Thursday night sees the humble reviewer once more hotfooting it over the Pennines to the Brudenell in Leeds to see DITZ and Treeboy & Arc for a second time after witnessing them at Soup Manchester, along with the long suffering, other half, who shall henceforth be referred to by her superhero name of Editor Girl. Soup was notoriously dark, which didn’t make for the greatest pictures, so I was hoping for better things at The Brude.
The gig itself, however, was a triumph, topped off with managing to purchase the two pairs of orange DITZ socks, which were fighting for my cash along with some VERY fetching tea towels bearing the legend “Live, Love, DITZ” – I mean, how could you not?
The last time I’d seen DITZ was at Manchester’s Retro Bar last July, hot off the back of seeing them at Hull’s Ulltra Festival a few days previously (the scene of my Damascus moment where my phone refused to take any more pictures until it had cooled down, at which point I’d realised I was going to have to buy a proper camera if I wanted to carry on photographing gigs), and the last time I was in Soup (consults notes) was May 2019, when it was still called Soup Kitchen, where I was fortunate enough to see a very early Murder Capital supported by Egyptian Blue. DITZ’s van was parked outside the entrance and on my exit was sadly decorated with a parking ticket, courtesy of Manchester’s over-zealous traffic wardens, so I was hoping that this didn’t affect their mood too much tonight.
Observing The DITZ Mobile parked safely off-road tonight, I made it inside just in time to see openers Fuzz Lightyear, who were a last minute but welcome bonus over the previous evening’s two band affair.
Comprising Ben Parry (vocals & guitar), Alex Calder (synths & guitar), Josh Taylor (drums) and Varun Govil (bass) already have a couple of releases under their belts in the form of the self-released Carlton Hill and Berlin 1885 (produced by Alex Greaves of Bdrmm, Heavy Lings, Lice, Working Men’s Club fame), both of which feature in tonight’s 8 song set. Described as, “A band used to playing dingy basements and rooms filled with rowdy pits, Fuzz Lightyear emerges from the chaos of the Leeds punk scene bringing with them a torrent of horrific Noise-Grunge to satisfy your tinnitus” – well, on the face of that, how could you NOT lend this gang who hail from Wales, Yorkshire and India your ears for a while?
The set features a number of as yet unreleased tracks including opening track My Body which is a gloriously grungy piece of work that channels two channels of IDLES and Heavy Lungs racket with Ben, stage right, scarcely pausing to draw breath – there’s going to be no gentle build-up here. A quick tune-up takes us into the jangly yet discordant Carlton Hill with its angry spoken delivery. Dating from January 2022, it predates Alex Greaves’s input, being produced and mixed by drummer Josh.
Sit Awake’s opening guitar riff is reminiscent (to me at least) of IST IST, but Josh’s furious drumming takes the track by the scruff of the neck and wrings the life out of it. He’s decked out in a Pest Control tee, and I don’t doubt for a second that this assault on the earholes would have any vermin running for its life within seconds.
Berlin, 1885 which is almost two years old, is described as addressing the disturbing rise of the far-right across the globe, the power to divide that it has and the bridges that it continues to burn. Sadly, those two years have shown no abatement in this growth and the anger and frustration is channelled in a wall of sound. There’s a glorious energy about this bunch that revel in their DIY origins as well as in their loyal and dedicated fanbase.
Varun frantically throws both his bass and himself around the stage whilst Alex’s synths add an extra layer to proceedings and allow ME to add another genre to my ever-expanding list in the form of “Noise Rock”. But Fuzz Lightyear are about more than just noise – Midwinter is as bleak as its title sounds, and there are echoes of the likes of DeafDeafDeaf and Scattered Ashes lurking here too. I’m not going to mention Joy Division this time, I promise (damn), but the same depth of feeling is there for all to see and hear.
Set closer Closer (I see what they did there) opens up with a vague memory of Dead Kennedys “California Uber Alles”, but as if it was being sung by Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman. The pace is manic with everyone giving it all they’ve got and the front row of the audience are throwing themselves around like mad(wo)men (step forward Jack Arnold – you KNOW it’s true), then, with a “Thanks for having us”, they’re gone, leaving us scratching our heads and wondering what we just witnessed. Leeds is throwing up talent by the bucketload and if you haven’t taken in some LS6 (or indeed any other LS)goodness, then you really ought to.
Fuzz Lightyear played My Body, Carlton Hill, Sit Awake, Berlin, 1885, Aberfan, Midwinter and Closer
Treeboy & Arc are living in exciting times at the moment – with debut album Natural Habitat scheduled to drop on the 7th of July and single False objects dropping as I’m writing this review, Leeds-based James Kay (Bass & vocals), Ben Morgan (Guitar & vocals), Sammy Robinson (Synths), George Townend (Guitar) and Isaac Turner (Drums) are soon to reap the benefits of 7 years’ worth of hard work, starting out as a four piece post-punk outfit operating of a makeshift studio in Leeds’s LS6, to quote their bio, they’ve stripped the paint from the walls of nearly every venue in Leeds as well as many further afield too.
