DISCLAIMER: My intention comparing bands with other bands is not an accusatory one. It comes from a history of making mix-tapes, mixed CDs and playlists, and thinking in terms of, “where in the flow does this belong?” For me, a mix-tape is mastered by deliberate, contemplated sequencing where the songs relate to each other in some way, shape or form – be it texturally, thematically or rhythmically. So, when I make comparisons and draw parallels, I’m doing it from a place similar to that of a deejay.
A soft-spoken introduction throws the audience off-guard:
“You probably don’t know what we’re called,” says the frontman. “People have a lot of trouble pronouncing our name. Mango Juice. Mangled Noise. Men Kelly Mo. Mango. Moes. But anyway – to clear it all up – we are: mmmmMEH-EH-EH-eh-EH-EH-MEN-GHEL-MOO-OOOH-OOHSE!”
He belts out their name over a theatrical blast of Phantom of the Opera proportions – Mars Voltan/Karmic Juggernauty voice like a wailing saxophone until the quiet trickle of keys returns him to speech. The crowd is stunned. There wasn’t a transition between song and speech.
“Love the reverb. That’s lovely,” he says, before singing again. This time it’s Freddie Mercurial and Michael Jacksonian. “I know it can’t be this easy / I know I haven’t settled down / But there is nothing suspicious going down!” Suddenly everything goes quiet. “Oh, look at all your bewildered faces,” he notes.
It gets even more bewildering when the band erupts like a confetti popper – spraying the audience with modulating jazz-infused funky grooves, math-rock rhythms, fluid, proggy tempos, and bold textures – including the xylophone, harpsichord, organ and clavinet tones of two keyboards (as a keyboardist myself, I was chuffed to see a keyboard-driven oom-pa beat in the last song as we are often swept to the side of the action).
There is scatting. There is shredding. And within the contest itself, a sub-contest ensues between members of the band – who each showcase their abilities in solo sections I later learn to be improvisational.
Their stage presence is engaging and as lively as their sound. Even keyboardist and bassist, notoriously stereotyped to be the less energetic members of bands, are showmen – moonwalking across the stage or else lying down and kicking like an upturned beetle.
Mengelmoes (Men-ghel-moose) consists of Tiago Dhondt Bamberger, (lead vocalist and bass guitarist), James O’Donnell (keyboardist, who, I’m told, doesn’t even play keyboards, miscellaneoust, and backing vocalist), Jake Brown (drummer) and Taegan Venner (guitarist and backing vocals).
They are like those posts you scroll past in your newsfeed – the ones that you’re pretty sure are click-bait – and claim likenesses between profiles, usually a photograph from the present and a portrait from the past, with a caption that suggests reincarnation.
Their individual and collective talents are like watching a supergroup formed from long-established bands of critical acclaim. Something or someone from another time is channeling throughout the “quirky quartet” whose interests are, “being alright”.
Which is another thing that stands out to me upon interviewing them.
I keep eyeing around, looking for a couple more members I’m sure I missed, but didn’t – each member produces the energy and sound of two or three members and they are each multi-tasking between me, friends, family, the event itself, and each other.
I even doubt myself, asking the same question twice to the same person. With so much going on and off stage, I have to ask how they get in the headspace to write a song made up of complicated, kaleidoscopic sections and how long it takes to conjure up, let alone tweak and solidify those sections.
“Not long,” says Tiago. “Too many strong personalities and ideas to ever work properly, but somehow it’s still going. We have a garage where we can make lots of noise and the neighbours are too deaf to complain. Sometimes, we remember to pick up our instruments. Most of the time, one of us has a song written and we work on it together. Other times a jam will do the trick.”
Influences behind their songs include Queen (any album or concert), The Police (see Oli of HyperFox), The Feeling, David Bowie, Corey Henry, Hiatus Kaiyote, Snarky Puppy, Tom Misch (Geography and any live jam), Paramore (any album), Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Wonder (Songs in the Key of Life and any live performance), Prince (all of it), Ray Charles, Electric Light Orchestra, Jamiroquai, Thunder, James Brown, Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here), the earlier Beatles albums, Talking Heads (Stop Making Sense – see Josh from Pin Ups) and family.
Tiago credits his love of slap bass to his “unorthodox” bassist father, for whom he wrote “His Charm Got Stuck in the Nineties”. The “scathing tribute” of an ode received airplay on BBC Radio Norfolk as a BBC Introducing Track of the Week.
“For more insight on lyrical lampooning, you’ll have to listen to our EP The Aredonk Re-Demos on all major streaming services,” teases Mengelmoes, who thank me for taking the unapologetic plug (you’re welcome).
