It all starts simply sometimes. I saw some photos of Wolf Alice playing SXSW 2014 some months ago and put a note down on my telephone to remember to go to their Cambridge date.
Since then I travelled, worked, photographed and forgot… till about a week before that.
Sent and e-mail to sort a pass, went to youtube and Spotify, gathered everything I could hear from them.
A single, a bunch of songs. 2 EPs
In the last year Wolf Alice popularity grew exponentially.
Probably helped a bit by a comeback of guitar music (at last! n.d.Valerio) surely not only for that. Some tried to catch the train and dropped miserably (Fratelli’s comeback anyone?)
These years mark the 20th anniversary of some landmark guitar albums. The early nineties were all about superfuzzy guitars. A decade of
over underwhelming synth-pop sets the music thermometer back to 6 strings and distorted amplifiers.
Guitars are vintage now, fender mustang, jazzmaster and telecaster. The stratocaster is banned by the uncool etiquette for reasons I am still waiting to read, must be Clapton/Gilmour/Knopfler’s fault. Nevermind (yes, that album too).
I am a 90s boy and I love guitar bands. So… far so good.
Wolf Alice are beyond being just a guitar band. Every teenager, apart from me, has been in a guitar band.
Wolf Alice are a great band. With guitars. It’s a substantial difference.
They are from North London. London is a good place to set up a band, competitive sure. No money, those are nowhere to be found but let’s state this, never good rock music has started by someone with a pocket full of money.
In London you are where things happen. They do it is not a common place.
With a debut album still to be released, with a year of relentless touring in UK and beyond, Wolf Alice are climbing the ladder, reached the cockpit and set to take-off.
It all started with a self-released free download single, Leaving you, back in 2012. It was catchy enough to get Radio1 airing. That bouncing guitar string opening is so familiar to anyone who turned 30 years old that I wasn’t surprised at all to read it was onto Radio1. Still does not happen everyday to debut with a single picked by BBC.
On the other side I am surprised to realise how important radio airing still is to break through a market that we are told is dominated by streaming and the internet.
Fluffy was their second single. Despite the title, it’s a more aggressive song. Drums kick in, guitars follow and the riff is one of those you don’t forget.
Few months and the debut EP, Blush arrives. The title song slow things down, Ellie Roswell voice take the place of guitars and crafts a wonderful song.
I was still in the distract listening phase at this point. Skipping through Spotify tracks that I read on twitter were worth.
The turning point happens when I realise all Wolf Alice songs tend to stay in my mind, I dug into them.
The more I listen the quickest I love them.
Papers and blogs too. Nirvana and Hole came out when journalism is lazier than ever, but there are interesting articles even if every journalists tries to put his or her own mark. I read comparisons from the XX to Elastica, which have the consequence of making me remember bands my memory removed.
They covered Katy Perry Roar in the meanwhile, very good move and even better cover.
Honestly, Wolf Alice have so much ideas in their ‘chords’ that the band is more the consequence of a personal evolving path, built among the grooves of the records they spun, rather than someone dipping in others music to fill up a lack of personality.
They changed, started without a rhythm session, went through a milder sound, recruited drum’n’bass and moved to heavier sound never forgetting melody and song structure. I love bands that write songs with a melody.
When Bob Dylan said that a good song is still a good song when played just voice and guitar, he was right.
But it was half a century ago too. Computers were a NASA only privilege and electric guitars something to be plugged in a jazz orchestra to make them audible over saxophones.
We’re in 2014. Decades changed the music, music changed the society, computers shaped it and now are uncool enough to be relegated in an office desk at work, we use gadgets at home.
Almost the entire music ever produced in the world is available to stream in seconds at a google search. The game of being influenced by someone else needs to be adapted to the way a musical project develops nowadays.
With their ideas and styles still changing in their first handful of songs, it’s good that Wolf Alice wait to record and release their debut album.
It is such an important step in a crowded scenario, it sets you in a defined niche that has to be carefully shaped around who you are.
In the meanwhile the demand of a growing fan base for new music has just been satisfied with another 10” EP released recently: Creature Songs.
4 more songs, sing-along choruses Mona Lisa Smile with a dancing themed video just released. Eergy, energy and Ellie persona standing out.
It’s clear from these photos isn’t it? The band will excuse me but Ellie is Wolf Alice ‘s soul. She’s the front girl, she’s the one.
We are not in front of a mediocre bassist put there to balance testosterones level on stage and gather some lads follower. We are not in front of anouther beautiful Scandinavian girl fronting a synth-pop combo from behind her toy keys.
Ellie is the voice. She is the guitar. Wolf Alice won’t be the same band without her. There are bands where you can replace members, there are bands where you cannot.
Ellie has magnetic eyes. She plays and she stares beyond the stage, the audience, the venue. She’s into the performance so deep that even an earthquake would not stop the song.
I could go centimetres from her nose with my lens without noticing a hint of distraction. I was invisible. Venue is invisible. She inhabits the songs. She’s there but she is unreachable. Which is what makes her so attractive.
To supply the absence of earthquakes in UK, there’s the audience that had already learnt all the lyrics by heart and crowd-surf singing along despite in such a tiny venue there isn’t really a surfable wave.
I have seen many nice show this year, went to see Swans yesterday (wait…) and The Fat White Family still leads the league, but Wolf Alice come close. The UK tour ends tonight at Scala in London, be sure to read your festival program carefully, there will be plenty of tents’ slots this year.
It’s post 250 on this blog, which means I have written 250 photo tips all about concert photography, the way I see it, the way I do it. With film, digital, big festival stage or a small pub room as this one.
You may think there’s not much to discover or learn for me, I can tell you otherwise, every gig I improve, I learn something, I get upset or surprised by something else.
This Wolf Alice gig was at the Portland Arms in Cambridge. I wrote about it when it was about to be closed and dismantled. In a rare twist of events a petition worked out and this landmark Cambridge pub was not only saved but totally refurbished.
Now the concert room is bigger, cleaner and the acoustic much better.
Lights are not, though.
I know the light technician and before every gig I ask him about the setting and plea of turning them a bit up, in vain.
For this Wolf Alice gig the answer was almost funny. “They are going to be the same, all colours rotating, just wait 10 seconds and you’ll get the colour you want”
This is easily achievable with the new spots made with loads of leds. They change colour as a cool designer lamp, save a load of energy and look cool to everything in the room apart from camera sensors.
Blue and purple are no go. Red is bad. the wavelenght around green yellow orange slightly better.
Concert photography is pretty much about catching the right moment during the song (that is why three songs suck, too few right moments to catch).
Questino: Can you calculate statistically how many time in three songs the right moment and the right light colour converge to deliver a decent image? No? I’ll tell you: two.
I hate to go black and white because lights are bad, I believe B&W isn’t a solution must have a reason.
Thankfully B&W suites Wolf Alice well so I liked it… but I had no other option between this and a 2 photos post.
I’ll write about Swans next, it’ll be a B&W post.
The lights there were brilliant and the colour pics look good, but I still wanted to have them B&W. For a reason, to remove colours with the same approach the band remove anything unnecessary from their music… leaving the essence… but this is going to happen next