There is something inexplicably exciting about pop’s notion of a ‘scene’: young musicians of similar outlooks drawn together by a common aim to transform music, referring to the past to create something of the present. But enough of Fleetwood Mac and the British blues boom. Instead, to fashionable Dalston, where a young quartet called Black Midi played to an uncomfortably full room in a converted cinema.
There has been a great deal of fuss about Black Midi, the most extreme representatives yet from the scene that formed around the Windmill pub in Brixton and whose other members include Shame (excitable and anthemic, owing a debt to Echo and the Bunnymen and Killing Joke), Goat Girl (offbeat but unexpectedly melodic) and HMLTD (insanely colourful, already signed and already dropped by Sony). Where the other groups deal in what are, recognisably, pop songs, however skewed, Black Midi fancy themselves as something rather more profound. Their debut album, Schlagen-heim, is an imperfect thing, but it is filled with intriguing moments, during which their combination of prog- and post-rock and post-punk falls into place.
Live, alas, those intriguing moments were few and far between, and a large proportion came in the opening song, ‘953’, which retains enough structure to make sense and enough bits of recognisable melody to provide something to cling to. But, goodness, they want to make life difficult. They jammed away, slipping off into long instrumental passages that meandered purposelessly and very loudly. Geordie Greep, the principal singer, twisted his voice into a strangulated croon that was oddly reminiscent of Vic Reeves’s club singer. Apparently, they are challenging machismo in music. Well, chaps, with your shirtless drummer, extreme volume, distorted guitars and moshing crowd, you’re certainly displaying some of the signifiers of machismo, whether you like it or not.
Behind me, at the very back of the room, two men discussed whether they actually liked them or not. ‘It’s challenging, innit?’ suggested one. ‘It’s not easy to like it. They should be proud of that.’
If that’s what young people are meant to be going for these days, someone forgot to tell the thousands upon thousands of them at Wembley Stadium two days earlier watching Fleetwood Mac. The Mac have long had hipster allure (search SoundCloud for Fleetmac Wood, who make disco and dance edits and mixes of old Mac tracks), but the people at Wembley weren’t hipsters: they were simply in love with one of the great catalogues of modern pop, specifically that created by the Lindsey Buckingham-Stevie Nicks iteration of the group.
One problem, though. Fleetwood Mac sacked Buckingham last year, and without him and the peculiar rage he brought to their show they were no more than a very high-class karaoke act. For several years I had wondered why their gigs were built around the psychodrama between Buckingham and Nicks, with them pretending to be starcrossed lovers, decades after their romantic relationship ended, and with every-one present knowing they despised each other. In his absence, the answer became clear: it provided a narrative structure that held everything together, a sense of tension that made a nostalgia show something that felt alive.
No show with songs as good as ‘Go Your Own Way’ or ‘Landslide’ or ‘Dreams’ is going to be bad. But Fleetwood Mac certainly had a good go at it: the sound was awful, even by the standards of huge shows, and the production — a crucial element in stadiums — redefined the word ‘perfunctory’. A couple of hundred quid to squint at underlit figures, with most of the music just a morass of sludge? They should have been ashamed.
One of the loveliest songs on Rumours was Buckingham’s acoustic number ‘Never Going Back Again’. It came to mind as I left Wembley. Alas, even with a band I love, I’m never going back again.