The endless number of e-mail and phone calls I had to go through to sort out the photo pass is just a significative evidence. That The Horrors gig was one of the picks of London June’s scene had been clear from the speed it sold out.
Since I arrive to the Electric Ballroom, to the moment I am actully in it, many minutes pass to help the girl at the guestlists-box to find my Italian weird name in an endless list of VIP and press.
The London that count, the people who check the state of the music business were all present for the arrive of The Horrors‘ tour in the capital. A cult band that, as any cult band, doesn’t sell many albums but it is always on the news. The only band who managed a NME cover before issuing the debut.
Unsurprisingly the merchandising stall has the classic items you expect for a cult following. Not only T-Shirts but many more paraphernalia: limited edition posters, football-fan-like scarf, pins series to collect, obscure singles remix on 10” vinyls and even a Moleskine notepad personalized with “The Horrors” on the cover.
I don’t buy anything instead I decide to start the crossing of the sea of people that divide me from the pit well in advance. An intense and interesting social journey among black eyeliner, weird haircuts, girls in awe and skinny boys in dark clothes. In the pit more photographers of most of the gig I ever been at the Electric Ballroom.
Three songs later I am discussing with the security guy who wanted to kick me out of the venue. I have to convince him that the pink wristband isn’t from a Katy Perry past gig but someone put it on to let me stay in for the rest of the show.
Victorious, I spot some oxygen molecules still vibrating free next to the Bar and decide to spend the rest of the gig there, sharing that air with Bobby Gillespie.
The presence of either Bobby Gillespie or Kate Moss (both would be the apex) at a gig is the final proof that I am at “The Concert”. The place to be.
Gillespie, narcisistic as any real rockstar must be, spends the night with an eye on the stage and the other looking around to check if people recognises him. He tries to look uninterested to anyone sharing his hands, but in depth is desiring everyone comes forward to praise him.
While he is busy chatting about something (the music?) with other guys clearly part of the showbiz, I opt to listen to the concert.
The Horrors with Primary Colours, their second album managed the impossible.
They distracted all the sceptics and got out of the narrow alley where they were trapped since Strange House, the debut. An alley that, literally, lead them to a graveyard. you know, one of those churchyards with Celts graves on the grass.
Their artistic journey has been on the verge to end up in a Gothic BBQ in fancy dress, with guitars strumming among the tombs, crows singing under a full moon.
Something in the middle of a parody of Rocky Horror Picture Show and a pantomime of the Birthday Party.
How did The Horrors get from there to one of the most anticipated and hottest ticket in town? Soon explained in a simple three parts recipe.
First you need good ingredients: the songs.
Primary Colours is not a single plus some fillers but it is a complete album, strong from the start to the end.
Then you need a master chef: Geoff Barrow.
A Portishead with quite an experience in production (including Primal Scream, if you needed a hint) who took possession of the sound board in the studio and materialize the revolution.
Barrow wiped up the cobwebs, removed the zombies’ masks and let the good stuff emerge from under a thickening layer of dust.
Third, the fresh dish needs a good presentation: the musicians.
Indie music rejects solos and technique and as a consequence rarely the critics attention is on single musicians. Which is a common error, because even when they do not play solos, musicians’ personality influence the bands’ sound.
This intro to say that inverting the bassist (Tom Furse) with the keyboardist (Spider Webb, just!) the Horrors changed dramatically their sound.
The concert is obviously focused on the new album and, as the album, opens with Mirror’s Image and closes with the beautiful suite Sea Within a Sea.
In the middle the music is solid and clean. Feedback, electronic, melody and distorsion find the perfect balance in the quintessential example of Brit music that in the 80s would have been called New Wave.
One of the chef secret was to move the melody on to Faris Badwan voice. He gives up his primal screams and now sings, and he does surprisingly well.
When he doesn’t sing he lets himself go in a sort of shamanic dance in the darkness of the backstage which is full of character and pleases the tenths of teens squeezed to the front row barrier.
Keyboards borrow 80s riff to make it cool, but what comes out clearly is the impetous of guitarist (Joshua Tird). Emancipated from any tying duty, he is free to play around with his effects and produce crackling sounds reminding me of My Bloody Valentine.
Drum and bass pay their eternal debt that these genre will ever owe to Joy Division.
A band (Joy Division) that is second only to Velvet Underground for number of inspirers over the number of albums issued.
The other barrier The Horrors knocked down, in the album and live tonight, is the 3 minutes lenght of a song.
Fifty years ago it was bound to the maximum duration of a 78 rpm vinyl, today to the desire to be broadcasted.
Being highly umprobable that someone will ever press a Horrors 78 rpm and even less likely that a Radio will air their entire album, the boys enjoed themselves with several tracks of double length.
Live these songs become even longer avoiding the frustration that transpire when too many ideas (and they appear to have loads) have to be contained in a three minutes timeframe.
Not only Sea Within a Sea but even Mirror’s Image and Scarlet’s Field breathe outside an oppressive scheme. The music expands, becomes airy, vibrant.
To lose the prize for best gig of the year, in June, it comes the encore.
Funnily enough a negative note is the definitive proof that the Horrors have a bright future ahead.
Bass and keyboard go back to their original owners materializing the band that I saw few times a couple of years ago and always managed to be boring despite their notoriously very short gigs.
Faris Badwan is back screaming and forgets singing. To emulate Nick Cave circa 1980 without having around him neither the same Camden Town, nor the same amount of drugs nor, most important, a music genius as Mick Harvey is pointless.
Count in Five, Sheena is a Parasite and Gloves, three of the hit singles from the Horrors debut album, Strange house, don’t get enough of the revamp of the new direction and result to me pale compared to the music I just experienced.
I understand they are indebted with early fans which, must be said, appreciated much more than me this slice of the gig, but the maneuver to get out of the “Strange House‘s garage” its all in Primary Colours music.
A triumphant concert that will give all the VIPs present a lot to chat about.
This guys now rank high on the chance to deliver a third album that could easily become a classic. There is a desperate need of such a thing.
PS: Apparently I have been cancelled from The Horrors myspace friends and blocked as a user by them. That must be for some sort of negative review I must have written in the past, I can’t remember. If so The Horrors concept of freedom of expression would fit them well in a Berlusconi Villa party in Sardinia, be sure to bring along your female teenager fans, guys, the host would appreciate and give you free distribution in Italy!
It’s a while I wanted to talk about something linked to photographer’s creativity. The photographer’s interpretation of a subject.
Something that arises from the combination of our personal sensitivity, the setting in front of us and the emotion that this combination generates.
Some bands are better than other on this.
The Horrors from their name to their dark look invite to shoot pictures that emphasize an atmosphere made of deep shadows and strong lights.
They brought me to highly contrasted, (clearly) black and white images, blurred as their last cover, with a small focus that drives all the attention out of an undefined composition.
Some of you may go for the strong white backlights and someone else could challenge the cliché and go for colourful images. It’s personal.
Tonight spotlights selectively (not sure how much purposely) focused on particulars of the band, leaving all the rest in an unidentified shadow. There was a nice spotlight used by the singer throughout the show to light the audience, that let me with the best picture ever stamped on my mind. It happened beyond the bloody third song.
A bit of emphasis on contrast does the rest. Easy, a couple of clicks away with photoshop a couple of filter grade up in the darkroom.
Never forget that the nice bit of photography is its versatility. A subject may be the same but the pictures will never be, follow your instinct, don’t shoot all bands the same way, interpret them.