The first pass of the album was recorded, evaluated post-lockdown, found to be wanting as it didn’t really represent the band any longer, scrapped and subsequently re-recorded and thankfully they were happy with their efforts second time around. They chose to work with Leeds-based Matt Peel (W.H. Lung. TRAAMS, Eagulls and more) then chose to release it on Leeds-based Clue Records (there’s a theme here, I just haven’t QUITE worked out what it is yet…) The resulting album is reported to be much darker, harsher and brutal than the original effort, so we await developments with interest.
The set launches with Midnight Mass employing a motorik, almost Krautrock rhythm that reminds my ears of Deja Vega at their finest. The bonus of two vocalists offers some interesting options with James centre stage and Ben stage left taking a pretty much equal share of duties. Think Gang of Four, think Interpol, maybe The Murder Capital and you’re kind of on the way.
There’s something of a vocal Jekyll and Hyde thing going on, with James engaging in all sorts of gymnastics, bending over backwards both figuratively and literally to entertain us (it makes me wince just to watch him), and Ben lurking to the side alternating between looking slightly menacing and looking downright terrifying. Winter of Existence starts off slowly built on the back of an insistent drumbeat delivered by Isaac. There are clearly influences of The Fall drifting in and out here too, but Treeboy & Arc put their own stamp on the art of the laconic spoken delivery and I have a new genre, namely “Art Punk” to add to my collection.
As False Objects draws to a close, Ben announces that it has only been released today, so it’s nice to be present on its official birthday. The wonderfully titled “Box of Frogs” is next with its intensely driven bass line. I’m still waiting for a repetition of last night’s electronic voices bidding us to attend the merch stand, but for some reason, they don’t make an appearance tonight (not that I need much encouragement to merch frantically as well you know, dear reader). Ben thanks DITZ for having them on board for the last few days. “Each night, they’ve gifted us with a room full of people, which is all we could ask for and more – so thanks.” Perfectly put.
Human Catastrophe starts with a keyboard motif that almost makes me think that they’re about to burst into, “Chariots of Fire”, which clearly doesn’t happen, but it’s an interesting thought (No, it’s a stupid thought). There’s a deliciously sinister edge to this one with a guitar riff that puts me in mind of The Cult too.
There’s lots to listen to with this bunch with a hundred things that remind you of stuff twitching at the periphery of your ears, but Treeboy & Arc are distinctive enough to not need to pretend to be anybody else – they’ve been fortunate enough to be supported by the PRS Foundation, and on the strength of tonight’s performance, you can hear why. Retirement drifts seamlessly into set closer The Condor is next with a distinctly funky bassline backed by some wonderful bomb-dropping effects courtesy of Sammy’s keyboards. The crowd whoops, nods and sways appreciatively, completely drawn in.
It’s one of those tracks that you could happily listen to for another ten minutes, but alas this is not to be. Keep an eye out for Treeboy & Arc in their Natural habitat – July the 7th isn’t too far away.
Treeboy & Arc played Midnight Mass, Winter of Existence, False Objects, Box of Frogs, Human Catastrophe, Retirement and The Condor. The first six songs will be found on Natural Habitat album.
Comprising Cal Francis (vocals), Caleb Remnant (bass), Anton Mocock (guitar) Jack Looker (guitar) and Sam Evans (drums) and formed in 2016 in Brighton, DITZ approach their current tour off the back of the recent release of live album “On the Bai’ou”, which was recorded at The Louisiana in Bristol and is essentially a live performance of 2022’s ear-rending “The Great Regression”, but with a few juicy extras thrown in for good measure.
The Great Regression’s Dinked version sold out its 500 copies in 24 hours and I was pretty certain at the time that I’d snagged one, but alas, plain pink vinyl (not that I should complain at THAT) was what I received some considerable time later. due to pressing issues. Nevertheless, it’s an angry, hardcore-packed album that has undergone many rotations since its eventual arrival at Chez Reviewer and the live album and performances I’ve witnessed bear out their anger, frustration and cynicism.
Fronted by the bewildering and bewitching frontperson that is Cal, one minute speaking his lyrics in a quiet, sinister manner, then next cranking his larynx up to 11 and screaming at the bewildered listener, you’re never quite sure which Cal you’re going to get next. Last night he was all decked out in a gorgeous French maid outfit, tonight it’s a slinky leopard skin number, last night it was stockings and big boots, tonight it’s tights and pumps. However, what you DO know is that you’re never going to get anything less than 100% authenticity, all backed up by screeching, effects-laden guitarwork and pounding drums that grab you by the throat and give you a damn good shaking.
