sat 22/06/2024

Wolf Alice, Shepherd's Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Wolf Alice, Shepherd's Bush Empire

Wolf Alice, Shepherd's Bush Empire

Young band of many genres adds several more in a fascinating album preview gig

Wolf Alice: Joff Oddie, Theo Ellis, Ellie Rowsell, Joel Amey

They’ve yet to release an album, but the London-based, alt-rock four-piece Wolf Alice have already been called everything from shoegrunge to Brit-country, via indie-dance and riot-grrrl.  Last night they gave another compelling display of musical shape-shifting, which demonstrated why they’re known for seeming not to know what they are.

On the evidence of yesterday’s short set, headlining at the end of a three-act gig, their diverse approach is part of a playful, self-aware ambivalence that serves a genuinely questing musical adventure, with a touch of mystery marketing thrown in for extra entertainment.

They don’t yet have much of a back catalogue, so last night’s programme only went back as far as 2013’s “White Leather”, a mere two-and-a-half minutes of interior monologue about a (failed? or just complicated?) relationship, with a mournful country-tinged guitar introduction that already feels like several styles past. “Blush” and “Bros”, from the same year, have a rockier attitude, with “Blush” exploiting lead singer Ellie Rowsell’s (below, from an earlier live performance) vocal range to sing the defiant refrain “Punch drunk, dumb struck, pot luck happy happy” in a light, trippy voice, over pealing, anguished guitar reverb. Lyrics change less than accompanying music with Wolf Alice, though they were always good: complex, frank and darkly humorous, they embody the rapid shifts of attitude and feeling that characterise young relationships.

Wolf AliceThe previews of songs from their June debut album release suggest that we’ve only dipped our toes in the stylistic ocean this band intends to navigate. “Wonder One” (that’s what it sounded like, anyway) paired a heavy rock beat with droning, sepulchral lyrics, and a kind of mock-candle flash-lighting, like a séance gone awry; when the droning stopped, a kind of paranoid shouting began. Late at night, with a more stimulated audience than last night’s, it would be show-stopper. “You’re A Germ” was more aggressive, full of punky defiance, while “Giant Peach” took the same shouty, stadium-rock lyrics and angry beat in a more ecstatic direction, with strobe lighting and a roaring, triumphant climax. “Soap and Water”, meanwhile, calmed the mood, with a softer, more introspective, slightly psychic sound: an experiment with grungedelica, perhaps. It was a whirlwind stylistic tour. Their first album, My Love Is Cool, comes out in June, and on last night’s showing, it’s hard to say who shouldn’t be paying attention.

Lead singer Ellie Rowsell’s platinum-blonde locks and tiny shimmery dress match the band’s erstwhile alt-country tag, but keep looking down, and her black Doc Martens take the identity somewhere else entirely. She encapsulates the band’s ambitiously panoramic approach to genre, with a refreshingly assertive femininity, while her voice takes in everything from punk to trance. BBC Radio 6 Music chose Wolf Alice as the most blogged-about band of 2013, and with such a determinedly playful approach, the source of the fascination is clear.

The name Wolf Alice comes from the final story in Angela Carter’s collection Bloody Chamber, about a feral child growing up to develop a mature and empathetic identity, despite living with the vampiric Duke. It’s a tale of unexpected maturity and self-awareness in a cruel and dysfunctional environment and matches the band’s aesthetic pretty accurately. There’s something deeper about the experience of youth in this music, that goes further than either sappy romance or head-banging defiance. There’s the idealism of being young, but also its intensely shifting moods, switchback attitudes, full dark humour, angst, and a really feisty determination not to be pinned down or pigeon-holed. This group has legs, with bovver boots on the end, and shows every sign of making its presence felt on a scene that rarely sees newcomers with such a confidently stated identity.

This group has legs, with bovver boots on the end, and shows every sign of making its presence felt

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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