Bison Hunting

A review of Bison Hunting at The Dog and Parrot, 29th March 2012

Last week was hot. British Summer time had arrived and people were piling outdoors – everywhere you looked you could see colour and smiles. Exited conversation was spilling out of pubs into beer gardens. The beach was on the agenda, people were Tweeting about splodging in the sea, flexi-time requests were off the chart, office productivity dropped. As ever though, the UK’s most delightful tabloids chose to put a dampener (ha!) on the situation –  reminding everyone that ‘this is England, you fools’, temperatures are to plummet at the weekend and by Easter you’ll be scrunching around in the snow, in your wellies.

Perhaps prophetically, anticipating these darker times ahead, the latest edition of NARC magazine, selected ‘Testosterone Tequila’ by stoner rockers Bisonhunting as its demo of the month. A simple but powerful track that has all of the visceral qualities of Joy Division (a label which has attached itself to the band in recent weeks) with the attack minded guitars you would associate with Josh Homme’s bands. And, as if the stars were not all lined up enough for the return of Bisonhunting on Thursday (who hadn’t gigged for over six months since going on an extended hiatus in 2011), NARC’s online portal, began telling its staggering 55,000 monthly visitors to forget about the sunshine and head down to the moody (and completely black,) recently refitted Dog & Parrot for the ‘gig of the week’.

Joining Bisonhunting were 6 Music darlings Apache Vikings and hotly tipped Styles Make Fights, two other local bands that rarely gig. North East bands look after each other though and as Bisonhunting explained they were deliberately picked as “…we wanted to give the stage to other up-and-coming bands rather than work with someone established.” After two roaring sets from the energetic support acts, Bisonhunting took to the stage around 9:30pm and quickly tore into their heavy, brooding set. And it became quickly clear that they don’t actually sound like Joy Division at all, this is faster, heavier and far more technical. According to Bisonhunting, “We’ll take the [Joy Division] compliment but we’re really inspired by bands that are ‘heavy’ and who actually stand out by doing something more creative…we’re basically playing the music we want to listen to.”

The Dog & Parrot is a great venue for up and coming local bands but like anywhere it can be difficult to fill, mid week. This wasn’t the case for Thursday’s gig however. Some very astute self promotion by Bisonhunting, including a guest appearance on NE1 radio, meant that the bands could enjoy playing in front of a sizable audience on the night. As guitarist Chris Stainthorpe commented before going on stage “I don’t know who most of these people are, which is great!” Its hard work to achieve this though, and with a faltering music industry infrastructure, a band’s ability to master PR as well as being intrinsically ‘net-savvy’ is almost as important as having the talent to play an instrument and write your own music.

As Stainthorpe explains, “The music industry we grew up with doesn’t exist anymore. The old model of record companies taking expensive risks on ‘developing’ an artist and throwing a huge budget behind their promotion doesn’t fit the drastically reduced revenues of these companies. On the one hand, this is scary – a lot of cash and promotional experience has been taken away from bands at the grassroots level – but on the other hand, the opportunity for bands to be completely in control of their own destiny is unprecedented…You have to use every tool at your disposal; if we are going to succeed we can’t leave any avenue unexplored.”

Gigging therefore, has become a band’s bread and butter again. It’s easy to upload a polished, well produced track to Sound Cloud but to really get an idea of who’s a cut above the rest; you have to experience it live. Being able to translate the online presence into an exciting live spectacle is essential. The crowd who ventured to the Dog & Parrot on Thursday night were not disappointed. The four members of Bisonhunting are all accomplished musicians and performers who each add something unique to the show. Drummer Pete Coe is one of the best I’ve seen locally, Rich Fawcett brings pounding bass AND robotic dancing, while moody singer Chris Hopkinson and Chris Stainthorpe lead from the front screaming into mikes, and soloing like metal guitar heroes.

This is clever stuff too and the innate complexity of the songs, as the band explains, is something which is developed by simply getting together and playing. “The start of a song is either the product of a jam or an individual riff/hook. This is then dissected and rewritten into some semblance of a song away from the practise room, with ideas and inputs from the whole band. The song heard live has usually gone through rigorous jamming and tweaking by the band before it’s finally played. Even then, it isn’t finished. If we do record something, that is just a representation of the song in its current state. All songs are subject to change; as with anything, it can always be made better.”

Inspiring stuff really and the North East, at least, should be grateful that Bisonhunting are back after nearly disappearing altogether last year. An intense gigging schedule, twice weekly rehearsals and four very strong, opinionated personalities meant that it very quickly “stopped being fun”. The band say they have basically started again, wrote new material and successfully drummed up “interest that wasn’t there before.” In 2012 they have high hopes about what they can achieve. They plan to release some singles later this year and continue to grow their audience. Most importantly however is the desire to improve the calibre of the live performance, which based on first impressions, is pretty high already.

Despite some technical difficulties Bisonhunting played a storming thirty minute set. I would definitely recommend you keep an eye on this band and check them out at their next show on May 2nd, supporting Axis Of at Newcastle rock venue Trillians (details here Or their next headline spot on 5th May at Sunderland’s Plugged In.