This NME tour, like the magazine itself, has become something of an institution within the alternative music scene. Each year it helps push artists described as “new” and “exciting” into acts capable of headlining festivals. Notably, The Killers, Coldplay, Interpol and The Vaccines of last year have all blossomed into considerable talents. This year’s billing consisted of similar potential contained within Azealia Banks, Tribes, Metronomy and Two Door Cinema Club.
It was the hotly anticipated Azealia Banks from Harlem (joined by a Canadian DJ) who opened the bill. She topped the 2011 NME Cool List and it isn’t difficult to understand why; she presents hip-hip to an indie/hipster audience – or perhaps more accurately this is the image the NME are trying to pedal.
Frankly, what exactly distinguishes Banks from more established rappers from the wrong side of hip-hop? Based on her performance, not much apart from some quirkier beats and riskier lyrics. Maybe it was her capacity to freely use the word “cunt” (212) or defiant lines such as “I ain’t a golddigger, I’m a fuckin’ opportunist” (The Chill$). However, like a select few of her hip-hop cohorts, she constantly made reference to “niggers,” “bitches” and “pussy,” and, no surprises, it quickly became tiresome.
I can’t help but feel the audience generally agreed with me. Bar the final track of the set, her lead single 212, there was little to grapple upon. Her rapping was too quick to make out what she was saying and her choruses left the crowd flat. The highlight of her short set was the sampling of The Prodigy’s Firestarter; a telling moment lifted straight out of the works of a superior artist.
Next up were London’s own Tribes, a modern hybrid of the 90s American alt-rock and Britpop styles. They weren’t catchy enough to earn comparison with Nirvana, and not worth judging against the more experimental Sonic Youth. However, they did fall somewhere in between – perhaps with California’s Pavement – except with dumber lyrics.
Pigeonhole as I like, I don’t doubt that Tribes’ simplistic chord sequences and catchy hooks, when doused in distortion, utilised alt-rock’s tried-and-tested blueprint for live success. In their closing tribute to nostalgia, We Were Children, they stayed true to the Pixies’ loud quiet loud dynamic, creating a slow-burning chorus that effectively partnered the guitar-driven verses and simple melodic solo.
Four primal yet rudimentary musicians make up the band: three regular guys plus the ego upfront who still thinks it’s cool to wear fake leopard-skin. Their songs gained much recognition from the front of the crowd, divisions of which knew the words to their not-quite-yet anthemic aforementioned signature song.
Similarly, Tribes reeled out the acoustic guitar for Alone or With Friends, the statutory slow number, and as such genuine emotion emerged from the otherwise superficial appearance of front-man Johnny Lloyd. In all honestly, you could find a live band similar to Tribes anywhere, but they are common for a reason as energy, rather than originality, is paramount for success in a venue of such moderate size.
The faux-krautrock Metronomy proved perhaps the strongest outfit of the night. They were virtually unknown to the public for their first couple of years, but broke into wider recognition with The English Riviera (2011), from which their set-list drew heavily.
All four were clad in their trademark light-up badges, and sounded record-perfect while recreating every bass line, beat and layer of gorgeous synth. At this point, they were the only act whose music had transcended their respective genre. Metronomy’s innovative nature clearly helped them garner a broad fan-base for Leeds’ O2 Academy.
It came with little shock that their 2011 standout tracks The Bay, The Look and Everything Goes My Way energised the audience through the effortlessly cool voices of project founder Joseph Mount and, latterly, Florence Welch-lookalike and drummer Anna Prior. Furthermore, the playful bass lines of the relatively recent addition to the band, Gbenga Adelekan, pinned down the floating synths of original member Oliver Cash. This kept the set moving swiftly.
However, it was Metronomy’s re-released single, Radio Ladio, that proved the highlight of their set. The song climaxed with the chant of “R-A… D-I… OOHH… L-A… D-I… OOHH…” Not exactly Shakespeare but, similarly to Tribes, who cares about intelligence, originality or even whatever the hell the lyrics are actually saying? This is especially true when it felt as though the voices of both the crowd and band had merged.
The night’s headline act, the lovable trio from Bangor, Northern Ireland, always promised a solid live performance. Their 2010 début Tourist History is considered one of the few recent indie-rock albums to “break through” into the “mainstream.” Containing nimble riffs and smartly produced vocal takes, Two Door Cinema Club’s pop sensibility translates aptly in concert. These songs, which the band will have toured for over two years now, have evolved into an enviable catalogue which TDCC clearly still have much fun playing.
For example, Two Door Cinema Club opened up the last song of their main set, What You Know, with darker lighting and a sombre mood. It worked perfectly. A pause followed. The band then let rip with a single hurriedly strummed chord – a timely and faultless progression.
The performance itself shared this vein of clean execution. Perhaps too clean: it felt safe. The singles came at regular intervals but the choruses all began sounding similar. Likewise, upon TDCC’s arrival, an apparent increase of teen fangirls and middle-aged parents appeared even as NME’s target audience (students in skinny jeans) seemed diminished. I felt that the formerly raucous atmosphere had turned sterile – not what the NME had intended.
It may just be a small gripe as the band showed charm and energy during songs, but it really was as if the physical crowd of Metronomy and Tribes had resigned and allowed the family-friendly headline act to have their faithful followers dominate the stalls. However, the performance and musicianship remained sound despite the decrease in audience intensity.
Deride NME Magazine all you like (as I do, it being music journalism’s equivalent of the Sun), but they have propagated multi-act bills since the NME Awards Tour’s conception in 1995. 2011’s tour suggests Metronomy could be the “next big thing”; a potential replacement for recently-disbanded LCD Soundsystem who previously occupied indie’s electro-rock slot. All in all, though the show proved excellent value for the modest price, given 2010’s line-up – which included The Vaccines and Everything Everything – I nevertheless felt short-changed of the genuine physical energy the NME prides itself in advocating.