Nine Black Alps and Kong at the Barfly

Saul Glasman 15 February 2008

There’s more to Nine Black Alps than meets the eye. Formed in Manchester in 2005, they neatly sidestepped all the minor retardations and listless gigging to empty rooms that dog the early careers of most bands. Instead, it didn’t take long for their cult following to blow up into an huge international fanbase.

“When I was growing up, I remember hearing things like the Smiths and New Order,” frontman Sam Forrest recalls when we ask him about his influences. He’s unassuming, an everyman; pleasantly spoken, slightly nervous, normal hairstyle. Both of us take an immediate liking to him.

“It was around all the time, you know… Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Charlatans, Verve…” he continues, “I just never listened to it, because it was the obvious thing to do. I think we’ve got that outsider perspective. I think these days everyone’s supposed to sound like the Libertines or something… We could never get in with the indie crowd. Not that I’m a metalhead or anything, I can’t headbang anymore, got a bad neck.”

It might be this unpretentious deviancy that makes the band so compelling. The Alps aren’t trying to be different, they just are. Sure, they’re very reminiscent of Nirvana at times, but that’s through no fault of their own; it just so happens that’s what the band’s desire to rock filtered through a veil of 90s grunge influence sounds like. Forrest admits the music isn’t really about anything. “I think for me, rocking out and self-expression are pretty much the same thing,” he says. “I just wanted to do a really direct, honest rock band, good live.”

Not only are the Alps refreshingly uncool, they’re unselfconsciously daring in their choice of support bands. Tonight they’re supported by fellow Mancunians Kong, and it’s difficult to imagine a band more different from their touring mates. Kong play enraged, spastic speed-math-rock, overlaid by screams and frantic drum fills, and their shambolic onstage personae are worlds away from the honesty and directness of Nine Black Alps. Wearing brutally applied face paint and talking fluent gobbledegook in twisted, slurred voices, they win most of the puzzled audience over with their Dadaist flair, extending all the way to leaping onto the stage barrier while grabbing and kissing random gig-goers during their set closer. This, we feel, is an act that will take some following.

Nine Black Alps manage it. The fog clears and the sweet sleazy stink dissipates. When they kick into Everytime I Turn, the crowd rushes forward, and from there on out not much can be said in the face of the big, clever alt-rock blasting out of the speakers and purging the room of doubt. By the time they reach the roaring highlight of their set, last year’s single Burn Faster, all of the oxygen in the air has been replaced with pure rock bliss.

“I’ve been in bands before playing bass where it was a bit more, trying to do lots of different things, a bit more complicated, and I got so tired of that,” says Forrest. “I just wanted something a bit more visceral…” Well, he has it. And it works very convincingly indeed. In a complicated age, a Nine Black Alps show is unmissable for anyone attuned to the simple pleasures of rocking out.

Saul Glasman