This last week I’ve been to see two up-and-coming bands who, it is fair to say, are on opposite ends of the indie spectrum. And that’s indie in its broadest sense. Both have support from 6 Music, both are selling out their gigs; both, in their different ways, are uncompromising. And both their shows were brilliant.
The bands are Enola Gay, who played the Windmill Brixton on 6 and 7 April, and Caroline, who played Cecil Sharpe House, near Regent’s Park on 7 April.
I went with Jon G to Enola Gay on the 6th. I’d not been to the Windmill before, which is surprising, given that it is the place that so many indie bands have made a name in recent years, including Fat White Family, Goat Girl and Shame. It’s a pub, but one devoted to music. There’s no separate room for the gigs. I liked it – a proper music venue. We got there for the support act, Yinyang (aka Lauren Hannan) from Belfast, like Enola Gay. She sings about the tribulations of life over bass-heavy hip hop beats, which on Spotify reminded me occasionally of some of Billie Eilish’s early music. It was her first ever live show apparently. She did well, but it’s just her and her laptop – I’d suggest she teams up with someone – Sleaford Mods style? – so that there’s a bit more to focus on.
And then Enola Gay. Wow! Theirs is a brutal, relentless sound. On 6 Music I was particularly struck by the song Through Men’s Eyes, but all their songs combine hard-hitting lyrics – if you can discern them – with piledriving riffs and rhythms that are either punk or hip hop, and sometimes both. Live it was awesome, especially in such a small venue. Half way through I moved to the side at the front to get a better view of the guitarist and drummer, and was grateful for the ear plug I brought along to protect my good ear! I don’t use it that often, but it was essential tonight.
There are plenty of bands making punk/hardcore sounds: and hip hop infuses a lot of rock these days – Turnstile an excellent example. But there is something about Enola Gay which stands out. There is no compromise. They are in your face, and they are serious. Down to earth too. They were at the front supporting Yinyang, and enjoying talking to fans at the merch table afterwards.
If you like noisy rock’n’roll with a political/social context, watch out for Enola Gay.
How to describe Caroline? The fact that they were playing at Cecil Sharp House, the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, tells you something – the music is rooted somewhere in the traditions of folk music. But folk music from everywhere, not just England. Throw in Black Country New Road, some monkish chanting, avant-garde jazz and some scratchy Captain Beefheart guitars and you might be able to get an idea of what they sound like. Best thing to do is just go and see them. They really are a fascinating, engrossing band. There’s a little singing, notably on the medieval-sounding IWR, which is rather lovely. There are trumpets and saxophones, cellos and violins, as well as guitars, acoustic and electric. Sometimes the sounds flow; other times they are eked out of the instruments, a good example of this being the tune Skydiving onto the Library Roof. Your guess is as good as mine what that’s all about, but the music is strangely compelling.
I saw the band at Green Man last year, on the small Rising stage, tucked away in the trees behind the main stage. What struck me then was first, the togetherness of the band; and second, what an enthusiastic following they had. Both those things were evident on Thursday too, though the concert also had a bit of a campfire feel, with the band assembled in a circle, and the crowd – all around – mostly sitting on the hard floor. Mainly young folk too – why weren’t they up on their feet and giving it some? Maybe this is what they thought you are meant to do at a Caroline gig. It reminded me of something I heard on the Word podcast recently, when David Hepworth and Mark Ellen were discussing how a lot of the iconic live shows of bands like Led Zeppelin and the Who in the late 60s and early 70s were in university venues where everyone was sitting on the floor. The Who’s classic Live at Leeds album is one such example. The sitting down was a bit of an issue for me and my friends – Jon G, Shane and Tony tonight – with our creaking limbs and aching backs. (It’s sometimes hard being a gig-goer in your 60s, but it has to be done!) Eventually we made our way to an area near one of the exits where people were standing – and found ourselves a good view too.
So, what I’d say about Caroline is that you don’t have to be wedded to any particular genre of music to appreciate them. Like Enola Gay, though in a very different way, they have a bit of an aura about them. You can leave your musical prejudices at home and just go with the flow.
Two great gigs that confirm that music is ever-evolving and always fascinating.
Some more photos, starting this time with Caroline.
And Enola Gay.