It’s a day for fireworks, on and off stage. If you review a gig on bonfire night you’re legally obliged to use that analogy so I’ve got it out of the way early. In truth I go to both events on autopilot, too distracted for expectations, and with no intention of recording anything. Are you in the moment, or filming it on your mobile? But there are parallels, still. Shopping is a band well suited to a ritual celebration of survival, to a party where everyone’s invited, to a display of technical skill that improves every year – and Power Lunches is free tonight, just like the festivities in Southwark Park.
But the first rocket of the day hits the press in the morning, as a new poll shatters the thin ice of manufactured consent, showing massive popular support for price controls, rent caps, public ownership: the people want less shopping, thank you, and a bit more society. Is the market free; are we? With perfect timing I’m off to see a band named after a protest song against privatisation (Pet Shop Boys’ S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G., fittingly played as band intro) launch their debut album Consumer Complaints at a DIY venue heavily involved in promoting events under the banner of National Minimum Rage. Something is stirring.
First on are Weird Menace, who I first saw in this very venue two summers ago. They were fine then, even better last month supporting Trash Kit, and tonight greater still. By the end of their short spellbinding set we’re all wired up, left on edge. They’ve changed personnel and broadened style since the early days and now their sound seemingly fuses entire decades of left-field music history. There’s the propulsive Neu-beat of the rhythms, counterpointed by always-melodic post-punk bass, and a vocal/guitar style reminiscent of the later-80s female-fronted alternative rock explosion. The nearest touchstone that comes to mind is The Breeders, but the rhythm section take the music another direction, and there’s an elusive element I can’t put my finger on, a UK DIY-grunge wash of distortion and instability carrying the past away. They’ve an EP on bandcamp, and you should seek it – and the band – out.
Shopping are one part Trash Kit, one part Wet Dog, and three parts Covergirl. Not that anyone’s coasting on reputation, but it’s enough to give the nod to those in the know. Their merch stall has orange vinyl and pink t-shirts, but no hard sell. Their fans are high on sparkler fumes and expectation. They’re announced onstage and my fireworks metaphor is obsolete because now there are actual sparklers held aloft, handily lighting the scene for the benefit of my low-res camera phone. Drummer Andrew Milk is resplendent in black fez, orange pierrot make up and ‘£3 LUNCH’ t-shirt. The gig is now a party, and we are invited to dance away the austerity blues.
Shopping play mutant disco, bypassing last decade’s dance-punk revival for the original No Wave girl-germs of Bush Tetras, Y Pants, ESG. It’s not a question of why, but of why no-one else is mining the same seam, with the notable exception of Argentina’s Las Kellies. The four-to-the-floor kick-drum surge of songs like You Are A Sort and In Other Words (faster tonight than on the LP) defy anyone not to MOVE. The groove is relentless and irresistible.
In the mix too is a skittery British unease you could trace back to an abiding Raincoats influence, translated through the restless creative muse of Rachel Aggs, simply one of the country’s finest, most inventive guitarists. On mid-paced tracks like ‘Get Going’ there’s more space for her doleful-yet-urgent riffs and plaintive vocals, held in check by crosscutting afrobeat melodies and the angst-funk of the bass and drums.
Shopping feel like a synthesis of the whole genre that birthed them, beginning to reach a new audience outside of the existing scene and opening new opportunities for post-punk pop – equivalent to what a band like The Tuts are doing in indiepop. And the proof is right here, in a packed venue, and a dance-happy crowd. You might go to most gigs barely expecting to break a sweat, but Shopping take those preconceptions, move your feet and leave you smiling.
I meet someone new on the way out, someone I only know from online music criticism. I ask her if she came to review the gig. ‘No!’ comes the answer, ‘I came here out of pure love and joy!’ It’s like that.