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Big Deal
Upstairs At The Garage, London
Friday February 11 2011

It's Mute Incident Number One tonight. That's what they're calling this gig: two bands freshly signed to Mute Records, with the label's main man Daniel Miller dropping the tunes in the DJ booth.

So far, so cool - especially as Mute is now an independent label once more, after eight years of EMI ownership. The present arrangement sees EMI retain an interest in the label, but the days of Mute's existence as a mere twig on the corporate tree are over. I wonder if Daniel Miller feels like he's got out from under just in time, for the corporate tree isn't quite the sturdy plant it used to be. EMI is currently owned by the US banking behemoth Citigroup, which stepped in after a troubled period in which the once all-powerful record company lurched from one financial crisis to another, leaving a trail of debts - and we're talking billions here - behind it. All of a sudden, independence looks like a good idea again.

Still, there's plenty of corporate involvement tonight, because this is one of the new band showcases happening around London just now, with sponsorship from (deep breath) Time Out, Gaymer's Cider, HMV, Ted Baker, XFM and the MAMA venue group. All those corporate entities just to put on two bands at a 150-capacity venue. To think that I was a live music promoter for seven years (and in bigger venues too, thanks very much) without the slightest corporate assistance. How on earth did I Big Dealmanage it?

Well, let's pay some attention to the bands, because that's what this music biz beanfeast is all about. The stage is draped with a large backdrop that reads 'NEXT BIG THING', a hostage to fortune if ever I saw one. But then, our first band tonight are called Big Deal, which I suppose hints at a certain confidence.

Big Deal turn out to be a fairly minimalist deal: a girl, a boy, two guitars, and some fuzzily plangent songs that occasionally approach the haunted ballads of the Jesus And Mary Chain - which is good - but more usually veer in the frankly less appealing direction of strummy whimsicality. Which is not so good.

The two Big Deals seem almost unnaturally shy, heads-down and bashful except when they demurely glance up through their indie-kid fringes at the chemical purple light, which, it seems, is all the venue can muster in terms of stage lighting. Bizarrely, given the band's bold name, which hints at something - well, bigger, it's all a bit underwhelming. Sorry, Big Deal, but it is. Not that Big Deal need to worry: they've got the music biz behind them now, and being underwhelming is no barrier to success. Watch out for them: the BBC 6 Music session will be along soon, doubtless.

It's a little incongruous to see S.C.U.M here, in the banal surroundings of this familiar rock circuit venue, with the NEXT BIG THING banner and the sponsors' names prominently displayed on the back wall. S.C.U.M are, surely, far too enigmatic to submit themselves to a music biz beauty contest in these prosaic surroundings. I remember the time I saw the band play in Shoreditch Church - a night of high drama, reverb rattling the rafters, and a real sense that something new and strange was coming up from the underground. How did we get from there to here?

S.C.U.MWell, I suppose if you're a band, you can't choose your venues. You've got to be able to work the magic anywhere, so let's see if S.C.U.M can conjure up the good stuff tonight.

They start by laying claim to the space, S.C.U.M style: the feeble chemical purple glimmer of the stage lighting is unceremoniously extinguished, and on come some white floor spots. Immediately the surroundings look a lot less prosaic. Then S.C.U.M summon the spirits.

Strangely, starkly, psychedelic art deco disco, like a Biba vision of the future, S.C.U.M songs are pulsing, ebbing, flowing things, tugged along by electronics, but prodded into shape by the ever-present drums and bouts of guitar. There's less reverb and more structure now, less in the way of sheer melodrama but definitely more of a groove.

The vocalist, like Ian McCulloch's younger, taller, weirder brother, presides over the stage - yes, he presides - with a touch of theatre, while, to his right, the bassist jerks and writhes like Wilko Johnson has taken control of his psyche.

I like the way S.C.U.M are moving - and they are moving, for this set is very different to the band's earlier gigs. Before, they were all about the gothic drama: a fine thing in itself, but I always wondered what else they could do. Now, we have a hint. Now S.C.U.M are like one of Joe Meek's more outrĂ© projects filtered through the old-school inventiveness that was such a part ofS.C.U.M  the original, independent, Mute label. If the new, EMI-at-arms-length Mute has some of the old juice in its veins, it all could get interesting.

S.C.U.M are probably too strange to qualify for Next Big Thing status, but that's probably more of a lucky escape than anything else. More to the point, they could be the next good thing.



S.C.U.M: MySpace | Facebook

Big Deal: MySpace | Facebook

For more photos from this gig, find S.C.U.M by name here.



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