Dutch Uncles, The Phoenix Foundation, Banjo or Freakout

Chris Eustace 07/02/2011

The recent lack of guitars in amongst Rhianna and N-Dubz in the Top 40 has led some to declare “indie” dead, but just round the corner from the mainstream, there's as much great ideas and great music to be found as ever. A special Memphis Industries-curated night as part of HMV's Next Big Thing gigs showed off the label's current good health in fine style.

First up was Banjo Or Freakout, aka Alessio Natalizia. Famed initially for his remixes, his own music offers a nice line in My Bloody Valentine's noise-pop, with twinkling math-rock guitars and propulsive drumming.With Natalizia's vocals not always that high in the mix, acting at times as another instrument, it's an intriguing prospect. Seemingly not one for audience interaction, the songs engage anyway as they build to overdrive pedal-assisted crescendos, Natalizia and his two bandmates forming possibly the most subtle power trio of all time. Towards the end of a captivating opening set comes “105”, the kind of puppy-dog-eyed waltz that Band Of Horses specialise in. It could yet give Banjo or Freakout a bona fide hit, should they want it.

New Zealand sextet The Phoenix Foundation arrive next, armed with an impressive array of both instruments and facial hair, along with a decent amount of supporters at the front. What at first appears to be a fairly faithful folk/alt-country sound soon opens out into literate, slide-guitar tinged FM rock, as if Frightened Rabbit had been grafted onto Fleetwood Mac. They're genial hosts too, quipping their way through tales of phallic graffiti in Newcastle dressing rooms and the heat of tonight's venue, and even making light of the warning that their set is close to overrunning. In classic fashion, they save the best for last with their two final, post-warning songs: a jovial “Oranges And Mangoes”, as playful as prime Super Furry Animals, while pounding closer “Buffalo” gazes longingly into early Wilco's eyes.

It's headliners Dutch Uncles that have arguably the best chance of grabbing that “Next Big Thing” mantle though, having already garnered some impressive radio play amid solid touring and support slots with the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club. There's the undeniable trace of choppy Franz guitars and dancefloor drums here, but it's far from the only weapon that the band have at their disposal - they can do muscular as well, as the chugging “Stay” proves, and they have a way with a catchy chorus, with former single “Fragrant” a high point, crashing in with the kind of hook that can stay for days, coming off like a dancier, poppier Wild Beasts.

It's the reedy vocals of Duncan Wallis, however, that could end up as the band's calling card. Resplendent in paisley shirt and high-waisted trousers, he's also the focal point of their live show, whether hunched over a keyboard or showing off some jerky dance moves, bringing to mind a scrawnier version of Maximo Park's Paul Smith or even Morrissey (well, they are from Manchester).

They're getting close to the drama, mystique and strong songwriting of such figures as well, also recalling 80's indie heroes such as The Pastels, Orange Juice or The Associates, and could end up with a fanbase as rabid, especially if there are more songs to come like “The Ink”, which, throwing a bit of Mew-esque dream-pop into the mix, has a groove that it's almost impossible not to dance to. Definitely take the chance to find this out for yourself, perhaps with a mild electric shock pre-gig, just to make sure your moves are up to scratch.