There are several reasons to post Bloc Party after Franz Ferdinand.
One is because I was lucky enough to shot both of them 4 days apart.
One because they make a perfect a British indie-rock combo for liveon35mm.
One is because they could both be struggling in the near future, so it’s a now or nev… er, let’s say, not in a long time.
I will get there, but go back in times because another less known reason, and more interesting, is because the success of Bloc Party was due also thanks to Franz Ferdinand.
It was at a Franz Ferdinand early gig in 2003 that Kele Okereke, the Bloc Party singer, handed their first single She’s Hearing Voices both at Alex Kapranos and Steve Lamacq, BBC Radio one DJ who was there, got the copy, loved the track, aired the song and called them to play live.
Quite an intriguing indie start, John Peel style.
Analogy continues within their discographies. Bloc Party recorded three albums of which the first, Silent Alarm, is their masterpiece; the second, A Weekend in the City, is OK and the third, Intimacy, has been defined as “experimental” basically because it took the electronic direction needed to get out of the cage of guitar-rock before it was too late. I talked about this on my Franz Ferdinand article, you can see a similar trend in their discographies.
I would, but I will not, start a long rant about the uselessness of the word “experimental” when used to describe something that has nothing to with experimenting and all to do with “different from what they used to be and with less ideas that needed to be hidden with the use of waves of laptop generated sounds and some noise”. I will not go further, I am waiting to have the opportunity to shoot Flaming Lips then I’ll come back to the the real significance of experimental when talking about their latest fatigue, Embryonic, which indeed fits with the definition of “experimental album”.
I’ve met Bloc Party first time some years ago when they where third on the bill of the now legendary NME tour headlined by the Killers, Futurheads and closed by Kaiser Chiefs. One thing was immediately clear there, they were far better than Kaiser Chiefs. An easy one.
The thing that most impressed me at that gig was the power of Matt Tong‘s drumming. Something I didn’t realized from the album. Together with Matt Helders of the Arctic Monkeys they are the two best drummer to have appeared in UK for a long time.
If your name is Matt and your dream is to become a rockstar, leave that guitar and get involved with a drum kit!
The other nice thing was to see a black guy fronting an indie-rock band.
Breaking the cliché of black meaning hip-hop, funk, R&B, soul, blues or reggae.
It also has the interesting consequence of bringing a lot of black guys into indie-rock.
While I wander among the fans waiting for the pit to open to photographers (five minutes before this time, every concert a new, funny rule appears), I notice that there is an unconventional multiracial audience. Pretty much non existent at indie-rock concerts in England, as for example at theFranz Ferdinand gig I saw just few days before.
I have a qustion with a bitter aftertaste. I wonder if black people go to Bloc Party gig because of Okereke or if they don’t go to other indie rock shows because there is not an Okereke. Bloc Party music is neither different nor more black oriented than any other brit indie-rock. Is it the presence of Kele in the band to attract them? an open question.
The sold out Cambridge concert spans through the entire career with a deeper attention to the most recent stuff, leaving only few (too few) gems from their debut in the setlist.
Fans are inundated by a wave of decibels supported by three huge additional speakers put on the pit floor. It is very loud.
Good to get people excited from the beginning, Halo, followed by Waiting for the 7.18 and then the single Mercury which people greets with a big cheer.
Kele in his baseball hat is in a good mood, showing off his muscles, playing is telecaster or walking over those speakers to touch the adoring fans.
The band goes now two step at a time, back in time. Talons follows Signs, both from Intimacy. Hunting For Witches, that causes another huge roaring precedes Songs for Clay from A Weekend in the City . Finally a Silent Alarm song touches the ear of the eager fans. The reaction to Banquet is what you can imagine.
The two guitars, provided by schooltime friends Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack, alternate riffs as a chat on a basketball field. The bouncing of one guitar to the other and back is one of the trademarks of Bloc Party music and Banquet is probably the song where it shows up at his best.
Still a short break. Where is Home, Ion Square and Two More Years follow.
I enter that feeling where, after a few songs, the music I am listening looses its appeal.
The lightshow tonight is more a disco than a rock gig. Strobo and pulsing white backlights made my cameras crazy and are now making my eyes too.
I stop following the beat and find myself focusing on the details, which is not good to appreciate a rock show.
I realize Matt Tong is not that rumbling drummer I remembered, probably when he recently open the gossips declaring “I wouldn’t mind trying something else for a while” He meant it.
The Prayer closes the main set but the band comes back for the encores.
Still centred on their more electronic stuff, Ares and Flux, finally introduce the song everyone is waiting.
When Helicopter‘s scattered rhythm flies over the venue, the excitement flies higher and reaches the stars.
Bloc Party lyrics have always been quite misterious.
When they look simple as this one, thought to be against Bush and its Iraq war, Kele intervened to say it was not.
I still like to read it as it is.
“…Just like his Dad, just like his Dad (the same mistakes)
Some things will never be different
Hungry and dumb, hungry and dumb (so wait in line)
Queuing up for some more junk food
It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault (just this once)
They’re getting so much younger
Why can’t you be more European
Bastard child of guilt and shame
Bury your head in the sand
I’m thinking six, six, six
I’m thinking six,
Are you hoping for a miracle?”
Are we hoping for a miracle? I don’t believe in miracles.
With no record deal signed, music changing, a new decade arriving (I know I am repeating myself) it may be true that we are not going to have Bloc Party for a while. Rumours increase, Kele recently said:
“We don’t know what the future holds, It’s weird, we’re out of contract now so… we might take a year off, we might take three years off…. we might never make a record again or we might head straight back in and do a record. We’ll see how we feel come the end of this touring cycle.”
…and just few days later arrives even the news that Kele is working on a solo project.
Matt Tong statement had its rock-solid foundation.
Thinking at Oasis and Blur recent stories I can see a pure marketing strategy in this. In current times it is much more rewarding to split up when times get tough and, eventually, plan to comeback with an acclaimed reunion tour in 5 years. It pays better dividends than struggling to put together a couple of pale albums that sound out of fashion and being forgotten forever or relegated to a small cult following.
Libertines lead the way, times seem mature to paving the road and set up this strategy in the foreseeable future. If it works, be sure more bands will follow.
Bloc Party are strong candidate to be one of them, see you in 2015 guys.
I am not in the best position to talk about focusing, because I am not an expert of autofocus at all. I exclusively manual focusing at gig, why?
First because I don’t have AF cameras, which you may see as being a good point.
Second because I am a control freak so the more things I control the happier I am. Not even particularly good on trusting people, can you imagine myself trusting an electronic device? Who tell it what I want to focus?
Manual focusing is not as difficult as it sounds once you are used to it. The main problem of modern DSLR is that they do not have a focusing glass with the stigmometer in it. That is the nice optical tool that in the centre of the frame splits the image you see in two parts when not in focus. Best DSLR can change the focusing screen, if you want to go manual, first thing to do is to replace your standard with this. It is useful.
A trick I often use at gigs is to memorize before the start the key distances from where I could be and where the band will be and then set them on the lens. It works well with wide angles and very well with ultra wide angles where depth of field is less of an issue.
You can then simply fix it and concentrate on composition.
It may look awkward and I may change my mind if I end up using an AF DSLR but so far, all my pictures are manually focused. There is a lot of waste, many out of focus images on average (often the good ones) but I am not sure there is much less coming out of a AF shot set, especially when tricky odd colours, strobo and back-lightning conditions are the norm, as this night. Let me know