The NME has had a big year. Rebranding itself as a free weekly magazine in the late months of 2015, it’s been striving to remain at the front of the music scene and keep culturally relevant. Nowadays amongst your Arctic Monkeys and Noel Gallagher you’re likely to see popstars like Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber gracing the front cover. A big part of the NME’s annual calendar is the NME awards tour, an event which showcases fresh talent from the alternative music scene. In the past it’s played host to the likes of Florence and the Machine, the Killers and recent Superbowl Halftime headliners Coldplay so these bands can really go far. For 2016 Bloc Party front the awards show after playing once before all the way back in 2005. I went along to the show at the Manchester Academy to see if they still had what it takes.
Support for the gig starts off with Manchester Grime MC Bugzy Malone. He enters the stage with an energy and enthusiasm that sets the mood for the rest of the evening. Completely different in tone than any other act of the night, Bugzy manages to pull off a hugely enjoyable set. The excitement at playing a home show is palpable as he interacts with audience. I found myself chanting along to some of the more catchy moments. Holding true to the NME’s aim to discover fresh talent, this is definitely an act to watch and anybody going to Manchester’s Parklife Festival in June should check him out.
Next on the bill is nineteen year old Rat Boy from Essex. Gathering obvious comparisons to Jamie T throughout his career, he should view this as more of a compliment than a dig. Jamie T has matured in recent years and began to release music with a moodier feel. Rat Boy captures the anarchic feel of the early days, but that’s not to say his originality doesn’t shine through. The younger members of the crowd rush to the front to shout back his quick-witted lyrics about the life of teenagers growing up in 2016. It’s exciting to watch his career begin to unfold on stage and more than likely this lad will go far. Catch him while you can.
Stepping up as main support is Sheffield’s finest alternative-rock trio Drenge. In an article I wrote at the end of last year I named Drenge’s recent album Undertow as my album of the year. This gig absolutely confirmed to me that I was right. Throughout their forty minute set, they create a truly electric atmosphere holding the room in the palm of their hands. As songs build tension the crowd holds its breath, until plunging into a wild dance as Drenge unleash their powerful choruses. Live music as it should be. Atmospheric and raw. As they leave its clear Bloc Party have a lot to live up to.
Now I’ll confess, before going to this gig I had limited knowledge of Bloc Party. I knew them as a mid-noughties indie band with a couple of great songs I heard in clubs from time to time. It was quite a shock to me when I went to check out recent album Hymns in preparation, that it was slow and synth heavy. The musical change surely seems to be a result of disputes within the band, which led to half of the members quitting and being replaced. The end product seems to have been met with much backlash from fans. As the band began their set with one of the catchier new songs I thought people should relax and give this stuff a chance. Over the next couple of tracks I began to sympathise with some of the angry comments I had read online. It wasn’t that it was bad, it just lacked energy, something which the previous three supports had supplied in abundance. As I began to lose interest they managed to perform a U-Turn and play “Banquet”, one of their big hits from their debut album. From this point on the band managed to reel the audience back in and remind everyone why they were worthy of headline status. By the end I was singing along and dancing with the rest of the crowd, and thankfully the final note they left on was a positive one. All in all a good performance but I’d have rather seen them on the 2005 NME tour.