This is the trendiest event in town. It has to be. The Victoria in Dalston has been well and truly taken over by almost comical numbers of stupid hair cuts, thick-rimmed glasses, rolled up jeans and loafers. A few determined locals still persevere with their game of pool, but it’s not long before this place (with no one on the door to keep check of the venue’s capacity or the clientele’s IDs) becomes too full for them to manoeuvre around the table. The hype around Alt-J is getting major.
And, unfortunately, that hype spreads down the bill to the significantly less talented Old Forest. They are three teenage boys who look and sound like your little brother’s bedroom band. They appear to be doing all they can to sound as grungy as possible: mumbling vocals, lyrics of middle class teen angst, and distortion galore. And the hipster crowd laps it up. Either 2011’s music scene is so barren that unimaginative grunge is considered exciting, or the audience is afraid that not liking any band deemed worthy of gracing this stage will severely undermine their street cred.
Next up is another hype-inducing band, Warm Brains, fronted by ex-Test Icicles/RAT:ATT:AGG/KASMs man, Rory Attwell. Attwell’s out-of-tune-on-purpose vocals are something of a downfall for the group, but their unorthodox sound is a definite grower. With catchy riffs and guitar hooks, expertly-composed rhythms and a performance that exudes energy, Warm Brains soon prove themselves genuinely worthy of the attention they’ve been drawing.
The moment the last beat of Warm Brains’ set drops, the crowd surges forward. Tonight is about Alt-J.
And no one is left disappointed. This somewhat unlikely group of musicians plays a short but captivating set of surprisingly well-known songs. Their fanbase is loyal, and they already know the words.
With the first guitar plucks and drum smacks of Tessellate comes a huge cheer of recognition and the onset of movement within the tightly-packed crowd.
But this performance proves there is more to Alt-J than a decent first single. Drummer, Thom Green, is an incredible beat keeper who pushes the speakers to the limit with every whack, while lead singer Joe Newman and keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton’s acapella-style vocal harmonies are intoxicating to witness.
Every rhythm is deeply syncopated, and every melodic line intertwined. This is musical craftsmanship, and it’s damn catchy to boot.
They end it far too soon with Breezeblocks, which deservingly receives the biggest reaction of the night. If Alt-J know what’s good for them, they’ll make this the next single: even the trendiest hipsters are dancing along to this one.
Forget the hype and forget the scene. With tracks like this, Alt-J don’t need them.
By Sophie Armour