The pre-publicity for tonight’s show, in honour of Transgressive Records’ 10th birthday, is keen to stress the non-hierarchical nature of the programming; there’s no ‘headliner’; acts are scheduled according to availability. It’s a friendly, equal opportunities sort of affair. Which may be so in the promoters’ eyes. But the audience are very clear about who their headliner is, and Mystery Jets are the undisputed kings of Transgressive.
Tonight sees the label – famed for releasing the likes of Foals, Theme Park, Two Door Cinema Club and Graham Coxon – take over an unlikely venue. The Barbican feels rather grand for an independent – the majority of whose acts are more used to playing bars – marking its 10th anniversary with a cross section of its proudest achievements. From those who’ve been there since the beginning, to an act on the verge of releasing her first album, the line-up is testament to how far Transgressive has come since founders Tim Dellow and Toby L – then a fanzine writer and website editor respectively – met at a Bloc Party show and decided to set up a record label from their bedrooms.
A refreshing old school ethos has seen the label thrive, notching up millions of record sales, and that’s something that really comes across tonight, with many of the acts referencing how the label developed them, keeping the focus on the music rather than the dollar.
Marika Hackman is the latest addition to the Transgressive roster. She’s toured extensively and released a handful of singles and an EP ahead of her debut album – due out in February 2015 – and the benefit of this nurturing approach is immediately obvious. Tonight she’s grown into a band, and has a bassist and a drummer in tow. At first it feels uncomfortable; her spooked, gloomy fairytales – which in equal parts channel Nico and Joanna Newsom – are polished to the point that her opener Bath Is Black, with its newly acquired thick, lush drums, lost its haunted edge. But as they settled into a supportive role, not jostling for the limelight, the set gave an exciting glimpse of what we can expect from the album; intricate, haunting songs that are deliciously unsettling.
Dry The River are perhaps more in keeping with the usual Transgressive sound; folk-rock that looks to the likes of Shearwater for its dramatic acoustics. But they sound limp after such a nerve tingling opener. Their harmonies impress on Gethsemane, but for a lesson in how woo a crowd, they could do better than look to the Mystery Jets’ effortless cool. The second they appear on stage, the seated crowd flocked to the front, crushing around the front rows, dancing in the aisles, for the first time, playing out what this was: a bunch of indie kids taking over one of the capital’s most prestigious arts venues, and bringing a heap of mayhem with it.
The band have certainly earned their place here; Transgressive released their first album in February 2005 and tonight they offer a sneak peak of some new tracks at this, their first London show in two years. New bassist Jack Flanagan joins them for the first time – an excitable puppy already lunging and strutting across the stage, a fresh injection and a lick of playful rock n roll. Highlights come courtesy of Serotonin and Young Love for which they’re joined by Laura Marling – who also crops up during Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit’s set.
A lyrical chap, Flynn’s better known for his easy-on-the-ear, rousing folk pop than impressive shows, but his current backing band fill the hole that sometimes gapes during his solo live outings. Falling just the right side of raucous, they’re great to watch; his worker bees flitting between instruments, playing their hearts out to the Marling-backed The Water and the beautiful
Bottom Of The Sea Blues, with its irresistible refrain “My age is my conditions, my love is my intent, I’ll pay time with ageless love…”
The highlight of the night, though, comes as – up against the 11pm curfew – Flynn invites the Mystery Jets, Marling and Hackman back out for a rendition of Tickle Me Pink. It’s a rather perfect, heart swelling alternative to Happy Birthday for one of our most cherished indie labels.