Something is happening to boys in bands up and down the country and across the Irish Sea. They are singing about things that matter, such as mental health and gentrification. They are disillusioned, but dressed smartly, in faded shirts and starched slacks. They are white, usually, and serious, very serious, often performing with an intensity that suggests they’ve watched Control a fair few times. They’re also cutting across the generations, resonating with people who want heavy music that means something.
You can’t call this a scene or a sound, although the indie press, what’s left of it, has tried to, gleefully rubbing its corduroys at the sight of men with guitars coming over the hill. But the general consensus is that Idles have blown the door open for raging, post-punkish alternative music, and now Fontaines DC, Black Midi and other intense younglings have trudged through in their charity-shop suits and fugs of feedback, waiting to be nominated for the Mercury.
For some, these are all thrilling Joy Divisions for a new generation: urgent music for urgent times. Others, as John Doran of music website the Quietus wrote last year, see many of these bands as “just the latest iteration of something quite old”, hawking impassioned discord that can be boiled down to “four pints and all the feels” punk. Some say that a Black Midi doesn’t even really sound anything like a Fontaines DC, but surely that’s a boring side note to the swelling excitement around independent guitar music.
The next band primed for a big breakthrough are the Murder Capital. Like Fontaines DC, they are from Dublin, but unlike Fontaines DC they’ve been hailed as one of the most intense/powerful/vital (delete as necessary) nadgers-in-a-deathgrip live acts around at the moment. They met at music college and got noticed off the back of a session video for the track More Is Less, before they’d even had a chance to officially release any recorded music. Since then, their ascent has been swift. When they toured the UK last year, in support of their debut album When I Have Fears, the venues were so small their guitar necks touched. A year later, in Bristol, they already appear to have outgrown tonight’s venue, as adult men pile in and eagerly await their brooding catharsis.
Hype aside, the Murder Capital are visually compelling. Strobe lights flash menacingly as they posture on stage like post-punk Peaky Blinders. They dress, to use their own words, like a “hungover Cillian Murphy”, in braces, blazers, belts and billowing shirts; each of the five members is engaging on their own, just like a boy band. Singer James McGovern’s romantic outfit and occasional tambourine-tapping give him an air of Morrissey. Polo-necked guitarist Damien Tuit jolts like he’s escaped from the Mars Volta and is having an electric shock. Bassist Gabriel Paschal Blake can just as easily hold the audience’s gaze, peacocking under the spotlight.
Their music, meanwhile, feels widescreen and moving. The liberal use of the words “post-punk” they inspire might suggest wiry intensity, but the Murder Capital’s sound is far closer to the anthemic noir of a band such as Interpol than the tightly wound rottweiler rage of Idles, to whom they are routinely compared. Their songs span similar themes to Idles – loneliness, heartbreak, revenge and grief; the recession, a lack of mental healthcare and mounting suicide rates – but on stage, their mode is emotional theatricality, poised for arenas.
They do stirring tension particularly well, especially the deliciously sludgy middle pairing of Slowdance I and Slowdance II, although I find myself waiting for an unhinged release that never really comes. We make do with closing song Don’t Cling to Life, an indie-disco number about death that is an attempt at writing this generation’s answer to The Rat by the Walkmen,– a galvanising one at that – and a spot of crowdsurfing.
Rock-by-numbers moments such as these jar with all the hot-blooded emotion casting about. The band have admitted in interviews to being self-aware about their live show, and there are a few too many parts that feel like they’ve been mapped out on a whiteboard: McGovern lighting his cigarette and hanging his head on stage, or breathing heavily into the microphone at the end of the moving, stripped-back emo number On Twisted Ground (this is on the recorded version of the song, too, but live it’s tedious). And don’t get me started on that bit in every single show where the band make you crouch down only to jump back up for the climax.
Beyond the music, however, the Murder Capital really are powerful, because of the bond they inspire among their fans. “This tour has gotten fucking crazy,” says McGovern, when he addresses the audience. “We feel a sense of community across the UK.” They talk about holding your friends close, about showing your vulnerability – even if it’s at a gig, standing next to your fellow blokes, holding a pint and pointing your finger in the air. There’s a sense that people really need this band, they need to feel those feels. The more live bands who can speak to that, the better.