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Last Hyena + FES + Blight Town @ The Chameleon, Nottingham

What a fantastic lineup for Overtone’s first live gig review – three of Britain’s best and brightest rising math rock-esque bands all under one roof. Local boys Blight Town are a great blend of math rock and post hardcore, FES are on the more pop/punk side (and have frequently been referred to as the Paramore of math rock thanks to lead singer Polly’s stunning tone) while the headliners are an instrumental powerhouse of the genre. Hosted by IKE Promotions at Nottingham’s fantastic little venue, The Chameleon, it promised a great (if sweaty) night of live music. 

Blight Town

Blight Town come on to a packed crowd and immediately blasted into half an hour of fast paced, heavy post hardcore music. Every member of the band is incredibly talented but I couldn’t help but gravitate towards the singer; his clean vocals and screams were both incredible and he managed to switch between the two with little effort. The local boys brought a good few fans of their own so it was great to see the crowd reacting and singing along, giving the band a little more energy and passion. A great opening band and the perfect one for the night.

FES

After a short break, FES came on to absolutely blow the roof off the place. Blight Town were a tough act to follow, but FES managed it. Their unique blend of math rock and catchy guitar-pop hooks and choruses was captivating from start to finish. The vocals were amazing, eerily reminiscent of the likes of Hayley Williams, and being able to sing like that while also playing crazy math rock riffs is an extraordinary talent. Not to discedit the rest of the band, though, who were both equally talented and fit the music and style perfectly. They blasted through a forty-five minute set that felt like it had run for no time at all, leaving the crowd easily wanting more but being ‘forced’ to head over to the merch booth instead.

FES FACTS:

  • FES originally, and ironically, stood for Flat Earth Society until the public began to take the name too seriously – their name has been shortened to FES ever since to skip the confusion
  • For such a popular and enthusiastic band on stage, they are all admittedly introverts.
  • With a booking manager based in Truro, FES frequently find themselves travelling across the country for tours and festivals.

What venues do you like to play at? Have you been to The Chameleon before?

Tom: We played at Brewdog once at Tramlines which was really weird because there were loads of middle aged people trying to get a pint or eating and we were in the corner doing our weird shit.

Matt: We played in this DIY place called the Audacious Art Experiment and it was like 30 people crammed into basically a cupboard.

Polly: I think we just really like the DIY style.

Tom: This is our first time at The Chameleon. I’ve been aware of The Chameleon for a long time – I was supposed to come to a gig here like 10 years ago but I had to go to parents evening instead.

Matt: Did you get a good report?

Tom: No! But it’s a really cool venue with obviously a lovely audience so it’s really good to play.

So up until now you’ve released EPs but you have a debut album out soon. Is there a different writing or recording process you go through?

Polly: The biggest difference when recording this album was the pandemic because we couldn’t see each other.

Tom: We couldn’t see each other for months and that’s hard when you’re wanting to write. We hired out an Air BnB, it was like a cabin in Wales on the coast and we wrote like six or seven songs in that time.

Matt: That was just before the pandemic hit – it was January 2020. So we were like ‘it’s all going well’ and then… March. But we did a lot of online stuff and it started to ease up again so we tried to make it work.

Polly: Because an album is more songs we felt more stress anyway and with the timing of it, because we had the studio booked before we had the songs, we had this deadline coming up. There was a lot of anxiety but it all worked out.

Tom: We recorded it two months ago. There’s going to be 11 songs and we’ve only got 10 songs out in the world anyway so we’re going to double the amount of songs available to people. It’s all mixed and we’ve got the artwork, we just need to get it mastered.

Matt: And to get a record label to be nice to us.

Tom: Hopefully we’ve got a tour next May which was meant to happen last year that’s been rebooked so if we can get it out before May that’s ideal.

How does it feel being called the Paramore of math rock?

Polly: We get it often. I was brought up on her and I love all of their whole discography and how it’s developed. I think they’re a genius band and I love Hayley’s solo stuff too.

Matt: I think a lot of bands with female vocalists get compared to Haley Williams.

Tom: We’re friends with a band with a female vocalist and they get it a lot.

Matt: It’s like one reference point for women or something. But we like them so we’ll take it.

Are there any other bands you take inspiration from?

Tom: I think we all have different influences and I guess it’s like a mix. Polly is the main writer, don’t get me wrong.

Polly: Yeah bands like Tube Law, Delta Sleep, Fish Tank. I have personal ones for writing style like Regina Spectre.

Matt: We have influences from when we started which have changed.

Polly: Biffy Clyro are probably a big one because they were really mathy when they first started off. I really liked early Orchids, they were a big influence too.

