Amidst the quasi-rapture encircling Bristol (and to a wider extent, the entire South-West), pelting down raindrops the size of tangerines and wind like a whistling Ice Queen, William Doyle – aka East India Youth – is luring his congregation to the Louisiana, a diminutive bar almost on the river bank of the Avon’s white-water rapids. It’s one of the few shows on Doyle’s tour in support of his recent plaudit-magnet of a debut, Total Strife Forever, that hasn’t sold out in advance. Perhaps the denizens of the city were aware of his swift return in late-March supporting Wild Beasts?
Bath’s bacterially-embattled Mont open the night’s proceedings. Delivering a set that’s essentially (in terms of tone) the polar opposite of the headline act, they offer up a pleasant juxtaposition. It’s hook-heavy, glimmering melodics and triumphant sample-pop. Imagine Napoleon IIIrd venturing down Alice’s rabbit hole – it’s bizarre, glorious and euphoric. There’s remnants of Justin Vernon‘s and James Blake‘s vocals scuttling around the freak-folk and noisetronica, like Sigur Rós tackling R&B. There are illustrious string flourishes and exquisite falsettos. Mont are essentially modern-day Beethoven(s), expounding a cutting-edge Ode To Joy. Snow In The New Year and Second Wind (coincidentally the only tracks on their Soundcloud profile) are particularly worth a mention.
When it’s time for the main course, the Louisiana is on tenterhooks. Nary a soul in the house is breathing at regular volume; the silence is palpable. And then, cutting a figure like Slenderman in the forest, William Doyle ascends to the stage. Draped entirely in Snape-black garb, Doyle lobs a kind of electro-gospel. It’s nowt like actual gospel music, but the atmosphere, the ecclesiastical nature of the music and concurrent effect it has upon the sopping-wet Bristolians, is uncanny. People aren’t dancing, at last not yet, but rather struggling to carry their pint glasses and the remains of their minds, which have just been blown.
Some parts shimmer like a shattering chandelier, morosely elegant, filigree cracking and crystal shards smashing – Heaven, How Long for example, with its krauty post-punk coda and sombre vox. In fact, considering East India Youth’s earlier material, precious few efforts (four?) on the record actually contain vocals in the traditional sense. It’s only the aforementioned Dripping Down and Looking For Someone that are performed. All these efforts ensnare the audience’s attention, and have them swaying instinctively; all that’s missing is a sea of lighter flames. Despite it probably being the umpteenth time that Doyle’s reeled off these tracks, he sings with resolute emotion, the kind that’s heartbreaking to witness and fascinating to behold.
But Doyle’s more experimental endeavours also excite. The set opener – also the record opener – Glitter Recession flickers into neo-rave life. Siren lighting fades like heartbeats at a murder scene, blue and red ambience ebbs and flows in between beats. It’s a grand introduction. As he plays various numbers of the Total Strife Forever variations, Doyle whips out his bass axe to inject some oomphy timbre into the fray; as he does, his metal-kid demons inside explode. Doyle’s floppy fringe flails flippantly, and he flips and snaps his neck back and forth like Willow Smith whilst thumping each bass note. This proves to be his demise however.
In the set closer, and album highlight, Hinterland, his possessed movements cut the power by (what appears to be) yanking the jack/plug from its socket. It’s only a minor hiccough however, and within 10 seconds Doyle is gyrating in a frenzy to the deep house cut. It’s here, in the monumental climax to the evening, that the audience is most captivated, hypnotised by the intense bassline and darkwave synths. It’s a club banger, first and foremost, and the crowd understand this, dropping inhibitions and David Brent-ing all over the shop.
Despite it not being an inherently sacred type of music, Doyle manages to create a kind of sermon. It’s exceedingly powerful, and he commands the masses with simple beat changes of key shifts. For a guy with a laptop, this couldn’t be a more riveting performance. It’s trial by noise; a baptism of sound. Welcome to the cult of the East India Youth.