This year’s NME tour is an exciting mix of new faces and established names, making it one to check out for those curious about the current direction of indie rock – or just those that want to shake their booty to dudes with guitars. Stephen Butchard caught the tour as it passed through Glasgow, giving him a chance to check out three of the most celebrated names in British rock, both old and new.
I know that it’s cheap to compare an artist so blatantly to his influences, especially when they’re an up and coming act with sounds and experiences all on their own – but Ratboy really sounds like Jamie T, so much so that the comparison is distracting upon first listen. In the live setting though, Jordan Cardy’s intoxicating energy and vivid production holds up on its own. His set is a short, sharp mix of indie rock, pop and hip-hop, filtered through an English working class lens. His vocals are snarling and sardonic, and bring to mind the slurred drawl of King Krule, but with a wide eyed enthusiasm and a colourful approach to production.
Set highlight ‘Fake ID’ is a bombastic tale of a late night robbery, delivered with cheery keys and fuzzed out guitars. It’s pretty silly, in all honesty, but watching Cardy flip off of his bandmate’s drum kit while tearing through the performance is undeniably smile-inducing. Many will be put off by how derivative Ratboy is, especially given the attempt at a political message within the lyrics, but many others will enjoy his vivid approach to scummy pop music.5/10
I caught Drenge back in 2013 during their support stint for Peace at Glasgow’s Queen Margaret Union; the evolution of their sound in three short years is striking. Their set back then had a raw, ragged appeal, with sludgy guitars and rattling cymbals covering much of the set in a warm, satisfying fuzz. The duo – comprising of brothers Eoin and Raury Loveless – have since gone on to add bass and keys to their songs, giving their music a sense of fullness that wasn’t there just a few years ago.
Their set tonight is just as raw, but with dynamic new edges brought about by a myriad of guitar tones that balance out the ferocious chugging of their early material. The duo’s enhanced production chops left their last full length feeling overly polished, but in the live setting, their raucous energy is undeniable; not just this, but the sense of clarity within their latest set of tracks allows Eoin’s drawling vocal to find its emotional power.
At the end of their set, the crowd separate for a large scale mosh pit – ironically lit by the iPhone cameras. Despite its relative tameness, the crowd’s energy proves that Drenge’s music hasn’t lost its primal appeal, while the bands propulsive grooves are moving beyond the sludge filled cacophony of their debut. The duo may not be bringing anything new to the table, but their musical progression is filling their cathartic tunes with exciting shots of colour and style. 6/10
Bloc Party are a band unafraid to take risks. It’s both the most admirable and frustrating aspect of their character; it’s what helped them create one of the most refreshing and ferociously loved indie debut albums ever in Silent Alarm, with a sharp fusion of brittle, interlocking guitar grooves and a giddy dance-punk energy. But, it’s also what made them move on to glitzy electronica with Intimacy, and bold political rock on A Weekend in the City. Now, Kele and co. have taken yet another risk with HYMNS, a low key concept album about religion and loss that’s relatively low on energy or catchy hooks. It’s an admirable move, but like many of the risks the band have taken in the last few years, it provides mixed results that will upset fans eager for their indie leanings to return wholeheartedly. Kele strolls onstage in a suitably risky outfit choice – purple checkered PJs; you can almost sense the crowd tensing up. Which Bloc Party would we be getting tonight? The crowd pleasing, bombastic Bloc Party? Or the vulnerable, risk taking Bloc Party?
Luckily, we got every era of Bloc Party imaginable. The set starts with ‘The Good News’ from HYMNS, a midtempo rock song that’s relatively low on flash. The instrumentation isn’t particularly noteworthy, with its standard combination of strutting rhythm guitars and a mellow, stomping drum beat. The focus is squarely on Kele’s lyrics, which would be a good idea if those lyrics weren’t as nauseating. A particular lowlight comes in the song’s second verse, where he awkwardly muses on his lack of faith: “I used to find my answers In the gospels of St. John, but now I find them at the bottom of this shot glass”. What could be an emotional portrayal of religious doubt just comes off as clumsy, poorly paced and almost shudder inducing.
The set continues on stronger as Kele loosens up. The band deliver dizzy performances of fan favorites like ‘Helicopter’ and ‘Banquet’ as expected, but they also breathe new life into previously underwhelming cuts. ‘The Love Within’ is surprisingly convincing on stage, with punchy drums blasts and heavy bass counteracting the ugly warbling of the main synth line. As the track reaches its conclusion, it has become just as danceable as some of their best material. ‘Octopus’ is vivid and effervescent in the live setting, with the band reassembling its angular, gitchy edges with a giddy energy. Kele remains passionate and engaging throughout the set, soaking up the crowd’s excitement for their most thrilling songs. On ‘One More Chance’, he trades off lines with the crowd in a way that didn’t come across as forced or pandering – the band were having just as much fun as anyone else.
Even though Bloc Party occasionally misstep in exploring untouched avenues of their sound, their set tonight shows them to still be a great band at their core. 7/10
NME Awards Tour still to play Leeds, Cambridge, London and Birmingham from Mon 8th- 12th Feb