Like Tiago, Taegan also ascribes his instrument to his dad – who is both a lead singer and acoustic guitarist. Although he received his first acoustic (aged nine), and electric (aged thirteen), it was what happened between the two events that motivated him to be a musician – listening to rock music over a road trip holiday.
Jake, who will be contending against a sibling in the RFTE finale, attributes his affinity for drums to seeing a past incarnation of Front Bangs on YouTube (his brother, Brad, is the guitarist). “After a brief flutter with guitar, Jake decided that drums were a better pen for his musical statements. They were also much louder…”
“James is still not entirely sure how he got into music, and will never be sure why, but it just happened and he decided not to question it and plays as many instruments as he could fit in the back room of his house,” said the band, in an issued statement. “He never decided which his favourite instrument is, but was introduced to his instruments in a domino effect which started with the piano by chance after an eventful bass lesson.”
A “deep, fiery, romantic passion” and a “general love for creating music that makes everyone think you’re a bit nuts” are the forces that brought Mengelmoes together. Also, when Tiago and James heard Jake playing drums and decided he was in their band (with or without his consent) and then suggested the same guitarist to each other without realising they were “talking about the same good-looking guy”. Since then, it’s been a mixed journey of heavy metal, folk, funk and jazz.
Just then – Craig Hill, The Tilting Sky, takes to the stage to announce the semi-finalists of round two. Menglemoes is among them. Scattering across Epic Studios, thanking organisers and supporters alike, we continue this interview via email.
Is there a music crisis in the UK? If so, how does Norwich fare?
There is a general lack of funding/awareness in music, especially having witnessed the crisis in musical education in schools. It is often disregarded as a novelty that is easily achieved, therefore, the extent of funding time and commitment that is required is often overlooked. However, Norwich fares fairly well in terms of the original music scene, though the further out into the countryside of Norfolk you venture, the less likely you are to get booked unless you’re a pub band that plays 60s and 70s covers, a point made earlier by Cutback.
Who’s fighting your corner in Norwich?
BBC Introducing have been a massive support, from giving us radio play, interviews, gig plugs and a performance as part of the Lord Mayors Procession. Annie Catwoman has also been a major player as our contact to Norwich Arts Centre through Sonic Youths. The B2 are also extremely supportive, letting us gig there whenever we wish! Our main focus is building up our reputation with Norwich audiences to increase our following so that we can get the groove to as many people as possible.
How can we save Norwich’s music scene?
There needs to be a bigger promotion of local acts into the public consciousness rather than just the limited number of followers that each band has. People should appreciate new music because it is new music rather than just because a certain band have made it. There also needs to be more dialogue between venues, promoters and musicians in order to increase the marketing outreach of all three and get more people into gigs.
Why is music important to you?
For a brief moment, you can just do a stank face and jump up and down or lose yourself in something that has nothing to do with whatever might be happening in your life at that particular moment. You can express things you wouldn’t have even thought you could express through songwriting and performing just as well as just feeling happy hearing it. Music is very important to each of us for very different reasons, but one thing we can all agree on, is it gets us away from revising.
What are you up to when not making music?
Procrastinating mainly, although James sometimes chooses to read some maths that he’s going to study at university. Tiago tends to dance as a way of forgetting the struggles of life as a performer with girls throwing themselves at him, while Jake dedicates a lot of his spare time to his current girlfriend. Taegan’s free time away from playing guitar is often taken up by simply playing more guitar, or if he’s really looking to relax, he may pick up a ukulele.
What’s coming up for you in the future?
Their next gigs are 8 June supporting Mondatta Funk at Norwich Arts Centre; 21 June supporting Front Bangs at OPEN and 14 July at Tribe Festival. Their debut album Igniter will release in June.
For more information follow them on: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube
FINALISTS OF SEMI-FINALS ROUND TWO
Shortly after, Craig Hill, The Tilting Sky, announces the last four bands to contend in the finale: Like Optimists, Mengelmoes, Purple Doors and WRECK. “Commiserations to those who didn’t get through, but thanks again.” See it all go down in the finale at Epic Studios on Sunday 28 April at 18:30 for just £3.
THIS IS THE END OF SIDE A.
PLEASE TURN OVER TO SIDE B.
Opinions are my own and not the views of Epic Studios.
MO is a Norwich-based Filipina-American freelance writer and pianist for hire. She is currently working on a three-part mixed-media series about identity, mental health and her relationship with music (spanning the scenes of New Jersey, London and Norwich).
She recently wrote a four-part series centred on That Music Thing featuring Painted Heathers, Young States, HyperFox and Bugeye. The feature touches upon music and mental health, the importance of arts funding within schools, and the music venue crisis in the UK.
For more information please visit her website and if you enjoyed what you read – any donations, big or small, are gratefully received.
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