Shrugged to one side of the University of Sussex campus, which is itself shrugged to one side of Brighton, the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA) seems an unlikely venue for a band of twenty-something-year-old psych-pop gothics.
There is a post-lecture networking atmosphere in the foyer/bar which one might half expect to be serving fizzy wine and crisps. The toilets are actually clean. Indeed, the ‘bar’ (more accurately described as a converted café) in question is filled with an audience you might at first expect have accidentally come to the Attenborough Centre on the wrong day for a talk on the Bloomsbury Group.
It doesn’t take a Mathematics student to calculate that, even though the Horrors have been gigging and recording for a good twelve years, the clientele tonight are somewhat more mature than their initial target audience.
They emerge at the Godly hour of 9pm to the most civilised round of applause I’ve ever heard given to a bunch of Siouxsie Sioux lookalikes. And just like that, within about a minute and a half of their opening number, Hologram, it begins to make sense. The Horrors have grown up.
Judging by the number of bald heads and flat-caps bobbing politely around the circular, single-tiered auditorium, it seems that the Radio 6 listener of today, who may once have flinched at the ravenous bite of Count in Fives, and needed to sit down after witnessing the neo-Gothic onslaught of Sheena is a Parasite, have quite taken to the band’s latest album, V. And this is no accident.
The seemingly strange choice of venue reflects the matured intentions of the band. The acoustics of the hall, at least for the first two songs, Hologram and Machine, allow the talismanic relationship between kick drum and bass guitar to steal the show. The Horrors groove rather than drive. So much so that Who Can Say?, the punchy, gritty and spacious synth-ballad from their second album, Primary Colours, sounds somewhat empty and out of place. Although a number of younger fans cheer as Joshua Hayward stabs crunchy triplets at them, it can’t help being noticed that the sound of the older songs doesn’t quite translate through the air of the venue.
That said, the older songs, in particular Sea Within A Sea, which Faris introduces as being “for those fans who bought the album at the time”, sound as good as ever. Where the Horrors thrive is where they exploit the energy of their older albums and marry it with the maturity of their new sound. Between Who Can Say and Sea Within A Sea are two other older songs: In And Out Of Sight, the only song they opt to play from 2014’s Luminous, and Mirror’s Image. Although In And Out Of Sight pushes the Horrors towards a more synth-heavy, apocalypto-rave sound, it seems liminal, failing to harness the shoegaze-y vagueness of their older material and falling short of the defined, punchy licks of their new songs.
This was accentuated by the utter success of Weighed Down, whose slick and slow opening drums confirm the band’s defiant maturity. This is music to really listen to – which would explain the average age of the audience. Press Enter To Exit persuades a few bald-head-bobbers to even move their shoulders; what the audience lack in energy they make up for in acute interest. It is obvious that, despite the slightly muted acoustic, no-one is either disinterested or uninterested. No-one is ‘checking out that new band The Horrors’. This is a band which is firmly establishing itself as one of the most important acts to emerge from the indie scene of the late ‘00s unscathed.
The crowd’s reaction crescendos after each song. The opening song was received with polite applause (you could’ve had a polite conversation with Faris between the first two songs); by the end the crowd emulated Beatlemania (you could hardly even hear well enough to make out the drunken “I love you Faris” one guy confessed at the end of every song in the second half of the set).
Still Life is heroic as it ever was, traversing the line between The Horrors’ psychedelic roots and their synth-pop horizons. They re-emerge for Ghost, which, whilst sounding like the musical equivalent of walking through treacle (in absolutely the best way possible), is explosive and triumphant. A highlight of the set, Ghost nods towards the wall-of-sound vivacity of The Jesus and Mary Chain, whilst appropriating the star-gazing synth sound of Hawkwind. Their new single, Something To Remember Me By, although by no means an instant classic, has more groove than Nile Rodgers’ record collection and adds vigour to a driving synth sound that it sometimes seems New Order have exhausted.
“We only usually come out when there’s a riot”, Faris declares when the band emerges for the much anticipated encore. Having unsurprisingly played nothing from Strange House, The Horrors inspire no riot. They do, however, inspire the audience’s fervent seal of approval – no mean feat when playing to the well-cultured 6 music elite. They have ridden the wave out of the better-left-in-the-past indie scene of the late ‘00s expertly, in exactly the same way as bands such as Arctic Monkeys have managed, and have become pioneers of both their own destiny and of future indie music.
The Horrors played at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA), at the University of Sussex, on 28th October 2017.
Ciaran Doyle studies English and History at the University of Sussex. As well as being an aspiring poet, Ciaran has a keen interest in music and presents a music show called “The Northern Quarter” on Platform B Radio Brighton.