LIVE REVIEW- NME Tour Brixton Academy 2011
Originally Published on The Line Of Best Fit
Roll up roll as the circus comes to town. The annual NME tour never fails to amuse with its put-a-pin-in-a-page random selection of wannabe stars. I personally like to play the “who’s cool and who’s the fool” game. Whose MP3s will be deleted in five years time against the band it’s okay to name drop when talking about the good ‘ole days. Previous contestants have been The Killers Vs The Futureheads, Coldplay Vs Campag Velocet, and my personal favourite Heavy Stereo Vs Fluffy.
This year the line-up appears to be obeying its own cliché by opening with the latest hype machine but this is a good thing as it gives a prime opportunity to look for badges on the merchandise stall instead. On further inspection one sees a quality unseen on previous tours: each of tonight’s bands have built their own momentum and could fill the epic Brixton Academy in their own right. None of them need this tour, and all have their avid followers, but tonight isn’t about market exposure. It’s a celebration of where music is in February 2011; an opportunity for ground breakers to prove their wares.
Tonight Matthew, I will be a historical record.
There is a festival atmosphere for Everything Everything, a definite euphoria in the crowd which the band embrace as they enter to a trance-like build up, before breaking into the carnival frenzy of ‘Qwerty Finger’ moves seamlessly into the tribal rave of ‘Schoolin’’. There’s a post-punk disjointedness to them – dressed in matching grey boiler suits embodying the spirit of Devo, yet the soulful vocals of Jonathon Higgs adds a human touch. ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ reveals the deep groove that permeates through their set as if Prince was backstage giving a motivational speech. Set closer ‘Photoshop Handsome’ is pure hand in the air rave, 4/4 bass pounds and snare build ups, with teasing guitars whispering dodgy deals in your ears over hypnotic vocals. Brixton is left in awe: imagine if Marvin Gaye joined Underworld to play Scritti Politti covers in a Sheffield warehouse. Yes that good.
The Academy is made for Dubstep: the height, incline and the little nooks and crannies give the ideal space for sub-bass rumbles and low oscillating wobbles to reverberate. The prodigal son returns to its SW9 home with Magnetic Man, the Dubstep super-group of Skream, Benga and Artwork, and one thing is certain – it will be loud. Immediately Brixton, is compressed by the weight of the bass and juddered back by the consuming pressure. By the time we’ve regained composure, and our ears have worked out what to do, they’re firing a scatter gun live mix of ‘Fire’ from behind a wall of Macbooks, wires and scary magic boxes. I like to imagine they have a big red flashing “Do Not Press” button for the sub-woofer bass wobble, which is just too tempting to ignore. Like a highly trained bomber command they discharge their rhythms and peaks to military precision.
And that’s precisely the problem. Magnetic Man are just too clinical. Yes, their somewhat commercial sounding album has been given edginess in the live arena, but the live show seems too formulaic. Higgs from Everything Everything joins them on vocals for ‘Getting Nowhere’ a metronomic soul ballad, and then they restart the bass and the wobbles for a bit before showcasing their album again. So it repeats and you pretty much know what to expect, it’s a clean cut Dubstep for the masses. It’s nothing too offensive, a bit of filth thrown in here and there, because that’s what they’re meant to do, but essentially tame. Alarmingly, the best received tracks were the least Dubsteppy. ‘I Need Air’ is more Paul Van Dyke than Zed Bias but the Academy laps it up, swaying in unison to the 4/4 Beat. Set closer ‘Perfect Stranger’ could be any 1993 Rave anthem. Although loud, it’s a sedate performance, heavy where it needs to be, yet still not confident with itself.
There’s a slight wave of fear as an announcement goes out that Alice Glass has broken her ankle and doctors have told her to cancel the show. “But she said, Fuck You,” we’re told, before a gastric roar comes from the crowd and Crystal Castles hobble on stage under darkness and smoke.
Glass and Ethan Kath are like Dr Who’s Weeping Angels, only alive when not seen, so a relentless strobe light acts as a life support, a 3D flick book defying the senses. Anything Magnetic Man called loud is instantly made a mockery of, as a Gabba speed pile driver, which could have been ‘Fainting Spells’ or equally Satan’s primal scream, annihilates our organs. We can’t see or hear anything. We just know the earth is disintegrating beneath us. As we regain our composure ‘Baptism’ is pummelling Brixton and Glass is ignoring any doctor’s orders; clamouring over monitors, swinging from microphone stands and piling into the crowd for ‘Courtship Dating’. The walking crutch has long been discarded as Glass throws herself to the ground for a moment’s respite.
A Crystal Castles show is always a disturbing and uncomfortable affair; one doesn’t know whether be all, “Calm down dear, it’s only a pop show,” or join their gang and cave in to peer pressure. For Brixton though, there’s been no such dilemma. There’s a gaggle of overly made-up, 14 year old, high heeled girls going crazy and screaming, just as there’s a middle aged man punching the air and crying as ‘Alice Practice’ crumbles the Academy around him. For a band as chaotic as Crystal Castles this adulation is miraculous. No one could have second guessed that taking the angst of Atari Teenage Riot, the chaos of Bong Ra, and channelling it through a Lo-Fi bedroom synthesiser could evoke such mass hysteria.
So it continues. ‘Celestica’ is a mass serotonin inducing frenzy and you could imagine sound tracking the orgy in Patrick Sukind’s book ‘Perfume’. As Crystal Castles propel themselves through ‘Empathy’ and ‘Reckless’ the hordes in front of the stage continue to spasm and gyrate while Glass pogoes and clamours, holding sermon standing on the front barrier, and sacrificing herself to throng which claws relentlessly at her. Ending the main set with ‘Not in Love’ is a true summer of love moment with everyone’s hands in the air and a wave of ecstasy carrying everyone along. They come back for an encore, but by this point there are wounded soldiers and only the bravest have survived.
It feels as though we’ve witnessed a rebirth of dance music, a genesis of electronica. Being part of a night where it’s a band like Crystal Castles that brings everyone together is empowering. Commanding a venue of this stature is no mean feat, and a synthesiser and a microphone achieve it where three super producers failed.
With Everything Everything and Crystal Castles this tour has redeemed itself for years of impasse and the palpable. The organisers may have been brave with the line-up, but not as much as Glass and Kath, who are unforgiving as ever, undiluted and an absolute summary of today’s music.