DITZ arrive on stage almost by accident – you hardly realise they’ve started – they noodle around with some synth drones for a minute or so before exploding in your face with new track Riverstone, which first saw light back in September 2022 with its worrying refrain of either “The Sun hates light” or “The sun hates life” – either of which have disturbing connotations. “Two” is an old favourite, dating back to 2016’s EP1, tormenting the listener with its intermittent silences, so much so you’re not really sure when it’s OK to applaud. But we all do, once we’re sure it’s really finished. 18-Wheeler appears to be another new track, as it certainly doesn’t appear on any release that I can track down.
Then we’re back in time again with “Gayboy” from 2020’s “5 songs” EP, with its anguished cry of “Tell me does it make you feel good that you’re bad? Does it make you feel anything more like a man? – A price to pay, a price to pay, I’ve got a price to pay for being this way” Cal has described the song as being about “The irony of the anger of bigotry – nothing makes me angrier than bigots but bigots only exist because they’re angry”.
Anger and a need to voice outrage is a theme throughout this set, but it’s clear to me that DITZ have evolved greatly since I saw them 12 months ago. The cleverness of “The Great Regression” and its parents is still there, but there is a much heavier sound to them now that wraps around the already invasive industrial electronica of these songs, definitely borne out in the newer material. The wall of sound has become more of avalanche, and woe betide anybody who tries to get in its way. The brief staccato attack of Role Model (again from “5 songs”) spits the refrain of “I’m always looking for role models of my own age – could it be you?”
There’s the customary thank you to tonight’s supports before we’re launched into “Seeking Arrangement” – the third from 5 Songs – tonight is definitely a treat for those who’ve followed DITZ prior to The Great Regression. Visually DITZ are something of a dichotomy. Guitarists Anton stage right and Jack stage left almost minding their own business, getting on with the business of delivering the sounds and effects that mark DITZ out amongst her contemporaries.
Caleb and Sam throw themselves into their performances for all they’re worth, whilst amongst it all, the many flavours of Cal dip in and out, descending into the crowd here, climbing precariously onto the speaker stack in Manchester and looking out over bandmates and crowds in turn with an expression drifting between mournfulness, anger, frustration and everything else in between. Amongst it all though, they’re both frontman and showman – you can’t take your eyes of them for a second in case you miss something.
Five songs from The Great Regression now follow, firstly the wonderful “I am Kate Moss”, and the crowd sing happily along to its refrain of, “I cut a striking figure – and it cuts me back”, followed quickly by Instinct, Three, hehe and Teeth. No space tonight for The Warden or Ded Wurst, but something has to give way for the new material which is a startling and welcome introduction to the next chapter in the Evolution of DITZ. Cal announces that they’re off to perform a DJ set after the gig where we can expect to hear the likes of The Sound of the Underground, and the thing is, you wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did.
There’s another new song, Senor Siniestro which was announced last night in Manchester as only having been completed within the last few days, so (almost) another birthday tonight, before DITZ close off the proceedings with a return to The Great regression in the form of Summer of the Shark (“Now I know why Elvis shot TV’s – boredom is more evident when sensation is key”) and No Thanks, I’m Full in which Cal takes a back seat once their vocal contribution is complete, sitting on the stage and allowing their bandmates to be the focus of attention and they certainly don’t disappoint, although Anton and Jack again scarcely break into a sweat whilst Caleb and Sam go full metal jacket and every time you think No Thanks I’m Full is over, it cranks up all over again. Until finally, it doesn’t and the hour of mayhem finally draws to a close.
Cal manning the merch stand is no longer the wide-eyed manic Dietrich as portrayed on the stage, but just someone else trying to cajole you into buying a tea towel. And that’s the beauty of DITZ. Underneath the histrionics, they’re just ordinary folk having a grand time. The Great Regression and its preceding singles are fine bodies of work and On the Bai’ou is a good halfway house towards getting what they’re really about, but like Enola Gay, like IDLES, like Yabba and others of their ilk, the only way to truly experience DITZ is to have them shoved right up your nose whilst your eardrums crumble. Next time they’re in town, follow your Instinct, and Seek an Arrangement to go see them. They’ll hurt, but it’ll be a good kind of hurt.
DITZ played: Riverstone, Two, 18-Wheeler, Gayboy, Role Model, Seeking Arrangement, I Am Kate Moss, Instinct, Three, hehe, Teeth, Senor Siniestro, Summer of the Shark and No Thanks I’m Full