A bunch of guitar-wielding newcomers in the British capital are throwing out the rulebook, and harnessing noise like never before
For a musician, life in London can be a world away from the glistening skyscrapers and pearly white ferris wheels of its centre, defined more by chicken bones in gutters and flickering lightbulbs in labyrinthine housing estates. Evermore expensive practise spaces are shunted out to far-off industrial estates (if they even exist at all), while more and more venues succumb to bankruptcy and overzealous development plans every month. Add to that spiralling rents, toxic air, and an incessant, exhausting pace of life, and it’s little wonder much of London’s great art is grimy and riddled with anxious tones.
It’s that edge which gives those creating in the capital their true charm, though – a backdrop of oddball characters and strange situations framing every Londoner’s individual creativity. Away from the shiny major label offices of West Kensington and Shoreditch’s £6 pints of pale ale, a crop of new rock bands are embracing the gloomier aspects of their home city like never before. Eschewing standardised song structures and embracing noise and discord, in the back alleys and sticky-floored pubs of London’s more far-flung boroughs an anarcho-rock revolution is taking place.
United less by genre boundaries and more by their carefree approach to artistic invention, it’s a scene that’s already boasting some success stories: glammed-up art-punks HMLTD are this summer’s festival must-watch, Goat Girl were pinned as saviours of the capital’s music scene back in December, and Shame’s huge show at Tufnell Park Dome last month felt like a step up into the big leagues. Backed by the likes of Tim Perry (booker at near-iconic Brixton venue The Windmill) and collage artists Spit Tease, there’s a collective aesthetic at play, regardless of their musical disparities. As such, eyes are on the capital’s less clean and less conventional sounds. Below, we uncover some of the bands bolstering London’s DIY ethos and challenging conformity at every turn.
Previously going by the equally SEO-unfriendly moniker of Fish, Sorry take the fire and brimstone of early riot grrrl and use it to set the rulebook alight. Clattering sounds and singer/guitarist Asha Lorenz’s throaty, almost sputtering vocal bring an eerie, unsettling edge to early single “Drag King”, a stop-start mish-mash of ear-piercing electronics and twisted, detuned guitar lines. “I wish I was a boy so I could dress up in drag / I know that’s a weird dream to have,” Lorenz cackles, deftly taking on gender conformity with the same madcap approach her band takes with their music. The recently unveiled “Prickz”, meanwhile, houses the potential crossover grunge appeal of groups like Wolf Alice or Speedy Ortiz – although with a track title like that, it’s fair to say they’re not gunning for daytime radio play just yet.
YOWL burst out of Peckham at the tail end of last year and wasted no time in establishing their spiky, Parquet Courts-esque rock’n’drawl. As similarly self-assured as the early 2000s post-Strokes proliferation of NYC blues-rock, their debut EP Before The Sleep Sets In offers a storyteller’s insight into British melancholy and modern-day anxiety, touching on everything from mind-numbing nine-to-fives to crushing loneliness. New single “My Headache Likes To Speak” treads that tightrope even more deftly, offering up a black cloud for the disaffected to huddle under.
Riotous live outings have quickly become Dead Pretties’ calling card. Eyeballing the audience, chomping on his mic and lurching around the stage, frontman Jacob Slater is a law unto himself. A recent show at newly-opened North London venue Thousand Island saw the trio end the night by tearing disco balls from the ceiling, while a Sebright Arms set late last year saw Slater full-on snogging a bloke in the front rows, guitar still whipping around his ankles. More often than not, though, they’ll be found in the Brixton Windmill, the beating heart of London’s oddball music scene. Unashamedly grubby and delightfully unhinged, debut single “Social Experiment” is a garage-rock rallying cry demanding the demise of conformity.
The skulking spectre of Hotel Lux’s “Envoi” wouldn’t be out of place soundtracking a ghost train. There’s no ghouls or fantasy here, though – it’s an all-too-real, dispirited dissection of working class struggle. “Debt on his mind / his home’s up for sale and his job’s on the line… you’ve ruined his life,” barks singer Lewis Duffin, painting a picture of a figure teetering on the edge of the breadline. Penned and recorded in a mould-ridden, dilapidated shed, that sense of encroaching collapse is Hotel Lux’s motivation. As the band said back in January when they shared the track’s austere accompanying video, “‘Envoi’ serves as a call-to-arms, for the year 2017’s gonna be just as shit as the last.” It’s hard to argue with their foresight.
Mōnk don’t have much of an online presence, but they more than make up for that in their sweat-drenched, chaotic live performances. They’ll chuck all manner of musical left-turns into their 20 minutes on-stage, cavorting and contorting about like an exorcist’s puppet. University may have got in the way of their rise for now – sensible boys, this lot – but the likes of “Jagged Bottom Cloud” are the perfect taster for a supposedly incoming debut EP. The track pairs a husky, Tom Waits indebted vocal to knee-jerk fuzz-rock, with hints of reggae and ska throughout, too – in the same way groups like The Specials once wielded those genres to soundtrack Thatcherite alienation, Mōnk use them as a vessel for contemporary post-austerity storytelling. This cocktail that shouldn’t slip down as easy as it does – the perfect, intoxicating antidote to a real world that’s looking all the more absurd by the day.
Lead photo by Holly Whitaker