Hinterland @ Various Venues, Glasgow, 3 April

Article by Chris Buckle | 06 Apr 2010

Squeezed from two days into one and scaled back from fifteen venues spread city-wide to a half-dozen proximate haunts, Hinterland have reformatted 2009’s debut into something less ambitious, but more sustainable. And enjoyable too: freed from the mental shackles of route-planning – and the related fear of crowded-out disappointment if yer hot-footing across town can’t quite get you there quick enough – Hinterland 2.0 is a relaxed affair.

From geeky, lo-fi figureheads to Funky DJs, manic indie trios to panda-eyed singer-songwriters, if the line-up doesn’t quite boast something for everyone that’s only because there are some right picky so-and-sos out there. The result is part Scottish talent showcase, part South-By-Southwest-style melting pot – or as Johnny Foreigner put it: “This is great – like Camden Crawl without the Sugababes. Or London.” It’s a busy mix of marquee names and local whippersnappers that offers plenty of bang for your buck…

As Múm and Sigur Rós melodically invoke the harsh, other-worldly terrains of Iceland, so do East coasters The Kays Lavelle (***) work their progressive folk-come-bluesy Scottish spell, creating ethereal soundscapes which evoke the Highland strolls, no mean feat inside the distinctly urban Sub Club. Their vocals alternate between gravelly and soaring battle-cries woven around a 21st century warrior myth, not dissimilar to the narrative mysticism of Bat for Lashes, complete with melancholic piano and phantasmal strings. [RB]

Shiny electro duo Midnight Lion’s (**) passion-pop sound reflects du jour eighties influences and has a likable dramatic air, but personally Stewart Brock’s vocals are a deal breaker. Though blessed with a strong voice, each line is delivered with the earnest slickness of a boy-band balladeer (a resemblance not helped by a tendency to grab at his chest like an eager Enrique Iglesias). But echoes of X-Factor aside, there’s flickering potential in the ex-Drive By Argument pair; a talent for penning glossy pop hooks that are appealing if not quite riveting. [CB]

Skinny readers will already be familiar with Panda Su’s (A.K.A Suzanne Shaw – ****) die-hard commitment to her onstage uniform of an immaculately painted panda face. At Hinterland, her band mate Skeletor joins her, the most serious and scary looking man you’re ever likely to see in panda make-up. Far from a twee eccentricity, the panda faces surreally illustrate Panda Su’s beautifully dark pop songs, as earthy and richly textured as they are light and accessible. Shaw’s raw emotional honesty and blunt lyricism are framed with an impressive array of strange and wonderful instruments, most notably the percussion (from precariously balanced double xylophones to jumper-muted tom toms and heart-felt stamping). “I got lost again” she laments in the intimate, candle-clad setting of Pivo Pivo; no doubt the audience does too. [RB]

“Wow, I’m rocking so hard I’ve detached my section of the stage,” observes Johnny Foreigner’s (****) Alexei Berrow when his over-enthusiastic moves cause his raised island to shift away from the mainland. His alarm is understandable – last time they played Glasgow, they reveal, the ensuing fiasco almost caused a split. But the ground stays firm and the show goes on, the trio barrelling through their set “so we can all see Hot Club De Paris after”. A guesting Duncan Danananaykroyd adds extra noisiness to Salt Peppa And Spinderella’s gear-shift, while new material sees them successfully take their kinetic energy down a notch. [CB]

Broken leads delay Jeffrey Lewis (****), but since his shtick tends towards masking-tape-and-shoe-string roughness anyway, the poltergeists don’t keep him down for long. He’s a value-for-money booking, cramming laugh-out-loud ditties, illustrated slideshows, a gangster rap boasting of multiple counts of mosquito homicide and a history lesson recounting the life and times of Chief Sitting Bull into his truncated set. It’s more vaudeville than gig - a little bit of this and a little of that, all spun together with a sharp vocabulary and a friendly demeanour (though calling your crowd English isn’t the quickest way to endear yourself to Glaswegians). [CB]

Mystery Jets (**) specialise in indie love songs with ladism muted by shyness, evident in football chants succumbing to repetitions of ‘If I only knew your name I’d go from door to door’ delivered without a hint of irony. Bathed in the Arches’ red stage light, the Jets are victims of their own promisingly outlandish intros, falling somewhere between early Primal Scream and a UFO landing at a My Bloody Valentine gig. However, this quickly gives way to landfill indie rock. The main of their material often provides ample material for electro giants to remix but are bland at best in their raw state. “I hope you can dance to this,” Blaine Harrison croons modestly. My answer is I can but I’d rather wait for the Justice remix, thanks. [RB]

As the guitars go back into their cases, the Arches opens back out to its full size. Remaining Hinterlanders are slow to get their groove on, milling about between rooms looking for a beat that sticks. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs brings energy levels up before long, though; with a set that jumps through genres like a hypeactive child (Indian fancy dress supports the comparison). Éclair Fifi proffers old-school beats and b-boy visuals (courtesy of the LuckyMe collective) before making way for Marcus Nasty and Cooly G, whose sets are largely missed by this sleepy reviewer. Back in the North room Friendly Fires spin Madonna remixes and the like. New faces file in as we exit: it seems for some, Hinterland has only just begun. [CB]