This time last year, Kenosha were looking as strong as theyâ€™d ever looked. Their momentum was derailed by a mystery illness which struck drummer James, incapacitating him and leaving the band floundering. Returning from their enforced sabbatical, theyâ€™ve used the time to develop a more expansive desert rock sound, indebted to Kyuss and Fu Manchu but with enough of their own ideas to distinguish them from their heroes. A low-key opening set at the Transmission Weekender sees them flexing their muscles with a completely new playlist. There are moments which seem a little under-rehearsed, and some material needs more development, but generally Kenosha look and sound as healthy as ever. Itâ€™s nice to have them back.
As well as the cream of Leeds talent, Transmission also plays host to a few visitors. Prestonâ€™s The KBC make the most of an early set to show a decent-sized audience what they can do. Murderously tight punk-funk is their stock-in-trade, which shows off their skill with rhythm and melody adequately. If they rarely come out from behind the shadow of Franz Ferdinand, itâ€™s perhaps an indication that they have yet to carve out their own identity. They show plenty of potential, but definitely need time and space to grow.
Capable as The KBC are, their shortcomings are thrown into sharp relief by the utterly peerless O Fracas. In the first few moments of their set the guitarists fire off a series of jagged chords which seem only obliquely related, before the drummer starts up a rhythm which sounds like heâ€™s thrown his kit down the stairs then chased after them - all while still playing, of course. Itâ€™s an audacious start, but par for the course to a band who are self-assured to the verge of arrogance on stage. Tonight O Fracas show they are shape-shifters, moving effortlessly, recklessly between modes. Aside from the scarily calm sense of focus they exude, theyâ€™re deceptively mild-mannered in appearance. The alien masquerading as the ordinary has not been more keenly evoked since Talking Headsâ€™ early records. Trust me on this one, spectacular is the word.
Like the bandâ€™s that precede them, Newcastleâ€™s Kubichek! have plenty of energy and commitment. Sadly, they have nothing new to offer, just clunky, pedestrian rock with post-punk window-dressing and dreary vocals. By contrast, This Et Al are magisterial. Their sound keeps getting bigger and bigger, but you have to look beyond the bombast to see where their most important skills lie. There is subtlety in the way they balance dark and light which goes beyond the reach of fellow-travellers such as Muse, for all their pyrotechnics. This Et Al combine metal intensity with the dynamic skill of post-rock and the pure love of noise which categorised the shoe-gazing movement. The trilogy of â€˜Transmit Oneâ€™, â€˜Catscanâ€™ and â€˜Free Adam Innocentâ€™ towers over everything else we have heard tonight, excepting O Fracas.
If Duels play Leeds these days, they are usually at the top of the bill, and seem to come with a built-in sense of anticlimax. There is no doubt they are pop stars in the making. Theyâ€™re ticking all the right boxes, but the sense that their music is one long job application to the role of NME pin-up is inescapable. The songs reference all the necessary Britpop influences, from The Kinks through to Blur; the right moves are made, the right poses pulled and jokes cracked, but something is missing deep in the core of Duels. It could be the soul: only â€˜The Young Believersâ€™ opens a crack in the shiny surface to suggest something more human may lie beneath. But when the three minutes are over, itâ€™s back to cold, manipulative business as usual.
Thankfully, though Duels are the de facto headline, thereâ€™s a refreshing epilogue still to come. Tom Woodhead of Â¡Forward, Russia! and a guitarist pal come together to form AnteAter, a dronesâ€™nâ€™beats side-project which is pleasantly at odds with the general vibe of the evening. It also represents a refreshing crossover between two scenes which have traditionally stayed separate in Leeds, as Tom uses a laptop and effects to create a sound more usually heard at Termite Club or V3ctor nights. And so the evening ends not with a bang or a whimper, but with a resounding â€œeh?â€