At the beginning it was Florence + The Machine. It all started about 5 years ago, last decade. It was 2009 and a big girl with a big voice broke through the music scene with an energetic girls riot energy and big melodies.
It lasted about one EP and a supporting role at a NME tour before some clever PR told Florence that it is not indie-rock the place to pay her mortgage. With such a voice pop is the way. In few months black leggins and boots left space to big, embroidered dresses, strong make-up and a lot of hair. Florence abandoned the indie rock league towards stardom so far culminated at Sound of Changes stadium gigs with Beyonce and similar corporate stuff.
At an early Florence gig at Shepherds Bush Empire in London XX were headlining. It was also one of the last time they played as a quartet before one member left the band. End of 2009.
A new decade was about to start, economic crisis and low budgets helped minimalist electro indie pop to get out of artists bedroom andMacBooks invaded the underground scene.
Classic dream-pop (Cocteau Twins) darkened by reminiscence from the good side of the eighties: Joy Division, Cure, Siouxsie and a touch of Depeche Mode.
The recipe worked, the backlights delivered silhouettes and I regret to have missed shooting the XX so many times.
There have been followers, as it always is when you hit the right notes. Several and different, each approaching the scene with a slight different angle. All big around Spitafield and Shoreditch. James Blake, Disclosure and Chvrches to mention the first I can think of but, and I finally introduce to today’s post, London Grammar.
(that with Disclosure have an active friendship and collaboration)
I would bet London Grammar singer, Hannah Reid, was among the teenagers at that Florence + The Machine gig in Shepherd Bush in 2009.
The perfect mix of XX support and Florence headline singing will result, after few years of fine tuning and hiring a couple of skilled musicians, in the London Grammar. This trio will produce the debut album that is of the 2013 sensations. Guardian spotted them since April but the album won’t be out until September.
If You Wait is out on Metal and Dust. With sales on the plus side of 30K It topped the indie chart (despite being distributed by Columbia and Warner which makes the indie chart meaningless but this is a different argument) and sold about 250K albums since it was released. Got to n.2 in UK and beyond.
Where Florence did put her voice at use of sensationalism and big tunes, London Grammar use a more subtle trick.
The big tunes are played down by arrangments made by electronica with some effected guitar and sampled drums. It’s Shoreditch, babe.
The voice, mixed to stand out is underplayed by minimalist arrangments. If it wasn’t that Hannah Reid does have a total different timbre of Beth Gibbons you may think Portishead would be back.
Despite I still cannot cope long with music putting guitar/bass/drums aside for electronic samples, I admit some of this modern times stuff is entering my blood and I am now able to listen to more than 15 minutes without getting to hate tapered denim and floral shirts. This means I had the chance to listen to their album few times.
I came to a full-to-capacity Corn Exchange for London Grammar event. Their first proper tour and one of the first sold out dates create the event.
The trio comes on stage lined up with guitarist Dan Rothman on the left, Hannah in the centre and Dominic ‘Dot’ Major behind keys, drums and tricks on the right.
The stage is big which is first problem of portraying the full line-up.
They brought an all-girl string quartet sitting on the back, if this is at risk of mining their minimalism to Florence grander territories, it helped photo composition.
They also brought a quite big lighting which after the third song and from the back looks very effective, if only we were allowed to take picture.
[rant break] Actually I was the only one allowed, because this was another of those situations started with “Sorry Valerio, there are not photopasses left, list is all full” to then get in with another contact and discovering that there was no other photographer in the pit except me. [end of rant]
Gig starts quiet and songs are carefully crafted, ‘Dot’ works on keys most of the time, I prefer when he moves to the drums to add more beat leaving the melodies to Dan Rothmann guitar.
Hannah plays a piano on the back for some tunes which allows the string quartet to kick in the orchestral movements.
Something now reminds me of Bat For Lashes another of 2009 breakthrough acts.
I stay for the whole gig which, to be fair, it was very short running, under a hour including encore.
I know London Grammar have only one album out and those are all the material they could play. What I wonder is why, with so much influences and Reid incredible voice, they couldn’t put together some covers to make the set longer and confront with their reference. London Grammar is the perfect band to refresh famous tunes.
When I was young (yes I was), any band touring with a debut album used to add covers to make a set longer. It works as a homage to what they love.
Where are all cover songs gone? What stops covers nowadays, either is insecurity or pretentiousness, the only consequence is to not have the chance to listen Hanna Reid voice for a bit longer.
I arrived at the Corn Exchange expecting a full pit, as the first PR told me, and I was pleased to be on my own. While I prepare my camera and lenses, a guy of London Grammar crew looks surprised to see someone in the pit.
He approaches me and, beyond the usual reprimand of 3 songs no flash, he says that the first songs are going to be quiet so I have to be silent, choose a spot and don’t move much around. Even the house security was surprised by the request. I say I will do my best to not interfere with the show.
It is a key part of concert photography to be invisible, to anticipate the moment when the music will be louder enough to click the shutter and when to be silent even if there may be a good shot.
There is a big production tonight, that delivered a big show… for the audience. It would have been a very good gig for photographers too with some attention to details. A couple of suggestions.
The band is lined up on a line in the front of a large stage. I gues it is more than 10 meters wide, the band members are far apart and there is no way to frame them together without using a very wide angle.
Suggestion number one. Ignore the big stage, keep the band tight. It will look closer and intimate and band photos will be possible. Guitarist and singer can always walk around which adds up to the show more than standing still.
There are big lights. A backdrop of bulb able to write lyrics and some nice yellow tungsten lamps counterbalancing the blue LEDs spots. Unfortunately all of this were used well after the first three songs.
I know lightwise the best bits of a gig has to come at the end and they can’t blow out the special effects for the beginning. Suggestion 2 (ten years I am asking for this) Why don’t let photographers to take pictures of the best moments? Why not to photograph (also) the last 3 songs?
I am an optimist.