It’s been a big last few months for the NME, a former torchbearer in the realm of independent music, representing all that is alternative and against the grain. However, following a big rebranding exercise back in September that saw the magazine be given away for free across the country, alongside some slightly controversial cover stars (including the likes of Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber), eyes were on NME Awards tour to see if there would be any big alterations to the annual music tour. Despite such big changes at the publication, this year’s tour was fairly traditional. Whilst there is a tendency for these events to be headed by a smaller band still on the trail to the big time, this year the NME have opted for a more established act (like they did a couple of years ago with Interpol), using the star power of 00s indie legends Bloc Party to access bigger venues and crowds.
The eclectic line-up was kicked off with Manchester-born grime MC, Bugzy Malone, someone who has been tipped to make the big time in this upcoming year. Being fourth on a bill with other acts from totally different musical genres at first glance appeared a thankless task, however the young wordsmith worked the limited stage effectively, engaging his small audience with tracks including “M.E.N.” and “WasteMan”. A definite talent and someone to watch out for among the current grime resurgence.
Rat Boy’s popularity is undoubtedly expansive as he adds to his hardcore following
Things really began to heat up for the second act of the night, Essex’s Rat Boy, who began with new single “Move”. The crowd lapped up the band’s characteristically messy and energetic show, and again are another act being hotly tipped to break it big this year. Something that was made all the more clear by the amount of young teenage fans that already knew a lot of the words to songs that hadn’t been released yet, with a large number of them also toting the band’s merchandise. Frontman, Jordan Cardy, was on especially good form as he leaped about the stage, relishing the chaos he and his band were causing, particularly when concluding with the double whammy of singles “Sign On” and “Fake ID”. Whilst many a critic will be quick to point out the band’s blatant similarities with Wimbledon-born troubadour Jamie T, Rat Boy’s popularity is undoubtedly expansive as he adds to his hardcore following.
Main support of the evening came in the form of Sheffield three-piece Drenge, a regular on the festival circuits and fresh from supporting high profile acts including The Maccabees and Wolf Alice, the band were not strangers to a venue of this size and cranked it up to 11 for an explosive set. Their back catalogue of dark and dingy anthems, such as “We Can Do What We Want” and “Bloodsports” jolted the crowd into action. One particularly bizarre and humorous moment came when the Loveless brothers dedicated debut album single “Backwaters” to their 90 year-old Granddad, who they claimed had watched them soundcheck earlier that day, but recommended that he shouldn’t stay to watch the show because he “probably wouldn’t like it”. They were probably right, as it was not an affair for the faint hearted with the trio steaming through fast-paced grunge belters “Nothing” and “I Want to Break You In Half”, breaking only for the epic sing-along of “Fuckabout”, before ending on the cacophonous, moshpit-inducing “Let’s Pretend”.
Then came the live return of indie pioneers, Bloc Party, overcoming hiatus and the departure of half of its members to return with a fresh new sound. There was a moment of apprehension as the floral shirted Kele Okereke graced the stage. How would this new look Bloc Party fair in front of a crowd yearning for the classics? Opening up with two new tracks from Hymns, “The Good News” and “Only He Can Heal Me”, there appeared to be a somewhat muted response from the audience, many of whom were clad in Bloc Party tour shirts from the mid-to-late 00s. This was, in many ways to be understood, seeing as they had only released their new album Hymns four days prior, and in spite of an impressive use of a vast peddle board by lead guitarist Russell Lissack, the crowd did not feel entirely engaged.
That was until the third song “Mercury” from the band’s third album Intimacy, which saw the room explode into life as everyone joined into the frenetic chorus and even had bassist Justin Harris playing saxophone as opposed to his usual instrument of choice. This was swiftly followed by “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)”, another fast paced indie-dance stormer, which signalled from here on in an increase in tempo, as well as a number of big hits that the band were calling upon. A mid-set highlight came in form of one of the band’s biggest hits, Silent Alarm’s “Banquet”, a definite crowd favourite. Other big tracks from their back-catalogue that really lifted the crowd: dance-orientated “One More Chance” and glitchy anthem “Octopus” from 2012’s Four.
many of the new tracks off of Hymns could work their way into the hearts of the Bloc Party diehards
However, that’s not to say only the older, speedier songs went down well with the Bristol audience. New track “Exes”, of which Kele introduced “for anyone who’s ever had a broken heart” has already found its place as a fan’s favourite, with its stripped back arrangement and honest lyrics making for an undoubtedly poignant moment in the show. Furthermore, first single, “The Love Within” was very well received, almost proving that with time, many of the new tracks off of Hymns could work their way into the hearts of the Bloc Party diehards; it was even chosen to end the main part of the band’s set.
Coming back on to synth ballad “Fortress” from Hymns did seem like an odd choice, particularly when you take into consideration some of the big songs that they left out, notably “This Modern Love” and “Flux”. However it worked well as a softer more reflective moment, rather like the calm before the storm of hits that were to follow. “The Price of Gasoline” was a welcome surprise and harked very much back to the Bloc Party that we once knew. “Helicopter” received the most raucous approval of the night, as Kele left the audience to chant back to him the opening verse of the track. Kele closed the set, teasing the crowd with the question, “who likes bangers?”, before launching into anthemic dance-punk track “Ratchet”. A euphoric end to a set that grew in stature as the night progressed.
The NME Awards successfully showcased what the musical landscape of 2016 is set to look like; complete with resurgent grime, rising stars and returning greats. Most importantly though Bloc Party proved that they do still have a strong live appeal and that their songs still stand the test of time, something that not all of their 00s indie rock peers could still attest to.