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Hatcham Social

SunderbansBorderline, London
Thursday January 8 2009


Technology isn't what it used to be. Back in the good old days when - in my capacity of Mister Showbiz - I promoted gigs in this venue myself, the Borderline had a pretty decent lighting rig of good, old fashioned tungsten par cans. Clear, intense light, eminently controllable, tightly focused just where you want it, wide range of colour options (including the all-important strong white spotlight on the lead vocal position) and with a nice 'warm' feel to boot.

But now, technology has marched on. The Borderline has 'upgraded' its kit, and now the lighting rig amounts to a paltry handful of LED light units, hidden away in the ceiling, which give out a feeble, diffused glimmer that can be switched from blue to green to purple and....well, that's about it, really. Did I say technology has marched on? Marched over a cliff, more like.

Thus it is that our opening band tonight, Sunderbans, take the stage bathed in a wash of weedy purple light that seems at odds with the band's chunky racket. Sunderbans might look a little grungy in their work shirts - their style is very Seattle '91 - but their music is very London, very now. You can hear the new wave influences at work in their clipped, stripped, economical sound, bereft as it is of guitar solos or other suchlike extravagances. But there's also a hypnotic, almost krautrock quality to their firmly struck strings, layered vocals, and implacable rythms. By the end of the set I've decided I rather like the Sunderbans brand of mantra-pop.

KASMsKASMs bring with them a certain crackle of electrical tension, as if we're standing beneath a pylon and umpteen thousand volts are rushing, barely contained by technology, above our heads. Not that KASMs can improve the stage lighting - the band's ability to bring a phantom electrical charge to their performance spaces doesn't make those feeble LEDs glow any brighter.

But the KASMs brand of clattering, clanging, hanngin-back and mad-dashing spook punk, all pummelling tribal drums and get-outta-my-way guitar, bursts of vocal atmospherics and sudden energy rushes, is definitely the stuff to make a spark jump the terminals. 'Siren sister' is all wailing and flailing and tempo changes that would trip you up if you dared to dance to it, while 'Toil And Trouble' is a Thames delta blues stomp. Not that the Thames has a delta, of course, but if it did, this is the racket you'd hear coming out of the shacks along the riverbank. Probably.

Vocalist Rachel Callaghan accosts the mic stand, prances around the stage, then grovels on it, as if convinced that some sort of rock 'n' roll salvation lies just beneath the floorboards, while the rest of the band do a good impression of pretending nothing untoward is going on.

The set builds to the climax and yet not-climax of 'Murmer' - a big rush-and thump monster that gradually takes itself apart, until it dwindles to just one little yelp of vocal from bassist Gemma Fleet. And that's that. You'd think KASMs would end with a big crash, but instead they deconstruct themselves before our very ears.

Hatcham Social have a name that sounds like a working men's club in Lancashire, and a frontman who is looks like he's just stepped out of an agreeable Surrey stockbroker villa for his evening constitutional, in about 1936. He appears before us - and I assure you I'm not kidding, the photos prove it - sporting a cardigan, a scarf, and a pencil moustache. He exudes a quietly implacable and Hatcham Socialentirely un-rock 'n' roll demeanour that practically dares us to take the piss. This counter-intuitive image is counterpointed by the rest of the band, who are all wearing yet more grungy work shirts. Before the band have even played a note, it's a bit like watching David Niven fronting Mudhoney.

Hatcham Social don't sound grungy, though. On the contrary, they're impeccably indie. Their songs could've been concocted one night in some long-lost indie watering hole like the Camden Falcon, by mixing essence of Smiths with the pith of Orange Juice, and garnishing with a leaf of early, Three Imaginary Boys-era Cure.

The resulting music is politely punchy, but never rudely assertive. The just-so jangle of the guitar dances around the songs like a freshman at the student disco, as David Niven sings in his precise indie-tenor. It's hard to escape the thought that Hatcham Social's true milieu is the Kid Jensen show on Radio One, circa 1983.

Occasionally, there are hints in the music that the band could heavy things up if they had a mind to do so - the way the drummer stands up behind his kit lends a no-nonsense up-and-at-'em air to the proceedings, which isn't quite reflected in the noise the band as a whole makes.

So, that's Hatcham Social: a band of odd contrasts. The singer doesn't look like the rest of the band, and none of them look how they sound. But, if Hatcham Social are the standard bearers for The New Indie, let the record show that they do a good job of work. The band doesn't really occupy my own musical territory - I was too much of a punk rocker to be an indie kid myself - but in the same way as it's always pleasant to hear good news of a distant relative, it's nice to know that indie is still alive and well.


Hatcham Social

Essential links:

Hatcham Social:
Website | MySpace

Website | MySpace

Sunderbans: MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

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