It is, believe it or not, nearly 10 years since Arctic Monkeys first broke out of playing grimy pubs around Sheffield to become bona fide worldwide megastars, selling millions of albums, playing stadiums and arenas and even having their own morally dubious tax avoidance scandal. In that decade, the Steel City hasn’t really produced any further superstars, but just recently, a nascent new scene appears to be bubbling in South Yorkshire.
First, there was Drenge – two brothers from nearby Derbyshire who honed their fuzzy garage punk in and around tiny venues in Sheffield. Then came Nai Harvest, a duo who honed their fuzzy garage punk in and around tiny venues in Sheffield. And now come Best Friends who…..well, you’ve probably got the idea by now.
For this new scene is unlikely to develop into Monkeys-sized globe-straddling success – Best Friends, like their aforementioned contemporaries are proudly DIY and lo-fi: their debut album Hot. Reckless. Totally Insane lasts barely half an hour, and is full of defiantly uncommercial, thrashy punk. On first listen, it’s unlikely to stick in the memory too much. Yet, given a few plays, its raw, unpolished charm starts to work its magic.
Fake Spit sets the template right from the beginning – a shuddering guitar riff builds up slowly until the song kicks into gear gloriously as lead singer Lewis Sharman yells lyrics like “it’s funny how you spit and swallow all the time” – and that’s just the lines that are distinguishable. It’s a track that sums up Best Friends’ raision d’etre: fast, furious and while maybe not as the album title would put it, totally insane, certainly a bit barmy.
And so it continues in this vein, conjuring up names such as Dinosaur Jr, Cloud Nothings and Nine Black Alps. At first, memorable melodies seem hard to come by, but suddenly they sneak up on you: Cold Shapes has a strangely summery ’60s vibe to it and Happy Anniversary has a surprisingly reflective air to it (“I was alone as the sun came up” muses Sharman at one point) amongst the trademark bludgeoning riffs.
Mostly though, Best Friends work best when they deal in heads down, pulsating rock: the exhilarating speed-punk of Baba Yaga stands out as a highlight, and song titles like Nosebleeds and Shred Till You’re Dead conjure up the beautifully controlled chaos that are Best Friends on top form. Admittedly, there’s no one track that seems to sum up the band, or that could act as their big song into the big time: the album flies by in such a rush that, at some point, it seems that many of the songs are bleeding into each other.
Yet there are enough signs on Hot. Reckless. Totally Insane (not least the devilishly clever, Edwyn Collins-quoting ‘rip it up and start again’ lyrical steal on the closing Orange Juice) to indicate that Best Friends are set for, if not quite Arctic Monkeys-style success, a pretty long and fruitful career. Something is happening again in Sheffield, and it’s pretty exciting.