Nobody's made any official announcements, but the word on the unofficial grapevine is that this is Ipso Facto's last gig. On the face of it, that's a surprising state of affairs: after all, this is a band on the up and up, with plenty of press attention (even unto the hallowed pages of Vogue, no less), and plenty of interest from the twenty-first century new wave kids.
But it doesn't take a rock 'n' roll version of Sherlock Holmes to detect that all is not so serene in the world of Ipso Facto. Cherish Kaya, the band's keyboard player, quit a while back, leaving a trail of sarky interviews behind her as she headed for the door. More recently, Romance announced that Ipso Facto's bassist, Samantha Valentine, who's been playing with the band for a while, will be joining them permanently.
All of which would seem to leave drummer Victoria Smith and guitarist/vocalist Rosalie Cunningham in need of half a band...or a whole new idea. Rumour has it that they've opted for the exit. After tonight, no more Ipso Facto. So, we'd better pay attention then, hadn't we?
Right now we're paying attention to Silhouette, opening things up with a certain restraint and control that somehow never crosses the line and becomes merely downbeat. Silhouette are certainly not about rock 'n' roll grandstanding, but there's a quiet power about what they do. Helena Gee, on vocals and clanging, schlanging, guitar, is content to let her songs do the talking - they're meticulous little slices of introspection and reflection that nevertheless pack a subtle punch.
Just in case we might think we're veering a little too close to dreaded AOR singer-songwriter territory, 'Masquerade' kicks things up a bit with some quick-march drumming, and shows that Silhouette can rock out when they have a mind to do so. But they do it meticulously.
Romance, it must be said, are about rock 'n' roll grandstanding. And while it might not be easy to grandstand in a tiny basement venue like this, under the barely-there red glimmer of dim LED lighting, the band are certainly prepared to give it a go. Everything, it seems, is turned up to eleven, including the anitcs of vocalist Jamie Lovatt, who winds himself up into a scaled-down rock god frenzy as the band churns up the rock sauce around him.
Yes, Romance are very much a rock band: they may ply their trade in the new wave sector of the indie zone, but they sound like they've been eating Cult albums for breakfast. With rock sauce on top. Set against the decidedly more scrupulous indie-isms of Silhouette - or even the head-prefect coolness of Ipso Facto - Romance are clearly travelling on their own rocky road. That might end up annoying the indie kids, but it's likely to give the band a certain edge, too. You know when you're watching a Romance set: their frantic sturm und drang is a world away from the indie norm. Samantha Valentine, by the way, looks revealingly at home, putting the bottom-end boot into the Romance racket. Bet she's always been a rock chyk at heart.
The dim red LED stage lighting now changes to dim blue. This is about as hi-tech as the lighting effects ever get at the Queen Of Hoxton: dim red, or dim blue. Take your pick. Heaven forbid that we should actually get some bright lighting. So it is that HTRK appear as mere shapes in the blue-tinged darkness, which is appropriate enough, I suppose, for this is not a band that likes to make things easy for their audiences.
There are three of them. Guitar, bass, vocals...and drum. All of a sudden we are a million miles from the rock 'n' roll zone. HTRK deal in minimalist mantras, humming and shuddering and murmuring through peculiarly hypnotic bubblegum anti-lullabys, like the Beach Boys at 16 rpm.And yes, I did say drum above. Drum, singular - not drums. At intervals in every song, the singer thumps a strategically placed floor tom, punctuating the music with a hefty thud of doom. A minimalist rhythm program fills the gaps betweeen the floor tom thuds, the singer emits a detatched, impassive croon, and the band's rumble and thrum slides out of the speakers like oil sliding down a window pane. Not easy stuff for sure, but HTRK have an implacably mesmerising quality that pulls me in.
And now, the final go-around for Ipso Facto. The absent keyboard player has been replaced by a laptop, which doesn't have much stage presence but I suppose is less likely to give sarky interviews to the music media. Swings and roundabouts, eh? The three human members of the band exhibit a certain lets-get-this-over-with air - although the set is almost over before it begins. The laptop crashes; everything stops. When the technology is evenbtually cranked up again the band's lets-get-this-over air has thickened into a stroppy resignation. Samantha Valentine scowls; Rosie Cunningham smiles a secret smile, as if she knows that however ramshackle it gets, she won't have to worry any more after tonight.
But if the circumstances are stressful, the songs are still cool. Ipso Facto's secret weapon was always their enticingly severe, economical, not-a-hair-out-of-place pop, and the deft precision of their songs is still present and correct tonight. 'Queen Sohia The Last' (which wins it on the title alone if you ask me) is an elegantly insistent anthem - striding forward on a high heeled guitar shimmy even as the band that created it comes to a halt. Possibly the song will be a posthumous single release, so Queen Sophia may yet have a life of her own. It's certainly a microcosm of Ipso Facto's understated, sparky, quality in one song.
But here in the Queen Of Hoxton, that's it for Ipso Facto, even if most people tonight aren't aware of it.
There's a certain relief in the faces of the band members as they unplug and pack up, as if the business of the band wasn't all that much fun in the end, and they're rather glad it's over.
You never know. Ipso Facto might just go down as one of the great lost London bands of their time. At any rate, this is for sure: most of tonight's crowd may not know it yet, but they'll miss 'em when they realise they're gone.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.