Walking into Village Underground, it's hard not to be reminded of a pivotal scene in Sky's recent pedal-to-the-metal heroin, murder and BFFs drama Then You Run.
"Two types of people wear sunglasses in the dark: blind musicians and cunts," exiled Irish drug lord Reagan tells fresh-out-of-school, badly-out-of-her-depth London teenager 'Stink' as she loiters around Rotterdam docks, hoping to sell stolen kilo bricks of heroin that, unbeknown to her, actually belong to him. "Do you play an instrument?"
The rules are different in East London though. As evidence of this, tonight this 700-capacity Shoreditch club is hosting a gig/party - celebrating the 10th anniversary of ground-breaking London independent label Speedy Wunderground - with intriguing, one-night-only parameters, as set out in a social media post unveiling tonight's 11 artist line-up just two weeks ahead of the show.
'The focus is on the here & now,' it read. 'Each act will perform up to two songs each... Changeovers will be instant. Performances as a result will be more 'stripped back'. The idea is to try and replicate as much as possible the feeling and atmosphere of recording a song in the studio, akin to the original Speedy ten point plan single series, in a live setting, and create a long continuous night of amazing music.'
That original 10 point plan, laid out clearly on the label's website, was the brainchild of Dan Carey, label founder, producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and music industry innovator, as acknowledged by the award newly bestowed upon him by the Association of Independent Music (AIM). With a CV that featured, at the time, production and/or writing credits for artists as diverse as Kylie Minogue, Franz Ferdinand and Bats For Lashes, Carey launched Speedy Wunderground on February 25, 2013, and over the past 10 years the 53-year-old Islington-born polymath has become Britain's go-to indie-rock producer, with Wet Leg, Fontaines D.C., Slowthai, Squid and Kae Tempest among those he's helped propel into the spotlight. Tonight's gathering, as previously stated, is less about flexing SW's illustrious past however, than offering an in-this-moment snapshot of the label's present and future, and on the evidence presented here, that future is dazzlingly bright. Maybe that explains all the sunglasses...
Kicking off the night's entertainment, O. are unlikely to be Speedy Wunderground's next arena-filling band, but as an indicator of the label's bold and free-thinking ethos, a duo compromising of a just baritone saxophonist (Joseph Henwood) and a drummer (Tash Keary) are right on the money. Iggy Pop pronounced himself a fan of the band's debut single OGO, and one images that the Godfather of Punk will be equally impressed by the uncompromising nature of their forthcoming Slice EP, with it's intoxicating meld of free jazz skronks, Latin rhythms, and noise-rock dynamics. With the likes of The Comet Is Coming and Mercury Prize winners Ezra Collective pushing jazz deeper into the alt. rock consciousness, their timing is excellent.
South London trio Honeyglaze described their self-titled 2022 debut album as "a proclamation of cultivated intent which in turn creates a subliminal safe-space between relatability and self-projection, and creative-comradery paired with introspective artistry." To be perfectly honest we have no idea what that means, and it'd doubtless take longer than their 10 minutes onstage to explain it, but Anouska Sokolow's band are an intriguing live proposition, switching from low-key Sprechgesang to swirling, shimmering shoegaze washes to thrillingly intense atonal white noise at the flick of a switch. "Don't raise your voice and interrupt me when I'm speaking," Sokolow sings quietly but forcefully at one point. "Don't call me up if you're only going to talk about yourself." A band to be reckoned with.
There's barely time to process the opening acts before Dan Carey gets to step out from behind his onstage mixing board to play some excellently funky/scratchy Andy Gill/Steve Albini-style guitar with his own band Miss Tiny, before switching to DJ mode to back up rapper youngblackmale (aka Rutare Savage) in his capacity as Savage Gary. Truthfully, both acts deserved longer set times, not least because much of what follows from young white males is engaging, but significantly less exciting.
Canadian 'existential artist' Joyeria's post-punk is elevated by an E Street Band-meets-dEUS ensemble, while Cornwall-born, London-based Moreish Idols mix psych, new wave, garage rock and Krautrock with some sweetly harmonised four-part vocals. It's perhaps predictable that the most generic act of the evening, The Lounge Society, are also the most popular, which presumably explains why they're allocated 25 minutes onstage when other acts are on and off within 10 minutes. If the idea of the left-field energy and experimentalism of Sonic Youth and Television diluted via a post-Strokes filter is your idea of a good time, then the young Yorkshiremen have you covered: otherwise 25 minutes is a decent window for a beer/smoke/piss break.
Sandwiched between the Moreish Idols and The Lounge Society, Austrian-Brazilian Viji, aka Vanilla Jenner, is a breath of fresh air. The just-released Karaoke, featuring guest screaming tonight from Heartworms' Jojo Orme, and scuzzy summer single Sedative recall The Breeders at their most punky, likeable and immediate, and serve as brilliant teasers for her upcoming SW long-player So Vanilla, due for release on October 27.
Clad in militaristic black, Heartworms delve deeper into the darkness, but with equally exhilarating results. It may be a bit obvious to state that Jojo Orme's band have filled the Savages-shaped hole in the current alt. rock scene, but the Cheltenham-born vocalist/guitarist draws from similar influences - Killing Joke, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - and March's A Comforting Notion EP was a beautiful, bruised and bleak slab of post-punk. Orme is a brilliant bandleader, and one smart and self-aware enough to know that a little light can help illuminate the void, as she proves at one point when pulling out a toy lazer gun for use as a space age plectrum.
With apologies to closing act Scottibrain, our evening ends with Kae Tempest, who is utterly transfixing in their short time onstage. Tempest throws back right to the start of the Speedy Wunderground story with a spellbinding rendition of the superb Hot Night Cold Spaceship, the fifth seven inch single released by the label, back in December 2013. Then, after delivering the opening verse of The Heist, from the Dan Carey-produced Everybody Down, Tempest turns around to her left, points to Carey, and says, "I've had ten of the best years of my life with this fucking human being" as the room goes wild showing appreciation. They then segue into the closing verse of The Move, a co-write with Carey from 2022's The Line Is A Curve, repeating "I'll fight you till I win", and its hard not to think of the lyric being a perfect encapsulation of the attitude and spirit which has propelled both the award-winning rapper/poet/novelist and her friend's label to their current acclaimed status.
Here's to their next decade fighting the good fight.