By Chirag Karia
The times they are a-changin’, down at the NME Headquarters. With the magazine going free last year in a bid to boost circulation, there is a feeling that this once monolithic paper has something to prove. Can they pull it off with the acts assembled for the NME Awards Tour this year? Chirag Karia went along to find out.
The NME Awards Tour rolled into Newcastle’s o2 Academy this month, seeing the newly reformed Bloc Party return alongside Drenge, RATBOY and Grime MC Bugzy Malone. The 12-show UK Tour is a unique spectacle, known for putting on some great guitar bands and creating some truly remarkable moments for live music lovers. However, given NME’s indie-rock roots, those familiar with the annual showcase may have found this year’s eclectic line-up slightly bizarre.
Grime MC Bugzy Malone kicked off the night with “Walk With Me” to a small, yet rowdy crowd. He tears through verses of “Watch Your Mouth” and “Bronson” with pure conviction, and even succeeds at an attempt of call and response – encouraging the young Geordie crowd to shout his native Manchester’s dialing code (which is 0161 for those of you who were wondering).
Manny’s hype man further intensifies the already energetic set, whaling himself around the stage screaming “Wastman” whilst gesturing aggressively. The Mancunian MC proved to be a competent opener with solid flow and some great chat – ending the set yelling, “Shout out to the mosh pit crew!”
Jordan Cardy (AKA RATBOY) was up next. Delivering a youthful dose of grungy indie-rock, the 19-year-old seemed to be the subject of star struck adoration among the teenage girls in the crowd. With a reputation for wreaking havoc, it was very clear at this point that the venue had divided into two, with the moshing youngsters at the bottom and the seated spectators at the top.
Although dressed like a 90’s era Nirvana tribute act, RATBOY did not disappoint, playing raucous tunes whilst maintaining a chaotic stage presence. The set ended on a riotous note, as crowd surfers were escorted out of the building to the sound of “Fake ID” bellowing through the speakers.
Drenge, up next, were met with great enthusiasm as they moved seamlessly through their set with an air of mature confidence and passion. Opening with psych-grunge track “Never Awake” the duo kept the already buzzing crowd jumping. “You Can Do What You Want” and “Side-by-Side” retained the electric atmosphere, with the Sheffield-born Loveless boys closing the set with favourites from their self-titled debut.
And so on to the headline act: Bloc Party kick off their set with “The Good News” from their fifth studio album, Hymns. However, it wasn’t until they followed this up with “Mercury” from 2008’s Intimacy that the crowd truly got going. From flawless “Flux” to hellish “Helicopter”, Bloc Party’s delivery was both engaging and faultless. However, despite their nostalgic charm, there seemed to be something missing.
Given the band’s recent hiatus and drastic new line-up, it is understandable why things just didn’t seem right. The set lacked bite and consistency, as the band flip-flopped between old and new material, the latter of which the crowd just didn’t seem interested in hearing. I suspect many die-hard Bloc Party fans left the venue with a growing sense of disappointment.
With a history of breaking new artists into the indie-rock scene, the NME Awards Tour seems to have taken a different direction this year. The night was an obvious and desperate attempt by NME to remain relevant with today’s Facebook generation, whilst trying to retain their older following of indie-rock fans. It seems their new status as a giveaway magazine has lead to a change in direction for the once loved “New Music Express”, which unfortunately resulted in a strange line-up and awkward atmosphere on the night. Pity, really.
Image: Consequence of Sound