The Big Pink, The XX, Loverman, A Grave With No Name
Angus Finlayson 23/04/2009
Receiving an accolade from the NME must be a confusing affair. It's a good thing, obviously, what with all the exposure and the likelihood that you'll make it big in the foreseeable future; but these days that has to compete with a mild sense of shame and the constant, niggling doubt that you may have 'sold out' in some way. Is it really OK to be endorsed by the publication that is almost entirely responsible for Pete Doherty's career?
For 4AD's newest protegés The Big Pink, who received the NME Radar Award this year, it seems to be paying off. Tonight's sold out gig, at the hipper-than-thou ICA, is the last of a successful UK tour, and it seems probable that at least a third of the audience are press and industry types - including a lonely-looking Pete Paphides of The Times - sp perhaps mainstream success is even closer than expected. At present, this London two-piece are about as close to a true definition of 'hyped' as it's possible to come.
For a night of such anticipation, it gets off to a surprisingly shaky start. A Grave with No Name play the kind of flaccid, fuzzy rock which is liable to pass through ears and be lost without trace, consigned to the psychological landfill of forgettable music. Ending their performance with an adolescent guitar-flinging contest doesn't improve their relationship with a disinterested crowd, who seem more keen on occupying the lush ICA bar. Things look up a little with apocalyptic garage-rockers Loverman, who tear through a brutal 20-minute set, aided by a compelling frontman whose voice can switch from doom-laden moaning to throat-shredding screaming with terrifying ease.
The audience aren't really engaged, though, until the arrival of final support The XX, whose blend of lo-fi indie and shuffling disco beats is utterly captivating. Their use of the sadly neglected male-female vocal tennis match is to be commended, as are guitar lines so understated you almost don't realise they're there. A band to look out for - not, perhaps, for their fashion sense (gold necklaces over a baggy sweater, anyone?), but certainly for the unique and subtle way in which they craft their diverse influences into a unified whole.
Incidentally, the above is a quality that The Big Pink have in spades. Within minutes of taking the stage, the band (which is expanded to a five-piece for live shows) has displayed an eclecticism for which most artists would sell their proverbials. Pop songs are approached from countless angles - psychedelia in the vein of Spiritualized, raw drone textures reminiscent of Sunn 0))) (with whom bass player Daniel O'Sullivan is a some time collaborator), and subversive beats lifted from the hip-hop influenced IDM so beloved of Manchester's SKAM label, to name but a few. But they still remain, essentially, pop songs. The variety on display here isn't a superficial, whistle-stop tour of the last three decades - influences are buried much deeper in the music, occasionally rising to the surface but only as part of a distinctive self-styled sound. Perhaps their burgeoning mainstream success is down to the ability to embed interesting and varied things in an accessible frame. It certainly works for tonight's audience, who are in a state of rapture for the duration of the set.
It helps that there's lots to watch, too. TBP's Milo Cordell reigns supreme behind a table full of arcane-looking gear, unleashing beats and abrasive noise in equal measure. Robbie Furze's voice seems unaffected by the rigours of touring, and his powerful stage presence is bolstered by enigmatic, Planet Mu-signed singer Jo Apps, Comanechi drummer Akiko Matsuura and bassist O'Sullivan. All five ooze passion for this music, and it seems to translate into a solid performance which fluctuates between headbanging chug and arms-raised euphoria. At the climax of the set, latest single Velvet is unleashed from its dream-like recorded state and transformed into a savage, noisy barrage of which Sonic Youth would be proud.
What all this boils down to is that, yes, The Big Pink are experiencing a wave of publicity, the like of which only tabloid hype-meisters NME could instigate. But no, this isn't The Horrors all over again. This is a band with a fistful of musical fives to back up its hip credentials. A fist that will hopefully be punching you in the very near future - in the ears.