LIVE: Strangeforms Festival 2016

By Mark Johnson

Hosted by Bad Owl Productions, Strangeforms Festival is a celebration of all things math, indie and post rock. Despite its setting in a member’s only club in the heart of Leeds, it feels anything but exclusive. Wharf Chambers is a small venue (the event sold out at 100 tickets per day) giving this is a true community feel, with members of the performing bands mixing freely with the weekend’s punters in a united celebration of music.


The Vitasounds Project have the pleasure of kicking off the weekend’s musical proceedings and they fit the title of the festival well. No eyes are on the stage as the Leeds-based act begin, but on the opposite wall, where the movie ‘American Werewolf in London’ starts to play. Over the next 45 mins the band play an instrumental-metal accompaniment to the film, matching the dramatised scenes with their musical interpretation. It’s a uniquely interesting concept that at first delights with its novelty, but lacks enough mood changes and variation to sustain this level of excitement for the whole course. Coventry’s Those Among Us Are Wolves have the unenviable job of following the spectacle and they don’t quite have enough to pull it off. The instrumental act’s timing issues and occasionally jarring transitions sound unpolished and as the sideways glances between members pile up, it seems that more practice is required before they can shine among a lineup this strong.

After two progressive instrumental bands Bearfoot Beware bring some much needed rhythm and urgency, as well as the first dose of vocals. Mathy beats, frantic vocals and bags of groove lead to an enjoyable set that’s only slightly marred by a broken string and the need to restart the penultimate song after a failed intro. Once We Never Learned to Live take to the stage, things get serious. Tighter, louder and more accomplished than anything that’s gone before them, the Brighton band hammer through choice cuts from their debut album ‘Silently I Threw Them Skyward’ with an unrivalled amount of passion. The band live and breathe every note they play, adding even more passion to their already emotionally charged post hardcore, cementing the band as a hugely exciting act that we can’t wait to see develop.

Waking Aida add a refreshing sound of keys to the day’s buffet of impressive instrumentals and the ambience elevates their set with an uplifting atmosphere that offers something different. The band give a great account of themselves with a confident, warming display. It’s great to see Wot Gorilla back on stage, having been dormant for far too long since their debut album was released back in 2012. Their performance lacks the tightness and clarity that they’ve showed in the past but with the recorded versions of new songs ‘Skiddaw’ and ‘And Then There Were Three’ sounding extremely promising, this may simply be a case of lacking match practice.

In contrast, Alpha Male Tea Party perform an extremely tight set despite the complex dynamics and changing time signatures. The band bring a burst of energy to the stage, interacting well with the crowd as they power through their spasmodic, mathy rock. The complexity of their music leads them to needing three attempts to play one of their new songs, but despite this their set was one of the day’s highlights. Southampton’s Signals bring the first day to a close and their brand of math-pop leaves the crowd in an upbeat mood. The band recently featured on BBC Introducing and it’s clear from their performance why they’re attracting attention. With beautiful vocals and infectious beats Signals promote a feel-good vibe as well as turning out some highly impressive songs.


Sunday is not a day for sing-a-longs as Tall Talker get a fully-instrumental second day off to a start. Featuring a finger picking guitar style similar to that of Tim Collis of TTNG, the band’s upbeat, jangly math-rock gets the crowd moving and bobbing its collective head. Although the complex timings occasionally stray too close to confusing rather than charming, it’s a solid set that acts as a good introduction to the band ahead of their first EP release in May. Stems’ cinematic, ambient instrumentals don’t fare as well as they perhaps should, the slow builds and long drawn out progressions not the best follow-up to an upbeat opener. The cello sounds warm against the minimalistic drums and sparse guitars and while the band has definite potential this may be the wrong environment for them to thrive.

Sheffield instrumentalists Body Hound waste no time restoring the atmosphere as they burst onto stage for an explosive set. As the first band of the weekend to add heaviness to the mix of urgency and technical mastery, the crowd laps it up, enjoying the opportunity to flex their neck muscles. Body Hound’s excellent show sees many turning to the merch stall as the last note rings out. UpcDownc continue the heavy theme but lack the excitement of the previous act. The band take to the stage with more pedals than a bicycle factory as well as a synth, samples, a tablet and other gadgets. With each slow build through sludgy, heavy bass it’s a shame that the gadgets couldn’t be integrated into the band’s sound a little more to add variation and break up the constant tempo. Having been around 16 years the band are accomplished performers but on the day their sound fails to inspire excitement.

Fall of Messiah literally have the speakers shaking as their explosive onstage energy leaves the equipment quivering. With the heavy ambience of early Maybeshewill and bursts of melodic hardcore, they achieve the most intense atmosphere of the weekend. Each perfectly timed crescendo and an uplifting melody swells above an ever-present undertone of melancholy that offers a landscape that’s both tragic and compelling. It’s a stunning set that emerges as one of the best of the weekend and allows the band to return to their native France with a room full of new admirers. Vasa continue the theme of non-English acts, although the Glasgow based act look perfectly at home on the stage. Emerging as one of the most confident, tight and professional bands of the festival, the four-piece rifle through tracks from their recent album ‘Colours’ without missing a beat, their energetic presence owning the stage and the crowd’s attention.

Penultimate act Poly-math recently released the highly impressive ‘Melencolia’ and the complex, challenging math-rock landscape that they created on record translates perfectly on stage. The three-piece execute their intricate instrumentals with ease, transitioning flawlessly from calmer post-rock moments to the outright chaotic. Cleft are a perfect act to close out the festival, their music containing so many elements, styles and sounds that they become an embodiment of everything that’s gone before them over the weekend. It’s a highly enjoyable, technically impressive and thrilling set that in the end is bittersweet, as this could be the last time most of the room get to see the band live. Having announced that they’re splitting up this year, the band are doing one final tour before calling it a day and for anyone who’s yet to have the privilege of seeing the band, this is your last chance to put that right.

Thanks to a fantastic line-up, stellar organisation and the talents of an excellent sound engineer, Strangeforms Festival delivers a fantastic weekend. The community spirit of the DIY festival scene offers a special atmosphere that’s difficult to replicate elsewhere and this collection of acts, from the established to promising newcomers, make the weekend a perfect celebration of the math and post-rock scene.