I’m going to go ahead and assume that most readers would agree with me when I say, this has been quite a year. The turbulent events of 2016, which don’t need any reiteration here, have launched a number of key questions about the current state of the social and political landscape of the Western hemisphere. Yet somehow, like so many times before (no pun intended), culture, in its many forms, perseveres; either attempting to offer answers or to give us a well-deserved break from the unrest and disorder of the world stage.
Away from the noise of America or the rants of (in)famous politicians, Guildford is surprisingly quiet. At the Boileroom, the self-styled ‘Independent, Alternative Live Music venue’, young people gather to see and hear other young people engage in creative acts and assert themselves as individuals who matter and deserve to be seen and heard. True to its own description, the Boileroom hosted a fantastic event on the evening of the 12th of December, featuring four promising indie bands which appeared to be united by the great themes of love and youth.
With the concert kicking off just after 19:00, Rose Dive were the first act to take the stage in front of the half-full main room. This up-and-coming band from Esher, Surrey, was an immensely pleasant surprise for me. I’m a great lover of shoegaze and dream pop, so Rose Dive’s roughly 40-minute set was a breath of fresh air because you don’t get to hear this type of revivalism among indie bands too often. Singer/songwriter Freya McKee’s lyrics effortlessly articulate the vulnerability of relationships from a female perspective, bashing away major seventh chords with gleeful abandon, being backed up by a tight rhythm section with some powerful and energetic drumming. Drawing equally from Lush, Yo La Tengo, and pure indie, Rose Dive’s jazzy and free-floating sound associates love with loss and nostalgia; the undeniable charm of McKee’s occasionally amateurish vocals and the persistent use of reverb immerses the listener in an aural experience which is a hallmark of the dreamy, ethereal, and beautiful compositions of bands like Slowdive and Cocteau Twins. Best of all – they are LOUD.
Perhaps the only unremarkable set of the night, Me and the Moon presented some innocent but ultimately harmless folk-indie-pop, which was more acoustic in nature and vaguely reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian. The band seems to be struggling to find a distinctive style and is marred by average songwriting, which is neither harmonically alluring nor lyrically interesting. At the risk of sounding harsh, I’ll say this: the music they play is the sort you’d hear at the end of a bittersweet romance film, just as the credits roll – it might have some initial emotional impact, but by the next day you can’t really mention anything memorable about it. If there’s one thing I can commend them for, it’s the good drumming, which is particularly impressive in light of the fact that they played with a replacement drummer.
In contrast to the first half of the evening, the second was very different in one regard – stage presence. While Rose Dive and Me and the Moon focused more on the music itself, almost to the point of being shy, the quartet Face projected a significant amount of confidence, as demonstrated by lots of bodily movement and proactive engagement with the audience. Of the four bands, Face’s sound is the closest to a traditional indie rock act, but they are also smart revivalists: they love the gloomy post-punk of Joy Division and Interpol, but slightly re-shape fear, paranoia, and coldness in their own image. They’re not afraid to tackle arena rock influences like U2, but give it an edge that prevents them from being derivative. To me, the highlight of this set was undoubtedly a tribal-style percussion duet which was bursting with urgency and immediacy.
As the last featured band, Youth Club captured the full attention of an increasingly large crowd in an exciting, 45+ minute performance which completely justifies all the local buzz these Essex lads are getting. The group, fronted by a charismatic lead singer, plays a surprisingly original blend of indie rock and rhythm ‘n’ blues which is eminently danceable and lively. On top of that, they manage to distil a number of other great elements such as 80s rock, funk rhythms, and soul-inspired vocals. More than any of the other bands, Youth Club got people moving and singing, and the interplay between them and the audience was a natural result of the band members’ chemistry and the pure pleasure of performing in a relaxed and confident manner. Most importantly, the group generated a large amount of positive vibes, courtesy of their ability to present sexuality and desire as basic aspects of love.
After all the craziness of 2016, something like this never felt more necessary or more welcome. The four-part gig convinced me that local music scenes are full of potential, and the Boileroom, as a small Guildford venue, is the perfect place for intimate, underground cultural experiences. I should point out that room acoustics are great, giving potential performers a crisp, clean, and well-rounded sound which is very suitable for indie bands.
Keep an eye out for Rose Dive and Youth Club; I do encourage you to go and see them if you can catch them in Guildford again. They’ll make your day better and, at least for a while, help you forget the big issues.
Signing out and hoping for a better year.
Text by Vlad Nicu
Picture research by Donna Darafshian; featured image taken from Youth Club’s official Facebook page.