Photo: Rachael Wright/Bloc Party’s Facebook
“0161- Manny on the map”
As one of the few artists not to arise from the grime hive of London, Bugzy Malone is understandably house proud. The Mancunian rapper invites the crowd (a mere forty people at this point) in a futile attempt at call and response. His hype man joins in but the response falls equally flat. Malone continues unfazed, tearing through verses of ‘Watch Your Mouth’ and ‘Bronson’ with the hardened conviction of a twenty year veteran. While a fish out of water among a line up of indie rockers, Malone and his DJ were the only act not to drown their set in astronomical amounts of bass for the sake of preying on its innate exhilaration. Despite Malone’s undeniable talent, his part in tonight’s show seemed more of a foot in the door than a stage storm.
As he thanks crowd and crew, a deep, collective breath is drawn. Jordan Cardy (AKA Rat Boy) is spotted to the right of the stage, resulting in a swathe of swooning, torso-bearing, 14 year old girls swarming forward. He’s bundled backstage. Rat Boy had already amassed quite the reputation with his honest quips of disaffected youth. As a rebellious 19 year old who preps for his show by kick flipping with the locals, he’s the perfect front man to his band’s snapback parade of teen spirit.
You’d be hard pressed to find a writer who hasn’t compared Cardy to an early Jamie T (except beach blonde, baby faced and with double the dose of reckless abandon). Rattling through a tight set of an admittedly narrow catalogue, it’s easy to see why. Each song possesses its own chaotic charm and you’d have to be without a pulse to resist the charismatic mundanity of his lyrics – “Poundland pubs and wormwood scrubs, last night takeaway in Tupperware tubs”. Although the ‘along for the ride’ preteens worming their way to the barriers would probably holler at so much as a sound guy tucking into a bacon buttie, their adoration jump starts the heart of the crowd. Rat Boy follows suit, launching into fan favourite ‘Sign On’ as his sign off; an all too familiar premise of our youth living on the dole after losing their job in their local chain pub. As far as politically catatonic teens go, he’s one of us.
Then come Derbyshire brothers Drenge who turn up the thermostat despite one of their milder showings. They didn’t come to please but to play and with the addition of bass guitarist Rob Graham, their sound is more concretely formidable than ever. Eoin and Rory Loveless have as much contempt for romance as their names might suggest and they spit in the face of dewy-eyed affection as any deserved punk rock band should.
Their innards are more of a morbid and ghastly concoction; the kind that you won’t see topping the charted pop-athon anytime soon but make for a rousing performance. They charge through notable single ‘We Can Do What We Want’ at break-neck speed, plunging into the bluesy depths of ‘Running Wild’ and ‘Bloodsports’ on their way. Their dominant impression is more instantaneous though than durable and they make way for headliners Bloc Party.
Though they are no strangers to the NME Awards Tour (having played in 2005), the recent changes to their line-up and subsequent reinvention in their music means they’re here to prove a point. Their latest release, Hymns, is their most haunting and sombre record yet and replicating it live is no easy task. Kele Okereke‘s gospel-like croons glide effortlessly over shuffling drum beats on the more solitary tracks, ‘The Good News’ and ‘So Real’. However, perhaps by the nature of the audience, the departures from upbeat indietronica to subdued introspectiveness feel more like interludes between the bangers that Bloc Party fans are accustomed to rather than captivating standalones.
Hymns all out dance tune, ‘The Love Within’, is a simple (if not cheap) thrill that is met with a lively uproar unparalleled by more low-key affairs. Newer tracks feel like a necessary burden rather than a heightening experience. After the resounding thud for an encore, Bloc Party come into their own with the tantalising ‘Banquet’ before finishing with the sweet release of anticipation that has been bubbling from the word go. The whirring opening of ‘Ratchet’ sends a shockwave of cheers across the whole hall and from the break down, the rest is history.