“Welcome to our warehouse of pleasure!” beams an already topless Niall McCamley, excitedly twiddling his drumsticks in anticipation of their second song. Warehouse might be pushing it …but only just.
The newly opened DIY Space for London, nestled in an industrial estate down some backroads on the New Cross Gate/Bermondsey border, is a series of sparsely decorated rooms. The result of a successful crowd funding campaign, it’s a new home for south London’s booming DIY scene; a sort of community centre for punks, indie kids and outsiders. It’s currently home to a gig venue, a record shop and roomy spaces for workshops and classes. Punters have to bring their own booze at the moment, but a bar and vegan café are planned. The paint still smells fresh, hand drawn posters are blue-tacked to the walls, advertising ‘pay what you can’ yoga, a flea market and upcoming shows from European punk bands… it feels quite apt that The Spook School have chosen it as the venue to launch their second album, Try To Be Hopeful.
The band don’t really need to follow that philosophical nugget at the moment; everything seems to be going very well indeed. The album, released earlier this month, has been warmly received and the gentle buzz that’s been whirring around them for the last three years is gradually ramping up. Their latest release has seen them progress satisfyingly from the high tempo chaos of their début, splitting vocal duties more evenly across the band and refining their sound. The slightly awkward kids, forever in the shadow of their more boisterous drummer, have grown in confidence, and are bolder and more direct in their explorations of gender and identity – issues that have established them as a pretty big deal in the queer punk DIY scene.
During the album’s recording, singer and guitarist Nye Todd – who identifies as trans – started testosterone therapy, which means his voice varies from track to track. This highly personal journey is felt to the core of the album, which is as frustrated and angsty as it is joyful and, yes, hopeful. Tonight they start with Burn Masculinity and end with Binary – both album highlights and chant-along anthems that proudly reject stereotypes. Introducing the latter, Nye says: “I usually talk about how gender doesn’t matter but today I’m just going to say how much I appreciate the toilets here (two rooms – urinals and toilets) It’s really lowered my anxiety levels”. This confident, sharing, chattering type is a world away from the mumbling guitarist who used to eyeball the ground between songs and practically run off stage when it was all over.
Despite their ease with discussing things which have so distinctly shaped the group, there’s too much to them to risk them slipping into being a one-issue band. They have plenty of songs about growing up and being silly too. Adam’s voice is a revelation; brilliantly bratty and spiteful. The excellent I Want to Kiss You is full of warped harmonies from all three singers; Anna leads the Spectorish nightmare into an irresistible chorus. They’re infectiously good fun.
If their album title is their mission statement, The Spook School have succeeded tonight. It’s impossible to leave anything but hopeful.