It comes pretty useful that I moved to digital in time to portray The Horrors touring their new album: Skying.
It matches. From different perspectives we both moved to colours.
Despite they already hinted at a more accessible sound with her sophomore album, Primary Colours, it is Skying that brought the Southend band into serious contender for the best UK art-rock group in years.
When the Horrors appeared first time they were an image/fashion kind of phenomenon. Dressed as character from a comedy horror B-movie, they gained the cover of NME after just a single: Sheena is a parasite.
Something no other band had ever achieved.
Before the debut album arrived, the Horrors toured with the NME Awards tour. It is where I first caught them live. It was February 2007. It was the worst line-up NME ever put together: Mumm-Ra (disbanded), The View (forgotten) and headlined by the Automatic (who? Indeed).
‘No surprise I was surprised’ by the Horrors despite a dark, dirty and very short set.
Not in a completely positive way yet there was something interesting beyond the photogenic image NME was trying to sell to angry and depressed teenagers.
I always doubted of bands getting into Birthday Party territory, can’t name a single one succeeding. The Horrors, if visually were close to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, musically were, more than any other bands in recent years, into Birthday Party punk screaming about death, night and (literally) Jack the ripper.
Strange House, the debut, came out those days. I guess I am one of the few owners of the special edition with a bonus DVD. I can’t remember what sort of sale I found but, listened in a new light 5 years later to write this post, it doesn’t sound as the greatest album ever but hints are in it of a band that, once dismissed the costumes, could make some very good things.
Incessantly touring, I met the (same) Horrors again supporting Jesus and Mary Chain at the end of 2007.
The breakthrough happened about 2 years later when the Horrors released, to the surprise of literally everyone, Primary Colours.
From a NME sensation, no one was expecting such an album. The screams disappeared, the keyboards arrived. The sound got bigger with inluences of all the post Velvet Underground bands from Spacemen 3 to psychedelia and shoegaze.
A brave album. It keeps the dark shadows of the beginning but starts showing hints of lights. Which also helped to get me some decent photos of a band that the previous two occasions was un-photographable.
Produced by Geoff Barrow of Portishead, Primary Colours debuted live at an Electric Ballroom gig in 2009. The venue was packed, guestlist full of Musicbiz VIP. When you meet at the same show Jim Sclavonus and Bobby Gillespie be sure you are in the right place.
The third album is notoriously a band “live or die” moment. Maybe in this produce/consume/die era the key milestone for a band comes before, yet for the Horrors this third album was long awaited.
Skying arrived July 2011 and turned out to be the album of the affirmation.
There are bands that make astonishing debuts and then have to struggle to keep the pace, easily falling at a certain point of their path (Oasis, Arctic Monkeys, Tori Amos or Alanis Morissette to name the first four coming to my mind) then there are bands that start slow, build up a cult following which causes the avalanche effect.
In this category fall most of the commercially successful artists who kept delivering consistent quality piece of works. Manic Street Preachers, Bruce Springsteen, REM and even U2 started slow to become universal stars.
When the success comes slowly it means the band has the key factors needed.
It’s motivated, it believes in what it does, it’s tenacious and, more important, it’s creative. If you have ideas you can’t be boring.
The Horrors have made three albums that preserve their identity but haven’t stopped on the same idea since. They moved from fast post-punk to keyboards psychedelia to the guitar anthems of Skying that reminded the world Simple Minds had been also a great band.
Cleverly those teenagers in 2006 are now graduating. The shift from grrrr-days to artistic phase helps keeping those early followers while recruiting new ones.
In no more than 5 years, with about two hours of recorded music and 30ish songs, the Horrors went from Jack The Ripper to Oceans Burning.
Try this exercise. Go to iTunes/Spotify/whatever library containing Horrors’ three albums.
Make a playlist with only two songs: their first, Jack The Ripper, followed by their last, Oceans Burning. Play it to a friend who doesn’t know them. (S)he will tell they are two different bands.
Then add to the playlist Sheena is a Parasite, Mirror’s Image, the epic Sea Within a Sea and latest Changing the Rain. Your friend and yourself will be amazed on how the passage feels gradual. The sound grows without loosing its way.
There are not many discographies where you can play the same game with such a consistent output.
I shot the Horrors for the fourth time at the Field Day festival in London last August.
Apart of a showcase, this was the first time for Skying live in London, ahead of the proper headlining UK tour happening this week. It was the most awaited set of the day and, despite the tight line-up, the tent was overtly packed.
Centred on the latest album I saw a band at the peak of its self-confidence.
No need anymore to hide behind a clever dress-up.
All the Horrors needed to play a wonderful set was their instruments.
They have the songs, they have the skills, they have the faithful fans (a UK rarity). Nothing can stop them now and for few years ahead.
Faris Badwan in three albums moved from screamer to singer to undisputed frontman. Easy to recognise his silhouette among many bands.
Keys and guitars build up the vintage 80s sound that today instantly transforms any band into an art-(the east London way)-rock act.
The Horrors are one of the few bands who I am not worried about next album. Actually I’m already impatient to know what will come out of their hat.
PS: They don’t wear hats either.
Backlights throughout isn’t the easier for concert photography but with a bit of luck and if in control of the camera, it can deliver some out of the ordinary shots.
As the Horrors changed their style during the years, I have greatly changed mine. Not only technically but dogmatically I started to challenge my convictions.
One of my Cartier-Bresson-era legacy was the absolute intransigence in cropping negatives. With the added complicacy of using prime lenses, my film shots used to be a continuous struggle to avoid messy tangled cables on stage.
I don’t know if I got lazier or wiser. I know I am now using zoom lenses and also came to the conclusion that some cropping can make a good picture better.
Sometimes is unavoidable, as when they sent me shooting Thom Yorke from the balcony without telling I’d needed a 600mm f4. Some others it just makes photos clearer.
One position I haven’t changed in years: Selected photos have to be good photos, the very best of the set.
To be a severe judge of myself is paramount. I prefer not to publish rather than delivering mediocre images.
Cropping helps. It helps more at concerts because stages are full of crap. Crap doesn’t add anything to the image. Reframing a picture leaving out useless elements doesn’t contradict the integrity of the image, doesn’t send a false message, doesn’t hurt. It’s what studio photographers do everyday. It’s what concert photographers are not allowed to do but would like.
(Ever dreamt of moving that mic pole away from the view?)
There’s no way to make a bad image good through cropping but there are no reason to not reframe a good image to make it better.
Your ethic will decrease a bit, which is not always a bad thing. You have a reason to bring it back up.