Often, there’s something missing in the months between New Year and the first signs of spring: dreary, anonymous weeks with little to look forward to. Enter: Outlines, a new festival to warm the music-lover’s spirit, proving that mid-winter spring is its own season with an impressive line-up of musicians descending on the Steel City.
Early at Queen’s Social Club, Sammartino took the stage with an off-kilter interpretation of Kraut-electro, belting out tunes through a vocoder over percussive synth beats. Donning a lucha libre mask and what can only be described as a geography teacher’s sweater, it’s ostensibly all he can do to obscure himself from the audience – but the upbeat tracks and dedicated, arm-flailing performance cut through the machinery and warmed the intimate crowd to the personality in his music. Maybe it’s the name tag.
Gotta love an inner-city festival for accessibility and we found ourselves alternating between Queen’s and another venue all day: Skate Central, Sheffield’s legit rink and roller disco venue and host of some of the festival’s biggest acts. Estrons loved it: “What a great turnout. Skaters, haters… thanks all for coming,” quipped lead singer Taliesyn before cracking on with an emphatic show replete with Parklife-esque riffs and frank lyrics around power, dominance and the shame of losing one’s passport. As someone who had lost 2 sets of keys on separate occasions the week before, Estrons resonated, in their unfettered melodies, propulsive guitars and intrepid candour.
Oscar won best shirt of the day, which is a real thing. Back at Queen’s and taking to the stage with his trademark niceness, all smiles and platitudes – “Nice to meet you, Sheffield,” – Mr. Scheller and co. played their fine-tuned set of baritone pop with stand-out tracks “Beautiful Words,” and “Breaking My Phone,” along with current single, the unrelentingly catchy “Sometimes,” with some sweet band backing-vocals. It’s always fun to see Oscar play and he’s been working hard lately – the recent tour experience means it’s an even more delightful set.
If music bucket lists exist, Gang of Four must be up there. The iconic post-punk band have endured several line-up shifts in almost forty years and the current version of the band only includes one original member; it’s guitarist Andy Gill who makes this set a special occasion at Skate Central. “It’s good to be back in Yorkshire,” he says with a warming sincerity as the band play musical-microphones throughout tracks, a somewhat distracting kinesis exacerbated by singer Gaoler’s antsy, passé disposition. No-one else seems as confused as me and comparisons are futile; we can all agree that hearing Gill’s riffs in person is truly remarkable.
Outlines hosted a formidable line-up of emerging talent and Shura was at the top of our must-see list, a bedroom pop star making great, um… bath music. Super chill synths and cool, cooing vocals over subtle, funk-infused beats immediately screams “dream pop” and Shura completely nails a genre; sonically, simultaneously hazy and succinct, grinning through despondency and an uplifting melancholia. With an album to release later this year on Polydor, remixes a-plenty and a massive supporting slot with CHVRCHES at Royal Albert Hall coming up, Shura is on the verge of breakthrough, although it’s unclear what that means. Hopefully, more of the same.
Clashes always abound at such expertly-programmed events, and we were forced to choose between two Indiehive favourites towards the end of the evening. Agreeing to catch Spring King next time, we crossed the road again to Skate Central where PINS were soundchecking before their set. Suddenly, the stage felt bigger as the five-piece took their places and tore through a just-too-lengthy set-list, having to cut short a few faves from their latest LP “Wild Nights.” Halfway through the set, lead singer and guitarist Faith Vern lessened the divide between stage and audience, climbing the barrier and insisting on “girls to the front” for debut LP title track “Girls Like Us,” which now plays as a total classic from their oeuvre. At this stage, PINS are veterans of the indie festival circuit and never fail to connect with audiences in basement venues, illustrious halls and roller rinks alike. On record, they are awesome; live, unequivocally one of the best British rock bands around.