This past Saturday Bombay Bicycle Club performed at Sounds Wild.
It was my first time hearing their music.
Being someone who considers themselves as having great taste and knowledge in music, I would normally be embarrassed that I had never heard a Bombay Bicycle Club song before their first performance in South Africa. However I feel there is a good reason as to why I had never heard their music or deliberately attempted to discover it. The first reason being that I had lost most of my interest in ‘indie’ music and bands. Following the mainstream success of indie—which in itself is a very ambiguous definition of a genre of music—I lost my interest in the genre as a deluge of copycat bands emerged and no one was really doing anything surprising with the genre. On the other hand, I made a personal commitment to listening to more local music which meant that international music took a back seat in my listening behaviour.
Even so, when I saw the Sounds Wild flyer at the Heritage Boosh event, I knew that it was kinda a big deal that Bombay Bicycle Club was on the bill. Just because I had not heard their music does not mean that I did not know that this was a big deal. My thoughts were validated following the overwhelmingly positive online sentiment when it was officially announced that Bombay Bicycle Club would be headlining Sounds Wild.
In a situation like this I would usually download the bands entire discography and familiarise myself with their music. This helped in having something against which to judge their live performance. It also prevents awkwardness in the call and response moments where I don’t know the lyrics everyone else around me knows so well. This time I didn’t bother downloading any of Bombay Bicycle Club’s music before their performance. There was just too much good local music being released in the past few weeks to dedicate any of my listening time to BBC, just so I could also sing ‘You Carry Me’ instead of ‘You Can’t Read Me’.
In an shocking turn of events BBC were billed to play at 8 PM. Being a work day with errands I had to attend to after work, I was only able to arrive at Marks Parks for the last two songs by Jeremy Loops. A friend told me I hadn’t missed much. I never doubted him. It was still sad that I had not seen any of the local artists considering my interest in local music.
It was clear that this was the Bombay Bicycle Club show.
The anticipatory lull as the crowd anticipated seeing live, the band they possibly thought would never visit South Africa. It’s becoming more and more likely that we get to see our favourite international bands perform on our turf without the need for it to be in a stadium concert setting. Stadium concerts are shit. The crowd at Marks Park was just the right size. Small enough so one could move around easily, but big enough to give the experience that festive vibe.
The lights dimmed, smoke blanketed the stage, and there was the customary scream from the crowd as BBC entered the stage. The eastern influence was immediately recognisable and possibly an immediate indication of the diverse nature of influences we may hear throughout their performance. It turns out the first song, “Overdone”; the opening track off So Long, See You Tomorrow, their fourth album which was released February of this year, actually contains a sample from a song in a Bollywood movie.
Having never taken the chance to listen to BBC before I believe I discovered them at the peak of their ability. What’s interesting about BBC is that each album they released was touted as an evolution in their sound. Including songs from each of their albums throughout their set meant I was always entertained and unable to predict what the next song may sound like. From the high-energy of the progressive and mosh-worthy, “What If”, to the ethereal “It’s Alright Now” where the entire crowd transformed into a choir. It was almost as if a different band took to the stage to perform each song. However, there was still something very Bombay Bicycle Club about the entire set: Jack Steadman’s melancholic voice and shoegaze-y delivery kept the entire performance cohesive rooting each song to the Bombay Bicycle Club identity. It’s still a surprise how his voice fitted so seamlessly across their varying sounds, styles, and rhythms.
With the band sounding as good as they do on their albums in—terms of quality and delivery—the aural expectations were well met. A performance bonus was the optical delight of the visual aspect of the show. Based on the artwork of So Long, See You Tomorrow the entire show had an illustrated visual production which was themed and synchronised according to each song.
Following their performance of “What If”, which had the crowd clapping in unison while teetering on the edge of breaking out into a cautious mosh pit, the band abruptly left the stage. No goodbye’s. No thank you’s.
We want more! We want more, We wa… A feeble crowd attempt at persuading the band to come back for at least one more. With no one in the crowd dispersing, it was as if we were all aware that regardless of what we had to say, Bombay Bicycle Club would play another. They had to play another!
‘There is no way I came out here for me not to hear “Carry Me”.
It was a pre-planned encore. “Carry Me” was that encore. The electronic sample-driven single with it’s aggressive percussion epitomises the experimentation and evolutionary stage of Bombay Bicycle Club—an electronic world-music deconstruction of indie. Dare I call it post-indie?
With a surge of international acts coming to our shores some promoters are bringing out bands which have become irrelevant or appeal to the nostalgia factor. This was not the case with Breakout Management, who I feel brought out Bombay Bicycle club at the peak of their ability and relevance.
It was a great introduction to a band which has reignited my interest in indie rock and roll. In fact, since seeing Alt-J and Manchester Orchestra perform live, Bombay Bicycle Club’s performance was the closest I’ve ever been to the oft-abused ‘This-was-the-greatest-night-of-my-life’ sentiment. Strangely enough, Bombay Bicycle Club assumes a space somewhere in between the raw and emotive rock of Manchester Orchestra, and the explorative and electronic nuances of Alt-J.
As awkward as I may have initially felt watching a band I knew nothing of, the experience—helped of course by nature of the Bombay Bicycle Club’s music—was an enjoyable one. And with local music going through something of a revival, absorbing most of my attention, watching bands I don’t know may just become a regular manner in which I discover international artists.
Later that evening I went to Bob Rocks as Sounds Wild finished around 10PM, which is around the time I usually start my Friday nights out. Through the night, I would accidentally steal some foreigners seat around the table, only for us to share a typical Friday night conversation over a beer. It was only after I was alerted by a friend (who requested that the photo below be taken) that this foreigner was actually Suren de Saram, Bombay Bicycle Club’s drummer, that the conversation took a turn towards your typical fanboy exchange. I wish my friend had never told me who this was. Either way, had I have known the band really well, this moment may have never happened. I guess I’m thankful that this picture exists to remind me of an evening close to ‘The greatest night of my life’. Not really, but it was in the top 10.