Live Review
Old Forest and ∆
The Victoria
Dalston, London

Photography by Gemma Harris

Old Forest name all of their songs after different Simpsons characters. All except for tonight’s closing track, which is called ‘Slug’, temporarily, until the band figure out if ‘Chief Wiggum’ is a better or worse name for it than ‘Krusty’, or one of Matt Groening’s other jaundice toons.

Having been together for over a year, the truth is that ‘Krusty’ and ‘Wiggum’ have probably already gone. We might have even just heard them bellow about The Victoria, although Old Forest’s reluctance to speak means that we can’t confirm or deny that.

They are very young, which always seems like such an irrelevant point, but it’s worth bearing in mind here, because Old Forest look like the nervous teens they are, but sound like a band of twenty-something stoners from early 90s Seattle.

Singer Tom Cox mumbles a hello twice (the first attempt really is too mumbly), but from then on all heads are down, amps are cranked, distortion is turned up high. Someone has labelled this ‘sludge rock’, which is a tag we should all take seriously considering how fitting it is.

In plaid shirts oversized enough to pass for dressing gowns – and with Cox in a J. Macis-aping cap – the grunge slowly spews from the speakers like goo. It’s incredibly loud and clearly inspired by ‘In Utero’-era Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr., and the odd bit of doom metal. Its strength is in its purity, Old Forest’s likeness to Mudhoney and so on a testament to how well they play this no nonsense brand of punk. And ‘Slug’, which sees a proggy end to proceedings, is the band’s best track yet, with Cox, rather surprisingly, turning into The Edge as he makes his Stratocaster squeal.

A lot quieter are ∆ who tonight launch their debut single (yeah, yeah, on our record label), at their debut London show. They’re why The Victoria’s back doors are open, people five rows deep on the wrong side, trying to get a look. They’ve played London before, but they were called Films then, and they’ve never played to more than fifty odd people, or so says visibly overwhelmed frontman Joe Newman.

A sensible quartet who finished studying in Leeds this summer and chose to relocate to Cambridge rather than London, for fear that they’d be distracted and engulfed by the city, ∆ are masters of nuance. Their music, which is received with the whistles and cheers of a thousand friends this evening, trades on the forgotten art of delicacies and details. The xx do a similar thing, and Radiohead, but few others, and it makes tracks like ‘Bloodflood’, which begins with metallic, clunking keyboard chords that are never overpowering, almost unique in their composure.

At the other end of the spectrum – which isn’t that far away at all – are tracks like the (slightly) pacier ‘Tessellate’ that lurches to live break-beats that are played on bongos and sound like they’re coming from a can. Joe hunches his shoulders and expresses every word with triggered fingers, as if he’s rapping on a slow jam, feeling the words in the air. He also sings – almost exclusively – with his eyes closed, and in a tone that you’ll either love or loathe: a cross between Billy Corgan, Hayden Thorpe of Wild Beasts and the all-but-forgotten Finley Quaye. This evening, everybody goes for the love option.

And sure, a review in Loud And Quiet of a band being released via Loud And Quiet Recordings is bound to be glowing, but the finest moment of the evening comes with the closing ‘Breezeblocks’, which is an Internet hit in its own right and is bound to be the band’s first proper release on some big fat record label, which is only what a band this carefully skilled deserve.

By Danny Canter

Originally published in issue 32 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2011.