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Liberté, egalité, solidarité: The night four “mean Frenchy bitches” lit up London with Brutal Pop, discothèque-noir and punk rock fire

SUN shines while heading up a new, noisy French revolution in Brixton

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In the first week of this month, more than 1.1 million music fans attended live gigs in London, leading Mayor Sadiq Khan to proudly declare the capital the “undisputed world leader in live music.” But it would be unwise, indeed myopic, to interpret London’s capability to simultaneously host four or five 60,000-plus capacity live events as a signifier that all is hunky dory in the city’s live music scene.

Seven months on from the tragic deaths of gig goer Rebecca Ikumelo and security guard Gaby Hutchinson in a crowd crush at the O2 Academy Brixton, the iconic South London venue remains shuttered, with the Metropolitan Police reportedly endorsing closing it permanently. Meanwhile, the presence of a Fightback Lager pump at the Windmill, less than a mile away, is a reminder of the perilous state of the industry at a grass roots level, the brand being launched in 2018 to generate funds for the Music Venue Trust, a registered charity which acts to protect, secure and support music venues across the UK.

Anyone wondering why such a charity might exist in Britain in 2023 need only take a head-count of paying customers tonight in The Windmill, one of the country’s most cherished small venues, rightly celebrated for its pivotal role in championing emerging talent and helping launch the careers of Dry Cleaning, Shame, black midi, Goat Girl and many more: there are fewer than 40 people here for a four artist, Saturday night bill enticingly previewed in an Instagram post by headliner SUN as “a line-up of mean, frenchy bitches you won’t forget.

The paucity of paying guests in attendance, however, does allow one positive aspect of the evening to become immediately apparent: that, when not actively performing, each artist on the bill will offer enthusiastic stage-front encouragement to their peers. This nurturing, supportive atmosphere will reach its apogee, three-quarters of the way into the night, with a thrilling onstage collaboration, but we’ll get to that later.

First up, the recipient of recent Radio 1 support for her excellent 2023 singles Late and Snake (Rejection), Estelle Mey takes the temperature of the room with a confident, powerful six-song set. Known on the south-east’s rock circuit as the leader of Kent alt.rock quintet Salvation Jayne, the vocalist/guitarist’s raw, riff-heavy solo material has been perceptively likened to PJ Harvey-meets-early ’90s Sepultura, but intriguingly, the highpoint comes via a stylistic curveball, with a bold stripped-back acoustic reading of Snake (Rejection), delivered cross-legged on the venue floor and augmented by stick-free tea-chest percussion from drummer Rob Dowsett, which hushes the venue with its original punk rage (“I’m fed up to the teeth and it tastes like acid“) swapped for a stark sense of southern gothic dread.

Mango In Euphoria, aka Manon Jocelyne Berard, brings an entirely different approach to her dissections of love, lust, dark impulses, shattered dreams, and defiant self-belief. Occupying an artistic space somewhere between Peaches, Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey, the singer describes her music as “dirty dark disco” and her live shows as “like a therapy session in a nightclub”, and clad tonight in a sea shell bra, fishnets, black pants and heels, she comes across as an electro-goth mermaid with vengeance on her mind. “I’m not the girl you can tame,” she warns on set opener Goddess. “Coming from chaos, full of light.” Ghost deals with toxic relationships, there’s an excellent cover of Britney Spears’ Gimme More, and set closer Hollywood, released as a single in March, is a wide-eyed but wary stumble through a cyber-goth dystopia after dark, with predators and blood-suckers watching on. Catch MIE next month on the Songs Behind The Music livestream fundraiser for the Music Venue Trust if you wanna know more.

When this writer last saw A Void, pre-pandemic, supporting Soap Girls at now-closed  north London venue Nambucca, they played with an intensity half-a-notch below spontaneous combustion. Marrying riot grrrl rage with deft grunge dynamics, and fronted by magnetic livewire Camille Alexander, the trio are less chaotic but no less fierce tonight, with set-opening new single 2023 (“It’s 2023, soon we’ll all burn in hell‘) quite the introduction. Drawing largely from last year’s Dissociation album, the trio have a masterful grasp of the Pixies-patented ’90s alt. rock quiet/loud/quiet/REALLY FUCKING LOUD template, but Alexander’s shining melodies and ability to switch from sugary crooning to cathartic screams elevate the likes of Stepping On Snails and Newspapers skywards. To close out A Void’s set, Alexander invites Karoline Rose Sun onstage for a ferocious twin vocal take on Hole’s Violet which would make Courtney Love immensely proud, perfectly teeing up the headliner’s own set.

In a candid 2022 interview posted on her Instagram, Karoline Rose Sun aka SUN reveals that the first time she ever screamed, while living near the Black Forest as a teenager, was to repel an assault: “The sound that came out of me was so bestial it literally saved my life,” she states plainly. After playing in hardcore, crossover and death metal bands, the singer/guitarist hit upon her own unique sound, Brutal Pop, the title of her 2019 EP, followed up, in January, by the Brutal Pop 2 EP. On songs such as Wave and Killed My Man, SUN’s seamless transitions between pop melodies and ungodly shrieks is genuinely astonishing, while Come Clean is a perfect balance of riffs and rage, and the set’s penultimate track, the deceptively hooky John & I (Money) sounds like Deafheaven going ham on a children’s nursery rhyme. Earlier this year, SUN was invited to play outside Metallica’s Stade de France show in Paris to welcome ticket-holders before the main event: it’s not inconceivable to imagine her songs being screamed back at her within those stadium walls at some point in the near future.

“A line-up of mean, frenchy bitches you won’t forget”: nailed it.


Source: loudersound.com