How does a person reconcile pride and values in music tastes? I’ve always had the type of ideological thinking about bands that often seemed to undermine the quality of the sound in favour of a more holistic approach which included brand image and genre definitions. Growing up convinced that only the purest form of rock’n’roll can save the industry, I never thought I’d end up enjoying a new wave band just as much as I did Is Tropical this week.
Perhaps it’s more fitting to first describe how the band presents itself. Signed with Kitsune (Yelle, Pheonix, Klaxons), there is an obvious blurring between the music and the image that is implicit with Is Tropical and is in line with the French label’s business model. With scarves and fake bears over their faces, un-google-able signs on their website and very bold music videos, they’ve managed to create an aura of mystery around them that has worked so well for other bands in attracting the gem-seeking carnivores of the blogosphere. Wikipedia tells us they have ten million hits on Chinese YouTube, which is what perhaps inspired them to be ‘the first western band to tour Mongolia’. A less than impressive feat, but it goes along with the type of non-linear path to fame they are trying (so hard) to take.
As such, the London trio has been riding the synth gravy train since 2011, with two albums and a lot of good PR behind them. I think I started listening to them during the summer and believed it was circumstantial that I ended up liking them. If you hear a song enough times, you’ll find something you like about it(the basic premise of pop music producers I guess). Tracks like Greeks or Seasick Mutiny were catchy on Native To, their first album, and had enough guitar riffs through their songs for me not to dismiss them wholly. Their new album sounds like the band is moving towards a classic instrumental sound, with more work being put on a heavy bass line and indie guitar that references Joy Division rather than New Order. Coupled with clear attempts to create genuine crowd pleasers, I’m Leaving was a welcomed return and got me in the mood to see them live.
The venue was a gallery somewhere around Hoxton. It stood out as the event of the evening, with a huge density of accessories per square foot, but it was nothing too glamorous (in the industrial sense of the word) and was packed and dark enough to get lost in the crowd. After getting a free Jager shot from the Rastafarian bartender for pointing out the fact that they did indeed have the beverage, I felt the night was going well and was getting anxious about seeing the band. Soon enough, they entered the stage unceremoniously, leather jackets and long sleazy hair abound and opened with Lover’s Cave. This first song on the album sets the tone well, with an inviting chorus, drowned by jumpy synth and high-pitch guitar. The pace was great and the drums were resonating throughout the crowd and already, three minutes in, you could tell they’ve moved their focus from the dance floor to the concert halls.The key moment was the onstage appearance of the female voice from their new single, Dancing Anymore, arguably their best song yet.
Barely distinguishable from the lads, she gave the act the sort of warm vocals and raw appeal that made me realize, all of a sudden, that I was in fact at a rock’n’roll concert. Drunk and rarely hitting their cues, the band proceeded to stumble through much of their new songs, as well as some older classics like Greeks or Lies. What made the concert great however was not the music per se, but the type of band and brand of music they were personifying. As they insistently and unimaginatively repeated that everyone needs to get fucked up, you slowly startedto believe them. And perhaps that’s the point that I was missing for such a long time.
The Greek clip:
‘I don’t wanna leave the party, oh nooo’, went one of Is Tropical’s last songs. Although I will always prefer a British stadium to a scruffy post-industrial gallery space, I’m more and more disappointed with the bands I ceremoniously follow. As for the new ones, I hate Jake Bugg and don’t really get the hype. Perhaps it’s in this niche where artists that can still capture my imagination reside, or maybe I was fooled by some gimmick thought of by a French producer.
In any case, I was dancing all night.
By Paul Dunca
Paul Dunca is a freelance saboteur looking for a change of pace. He writes reviews and opinion pieces to keep appearances and can be reached at various wishing wells around London.