It’s a much derided term but when I were a lad ‘Indie’ meant something. It meant operating outside the normal confines of the music industry, DIY, grass roots and the freedom to make a fearsome racket of your own making – even if only Peel and ten people in Rafters, or Northhampton Roadmenders or the Rayleigh Pink Toothbrush got to hear it. These days it’s a catch-all for any band with a guitar, some ‘vintage’ amps and an aversion to a comb. Hence, just up the road from the venue at the Manchester Enormodome the very popular Blossoms who make claims to be ‘Indie’ (and dearly want to be the next Stone Roses) are playing support to Busted and Robbie Williams at a Xmas extravaganza. You’d never catch Bogshed or Tallulah Gosh doing that would you? Or The Stone Roses for that matter.
Meanwhile, here in Gorilla this is more like it. No corporate sponsored faux-Indie bollocks in here. It’s slowly filling up with a mixture of groovy young things in skinny jeans, earnest looking students, a few old punks, middle aged gig diehards like me and the ever present Fat Alex (Manchester’s equivalent of ‘Big Jeff’) which usually signals it will be a good night.
First up are Goat Girl..four preposterously young women in charity shop threads. They look somewhat sulky, and although they start somewhat hesitantly their set gradually takes flight. At first listen they sound like any number of shambly Indie bands from 1986, or maybe Electralene or Yo La Tengo (most of which I suspect they haven’t studiously pored over) however they also have a curiously scuzzy, raggedy slightly sinister vibe about them and they have some good tunes. I like them.
This is my 3rd attempt to see Girl Band – I had tickets to see the Irish four piece last year in Manchester and earlier this year in Hebden Bridge. Both gigs were cancelled, and it’s no secret that frontman Dara Kiely has had his ups and downs with his mental health. I don’t mind them cancelling – it suggests someone is looking after the lad and we know what happens when rock bands with ailing lead singers try and and plough on through tour schedules regardless.
I feel strangely tense as the band come on in darkness, Dara stands with his back to the audience and slowly twitches and rolls his head back as his bandmates gradually whip up a storm before turning to the mic and screaming the first lyrics at the top of his lungs with a voice that could strip wallpaper. There’s so much intensity and energy in that first song I worry if he can keep it going for the whole set. It’s hard not to think of Joy Division – the band either side of him grimly staring out into the crowd, Dara gripping onto the mic occasionally throwing shapes as if electrified by the insistent pulse of the music – it’s hard too not to think of Kurt Cobain (maybe it’s the blond hair). It seems entirely instinctive – it’s not forced, there’s no ‘act’ -and you wonder what would happen if they didn’t release all this energy and aggression.
The music is genuinely inventive (which is rare these days) They largely avoid melody, musically it’s more like Techno – it’s all pulse – with the guitar providing pure texture or making Jet engine noises and the bass often just bending the note with a pedal so it’s just a rising or falling pitch like an accelerating motorbike. There are reference points – think PiL circa Metal Box, the aforementioned Joy Division Throbbing Gristle, the heavier end of Wire but I bet the band aren’t into any of that stuff although there are musicians here as good as Jah Wobble, Bruce Gilbert, Steven Morris or Keith Levene. However the music is entirely contemporary, informed by modern dance music and pop culture – they are very deft at tension and release which is clearly informed by club music but translated into their own brutalist soundworld.
It’s periodically terrifying – but you can dance to it – and they have a bit of swing to them too which prevents them from becoming a rigid industrial dance band like say Nitzer Ebb. They end with the monstrous ‘Paul’ – which is the nearest they have so far to an anthem even though it’s anything but – it’s ferocious but it’s also joyful and fun and no encore is required – we’re all spent.
Lots of girls and boys of all ages – and for all their aggression and metallic shoutiness there’s nothing particularly ‘blokey’ about the band. There is the feeling in the room that we’ve just witnessed something a bit special. On my way out a man next to me shouts “HOW FOOKIN GOOD WAS THAT!!” … I hear a couple of old Punks who are excitedly gabbing away about it, and two lads plotting to bunk off work so they can catch them in Leeds tomorrow night.
It made me think..
Maybe that thing I used to call ‘Indie’ is alive and well and still has the power to startle and thrill and scare me a bit. Just across town, “indie” band Blossoms are hanging out backstage having a power-smoothie with Robbie and Busted at the Enormodome perhaps planning a round of golf in the morning.