Matt: Well me and Tom grew up as metal heads. I was obsessed with Iron Maiden. I could tell you anything.

Tom: His old email was like “mattlikesironmaiden@something”

How would you sum up the theme of your upcoming album?

Polly: So there’s lots of themes of mortality and childhood. I wrote a lot of the songs once my grandad died so it’s almost nostalgic.

Tom: All of your lyrics are really personal to you really about what’s going on in that time.

Polly: They probably don’t make sense to anyone else but me. I wrote a song about Matt because I wrote a song about Tom in 2017 and Matt always been like “when are you going to do one about me?”

Matt: So she wrote a song about me having a breakdown.

Tom: So was mine! If we keep having breakdowns, we’re going to get some more tunes. They were songs of support though and I think that happens a lot with songwriting. When you have things going on quite drastic or emotional it can serve as a catalyst for writing. Some people I think go for different narratives but our music is quite personal.

Matt: We do like the idea of doing a concept album though.

Polly: I kind of want to write a musical because I think our music is quite theatrical anyway so if we write a concept album and then turn it, adapt it into an actual theatre production that’s like the goal with FES.

Last Hyena

Last Hyena took the stage last and once again blew the crowd away. Step aside Rush. Step aside Muse. There is a new up-and-coming three man collection of the most talented musicians out there. I can’t remember ever seeing a band play as tightly live as they did, and all three showed off their incredible affinity for their instruments. For a wholly instrumental band too, they held the attention of every single crowd member there for their entire set with their infectious grooves, melodies and obvious love for their craft. They were having fun, which meant the audience were having more fun as a result – their personalities shone through which is always amazing to see. Again, the 45 minute set went by in a flash – calling to an end a fantastic night of live music. 

We managed to sit down with the headliners before the gig to talk about their recent tour.

How do you feel playing to a live crowd again after a year of restrictions?

Max: It’s amazing, it’s like having a piece of ourselves back really.

Rory: We played our first show back in Bristol where we’re based and it was honestly the weirdest feeling. We’ve been practicing for the whole 18 months every week in our studio space so we’ve just been writing and practicing. The first gig back and setting up before we played we all felt giddy. It was so nice to get back into it.

Max: It’s been full on really with the tour and we’ve realised how unfit we are.

Have you played in Nottingham before?

Rory: We have but it’s our first time here which is wicked because it’s a nice space.

Josh: Nottingham’s one of our favourite places, we always try and get on the bill. Whatever the turn out is, the people are there to see it and absolutely love it. There are always hardcore music fans in Nottingham, so it always goes down well.

Max: I always love the really small, intimate venues. You can play to any sort of crowd as long as there are people that want to be there for the music.

How does being a purely instrumental band make you stand out from the bands on tonight’s line up or any other venue that you play at?

Rory: It gives you a lot more freedom which we love. We never set out to be a math rock, kind of post-rocky band. We just started writing music we enjoy and it fell into the math rock genre with ‘and then we do this’ and ‘then we do this segment’ and ‘no one will see it coming.’ It literally is just music to try and keep people on their feet.

Josh: We had an idea when we first started out. Rory and I were in a band before without a vocalist so we decided to play instrumentally as we had gigs booked anyway and thought maybe a vocalist will find us. And then the more gigs we played we thought maybe we don’t need one. We were having far too much fun.

Max: Plus it always gets us on the good side of sound people.

Rory: They’re like “how many vocals?” And we say “none” and they’re like “oh cool!”

Max: Yeah, “any midi?” “No!”

Rory: It’s a different one because take FES with Polly, they have an amazing singer with really catchy choruses whereas we literally don’t have any repetitive parts. Every song has a different phrasing or section, so we have a lot of hooks I’d say but it is an amalgamation of chaos.

Max: Yesterday, people actually sang back to ‘Doctorpus’ on the vocal line.

Rory: A lot of people really into their music will see the musicianship of it and how much idiocity is behind it and be like ‘that was crazy’, it’s so tight etcetera. A lot of people, more like my parents’ age, will say “you don’t have a singer?” And we say no it’s just instrumental!

Josh: And then you say people come to our shows and they’re like “do they?!”

Max: Because it’s such a small genre in terms of how many fans there are really, it’s a very dedicated pool of people. They’re not necessarily massively dedicated to individual bands, they are just there for the scene which is nice. You get people who listen to bands like FES, which is why it’s so nice to play with FES, because while they’re very different to us they also bring in the same sort of people so you get people into what they do but not us and vice versa.

Josh: There’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you’re a fan of rock sub-genres, or have a respect for the instrumental skill it takes to be part of a math rock band, check out any of the bands from this line up via Overtone’s Insta.