Fontaines DC / Hotel Luz / Slagheap
The Moon, Cardiff, Sun 9 Dec
Slagheap’s set begins with a song about the bewildering experience of accidentally finding yourself at a sex party while on acid for the first time, and ends with Powa Showa, on which vocalists Sadie Wiggin and Lydia Johnston argue over the use of feminine hygiene products. And to think (as another track has it) that they claim to have “nothing to say”.
The Bristolians’ songs are about as lo-fi as they come, treading the same tightrope as The Slits, forever in danger of plunging into tunelessness. But amidst the chaos there are oddly compelling half-formed grooves and yelped chants to latch onto, all delivered in an irrepressibly bright, exuberantly joyous way. Tonight’s show – their first international tour, Sadie notes – was nearly stymied by a flat tyre en route. Thankfully, though, they made it – and they’ll be welcome back in the same venue on Thursday.
Their successors on the Moon’s stage, Hotel Lux, are in many ways the polar opposite: all male, deathly serious, tediously proficient, boorish and belligerent, the sort of Burberry-clad boot boys who look as though they spend their downtime hoofing people in the head down dark alleys. Sometimes, you have to doff your cap to a fellow reviewer, and the Louder Than War writer who described them as “stink[ing] of Lynx Africa and arrogance” deserves a round of applause.
It comes as no surprise whatsoever to learn that Hotel Lux have toured with Slaves or that they’ve been incubated within the same South London scene that spawned Shame. They’re almost identical to the latter, albeit without any of the tunes or lyrical wit. If there’s a saving grace, it’s that songs like The English Disease have a political dimension and are fuelled by dissatisfaction and disgust, rather than bobbing along with the self-satisfied smugness of Britpop or rehashing the mindless platitudes of landfill indie.
Dubliners Fontaines DC move in the same circles – they’re currently in between tours with Shame and Idles – but, having considerably more buzz about them due to the 6 Music airplay afforded to a succession of double A-side singles, are the reason why the Moon is packed to the rafters. They know their way round a song, draw on impeccable references (The Modern Lovers, Buzzcocks and, on Hurricane Laughter in particular, The Fall) and, in Grian Chatten, have a totally wired frontman.
Nevertheless, while all around me lose their minds to Chequeless Reckless, my initial reaction is to shrug indifferently and wonder why those hailed as the future of rock ‘n’ roll so often sound like its past. But then, of course, many older musos felt exactly the same way about The Strokes, tutting at us naïve NME-reading teens and twentysomethings for fawning over what they regarded as a facsimile of 70s NYC punk. And, as the set comes to a climax with Boys In The Better Land and Too Real, it becomes clear not only that Fontaines DC will serve an invaluable function as a gateway drug, opening ears and minds to a rich tradition, but that they have merits all of their own too.
words BEN WOOLHEAD