Words by Billy Beale
Imagine going back in time and telling somebody that one day a band will win the title of ‘BBC Radio 6 Music Most Blogged About Band’. Even now, it sounds a bit nonsense – like ‘most relatable Tweet’ or whatever Vine is for.
Black Honey won that title from 6 Music in 2015, meaning that last year people were talking about these guys more than any other group, even much bigger names that had been all over the mainstream music press. Time to see if they live up to the hype – as Black Honey play Birmingham’s Mama Roux’s, at the tail end of their eight date UK tour.
Pleasure House, in a homecoming show that marks the end of an up-and-down tour of the nation, duly open tonight’s show. It is a sign of these post-DeMarco times that every band apparently needs at least one member to find the oldest baseball cap they can and never, ever remove it.
Their two opening songs, both on the topic of being “fucked up”, draw heavily on the sound of the slacker pop zeitgeist, but with heavier riffs and strong, prominent vocals from singer and guitarist Alex Heffernan. It is these vocals that prevent Pleasure House from sounding like every other tight and slick indie pop band. Their older songs are more typical 21st Century British indie disco than the openers but lack any real distinctive characteristics beyond a soulful voice and being undeniably well-executed.
Dream Wife look every part the riot grrrl group with the notable exception of singer Rakel Mjöll, who looks more like an 80’s horror movie blonde. In keeping with the movie-cheerleader image, her stage antics include a lot of jumping and chanting between delicate gesticulations from the Mick Jagger and Jarvis Cocker Book of Stagecraft. It’s not dissimilar to the mental image of a very small child on the stage of some awful televised talent competition, surprising everybody by doing a very energetic and enthusiastic rendition of a Blondie song but missing much of the cadence and rhythm. This image is not extinguished when Mjöll has a good go at shouting “I WANNA FUCK YOU UUUUUUP” later in the set.
A strong visual aesthetic is a great asset to a band, and Black Honey have honed and refined theirs to a degree not often seen at their level. The chosen font for the logo, the desert theme to their graphics, the video for ‘Hello Today’ (a three-minute homage to 60’s exploitation movies, much like Tarantino’s Death Proof or Kill Bill: Volume 2) is all very consciously American. Mods-and-rockers might be played out, particularly for a Brighton band like themselves, but Black Honey’s vintage US appearance doesn’t always match their songs.
For most of their set tonight, Black Honey sound like a British indie band with elements of 70’s US Southern rock stirred through. Singer Izzy B Phillips is reminiscent of Metric’s Emily Haines, with enough range to carry the darker, sparse, slower tracks as well as the bouncier pop. Unfazed by a rowdy crowd, Phillips relishes in reaching out over their heads and instructing them not to mosh and fight, but hug and sway. As far as crowd reactions go, Black Honey get nothing but unambiguous adoration from their Birmingham fans. Their music is often formulaic and predictable – verse, chorus, guitar solo with a Whammy effect, coda, repeat – but judging from the response, it seems to be working.
The latter half of Black Honey’s set sees less of the samey structures and more variation of dynamics and genre. ‘Spinning Wheel’ shows more of their American influence in the form of surf rock worthy of a Tarantino soundtrack, contrasting with the anthemic dreamy indie of ‘Corrine’.
There are a lot of sonic influences that make up Black Honey and, while they’re not always completely in balance, the end result is a professional show with flashes of genius. And whether they’re still the most blogged about band in late 2016, whatever’s left that stands between them and bigger things had better watch out because they’re coming.
For more on Black Honey, visit www.facebook.com/BlackHoneyUK
For more from Mama Roux’s, visit www.therainbowvenues.co.uk/venues/mama-rouxs
For more from Birmingham Promoters, visit www.birminghampromoters.com