While it’s safe to say none of the acts involved are pro-Brexit, the songs on the EP aren’t overtly political and the gig itself is perhaps surprisingly free of rhetoric.
Given that this is taking place on the day it’s becoming clear the Tories have been routed in the local elections and that Labour and Ukip have also suffered losses, it might be easy to gloat. But it’s all about the music tonight.
Torpedoes open and do what they do with aplomb - spiky, gothic post-punk, that finishes in a welter of feedback and strobes.
Next up are the surprise package of the night - Music Liberation Front Sweden. With eight people on stage, some wearing furry animal heads, a bassist who thinks he’s a pigeon, a young girl helping out on vocals, other vocals barked via a loudhailer, banners, and riotous breakbeats it’s all quite a spectacle. Their EP song, England Is Killing Me, is greeted with cheers. Perversely, despite all the on-stage wackiness, this might be the most political track of the night, with its chorus of: ‘England is killing me, but what can I do? It’s not the land of the free, it’s not all there for me and you.’
They depart after just three tracks and 10 minutes, leaving the audience wondering what on Earth they’ve just seen.
However, Curl, who follow, might best embody the ethos of the project - drummer Jon Callender (also in Portsmouth’s legendary dream-pop act Cranes) and frontwoman Hayley Alker are from Portsmouth – guitarist Will Sintaste and bassist Frank Amendola are from Nice in France.
Live, they lose some of the subtle electronic edges of their records, and become more shoegaze, full of shimmering guitar melodies and carefully controlled feedback. Alker keeps it all anchored with her swooning yet powerful vocals. Final track Arkitekt comes on with a thundering electronica backing, reminiscent of their near-namesakes Curve for a bravura climax.
A class act.
Tonight’s headliners Fake Empire may only be a trio, but if they have a default setting for their sound it’s marked ‘Epic.’ As singer and bassist Les Black notes early on, maybe only a little tongue-in-cheek: ‘We’re a local band… with big dreams.’
With their tales of urban ennui and angst, the likes of Interpol and Editors are obvious touchstones, mixed with shades of post-punk forefathers such as Joy Division and Gang of Four. But Fake Empire are more than the sum of their influences – it’s staggering to believe they’ve been together barely 18 months.
Their EP track, The Sadness Will Last Forever is a powerful piece, and despite its title is ultimately rather uplifting and optimistic.
Kudos to all involved in this project for attempting such an endeavour.
Politics and music aren’t always comfortable bedfellows, but it is only right that artists can be allowed to respond to the turmoil of our times. That the music is all this good makes it perfectly palatable, regardless of your political persuasion.