GIG REVIEW: DITZ AT MABGATE BLEACH // LEEDS
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
With support from Belk, Pop Vulture, and Soft Jocks
Mabgate Bleach is an important venue for the city, there is no denying that. Serving as a recording studio, rehearsal space, gear storage and rental service, and most importantly a fantastic venue, Mabgate is a hub for the Leeds DIY scene. As such, it's only fitting that some of the most exciting new DIY bands were present to support Brighton rising stars, DITZ, at the Leeds leg of their most recent tour.
First up were noise rock duo Belk making their debut outing, and what a debut it was. Never have I seen a crowd so charged to see the opening band of a lineup, especially one that had yet to play a single note to a crowd before. A beautiful bastard child of no-wave anarchism, noise rock bile, and dance-punk grooves, Belk grabbed every ear in the audience with angular riffs, stabbing drums, and engagingly cynical vocals. You’d be forgiven for thinking there was a zoo’s worth of creatures on stage from the heft of noise - but somehow it was all coming from two people so in tune with each other that even through strings breaking, people being shoved onto the stage, and a room so packed that you were closer to your neighbour than your own body, they managed to command the energy and scar their unique brand of wit and music into everyone present.
Up next was another band that were still in the process of cutting its teeth with only two gigs behind them: Pop Vulture. You’d be hard pressed to find another band who’ve managed to synthesize everything great about the newest wave of post-punk seizing the country. A three piece where all but the guitarist share vocal duties, a welcome surprise in any offshoot of rock, Pop Vulture builds their songs on a solid bedrock of noisy guitar effects, hooking basslines, and tight, tight drums. While all their originals needled their way into my head and lingered for weeks after, it was their cover of “Half-Sister” by Protomartyr that marked them out as something to keep tabs on. If a band can not only convincingly cover but make better a track by one of the most important institutions in their genre, you know that they’re gonna go on to much bigger stages. The only criticism I can hurl at the three of them is their unwillingness to put out music just yet, leaving me tormented with their songs in my head with no chance to hear it till their next gig. Both a blessing and a curse, really…
The final supports were thankfully the only ones to shake off the label of noisy, providing the best amalgam of surf rock, indie tinged post-punk revival, and endearingly heartfelt joy. As with the band before them, Soft Jocks are composed of the usual three piece line up with the bassist and guitarists taking charge of the vocals this time. However, what the band wielded with expertise, more than even their own instruments, was a sense of humour that provided self-aware levity that only the grouchiest of scene purists could resist. Interspersing their tunes, each of which was a loving homage to their influences from the Ramones to the city of New York, is a rapport with the audience that made it feel like we really were their favourite crowd to play for. I might be a bit sparse on words with Soft Jocks because, although I could describe the sound and the atmosphere, no one could describe the joy you feel when watching them, so rather than waste both our time by trying, all I’d say is go find them wherever they are and enjoy every bit of love they have to offer.
I might have come across as too positive so far and it might seem as if I would recommend anything that comes my way. I was really thinking DITZ would break that as, truth be told, I was growing weary of standoffish frontmen and guitarists playing their pedalboard more than their fretboard, and musically DITZ really were just that. While I was impressed by the skills of the two guitarists, bassist and drummer in creating the expected noise-punk palette, there was little that I hadn’t seen before. Yet, somehow, I was still left raving about that night for weeks on end as the authoritarian yet shy presence of their singer led to one of the most standout gigs I’ve been to in a good while.
Before I go on a deluge of praise for the power their frontman wielded, it would be best to describe the sounds of the band. While the band has drawn praise from other bands as large as IDLES, in a world where every other band tries to outmaneuver the other in being incisive, abrasive, and noisy, DITZ did little to stand out. Their originals, while well written and well performed, were run of the mill even with the added electricity of a live performance. It was their covers, ironically, that showed what made DITZ DITZ. Just by selection of song, their version of “Fuck the Pain Away,” by Peaches (a favourite of mine), they impressed me and their cover only bettered it. In managing to retain the anthemic power of the original while also introducing everything that makes post-punk tick in a beautiful meld, DITZ took charge of the classic and brought it to life for the string of dingy venues they’ll play on their tours. Their second cover, and one I imagine was just for the Leeds stop of the tour, was another favourite of mine. Much to the surprise of most of the crowd, Alastair Shuttleworth, the frontman of Lice, was also present, and in a dramatic moment of spontaneous magic, grabbed the mic and alongside DITZ, performed a sudden and slick cover of the latest Lice single, “Conveyor”. Again, as with their tribute to Peaches, they channeled everything they loved about their inspirations and added their own dash of character. I don’t mean to make it sound like their originals were not good. They were very good, and I enjoyed it but if you asked me what I remember from the night, it would not be the songwriting.
DITZ with Lice frontman Alastair Shuttleworth
As I said earlier, though, what sold the show was frontman Cal Francis. Somehow equal parts relatably anxious and domineeringly confident, Francis had complete control over each body in the room. You might read of bands that read lyrics off phones, or have their back to the audiences and scoff at the amateur energy but somehow every time DITZ did just that, I was left feeling like they knew they were better than us because they were on stage and that I, not only must accept it, but also encourage it. Even when off stage, as Cal was for most of the performance, we were slaves to their performance, even helping loft Cal onto a pole from which they hung in an impressive display of core strength. At times, the whole crowd was told to crouch down and submissively every soul did. At others, we were plunged into furious pits where bodies slammed into each other as lights strobed and excited. At no point did any of this feel unnatural or unwelcome. If you told me these were the startings of a cult, I would believe you, and would gladly be the first preacher of the power of DITZ.
Writing by Varun Govil
Photography by Alice Nancy @saltinmyshoe