Just like clockwork, the Shockwaves NME awards tour rolls into Nottingham once again to please a packed Rock City, punctuating the gig-goers calendar with a typically hype-adorned set of bands. This year however, is marked by a certain level of eclecticism compared to previous years; rather than a stagnant vat of ten-a-penny indie – the washed-out garage of The Vaccines sits comfortably alongside the more left-field hyperactivity of Everything Everything and, perhaps – but not noticeably – at odds with the weighty electronica of Magnetic Man and headliners Crystal Castles.
The Vaccines take to the stage with muted presence, surprising for a band with such a taut, frenetic sound – it seems almost as if frontman Jay Jay Pistolet can’t help but wears the enigmatic persona of his mild-mannered folkier days around his neck, albatross-style. Reticence aside though, the band tear through a milieu of prickly songs from their forthcoming album ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines’. ‘Wrecking Bar’ and ‘Blow It Up’ stand out as particularly peaks amongst a set that feels uncomfortably familiar; a throwback perhaps. Whilst their timing is impeccable – bursting through a haze of sunshine to provide a reprieve from endless torrents of sun-bleached lo-fi, it’s hard to applaud a band that sounds so entirely constructed from the past, and trading in three-chord Ramones-style basics is hardly a leap forward for new music, as infectious as this particular hooky brand of garage might be.
Thank God then, for Everything Everything, who clad in boiler suits and armed to the teeth with their own particularly bi-polar brand of art-rock, offer a set of utterly uncompromising quality. Singer Jonathan Higgs coo’s and roars his way through a serious of angular gems, channeling the spirit of the sadly deceased iForward, Russia! along the way, all three-part harmonies and Gang of Four vertexes. ‘My Keys, Your Boyfriend’ rings true as a legitimate classic, a crowd-igniting powder keg that not only justifies the four piece’s position on the bill but confirms them as a criminally underrated commodity in 2011’s music scene.
Magnetic Man however, are a trio for whom under-appreciation is not a concern, having spent most of 2010 riding a wave of critical acclaim for their eponymous debut and spectacular live shows.Sadly, the infamous ‘cube’ light show is missing on this tour (presumably because of the logistics involved in transporting a massive cube.) but Benga, Skream, Artwork and MC Sgt. Pokes take to the stage to rapturous applause nontheless before hurling the capacity crowd straight into the incendiary ‘MAD’. Having delivered such a mixed debut it’s difficult to know exactly which facet of dubstep the trio will plumb for any live experience, but in this instance it’s the utterly pneumatic end of the spectrum. Most tracks are laden with Skream’s trademark ferocity, and save for the reprieve of token chart-breakers ‘I Need Air’ and ‘Perfect Stranger’ the energy and aggression is palpable, though not necessarily enjoyable. In fact, when considering the trio’s aptitude for rolling drum arrangements, stunning creativity and experimentation it’s difficult to see them opt for a set of drilling LFO’s and punishing drums – though the apocolyptic rhetoric of ‘The Bug’ and the sublime strings of ‘Flying Into Tokyo’ offer reprieve it’s a set aimed solely and successfully for the throng of frantic dancers.
Enter then, Crystal Castles, who seem intent to redefine aggression in the wake of the previous acts efforts. The duo (plus live drummer) throw themselves entirely into an incendiary ‘Doe Deer’, which inspires nothing but sheer mania across Rock City’s wide berth. Yet as the set moves through a shimmering ‘Crimewave’ and a phenomenally euphoric ‘Baptism’, a familiar question arises; Just what is the point of Alice Glass? Posturing away, a pointless embodiment of style over substance , Glass howls and screeches her way through a set that, like much Crystal Castles material, swings all too easily – too willingly – between immaculate, inspiring electronics and needless, fashionable noise. It’s this sad duality that makes the enigmatic duo such an interesting phenomena, but between bursts of Rock City’s overwhelming strobes and the sheer, unbridled energy on display, for tonight at least, it can be forgiven.