As a professional pessimist, I always expect the worst, simply because I love pleasant surprises. Especially when it comes to ‘hype bands’. I expect a crowd who stand around with a cigarette in one hand and their smartphone in the other, ‘checking in’ to the venue for scene points. I expect a band with identical hairdos and a stoic stage presence who can’t even play properly because they only formed this year and their songs have been edited to death on the recording (which never was all that great anyway).
So the first pleasant surprise was the lack of a queue when we arrived at the Molotow at 8 pm. The second was the unexpected space in the audience. All of this was thanks to the fact it was an early show with doors at 7, which I doubt most people knew. When we came in, there was a young man on stage fiddling with a MIDI controller and the mandatory MacBook. We assumed he was line-checking, so we bought drinks, and it wasn’t before the stage light was set in motion that we realised he had actually been performing all along. The guy was one Jon Pritchard aka Young Montana?, who played an entertaining set of electro with a dash of hiphop, and as I’m certainly not an electro geek I can’t say a lot except for that the last song kept ringing in my head after he had finished. He left the stage without having addressed the audience once, apart from a short nod goodbye. He wasn’t rude though. He didn’t have a microphone.
I thought this unusual choice of supporting act looked very much like WU LYF from what I knew about them: Their coolness stemmed from the fact they were trying not to please anyone. Accordingly most of the crowd stood and gazed uneasily, while I imagined the band looking through the curtains of the little dressing-room window and doing high fives at how they had successfully annoyed everyone once again.
During Young Montana?’s set the place had filled up. We found ourselves somewhere between first and second row, rolling our eyes at some idiots chanting ‘Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang’. The unusual choice of supporting act, however, now proved to be a perk: His gear was quickly removed and after a short line check, it was time for four disappointingly average-looking lads to take over the stage, accompanied by ecstatic cheers from the crowd. I had secretly hoped for at least some kind of gang symbol, like the armbands My Chemical Romance used to wear, but there was no such thing apart from their lead singer’s denim jacket, which sported a self-drawn logo and the letters ‘L Y F’ on the back.
But the disappointment in this matter did not last long. From the first note on, the crowd flipped so completely that even I, who had not liked the album and mainly gone out of curiosity and because it was free for me (and because they are fellow Mancunians ;-)), could not really help being pulled in by their darkly energetic sound and the singer’s tormented screams that literally made your throat ache. He spared himself no pains to maintain that voice even when he spoke; between the first couple of songs though, he basically just spat a short bark or groan into the mic. All the while his face remained perfectly blank, until the point when the crowd first started pushing onto the barrier-less stage and the boy’s expression turned into something like ‘Oh my God I’m going to die’. Or should it be ‘O Lucifer’?
An interesting question. On the one hand, it is unlikely anyone would take the long version of their band name – World Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation – seriously enough to feel provoked by it. On the other hand, whether the irony was unconscious or intended, their drummer was wearing a necklace with a cross pendant, and not an upside down one. The same irony lies in the way Ellery Roberts barks the words ‘Go tell fire’ in the song ‘Dirt’, making them sound exactly like ‘Lucifer’. Not to mention that their album title, ‘Go tell fire to the mountain’, is a variation of the famous gospel ‘Go tell it on the mountain’. The way they play with imagery, just like the mess of random pictures on their website, is as innocent as it is empty. You don’t have to know their birth dates in order to tell that the band members are young enough to still want to provoke, confuse, to sample in an effort to create diffuse meanings that fascinate their fellow youths enough so as to copy their cryptic logo on to their leather jackets and feel like a part of a cult. But what’s really fascinating is how for the brief duration of a concert, the feeling of being a cult, or gang, or to somehow belong comes alive, becomes real. Not for me, but for the people who close me in between their swaying bodies, chanting along: ‘I will love you forever’; the last three words – not quite coincidentally if you ask me – recreating the formula ‘L Y F’. Never before have I seen a band first look skeptically at the lack of physical distance between themselves and the audience and in the course of the show be sucked in by the urgent emotion thrown at them from the crowd like this. The boys in the first rows offer them beers, cigarettes, climb on stage and are sent off, almost shyly, with the words ‘Please remove yourselves from the stage. Thank you.’ And slowly, the band drop their guard. Guitarist Evans Kati starts giving out his own cigarettes to the crowd in return, and eventually the crowd’s enthusiasm takes over Ellery Roberts, the singer and organist, who walks up close to the crowd, shakes their fists, let’s them scream into his microphone. Suddenly the atmosphere is that of a hardcore punk show. No borders between audience and band, just sweat and passion and a diffuse idea of a pain one feels and cannot grasp. I do not feel it, but it’s in everybody’s faces like they wanted to feel it, in the boy’s bleeding throat while he sings.
But the most memorable thing is when the singer of WU LYF, the band that became famous for their carefully kept anonymity and complete disregard for press inquiries, this boy starts shaking the hand of every fan in the first row and says: ‘My name is Ellery, I’m twenty years old, I’m from Manchester, I have two sisters and a cat, I drive a red car and I’ll give you a lift if you want.’ (Or something along those lines.) Those words would sound meaningless coming from anybody else, but here they turn into a bonding ceremony. They won’t tell the press who they are, but they will tell it face to face to the crowd. These lads have self-produced and -released their album, they have become big by not promoting themselves, not begging for ‘likes’ on Facebook and tweeting every fart somebody makes in the van. They breathe an authenticity that is rare. It does not matter that WU LYF doesn’t stand for anything in particular, neither love nor Lucifer. It does not matter whether the crowd feels actual pain or a romantic replica of what they imagine real pain to be like. What unites fan and band is the desperate wish to be united, be a part of something, this essential juvenile desire. In this respect, it is astonishing what an all-encompassing choice of band name they have made.
I doubt that in a year or two there will be much public interest in WU LYF or the similarly constructed Odd Future. But after the strangely fascinating, absolutely unusual experience their show has been to me, a part of me would be happy to see them prove me wrong.