Today, a rarity: an ANBAD live review. It’s one of an interesting gig for those interested in new bands, though: the NME Awards tour, which provides a helpful snapshot of what is deemed to be now in the UK by both the NME and the teens that treat it as the music bible.
The Shockwaves NME Awards gig at Manchester Academy drew curious punters from across the social spectrum, but for the hoards of teens, it was Mecca. Finally, the bands they have only read about, or listened to online, or squinted at garbed videophone footage were playing for them.
They dressed to capture, as best they could, the look of rock ‘n’ roll detrius. The boys were Primark Sid Viciouses – deliberately dazed, stained, and quasi-lairy; the girls dressed in a style that occupied the awkward halfway-house between instinctive prettiness and designated trashiness.
Queuing in rain that was almost too stereotypically Mancunian, we jostled amongst teenage girls with clumsy makeup, candyfloss hair and velour hotpants, and boys wearing T-shirts with necks ripped down to their sternums. Scuffed denim abounded. This crowd was Skins made flesh, with all that that entails.
In front of me, a girl who looked no older than 15 and staggering in drunken befuddlement, was turned away by a weary security guard and a mostly-lighthearted, “not you again.”
We stepped inside, to be greeted by tall models from a local agency, wearing spray-on jeans, huge blonde hair and holding cameras. They stood by the hall doors, collaring excitable male gig goers and taking pictures of them for a hair-product promotion. Most passed them by, but some – the ones with more carefully preened hair – stopped to pout and flirt awkwardly.
The huge, wet queue meant that a lot of people missed a lot of The Vaccines, a band who were very new just six months ago, and are now apparently the future of rock ‘n’ roll, albeit ones that have to take the stage at 7.20 pm.
For all their genericness, The Vaccines do at least give their crowd what they want: sing-along songs by handsome boys, with nice haircuts to go with their nice accents. Every generation needs a band like this, and The Vaccines may be theirs.
By the time Everything Everything took to the stage, the room was packed and musty from drying clothes, a sea of checked shirts and fluffy fringes. It’s hard to find anything to dislike about Everything Everything, and indeed, for the man in front of me who was smoking a joint and gazing deeply into the terrific light show, their songs may well have a transcendental quality.
But to these ears, the band seemed – well – technically perfect, and bands that are technically perfect have an unwitting affinity with Level 42 and 80’s Genesis. The band seemed to be having more fun than the crowd, who sporadically burst into raptures upon hearing the first few chords of a hit song, and then settled down into a more passive sway.
Everything Everything are a nice band. I like them. But weirdly, I was longing for them to break from the one-pace clatter-pop and burst into a something altogether more woozy – a cover of ‘Sway‘ by the Stones would have done it – entirely inappropriate for the crowd, of course, but it might have shaken a few locked-in minds.
Magnetic Man, with the constant rabble-rousing of their MC, quickly had the crowd responsive, sweaty and pulsing. Once questions like, “why do they need four of them when surely one guy with a laptop would do?”, were put aside, it was impossible not to be drawn in, overwhelmed by the dizzying weight of their near-sub-sonic barrage.
Their sound is like an achingly slowed, dubbed-up Drum ‘n’ Bass, and yet so hyperactive that no song settles into one groove for any reasonable period of time. It was received by a furiously hyped crowd, and only the most curmudgeonly grumpy soul could deny their bowel-worrying excellence.
Crystal Castles’ appearance were prefaced by a slightly suspicious announcement that while doctors had advised singer Alice Glass not to perform, she was going to anyway! – and lo, she strolled onto the stage leaning on a crutch, to whoops of delight and celebratorily-lobbed plastic beer glasses.
As the most famous of the bunch, Crystal Castles had a lot to live up to – and they largely succeeded, assuming that you can accept that their music is as dumbly one-note and direct as Ramones-esque punk, but with ZX Spectrum bleeps in place of guitar fuzz.
So they reeled off their hits, and Alice Glass wobbled around, yelling into a microphone channelled through so many effects filters she may well have been furiously discussing her holiday plans.
The music continued to spasm and drill, and after a while it became apparent that the room was divided into those who were having the time of their lives, and those who were edging towards the exits. Both parties were rapt/repelled by the consistent chug of the bleeps, beats and endless bass bounce.
This was symptomatic of the night as a whole: music for the ADD generation, for whom you suspect the bands’ constant musical skittering is a necessity in order to retain the attention of their information-rich, time-poor crowd.
There was a marked lack of breadth in the acts’ repertoires: songs we not given time to breathe, and the pace was relentless and sometimes brainless. Brainless is often enormous fun. But sometimes it’s simply brainless. At this gig, that line was crossed repeatedly and without regard. The audience didn’t care, as long as they kept moving.