We recently published a guest blog post that highlighted the plight of affordable venues and creative spaces, and the need to save them to help Britain’s emerging musicians. The topic arose again when we spoke to Newcastle-based electro trio Twist Helix this week.
Singer and keys player Bea Garcia Cisneros told us the knock-on impact could be huge: “The loss of creative spaces is earth shattering,” she said. “Affordability is the biggest obstacle facing artists right now; and it’s sad to say but it’s usually the smaller, more accessible spaces which go first.
“In terms of impact that means it’s harder for new acts to start out as there’s less opportunities to cut teeth and build followings. In a similar manner, there’s less room for variety so you lose the more niche/experimental groups and that ultimately holds back innovation. You see it’s rarely talked about but there’s an agglomerate benefit to having a concentrated but diverse arts scene as these communities naturally feed off the interaction between their component parts.”
Bea believes ensuring the future of small grassroots venue is key to the future of the music industry, so we asked her what needs to be done. She told us: “They are a large and unsung part of our music culture; these spaces are the first ports of call for touring bands before they´re famous. For local groups these are the places that will give them their first breaks and allow them to evolve into confident units, and for audiences they offer an intimacy and immediacy to performances which cannot be replicated in larger venues.
“Preventing the loss of these spaces doesn’t have to be difficult. If you know a venue is under direct threat it costs you nothing to start or sign a petition on change.org, or to attend a planning meeting and voice your opposition. But in broader terms, if a venue or space is successful it’s less likely to be closed. Ask yourself when was the last time you went out to see a gig and then ask yourself what am I doing tonight.”
Bea’s comments have been inspired by seeing small, local venues either close down to be redeveloped into residential areas, or come very close to disappearing. The result of this is upcoming single Pulse, which will be released on 31st March and Bea reveals is darker than their previous music.
We’ve had a sneak preview, and we love it. There’s a certain darkness to the track, beginning with a sense of doom as repeated synth riffs support Bea’s big cries of “hey-ee-eh-eh,” then almost haunting repeated guitar riffs and synth sounds combined with drawn out, atmospheric vocals. Then mid-way through things are shaken up by a pause, a big drum roll and a cool key and guitar solo dual.
Bea told us: “Pulse is rooted in a grim reality, it articulates our fear that the trend in new developments squeezing out creative spaces will one day cause the demise of the music scene in Newcastle. The lyrics imagine the iconic Cluny music venue in Newcastle upon Tyne falling silent, as a result of aggressive urban redevelopment; the song is going to be a part of a much bigger narrative project titled Ouseburn which we’re in the process of recording currently.
“I guess we’re slightly unusual in that we create story arcs for each project we take on. Because of this we’ve taken the slightly unusual step of mapping the physical geography of the new album, we also have a scrapbook of landmarks and local history which we’ve tried to work into the project. It’s a little quirky but its a very personal project and we want to do it justice, it’s became a labour of love truth be told.”
While it may sound like it’s all doom and gloom up in Newcastle, Bea goes on to reveal there is a really thriving music scene in the north-east. We’ve already spoken to a couple of great bands that have come from in and around Newcastle, in the form of Hieroglyph and last week’s New Band of the Week, Rob Jarvis & the Mercury Sons, and it seems like there’s plenty going on in the area.
Bea said: “While the threats to affordable arts spaces in Newcastle are real, there’s also a lot of good going on up here that’s worth shouting about. For instance, last year the north-east held its first ever electronic music festival Northern Electric, with a focus upon the independent and emerging scene. Combined with the likes of NARC Fest and Generator’s Evolution Emerging Festival it meant that Newcastle hosted three inner city festivals in one summer, all with a focus on small venues with a capacity of 300 or less. These events are exemplars of a commitment to support the intrinsic link between small independent venues and emerging, innovative artists.
“Also not to be overlooked are our trailblazing grassroots promoters who champion the small venues and build loyal followings for events within their scenes, to name a few Endless Window, Massa Confusa, Beyond the Wall, These Kids are Solid Gold and Canteen Concert Club all deserve praise. As do our local music press NARC Magazine, NE:MM and Spark FM.”
So they’re keen on championing the north-east and its local music industry, but who are Twist Helix? Well, the band is completed by bassist Michael Humble and drummer James Walker and they’ve been together for just over a year. They play a really cool brand of what they term ‘electronic alt pop’ – which fuses funky riffs, synth and Bea’s awesome vocals.
They take influence from the British New Wave of the 1980’s, synth-pop & New Romantic music, while more recent influences include the narrative style of White Lies’ Big TV album, Metric, Metronomy & M83. This is perfectly summed up by Flare, the opening track from last year’s excellent album Manifesto – the vocals are ridiculously catchy, as are the riffs and funky synth throughout.
That’s followed on the album by the delicious Decade, which brings the Spanish tinge to Bea’s voice to life wonderfully. Check it out for yourself in the video below:
We asked Bea what influences them to write, and she told us: “We’re interested in asking where art comes from, what causes people to pursue artistic endeavors; above all we want to tell stories. The gag amongst our friends up north is that we’re ‘a concept band from Newcastle about being a concept band from Newcastle,’ and there’s some truth to that. But we’re not doing it on a whim, we don’t believe in music for music’s sake. We’re self-conscious, questioning and, when we need to be, political, which isn’t a bad way to be in any context come to think of it.”
Twist Helix are currently touring to promote Pulse, including playing at Verve in Leeds on Sunday (February 12th), The Cluny in Newcastle next Friday (February 17th), then FabCafe in Manchester on March 19th and Buff’s Club in Glasgow on 1st April. They then have a couple of gigs in Spain, in Valencia and Bea’s hometown Alicante, before heading back to the studio to record upcoming album Ouseburn, so keep an eye out for that later this year. More info on all their shows is here.