Yr Welcome 3 takes place on 13th & 14th August at the Wagon & Horses in Digbeth. Tickets are £10 for the weekend or £7.50 for a day pass. For direct event info, including online ticket sales, click here.
Greg Smith, guitarist from Ghosts Of Dead Airplanes, exits the Haygate stage front trailing a cacophonous barrage of white noise and sweat, grabs at an innocent chair, and with anarchic disregard for the conventions of furniture proceeds to use one of its legs as a slide against the neck of his Fender Jag.
Despite, or maybe because of, the skull splitting sonics spilling from the speaker stack my face breaks into a wide grin and I think to myself, ‘yeah this a guy I’d like to know.’
Rewind five years, transport yourself into the Sunflower Lounge during a gig of Greg’s previous band, Black Heart Generator, and you’ll find Steve Bridgeman in the audience – recently arrived in Birmingham from Manchester, staring at the stage and thinking exactly the same thing.
Together with Ben Humphrey, the double-snared drummer from Ghosts of Dead Airplanes, Greg and Steve make up part of a Birmingham collective of musicians, photographers, filmmakers and artists known as Die Das Der. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the day after the Haygate show, I sit down with the three of them to find out more about who they are and how things are going with the preparations for Yr Welcome 3 – Die Das Der‘s two day showcase of 29 bands across two stages at Digbeth’s Wagon & Horses that takes place on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th August.
“The first time I met Greg I thought he was a bit of a cunt,” says Ben, “and now that I’ve been playing with him for a few years I’m positive about it!”
Ha. So he doesn’t have a mesmerising effect on everyone then. Ben’s previous band, Magic Bullet Theory, had played a couple of shows on the same bill as Black Heart Generator – so the two were known to each other when Greg asked Ben to record drums on some tracks he was putting together. At the time Greg was living in a lock-up in the Jewellery Quarter that had 24-hour access and low rent.
These initial sessions formed the genesis of Ghosts of Dead Airplanes (named after the parting album of Leicester indie/punk act Prolapse). Add one keyboard player (firstly Julia, latterly Leanne) and bassist Jonny, take to the road playing a finely blended mixture of Wire and Pulp, with Television hooks, Pixies structure and MBV overdrive, and then – attack chairs!
“I grew up playing trombone actually – got to grade 8, was planning to study music at university, but then I got hit by a car and lost my teeth,” says Greg, popping out an incisor to make his point. “There’s not much chance of making it as a trombonist after that.” Whilst recovering from this misfortune Greg’s uncle gave him a cheap Hofner guitar and a small Selmar Truvox amp, “which you could turn right up to get distortion.” Not being the sort of person to sit around and cry over spilt teeth, he poured his musical urges into a new instrument.
“I was into classical music and jazz,” explains Greg, “but usually on the dissonant side of things – John Cage, John Cale… I was into Cale first and got led backwards into The Velvet Undergound.” His musical tastes came about, like most of us, as a reaction to the Billy Joel records in his parents’ collection, and he put his first bands together in sixth-form whilst listening to Britpop with a Grunge hangover.
Meanwhile in Surrey, Ben was displaying similar determination by deciding to go all out and buy a full drum kit for £600, despite having never picked up a drumstick. “All I knew was, whenever I listened to music I was listening to the drums.” He came to Birmingham, to study, in 1996 and began playing in bands. After Magic Bullet Theory, Ben started experimenting with a second snare sound for an alt-Country band. The country project dissolved (thank god) but the additional drum came with him into Ghosts of Dead Airplanes.
Steve moved down from Manchester, “where the scene was basically everyone wanting to sound like Oasis”, and became a perennial face on the Birmingham gig circuit – introducing himself to Greg at the aforementioned Black Heart Generator gig and frequenting The Flapper, “where for some reason there always seemed to be a pile of shit just to one side of the toilet!” When I ask Greg how he remembers getting into the music he still loves today, he recalls Saturday detentions at school, “staring out of the window and listening to my cassette copy of Appetite For Destruction over and over and over.”
The three of them aren’t original founders of Die Das Der. The idea was born in the minds of Dave Duell and Dan Sheridan, of bands Bombers and Melting Wings respectively, who were fed up with Birmingham promoters putting on gigs by seemingly plucking bands out of a hat at random. Gig bills like this would comprise of a bunch of totally unconnected, dissimilar acts. The audiences for these shows – equally disconnected from each other – would turn up, watch their one band, and then vanish.
“It might be my Yorkshire meanness,” says Steve, “but if I’ve paid five quid to see a bunch of bands I want to enjoy ALL the bands and get my money’s worth, not fuck off after one of them.”
Greg and Ben got involved in Die Das Der fairly early on. Steve came on board this year. Other members include Graham Reynolds from Wax Futures, Stuart Tovey, Craig Bainton and Paul Broome. It has shifting personnel, but revolves around a coherent and stable ethos – to put on a line-up of bands who might all appeal to a singular audience. The idea might sound simple but can arguably escape a lot of other promoters in the city (they respectfully mention no names). Yr Welcome, which is Die Das Der‘s two day mini-fest, aims to put out acts that the whole crowd can enjoy.
”The bands we put on don’t necessarily all sound the same. What they do have in common is their approach to music,” says Greg. By this he’s talking about their desire to push the boundaries of the music they make. Call it leftfield, or punk (as an attitude not a style), experimental noise or underground. It’s a conscious desire to not just ignore mainstream music, but laugh at it, set it on fire and then piss on it.
Aside from genre, another element to Die Das Der is the DIY ethos. They finance the venture themselves, reasoning that it’s pointless seeking funding from organisations like the Arts Council, who are only going to want to see boxes ticked, specific audiences engaged, full documentation and accountability. Funding like that is a choke chain. Besides which, it’s not needed. “We spread the cost of the festival out amongst us,” says Ben. “If we all come out of it thirty or forty quid down then it’s not a loss, it’s the type of fucking good weekend we’re happy to pay for.”
So profit is certainly no motive (if you haven’t got that by now) it’s about the music and the community. They put on bands they like – usually who they like personally, and often people they’ve played with over the years. The first meeting of each Yr Welcome project involves everyone in Die Das Der sitting down and championing all the great bands they’ve been getting into. It’s a night of listening to music, watching You Tube videos and interviews, the odd debate, maybe a vote or two, but by the end of the day they’ve picked out maybe 40 bands they want.
“It’s an exciting process,” says Steve, wearing his Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam T-shirt (one of this year’s headlining acts) “and it feels really great to bring bands to the table who we’ve seen and met at gigs ourselves.”
YR Welcome is not an event for prima donnas either. The bands all muck in and are happy to take care of themselves, handling their own merch and helping out the Wagon & Horses‘ sound technician, ‘Wagon Greg’, with set-ups and sound checks. It’s probably a good job too, especially for Ben, who got so twisted during the first Yr Welcome he passed out under some stairs an hour before he was due to get on stage.
“I remember being woken up and helped to the stage… “ tells Ben, “I just had to concentrate really, really hard… a couple of times I thought I was just gonna fall off my stool.”
Stools be fools and chairs beware, when you share a stage with Ghosts Of Dead Airplanes.
Yr Welcome 3 takes place on 13th & 14th August at the Wagon & Horses in Digbeth. Tickets are £10 for the weekend or £7.50 for a day pass. For direct event info, including online ticket sales, visit www.wearediedasder.co.uk
For more on Ghosts of Dead Airplanes, visit www.facebook.com/GhostsOfDeadAirplanes
For more from the Wagon & Horses, visit www.wagonandhorsesdigbeth.com