Words: Oliver Shasha | Header Image: Paul Boyling
With festival season on the horizon, the fragmented community of music journalism will soon have a new host of up-and-coming bands to drool over. But before the onslaught of inevitable Ten Acts to Catch At…followed up with NME 20-word exclusives, I thought it’d be wise to pre-empt the circle jerk and scout myself some soon-to-be stadium fillers before the herd get hold of that sweet sweet scent.
Starting off hours late to the party, deep within the self absorbing and self deprecating realm of South London, Black Midi are the name that if uttered at a party, you’re instantly propelled up several social places, in with the fruitarians and the smartphone neglecters. Cool as they most certainly are, Black Midi are the tip of the latest South London iceberg, which within lies an unhinged plethora of jaw dropping live acts, setting a new standard for the way in which us charity shop goers ingest and consume new music.
All themselves exploits of the self proclaimed source of all that is new and tasteful, The Windmill Pub remains the go-to location of a music scene that ceases to surrender to the homogenous O2 monopoly – worming it’s tentacles into every nook and cranny of gig spaces up and down. In an ever-changing space that refuses to be categorised, these new bands have sought a more determinate subversion of the status quo; the internet presence and Spotify uploads a minimum, replaced by the alluring failsafe of physical exclusives and social media obscurity.
Black Midi are a typical example of providing what are to be watershed moments in the way that music is promoted. The band’s online presence is an elaborate construction of chaotic live performances and one off studio sessions. An intriguing allure that draws many towards the mystique of their live shows, the Black Midi set is not a collection of singles and cult favourites, the songs have no name, and no clear cut identity or direction. All that you’re left with is a calculated collation of raucous noise, anxiously tiptoeing along the fence that separates melancholy and chaos. In revealing nothing, Black Midi leave you feeling unwashed, dirty, vulnerable but with a reckless and guilty appetite for more. The level’s of musical chemistry and controlled anarchy on display are enough to drive any sane church goer completely barmy. With the help of a fan-led Facebook discussion group, constructing a broader scope of knowledge about the elusive four piece, whispers south of the river have attributed to song titles appearing, such as Ducter, and Bmbmbmbm. The latter of the two encompasses the Black Midi sound perhaps best. A drummer who’s proficiency probably (definitely) deserves their own article, Bmbmbmbm is absolute antithesis of sanity, and perhaps ideal introduction for somebody out of “the know”.
Moving on from the poster boys of South London’s edgy underground, fellow up-and-coming acts Black Country New Road and Jockstrap are occupying a similar stem of the Windmill Grapevine, heavily indulgent in poetry and vintage (at times orchestral) sonic styles, these two bands are the head honchos deriving from the famed Guild Hall Music School. Opting for a similar exclusion of the major label exuberance that consumes so many artists in the spotlight, these bands are ignoring the principles and conventional routes to success and letting the music talk.
Lyrical themes of predecessors Shame and Goat Girl – emblematic of political angst and left wing vigilance, has become slowly replaced with more introspective motifs, echoing throughout the music both instrumentally and vocally. Jockstrap and Black Country New Road provide us with two different extremes on this spectrum of high end musicianship and poeticism. In songs such as ‘Hayley’ and ‘Joy’, Jockstrap exercise a beautifully understated fusion of electronic, jazz, and orchestral music, all whilst somehow leaving space for a lead vocal that weaves between these complex sounds and rhythms, leaving behind an alluring instability that feels utterly personable. With such a strange intensity, Jockstrap are fragile like a magnificent glass sculpture, forever near to shattering, but staying resilient to the last note.
Black Country New Road are a more closeted ensemble than the former – with just the one song listed on their Spotify page they’ve certainly taken a page out of the Black Midi manual of illusion and mystique. In the same otherworldly fashion with which Black Midi have pushed boundaries of the absolute in their musical intelligence, BCNR have achieved a similarly unapologetic feat through the agonising sentience of their lyrics. Lead singer Isaac regularly absorbs the spotlight, casting down poetic stanzas of melancholy and abrasiveness. The Windmill pub is an unrecognisable chamber of suspense, as reaction to this tirade of references – that of social media, human relationships and wider society, transcend from solemn acceptance into arduous self deprecation. As the room is seemingly infected with this potion of realisation, it’s more than apparent that the majority will come again to see these fashionable revealers of fortune.
So let’s wrap this up, London may remain one part organic food startup, one part organic food shutdown, but the buzz around the deep south is very real. The examples of spine tingling live performances that serve to make the streamers redundant is the blast from the past that should be making all the middle aged musos and the Lou Smith’s (shoutout) very, very excited. With Great Escape peering it’s head round the corner, it’ll be more than refreshing to see artists who’ve yet to succumb to leaking every facet of their existence online. A sign of the changing times? Or just a clique with some good ideas? Will it catch on? I hope so.