Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Last FM Festival @ HMV Forum

“Do you scrobble?” shouts the screen above the stage. I blush. Only on special occasions. And with adequate protection. Actually, it's none of your business. Last FM are obsessed with how much I've been scrobbling. They keep bombarding me with facts and figures and suggestions until I can barely bear to look. It's like being programmed into the matrix, if the matrix was a boring marketing nerd who spent the whole time yapping on about how Futureheads are totally trending right now.

If this was a seminar about raising brand awareness then these guys would get top marks. But it's not, it's a festival and among all the marketing hype – “Last Fm festival T-shirts are available at the merch stand guys” – everyone's favourite radio station seems to have forgotten what they're all about: helping people find and champion new music. The line-up tonight is all bands you've heard about and largely forgotten. Where are the new bands? Where is the buzz of discovering your new favourite person ever that the Last FM crew are normally so good at delivering?

This feeling is especially prevalent when we're standing listening to Young Knives, and I have to pinch myself in order to be reminded that, no, it's no longer 2005. The nerdy guitar wielders have made absolutely no effort to move with the times. Not for them chillwave or surf pop or even dubstep. They wouldn't know power pop if it came and smacked them round their smug faces. Instead their sound, as it ever was, is generic indie disco lad rock played by librarians. Music for people who think a Topshop polo shirt makes them alternative and downing apple sourz and fingering girls to the Wombats is a great night out.

I had forgotten that their bassist, who looks like the slightly less nerdy one from Big Bang Theory refers to himself as 'The House of Lords' but as soon as I remember I am filled with indignant rage. The lyrics are so gratingly simple that even someone in a coma could pick them up. Rhyming 'Drinking Evian' and 'It wont be long' doesn't even work. And 'I love My Name''s refrain of “I have a name. I love my name” makes me want to ram my fist through the speakers. How dare they presume that they can just stroll onto the stage and pretend like the last five years of music never happened?

Especially when they've been preceded by the always assured Chapel Club whose '80s kitchen sink minimalism makes me realise that music can be uplifting and terrifying all at the same time. Underlit by stage lights, surrounded by dry ice, singer Lewis Bowman is a calm and collected presence even under the fire of wife-beating drums and lyrical content like “Bodies swinging in the sycamore tree/ Dream a little dream of me”. Dreamy.

Earlier on we've enjoyed the '90s rock stylings of Bones, who have a bit of a drive-time Garbage thing going on. Chugging guitars and heartbeat-altering drums hint at Pavement influences while the raspy blues vocals tell us that lead singer (black beanie hat, ripped black tights and attitude) has been spinning a bit too much Etta James. My companion noted that she looked as if she'd been hurt. I felt she looked like she'd know how to throw a TV out of a window and where to score good blow. Scary.

Headlining tonight are the Futureheads: once again a slot that could have been given to someone more boundary pushing, but at least it's not humourless. In fact it's full of fun and frolics. 'Hounds of Love' is always good for a laugh and I'd forgotten quite how perky 'Decent Days and Nights' was, while newer material like 'Your Heartbeat Song' leads me reaching for the Strepsils after I scream too loudly. While the group slightly overstay their welcome, coming on for a dreary encore of what they deem 'vampire-themed sex music' they manage to wipe away the cobwebs of their predecessors nicely. A mixed bag then. More mixed than you would have expected from Last FM. But not bad.

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