the show. The band’s banter is almost as sharp as their calculated stop/start patterns and despite not playing together since last year’s ArcTanGent, no band has sounded as tight through the whole weekend.

As ever, the event’s hosts Bad Owl Presents do an outstanding job of organising the weekend and are a crucial part of StrangeForms’ inclusive, warming atmosphere. This environment makes this one of the finest festivals on the calendar and after yet another fantastic line-up this year, we’re already looking forward to the next one.