Yes, it’s that time of the year again. No, not time for you to send mechanised pink cards that play You Are My Sunshine when you open them to the object(s) of your romantic affection, but time for NME, the grand undisputed emperor of music media hyperbole, to pick four band names out of a hat, put them on a tour bus and fill out every major venue in the country with tweenage indie kids. Actually, I’m not that much of a curmudgeon and I quite like tweenage indie kids (at home, we keep three as pets). While it’s a bit of a lottery, you can usually bet that at least one or two of the bands have more than a bit of talent, and the show flowed about as smoothly as a liquid diamond (we suspect that there are hours of committee meetings just to pick the committee that plans the running order of the evening). A rockin’ band factory on wheels, belching hype from its chimneys and flyers from its exhaust, can’t help but furnish an entertaining night’s gig-going, no?
The show ended badly enough – headliners The Cribs are the musical equivalent of slapping yourself in the face with a toilet seat – and just before them, sub-Libertines Britpop purveyors Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong have charisma up to the teeth, but don’t really offer anything more than a mildly amusing name. Rewind to the beginning of the show, though, and the polished brass is replaced by gold.
The opening act, boy-girl duo The Ting Tings, are all about sincerity. Frequenters of Manchester art den Islington Mill, they’re firmly rooted in artistic culture. “We were based there for quite while,” says vocalist and guitarist Katie. “It’s a really inspiring place.” In her pastel blue hoodie, she looks more like the coolest kind of art student than a member of a band. Among their inspired gestures is their decision to use inverted old 7” sleeves they pick up at car boot sales to release their singles. “We have all our artwork and stamps on the outside,” says drummer Jules, “and inside it was the original packaging. And it was great because people would write on their record collections, and all kinds of bits and pieces.”
On stage, The Ting Tings are percussive, propulsive and hugely danceable. Drummer Jules recalls playing to audiences of bottle-throwing hardcore Cribs fans earlier in the week. “We start playing, and Katie turns up her guitar a bit and rocks out a bit more, and then we get them. It’s really satisfying.”
Because of the band’s sparse lineup, Jules uses effects pedals for synths, basslines and extra drum loops. “They’re just eight-bar loops that we’ve created ourselves,” he says. “But it often goes wrong, because I’ve got six pedals around my hi-hat. Sometimes we do this build-up, and I kick it away in, like, a spasm. Once the tour manager had to crawl on to put it back.”
This evening, though, it goes off without a hitch. Jules’s drumming is tight, muscular, and almost virtuosic. Between them, he and Katie have more energy than most bands of five, and their set is easily the most convincing of the night, pounding the room with a stop-start grid of art-dance-pop on Fruit Machine and releasing the tsunami of single Great DJ on the crowd.
The Ting Tings are followed by efflorescent, selfconsciously post-nu-rave and faintly Kraftwerkish band Does It Offend You, Yeah? They’re unaffectedly silly (‘It was Valentine’s… the other day, I think,’ shouts frontman Morgan Quaintence between songs. ‘Hands up who got some!’) and at their best when they’re at their least rocky and the coefficient of techno goes through the roof. Standout Battle Royale could easily have come out of the bigbeat labs of the 90s. Their high-intensity performance can’t quite follow the Ting Tings, but they make a credible effort.
So the moral of this week’s story? Er, more artsy types should play rock music. And the hype machine isn’t always wrong.