Words by Lydia Fitzer / Pics by Callum Lees
Welcome to an evening dominated by Badass Blondes, also featuring excellent hairy man-rockers. Why is it that 90% of male musicians have 90% of the hair in the world…? We may never know.
Enter the first Badass Blonde. Cassyette and her all-female live band take the stage glowing with charisma. This is their first time in Birmingham and they’re here to deliver pop-glam-rock punches. Cassyette herself is a powerhouse of stage presence – all embellished leather and attitude. There’s no doubt that she’s in control for every moment of her set. This woman means business. Her sound is catchy and punky live, although her recorded work so far feels a lot more pop/synth.
Cassyette takes the opportunity to showcase brand new songs which are as-yet unreleased, including ‘Diamond’ and ‘Jean’ from her forthcoming EP. She has a slightly husky, breathy alto voice which is seriously easy to appreciate, and potent but gliding melodies. She dances across the stage like a one-woman party as she sings. ‘Jean’ is the final song of the set, and one that reaches colossal heights. It gives a proper old-school rock intro which peels back into sultry vocals, then builds into the most enticing chorus hook. It’s an instant brainworm. ‘Jean’ ticks all the boxes, right through to an awesome guitar solo. Cassyette might just be one to watch.
Next up, we have Broken Hands (they of the rocking man-hair). They open with one of their newest songs, ‘Split in Two’, which in my opinion constitutes some of their finest work. It’s packed with intense, intermittent, thrumming guitar riffs, pounding drums and a piercing tenor vocal. Their stage direction is all-encompassing. They seem to face every angle, with Dale Norton (vocals) crouching to stare into your soul.
Broken Hands also play some old favourites, including their best known song, ‘Meteor’, from their first album Turbulence (2015). It gives everything you’d expect from quality indie rock – it’s catchy, likeable, professional, but with a DIY feel. I’m getting some evil growling from Norton in this one, and I like it. Give me more of this. I want the confident cackle, the crazy eyes, the playfulness.
They carry some of the quirkiness forward into ‘Watch Out’, which I suspect is a new and unreleased song. They jump and “whoop” – the crowd catches their energy. ‘Watch Out’ shows off Norton’s vocal range with classic heavy rock. Their newer stuff is definitely the best so far. They end with another new one, ‘Friends House’; this is my favourite yet and is delivered incredibly. It’s moody, suspenseful and deep, drumming through the body. Broken Hands are a band on an upwards trajectory, and I’d love to see how far it takes them.
It’s time for the headline, and the most Badass Blonde of the night. The stage is dark. Figures are silhouetted above me. A vocal introduction resonates – this is their latest track, ‘Bad Company’. YONAKA are everything I hoped they’d be.
They’re special because they appeal to almost everyone. YONAKA have effortless dynamism and power. Their music is immersive and soaring, but with real force. Their style is edgy, but still marketable to a mass popular audience. It’s easy to see why they’ve been pegged by some as ‘an absolute fucking gamechanger’. YONAKA describe their sound as ‘Dark Alt Pop with heavy riffs’, and this is absolutely true. Is regular pop just not intoxicating enough for you? Or maybe the heavier genres don’t quite fit your mood? YONAKA are the answer. YONAKA are the ear candy you’ve been searching for.
They go from their newest track straight to their oldest, ‘Ignorance’. The recording of this has a more relaxed tempo and vibe. It all changes live, however. YONAKA perform it with such passion that you can’t help wanting to move. A dance pit forms in the centre of the crowd. People are jumping and crashing. All hands are in the air – it looks like the heartbeat of the greatest nightclub.
YONAKA follow this with ‘Creature’, which happens to be my personal favourite. It’s difficult to say what makes this song so addictive. I suppose it’s just perfect. The lyrics are witty, heartfelt, and memorable. The melodies are absorbing and textured. The beat is easy to bounce to and easier to remember. Theresa Jarvis’ alto vocal is beautifully showcased, although this is true of all YONAKA’s songs. Her voice is enticing and full of sass, but slightly breathy and almost mellow in tone. She uses a type of stylised vocal which has become fashionable in pop music recently. Usually, I don’t care for it. Most artists tend to overuse this style in a way that’s unskilled and contrived; often matched with poor overall technique, it has, at times, become my pet peeve. (Vocalists who don’t breathe properly or use their diaphragm, I’m looking at you). Jarvis uses it immaculately, however. It feels natural coming from her, and I enjoy it thoroughly. Her voice is a cool glass of Pimm’s in a world of lukewarm cola that’s lost its fizz.
We aren’t just getting the classics tonight, though. YONAKA’s debut album, Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow, is dropping on 31st May (and you don’t need to wait ‘til tomorrow to pre-order it. Just saying). We’re treated to the first ever live performance of ‘Lose Our Heads’, closely followed by ‘Punchbag’. “This song’s a bit of a lairy one”, Jarvis warns us. She isn’t wrong. It wallops you right in the ear holes. YONAKA also play the album’s title track. It encapsulates the thought behind the whole record. As Jarvis explains, the album is about “anyone who’s in a dark place […] you need to know that you’re not alone”. It carries a message that someone will always need to hear.
YONAKA end with a fabulous performance of ‘Fired Up’, and the crowd are certainly that. Somehow the dancing has devolved into a full-blown mosh pit. The energy pulsing through the air is electric. The constant beat galvanises your bones. YONAKA channel strength in every movement. Jarvis performs to her fingertips as the floor trembles with bass. Welcome to your new favourite band.
YONAKA @ The Castle & Falcon 15.03.19 / Callum Lees
For more on YONAKA, visit www.weareyonaka.com
For more on Broken Hands, visit www.brokenhandsband.com
For more from Cassyette, visit www.cassyette.co.uk
NOT NORMAL – NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this feature – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse, or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK website.