Words by Steve Crawford / Pics by Denise Wilson
The first act of the evening is Exotic Pets, a lo-fi indie garage punk trio consisting of two guitarists, Dave and Adam, backed by drummer, Becky. Although only forming a year or so ago they have already supported the likes of Ghosts of Dead Airplanes and Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam. It’s always gratifying to see a decent array of effects pedals with the guitar combination of Fender Jaguar / Fender Telecaster: we’re clearly in good, solid, garage indie territory.
Exotic Pets have a bright, single-coil, post-punk, unfussy sound, but with enough licks and flourishes to keep things interesting. The band’s first song, ‘Carrion’, is musically an upbeat cheery number, but this jauntiness belies the lyrically dark subject matter which drummer Becky delights in telling the audience about afterwards. As far can be ascertained, Liverpudlian drummer Becky is de facto leader of Exotic Pets, and her engaging banter with fellow bandmates and the audience gives us an insight into the band’s relationships and dynamics.
In stark contrast to Becky’s affable chattiness, Adam remains stoically silent, acknowledging the next track with just a thumbs up, with Becky declaring this as, “the most Yorkshire thing I’ve ever seen you do”. There are some Yorkshire vs. Lancashire dynamics going on.
Exotic Pets’ standout track is ‘Meteor’, with Adam’s vocals enhanced by delay effect on the microphone, giving it a slight Joe Meek edge. However, the biggest response from the night comes for ‘Hot Boys on Campus’ and at the time of writing this is the only Exotic Pets track available to purchase from Bandcamp for a mere £1, or more should you wish. Exotic Pets are the least polished act of the evening, at the moment at least, but it really doesn’t lessen their performance and it’s obvious that they already have a loyal following. An EP is due out next year and I look forward to more adventures in the lives of the band.
In complete contrast to Exotic Pets are Einstellung, reportedly playing live for the first time in about two years. Despite the Germanic sounding name, Einstellung are a four piece from Birmingham formed around 2004. The band are very open about their influences – given the name, plus the fact that their tracks can hit upwards of 15 minutes and all have German titles, then krautrock is one of the more obvious ones. With its members also citing Black Sabbath, My Bloody Valentine and Spiritualized as some of their favourite bands, Einstellung occupies an altogether darker and heavier sound than krautrock bands like Neu!, creating a sound that has been self-described as ‘powerkraut’.
Tonight they produce huge slabs of powerkraut, as wave after wave pummels the audience. One tune leads into another with no gaps in between. Well, virtually no gaps: there’s a point near the end of the set when the briefest of pauses allows the audience members to show their appreciation.Einstellung are a real force to witness in a venue like the Hare and Hounds.
You may think that lengthy instrumentals could get tedious and are something to be endured, but this is not the case at all. Einstellung (and it’s tempting here to now refer to the band as The Mighty Einstellung) are mesmerising live. Tracks start slowly and fairly quietly, with heavy riffs that repeat and build into something quite hypnotic, gathering pace until they can’t be contained, eventually erupting into frantic, unrestrained crescendos. The final tune sees the guitars being throttled into amps to produce wails of feedback. It’s possibly the reason why earplugs were being handed out on the door.
Chatting afterwards to Steve Hough from the band, he is asked why the two year gap between playing live? “We’re lazy, we’re getting older and we have careers”. All of which is fair enough. But he does admit just how it enjoyable it was to get back on stage again. We can but hope that all members of Einstellung enjoyed themselves equally as much, or at least enough to want play live again and soon.
There’s no setlist, apparently there never is, much to the disappointment of my setlist-stealing friend who had managed to nab Exotic Pets’ one earlier. My friend works his magic again with tonight’s headline act and duly obtains said setlist from the stage (after band has finished playing, of course). It’s a wonderful looking document, but given that it’s written in Japanese not particularly useful for reviewing purposes.
Headliners, Touch My Secret, are the second trio of the evening but an altogether different beast to Exotic Pets and, indeed, Einstellung. Labelled as ‘J-Rock’, Touch My Secret inhabit a more traditional power-rock territory compared to fellow compatriot J-rockers Mutant Monster, who they supported at the Hare and Hounds last year.
Touch My Secret are fronted by Anne on guitar and vocals, Chloe on bass, and Louie on drums. But it’s a lone Louie who emerges from the crowd to take up the sticks behind his kit and proceeds to kick things off with a quite magnificent drum solo, heralding the other two members on stage to complete the line-up.
From the start it’s clear that the trio are tremendously talented musicians. Louie’s drumming is outstanding; all drummer jokes are null and void after this opening solo and he doesn’t let up for the rest of the night. Similarly, Anne and Chloe fly around their respective fretboards note perfect with absolute precision. Anne is an exceptionally adept guitarist, with impressive chops that range from chugging power chords, dexterous solos and Eddie Van Halen-style tapping techniques along the neck. She also has the rock star moves down to a tee: foot-on-monitor poses and white Les Paul-style guitar held triumphantly aloft.
It is impressive how three people can make such an immense and powerful noise, but Touch My Secret can and do, yet making it seem so effortless. A few songs under their belts and Anne, apologising for her poor English, but in pretty much perfect English, addresses the audience, “Maybe you can’t understand Japanese lyrics. But fuck it.” She then proceeds to fire up yet another colossal J-rock monster of a tune. She’s right. It doesn’t matter that the lyrics are largely in Japanese and it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of watching such a high calibre band. Halfway through their set, Touch My Secret do break into English with a fine cover of Hole’s ‘Celebrity Skin’, one of the few times most of the audience can sing along.
Two songs before the end, one of Louie’s snare drums is killed in action; his drumming is too much for the poor snare to take, as he proudly displays the battered and ripped instrument to the crowd. There’s a quick interlude as the snare is replaced and for the first time tonight Touch My Secret come off the accelerator to play a slower, more melodic number. The final song finishes and its cheers and applause all round from the crowd, which is reportedly the biggest audience the band has had so far on this tour.
Touch My Secret are a winner tonight in Birmingham. The city’s growing taste for all things Japanese, along with the influence of Kushikatsu Records, hopefully means that more bands from the Far East will grace midlands venues in the near future.
Touch My Secret @ Hare and Hounds 06.12.17 / Denise Wilson – Birmingham Review
For more on Touch My Secret, visit www.touchmysecret.com
Einstellung – supporting Touch My Secret @ Hare and Hounds 06.12.17 / Denise Wilson – Birmingham Review
For more on Einstellung, visit www.einstellung.bandcamp.com
Exotic Pets – supporting Touch My Secret @ Hare and Hounds 06.12.17 / Denise Wilson – Birmingham Review
For more on Exotic Pets, visit www.ex0ticpets.bandcamp.com
For more on Kushikatsu Records, visit www.facebook.com/kushikatsurecords
For more from the Hare and Hounds, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk