Somehow, I don't think we'll be meeting Hugh Grant tonight. Notting Hill might be a bijou and trendy location these days, but in the subterranean concrete bunker that is the Notting Hill Arts Club, a rather different crowd has gathered. This event is Being Boiled, a club run by elektro-glam coolsters Client, in which new stars of the electronic music scene (plus, occasionally, a few old supernovas) get a chance to shine. Here we go - down the stairs, into the noise. The DJs chuck out thumping electropop grooves: they're certainly giving The League Unlimited Orchestra's album Love And Dancing a good workout tonight. The club steadily fills with people sporting eyeliner and assymetrical partings, while over in the corner, on a small area of raised floor which does duty as a stage, we have some live action ready to go.
first band of the night arrives in the form of Scarlet
Soho, who, in spite of having a name which hints at after-hours
urban decadence, hail from somewhere in leafy Hampshire, as far as I can
tell. They're a classic three-piece synth 'n' vocals combo, with, on certain
songs, added beef in the form of bass and guitar. Their songs are urgent,
strident, uptempo numbers which draw on all those 80s influences you can
probably list for yourself before I even mention them - pop-period Depeche
Mode, tablecloth-wearing period Duran Duran, pre-MOR Spandau Ballet, even.
It's immediately obvious that here's a band which writes songs, rather
than the beat 'n' chant dancefloor workouts favoured by so many electonic
outfits today. Scarlet Soho are definitely working at the pop group end
of things. The singer, besuited, affable, and looking bizarrely reminiscent
of a synthpop Jonathan Ross, joshes with the cautiously interested crowd
and hollers out the lyrics with huge gusto. Scarlet Soho don't do much
in the way of subtlety or nuance. Every number is a full-throttle synthpop
belter, although, pradoxically, given the intense, urgent qualities in
the band's songwriting, I don't find any song in particular sticking in
my head. I'm forced to conclude that here we have a band with plenty of
commitment to their craft - it's just that they haven't quite written
their signature killer anthem yet. But it's probably only a matter of
Somewhere beyond the bar, in another part of this concrete cavern of a club, two laptop DJs are making noises. This is Incite, a kind of technology-performance art duo. Or maybe that should be 'non-performance art', because, as always with this kind of stuff, there's nothing much to look at.
are clearly aware of this, because they've worked up a neat-o show of
monochrome, abstract projections, which flicker over the top of everything
while the laptops go fzzzt and phwaaarrcz and bip bip
bip. Oddly, several people gather with cameras, and try to video the
projections. This creates a splendidly post-modern experience, but it's
not quite enough to make me hang around. The trouble with this sort of
freeform laptop DJing is that is that while the technology might be spanking
new, the ideas behind the sounds don't seem to have moved on very much
since the likes of Cabaret Voltaire were doing it with tape loops in 1978.
Bring back the reel to reels, that's what I say.
It's a hot night, they arrived late after fighting traffic jams all the way, they've had no soundcheck, they're in venue they've never played before, there's no spare channel on the mixing desk for vocal effects, and there's a bunch of electro-indie scenesters in the audience whom it would be highly advantageous to impress. But if Swarf are feeling a touch of that old rock 'n' roll pressure they don't let on.
Starkly revealed in the white glare of Client's projections (the Notting Hill Arts Club doesn't run to such decadent frills and fancies as stage lighting), the band take the situation in their stride. Or rather, to extend my metaphor in a slightly different direction, they tip-toe carefully into their set, tentatively exploring the limitations of the soundmix, reluctant to rack it all up into the 'going for it' zone right from the off. Feedback threatens to break out at any moment, so singer Liz hangs back between the keyboards, keeping her mic out of the danger zone while the engineer sorts it. Eventually, the incipient screeches are vanquished - chiefly, it seems, by nudging down the faders to safe levels. This fixes the problem, although Swarf are left with a quieter sound, which means the band's more, erm, wafty tunes tend to waft a little too much for comfort.
But when the old stompers kick in - 'Drown' in particular gets 'em moving - that familiar Swarf magic is revealed in all its effervescent glory. Electro-indie scenester faces right across the room break into delighted grins, and - yes - they've done it again. I have unshakeable confidence in Swarf's ability to win over any audience, and notwithstanding the cautious start, tonight the band's winning way with a sparky electro-beat, those spacey atmospherics, and that volitant vocal, hit the spot again. This probably won't go down in history as the easiest gig Swarf have ever played, or, if we're honest, the best. The hassles and the hurdles of the event did rather take the edge off things. But the band got the right result in the end, and they've probably impressed a few new people tonight to boot. Hugh Grant couldn't have done it better.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.