The all-pervasive reign of the male-centred indie band continues unabated. That was the take-home message of Failure By Design Records’ hosted night at the Boileroom tonight, as three young up-and-coming acts showcased their latest tracks, fresh from American-influenced lo-fi indie’s primordial soup. What entailed was a night of finely tuned performances, albeit executed according to a well-established and routinised formula.
First act Vinyl Staircase, hot off the mean streets of Dorking, exemplified this. As confident and distant as a band well beyond their years and exposure, the four spent little time in getting the night into gear, treating the audience to a set of groove-heavy and fuzzy psychedelic rock that echoed the works of similar American bands DIIV and Deerhunter. Their sound is defined by an interesting intersection of the equivocal and the definite, with echoing, bellowing vocals and guitar riffs accompanied by meticulously executed arpeggios. The result is an atmospheric and affecting performance that is finely-tuned and committed, with the frontman spending more time crouching, fiddling with his effects pedals than engaging with the audience, reflecting a neurotic desire for perfection. Certainly, their sound did little to break or interrogate pre-established boundaries, but for such a young band one cannot fault their execution or devotion.
Next up, and similarly dressed (floral patterns seem very much in vogue), were local indie-pop band FØXE. Immediately there’s a change of tone of the room, for although both bands thus far have fit very neatly into the (admittedly broad) indie rock canon, FØXE’s bouncy, open and confessional brand of it contrasts starkly with Vinyl Staircase’s moody, reserved psychedelia. Frontman George’s self-effacing charisma and dyed blonde hair only add to this certain bubble-gum charm, and overall their set is punchy, funky and danceable, typified by tracks such as ‘Friends’ and ‘Bubblegum’. Once again, however, one cannot help but feel let down by how effortlessly they fit into a certain stereotype; their elastic guitar twangs are straight out of bands such as Foals’ and Mystery Jets’ notebooks, and do little to veer from their pages. Detached from this, though, they give a spirited and uplifting performance that placates my natural (and frankly unpleasant) cynicism and thoroughly pleases the audience.
Unfortunately, headline act Acid Tongue do not have the same effect. Despite their members’ positively eclectic mix of geographic backgrounds (New York, Italy and Brighton), they perform a set of diluted and unstimulating guitar-pop that attempts to style itself as a piece of fashionable, laid-back Americana, but instead ends up coming across as a forgettable imitation of it. Tracks like ‘Lately’, for example, try to ape a kitsch 60s boyband sound, with the intention of sounding like a cool long-lost part of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, but instead sound like something you would hear in a faux-American diner in a gentrified part of London. They also – not to their fault – suffer a disservice by being placed last on the bill, which makes their tracks sound derivative not just in general (which they are), but also in relation to the previous two acts. Consequently, Acid Tongue, somewhat aptly, leave a sour taste in my mouth.
For an evening of mostly local talent the night is largely a success, replete with impressive performances that for a £5 entry fee is certainly worth it. However, it does leave me thinking about the state of the music industry as a whole in the UK, and the West in general. For starters one cannot help but notice the male-centrism of the headline bands; apart from one female bass player the rest of the musicians are male, and I cannot help but question why, exactly, indie rock is such a male gendered genre, or in fact why genres are gendered in the first place. This is surely something anyone progressive would want to challenge, and I am disappointed the night doesn’t do so in any significant way. Indeed, there’s an unfortunate safeness to the night, a caution and lack of fearlessness, that leaves it enjoyable but little more than that. Surely local talent doesn’t have to mean a lack of surprise, excitement or provocation?
Text by Jake Roberts
Picture research by Donna Darafshian; featured image taken from Acid Tongue’s Facebook page.