Leaving Zone 2, Colin Roberts investigates West London's exploding music 'scene' and the artists' thoughts, insights and opinions
Tonight, outside Brentford Football Club, the queue's longer than when Saturday comes. The clientele, however, is somewhat different; scores of well-coiffured, undernourished teenagers line up down the road, waiting to see if they'll be lucky enough to gain entry to the Stripes bar, the Bees' adjacent-to-stadium drinking hole and now host venue to 'Way Out West', a twice-monthly live music event that, most importantly, is open to all ages.
Tonight's bill, as Wimbledon born-n'-bred Jamie T proclaims, is "f*cking amazing." Mystery Jets (pictured; above), Larrikin Love and indeed, Jamie T himself, all of whom signed major record deals in the second half of 2005, are on the hot 'tip' lists for 2006 and all are playing a smaller venue tonight than they would dream of doing in central London anymore.
"It's just amazing to see bands from my town doing so well, no one's ever come out of here before," says Twickenham resident David, 14. Whether or not he's correct is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that the people queuing here tonight, those who've already blagged their way in and the select few who are old enough to frequent the pub at the bottom of the street share the same burning passion to be part of something. They want to look back on this part of town as the children of '60s Liverpool look back on the Cavern club. They've read the music press that tells them time and time again that the artists on the bill tonight are on the cusp of something, awaiting super-stardom. The fans, with their schoolyard affiliations, want to tell their children that they used to sneak a cigarette with Blaine of Mystery Jets behind the bikesheds at lunchtime, or Ed from Larrikin Love once said something nice about their poem.
This kind of sub-cultural revolution in such an area always brings ups and downs. Various factions of the national music press enjoy placing every new surge of music into a 'scene', loosely connected by the style of music they play. The Strokes and Interpol formed the NME-led New York takeover, while Canada has been responsible for a media and record industry frenzy, kickstarted by the Arcade Fire's broadsheet successes. In the UK we've recently been subject to cries of Leeds and how its bands are going to save this country from musical anonymity in the future. The truth remains however, that as soon as an artist is placed into these brackets, it's hard to escape.
"The other day in NME," begins Edward, lead singer and lyricist of Larrikin Love (pictured, left), "Alfie [bass] jokingly referred to the West London thing as 'Thamesbeat'. We laughed at the time, but it's already starting to grate."
Nobody in these bands deliberately sets out to create a movement or scene or any pigeonholed selection of bands, it's generally something journalists create to make describing unique or fresh artists quicker than claiming they sound like 'band X having sex with band Y while snorting cocaine from the crevices of band Q'. The real difference here is that these artists have been giving each other hands-up for nearly two years now and whilst Leeds almost stagnates under the weight of its own similarly-approached punky-rock, every artist that forms part of this particular faction is different from the next.
"This is why I don't really see it as a scene," says Will, the Mystery Jets' sheepskin-toting guitarist, "we're a bunch of bands and artists - not even that many - who are mates and love each other's music. The only way in which we're a scene is that Twickenham and Brentford and West London have formed the scene of our births and childhoods."
When DiS suggests that tonight is almost a celebration of their combined success, Jamie T (pictured, right), Wimbledon's bedroom-based poet concurs. "It's just nice isn't it? A load of mates who have been playing together for fucking ages get this chance to say thanks and have a fucking laugh. That's what it's all about man."
Indubitably, which is why twenty minutes later, when Jamie takes the stage and the crowd push forward to try and see him, he's smiling like nothing else matters. "This is nuts," he announces.
Much has been made of the internet since the meteoric rise of the Arctic Monkeys, giving away tracks on their website and talking to fans at shows, but bands have been doing this for years. It's evident tonight as Jamie pushes through his set, every chorus being echoed by the crowd like footage from a Wembley Stadium set by Queen. For someone who has released a lone, limited edition 7" single, that's got to be pretty exciting.
"I don't really know how they know all the words," he mutters, "they remember more than I fucking do and to songs that I haven't even recorded yet."
Larrikin Love are fronted with a similar and even more boisterous reaction, as the band play up to the energetic cries of the crowd, the PA is knocked over twice and the band have last song 'Calypso' cut short as a few wayward folk end up on the stage. The sweat builds heavily in the air and everything begins to make sense. For every ten dispassionate, Blunt-buying music fans in Britain, there is one person here tonight who has a musical flame burning incredibly brightly in their stomach. The crowd aren't even concerned as Alex, singer from the aforementioned Arctic Monkeys makes his way through the venue to catch future NME tour mates Mystery Jets, before they head out on the road together. That's not why they're here.
If you refuse to subscribe to the contorted music hack vision that each and every artist is part of a movement, each movement being calculatedly controlled to dominate music, then there is so much more that can instantly be opened up to you. You could replace every 15-year-old fasionista here tonight with a 40-year-old 'seen it all before' journalist and you'd still feel the same inside. It's impossible not to when you're surrounded by songs of this calibre and artists of such magnetic personality.
As the Mystery Jets take the stage, the communal cries of 'Zoo time! Zoo time!' chorus out across the venue, and there's a brace in the air as everyone realises this is the last time they'll be able to see the band in these surroundings.
Every song is met with a roar and the PA is drowned out with the arms-in-the-air festival-like singing of every last person in the room. Mystery Jets could have played a crowd-only karaoke set this evening and it still would have raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I felt like I was part of something without even realising it and on the bus back to reality (aka North London) I contemplated the minds of each and every person in the room. All I could muster was a smile and a warm sense inside that every time an event like this occurs, there are at least a few people who get their first taste of real faith in music, as well as numerous folk who have it re-instilled.
Call it a scene, call it whatever the fuck you want, but you can't ignore a beautiful uprising and you certainly can't ignore a brilliant song.
Photos: Sonia Melot