Picture courtesy of Anika Mottershaw – http://www.anikainlondon.com/
If you’ve ever listened to Sleigh Bells and know anything about instores, you’d guess that the two would be an awkward pairing. Instores draw to mind twee showcases of the latest pop sensation to get you, er, in store to buy their merchandise and raise the stature of the store. Despite its independent principles, the idea is the same at Rough Trade East and Sleigh Bells could comfortably be described as a pop sensation, only a band constantly geared at eleven doesn’t feel suited to thirty minute showcases. They’re a all or nothing sort of thing.
Beyond being set in a record store in the most peculiarly white corner of Brick Lane, the whole set-up is strange for a band that are constantly geared up to eleven. I wander in the store and they’re just there setting up, everyone acknowledges it but no one really reacts to it. Despite the breathless hype, the band isn’t quite ready for screaming mobs, sure, but if you looked up cognitive dissonance in the hipster’s dictionary you would find a picture of the pre-show scene at Rough Trade. It would be cool to have a picture of me and Alexis Krauss to post on Twitter. It would be very uncool to go up there infront of everyone and approach her as a fan. It’d probably be uncool to just acknowledge that I recognise her out of a band I like, Sleigh Bells got BNM’d like three months ago. Infact, it’s probably unspeakable to even think about acknowledging anyone in this store as another human being. I don’t want that picture anyway. It’s intensified when she browses the same shelves I’m disinterestedly passing by for the third time, waiting for a wristband. It’d easy to strike up a conversation. Oh, she’s gone. I wouldn’t of had anything to say to her anyway.
It’s my first instore so I don’t know if it’s the norm, but some keen-eyed staff member delivers a snappy, comic denouement to the proceedings when he charges out of the store with a plastic bag full of wristbands held above his head and insists we follow him if we want one; most of the store clears out, people burst from corners of the shop I didn’t know existed. We were all in the store thinking the same thing; we all share sheepish look as we queue in the drizzle.
Whilst the audience and the venue aren’t the best, either is their performance. I don’t doubt all the breathless hype about their live show that really put them on the radar just as much as their volume, but something doesn’t quite connect. I’m only noticing it because the venue has no bar, – they only just rolled the shelves out – I’m sober and acutely aware that I’m at a 7pm instore, but one of the things that always gets mentioned in any précis of Sleigh Bells’ sound is how detached, cool, collected Alexis’ vocals are inbetween those crunk bass hits and roaring guitars. It makes for a great mental image of a unflappable frontwoman coolly riding the squall of noise or maybe a girl group singer laying down vocals for a song that she didn’t know would sound like this. That’s not something that’s easily kept up on stage especially when they’re trying as hard as they are to get a reaction – Derek prompts the audience to applaud, Alexis commends a section of the audience for dancing, etc – and when Alexis is so proactive and physical on stage regardless of the quality of the audience. As well as the unfortunate effects of the band’s physicality, there’s something just not quite right about the laptop backing track they play along to. I don’t know about you, but I always imagined Derek sweating over some Rube Goldberg type device that provided all the beats, vocal samples and well, pretty much everything. I was a little disappointed that they couldn’t at least get the laptop for him to press play on.
A final excuse to Sleigh Bells for the shittiness of the audience, (it’s us, not you) I think its reasonable to state that people are less open-minded about things in the public sphere. When I’m sat at home I’ll listen to most things and make an effort to go out of my comfort zone to do so; in reality, not so much. My comfort zone is broadly rock music and that translates to committing to music in a manner that doesn’t progress pass rigorous head nodding if I’m sober. Outside of festivals, I’ve not been to a gig with anything like moshing since my Muse days (and even then it was quite mild, tween moshing). Due to the Pitchfork/gvb effect, I imagine it’s the same for most Sleigh Bells fans and there’s interesting things to be written on the effects on bands live prospects if they get picked up by the wrong tastemakers that brings in the ‘wrong’ audience. Whilst it looked (mostly sounded) good on the webcast, I’m sure Big Boi’s show at the Pitchfork music festival was one of his tamer shows than he’s accustomed to; a more striking example here in the UK is probably the complete failure of Speech Debelle after winning last year’s Mercury Music Prize: she couldn’t even fill tiny venues in the wake of it simply because the audience that values stuff like the Mercury aren’t interested in UK Hip Hop. Sleigh Bells’ example isn’t quite as tragic as that, but I wonder how many shows they’ll play that’ll be populated by self-conscious introverts who aren’t the traditional audience for any of the disparate sounds they pull together.