Words by John Noblet / Pics by Jonathan Morgan
A while ago now, when Peace first got their big break, the NME published a dizzyingly irritating feature comparing Digbeth to Shoreditch; a comparison so inaccurate I consider it highly unlikely the writer had ever been to Digbeth, or perhaps either area. Anyone who’s been to the London Hipster ghetto knows that at its center are a few streets crammed with bars, venues, over priced shops and eateries, with equally busy pavements. On the other hand, a night out in Digbeth involves walking down deserted streets past derelict looking factory buildings, hoping there’ll be some people in that obscure club you’ve been searching for.
However, the scene inside The Rainbow tonight could easily be Shoreditch. Four modestly dressed young men are on the stage; three of them with guitars and microphones, the other a drum kit. A single string of red light bulbs artfully illuminates their tastefully disheveled bowl cuts, as a fashionably dressed crowd quietly observes their every move. They go by the name of The Proper Ornaments. The music they play is quiet, sweetly jangling guitars over rumbling tom toms; soft melodic vocals that occasionally swell with three part harmonies.
Usually my tastes are not stirred by acts with such a soft touch, but something about The Proper Ornaments intrigues me. Part of this is that I can’t place their sound – it’s a bit Velvet Underground, a bit 90’s shoegaze. They remind me of band I can’t quite remember, which might mean they are an original concoction of overly familiar influences, or that my powers as a music geek are finally failing me.
The understated nature of what they do requires attention, but it rewards you; particularly on the last number when they rock out in a way which suggests they’ve probably got quite an impressive collection of post Rock records between them (when the noise kicks in I turn to my companion to roar “YEAH!!!” at him, only to find he’s already head banging). There are phrases being used online about The Proper Ornaments like ‘perfect pop’ and ‘timeless beauty’ which I think are a bit premature, but they’re definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Headliners Toy take to the stage dressed in matching black. The show opens with an incredible blast of synth, a bewildering cacophony of shredded frequencies. It’s a brilliant opening move. After a couple of minutes the beat kicks in with such precision that it reminds me of New Order – say, New Order’s drum machine in a band with Hawkwind’s kids. The first number continues like this for what seems a glorious age, howling sounds over a driving beat, the guitars filling things out with all manner of subtleties.
I’m wondering if the whole set is going to be like this when the track comes to an end. The second song starts; it has the bouncy drums of a 90’s Indie act like Supergrass, the synth is set to ‘pop song’ rather than ‘freakout’, and there’s vocals. Albeit the vocals are semi audible (I’m assuming this was deliberate) and are half sung, half mumbled, but it’s not a bad track. Just lacking the impact of the opener.
The set continues, with Toy swinging between being an all-out krautrock set-the-controls-to-the-center-of-the-sun-and-pass-me-the-DMT-pipe kind of band and a mumbly shoegaze pop act; one strand being much more effective than the other. I can’t get onside with the lead vocals, in fact I start to wish the guy would vary it a bit (scream, rap, quote Shakespeare, put on a silly accent, anything).
As the set progresses I start to notice how stylised the band are. There’s a fair amount of rock and roll charisma up there, such as the snarling legend of a synth player (though let’s face it, anyone in charge of that much noise is going to look pretty cool), but on the other hand there’s those matching black outfits, and those haircuts look like they’ve been purposefully co-ordinated. In principle I’ve got nothing against bands being styled, it’s just it feels slightly forced in this instance, and the look isn’t exactly original either.
Weirdly, the set just ends, with no big finale as I was expecting – but maybe this was due to the early curfew. I’m left with an impression of Toy as a band who have staked out and developed their own area of Indie-ville quite nicely, but who are unlikely to have the capital to move on in the near future.
Curiously enough, I think this is exactly where their fans want them. Big and well presented enough to be considered a proper band, yet too obtuse to cross over into the always-distasteful ‘mainstream’; they’ve found a cosy niche to cultivate. However, for me personally, Toy remain an interesting band rather than an essential one.
For more about Toy, visit http://www.toy-band.com
For more on The Proper Ornaments, visit http://theproperornaments.bandcamp.com
For more on The Grafham Water Sailing Club, visit https://soundcloud.com/xtxgxwxsxcx
For more from Birmingham Promoters, visit http://birminghampromoters.com
For more from The Rainbow Venues, visit http://www.therainbowvenues.co.uk