Jaya the Cat, Imperial Leisure, Abraskadabra, Jet8 & Happy Suspended (Level Up Festival)

Sadly as this all-dayer (part of the Level Up festival) clashed with some paid work I missed the first two acts.

The Happy Suspended

But made it in time for The Happy Suspended, a seven-piece ska act from Gent in Belgium. A small city with a disproportionately large number of bands and live music venues. So you’d probably have to be pretty good to cut it there and tour abroad? Well yes, and they are… I’m gob smacked to learn that they’ve only been going for a year given their extremely tight live show and impressive repertoire of original material. They kick off with ‘The Backwards Walking Man’ a splendid appraisal of the joys of inebriation. They are undoubtedly the most traditional act on the bill and songs like ‘Fur Heidi’ & ‘Sexy time’, with their brass led structures and joyous choruses, have the place jumping in no time at all. Trombone player Xander hops onto the dance floor towards the end to bond with the audience. ‘The Bird’ is a stand out track and this lot look like they are going places.

Jet 8

By comparison Jet8 from Prague are much more brutal experience. Their backdrop says “Brass punk cocktail”. ‘Brass punk Molotov cocktail’ would be a more accurate description as they pretty much explode from the word go with some seriously incendiary guitar parts combined with a three piece horn section. Ska-core at its very finest. Opening track ‘The Run’ sets the pace. Singer Martin has an impressive vocal range from the tuneful rock singer, to the chattering rapper with plenty of guttural hardcore howling chucked in between. He is also a pretty competent trombone player to boot. Sax player Dada provides a softening edge with her backing vocals except when she is out-screaming Martin at regular intervals. However it is the foundation of the band provided by Omar on drums and the two Kubas on bass & guitar that really complete the mix and make them worth seeing. All the musicians understand their place and play with, rather than over, each other providing a surprisingly clean sound for such a monstrous creation. We get a range of tracks from their two albums and one EP along with two new songs towards the end. High points include previous single ‘Be the best at all the bad’ and final song ‘Free choice’ which beautifully combines the Ska vibe with some serious metal riffs & frantic rapping. Great stuff!

Abraskadabra

Next up are Abraskadabra who’ve come here all the way from Brazil for their debut UK gig and if they are jet lagged it doesn’t show at all. With their 3 chord guitar ballads and melodious rock vocals they are what I’d imagine Green Day would sound like if they’d been more into Ska than punk. They definitely get the prize for the happiest band of the day. They are also visibly chuffed that many of London’s Brazilian ex pats have bought advance tickets for this sold out gig and are loving the opportunity to welcome them here.

‘Guacamole’ is a belting opener and is followed by the utterly mental one minute and twenty seconds of complete insanity that is ‘Heavy hitters’. You couldn’t accuse this band of over indulgence. They keep it simple and deliver it with an understated mix of shared vocals and brass complimenting the riffs that drive the songs. ‘Border town’ examines one of the big issues of our time. Final tune ‘The dream’ is the perfect end to their introduction to London. I hereby predict that these folks will smash it at Boomtown.

Imperial Leisure

Then I finally get to see Imperial Leisure. I missed them at this year’s Bearded Theory festival. Everyone who saw them has been saying that it was possibly the best set of the festival. So I’m naturally feeling challenged to tell them all that they’re wrong. But they’re not. This lot are, absolutely, the ultimate party band with their hawaiian shirts and utterly over the top antics which include soaking their adoring fans in cheap champagne, tipping rum down their grateful throats and bombarding them with giant beach balls. But these theatrics would mean nothing without the songs and the songs are fucking brilliant.

Imperial Leisure

The way that ‘Landlord’s daughter’ perpetually builds up to a crescendo with it’s brattish rapping before breaking into one of the most memorable choruses of all time is pure genius. ‘Animal‘ is one of those tunes that seems breathtakingly simple but no one else managed to write it yet before these guys. So it’s hook line is destined to plunge deep into your psyche and remain trapped in your head for the foreseeable. It is the classic Specials tune that the Coventry lads never got round to composing. This mixture of hip hop, rock and Ska, fronted by a pair of performers whose antics & presence make for a live experience that would punch you out in far bigger venues, is utterly infectious from the word go. So by the time we get the end with their mish mash of ‘Jump around’ the whole place is soaked in sweat, cheap booze and feelings of complete ecstasy. Just wow…

Jaya the Cat

Then the congregation gets called to order to pay homage to the dispossessed & deadbeats dwelling in the dives and drinking dens. Jaya the Cat are here. ‘Nobody’s fault’ warms the crowd up nicely with its narrative of bloody-minded hopelessness. Then with the opening riffs of ‘Hello Hangover’ the mosh pit assimilates into a synchronized stomp that leaves me wondering if they’re not going to end up breaking the dance floor and crashing though into the acoustic gig downstairs?

While their whiskey drenched rock-reggae tunes make for the perfect festival experience, in a small venue like this with the volume turned up, they pack a meaner punch with their chunky sound and pounding rhythm section. Geoff belts out the words from the heart while pointing his (now half empty) bottle of Jameson at the merry throng. Along with the rest of the band he has been partying here all day and yet they’re still delivering the tightest delivery of their songs with the precision of straight-edgers. I’m left wondering if there is enough hedonism in their adopted home of Amsterdam to keep these Boston boys happy?

Jaya the Cat

Five albums in and they are able to cherry pick a set of anthems that include the best-known tunes while containing plenty of surprises. ‘Chemical salvation’ is an ode to the joys of Class As and it is followed by ‘Drug squad’, which examines the misery of getting busted. While most songs study life on the wrong side of the tracks we also get ‘Final solution’ a skanking howl of rage against the one-percenters. If I have one complaint it is that they have a raft of class-conscious numbers that they don’t play often enough. I’ve yet to hear ‘Voice of the poor’ live which is one of those ballads that just needs to be played over the sound system at every rally that looks set to turn into a riot.

‘Mistake’ tears the place apart before the finale of ‘Sweet Eurotrash’ and an extended version of ‘Here come the drums’ which sees a certain heavily tattooed guitarist indulging in a bit of crowd surfing which has been a continuous feature of this gig. Security in a corporate venue would hate this lot. Jaya the Cat return to these shores in December. They are like no other band in this genre so get down there and give your ears and liver a proper pounding. They are definitely a band that has to be seen before you die and you’ll be seriously pissed at yourselves if you miss them.

Review & pictures by Guy Smallman

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