Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!
I’ve seen a lot of bands live. It’s a perk of living in London. There’s a vast range of venues, from the small and beautiful to the vast and, well, not-so-beautiful. It’s also a pretty essential location whenever artists want to tour. At some point on their schedule, they’ll get a gig in at the capital. This also means that I can see the bands and performers I like multiple times, seeing how they grow and develop.
Ten years ago I went to the late, great Madame Jojo’s venue to watch a band I’d recently heard for the first time. Stealing Sheep were getting a lot of airplay with their singles “Genevieve” and “Shut Eye”, so it seemed like a great chance to see them live. And they were fantastic. A fun, confident set of catchy indie tunes. Definitely a band to see again.
And very recently I saw them again. At the equally fabulous and still-very-much alive venue The Moth Club. Ten years on, you’d think maybe this might be a solid greatest songs package. The same band, similar sound. There was nothing wrong with how they performed last time, keep doing that. Only there is one thing I’ve learnt seeing them over the course of the last ten years, is that they’ve never limited themselves. Never stuck to a single formula. This show was no exception.
Stuffed with visual invention, the show was, yet again, tremendous fun. Nothing like the earlier show, but still clearly the same band. The small dimensions of the Moth Club seemed warped, then dwarfed by a creative ambition. Several costume changes saw the band don outfits that reminded me of Jodorowsky’s Incal or Żuławski’s On The Silver Globe before culminating in a literally expansive dance finale involving boiler suits and air pumps.
The landscape of modern popular music has changed so much from what it was in the twentieth century. The scene has fragmented, so bands tend to find their niche. Ten years used to define a vast eon in popular culture, where bands and scenes would emerge and die, lucrative record deals turn into nightmares, against a backdrop of a few giant record companies seeking airplay on the limited number of stations available. Now ten years feels like nothing. Bands can emerge, find their sound and audience and just plug away on that. The Britpop bands of the mid-nineties are still regular performers in London, plying their sound nearly thirty years on.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s great to see a band you love, to see them do what you love about them. But what this recent show reminded me of is the idea of a band that never settles on a format, or a type of show. That tries new things, that make the creativity of trying new things look so much fun. It’s been a feature of their career. I saw them once in a record shop deliver an unabashed pop show, all three on stage with dance routines and microphones, performing to a backing track. And then not long after that they worked with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to produce an alternative score for ’70s animated classic Fantastic Planet.
And all of this variety, all of these different ideas and projects don’t feel like a band looking to find their identity. It’s that trying all this different stuff is their identity. That’s an option not many bands take. But enjoying a show in 2022 as much as a very different show in 2012 made me hope that more bands get inspired to try it.