Live Music + Gig Reviews

Sunshine Underground @ Cargo, London

4 September 2006

Shake a glowstick with the hotly tipped indie-dancesters at their uber-hip album launch party in one of London’s more stylish venues.

First things first: Cargo is a fantastic venue to host an album launch party (or in fact, any party at all). Tucked neatly away in the Old Street back alleys, from the outside it’s a blink-and-you’d-miss it fly-postered nowhere land; inside, as well as the arched gig room, there’s a proper foodie restaurant/cafe serving artily arranged nouvelle cuisine and a stunning outside decking area that looks like a Shoreditch Twat version of LA’s Sky Bar, except that because this is Shoreditch and not LA, the clientele have multicoloured leg warmers instead of perfect teeth. They are, however, all about 17 and sport identikit wonky haircuts and spiky shoes (TM Mr Rik Flynn). They are also all very, very excited about seeing The Sunshine Underground, who are here tonight to launch their brand new album Raise The Alarm.

And excited they might well be. Sandwiched between DJ sets from the City Rockers, Dan Kahuna (who produced the album) and Duke Special, Sunshine Underground promise great things. They’re named after a Chemical Brothers track, they’re from Leeds (sort of, but why let a bandwagon pass by without thumbing a lift?) and they like glowsticks very much. But don’t call them new rave, they implore – after all, nobody wants to align themselves with a bandwagon until they’re absolutely sure it’s not going to breakdown en route, right?

The band saunter on, part Oasis swagger, part Jam casual. Madchester hair and siren wails; so far, so good. The room fills up considerably, and the expectant crowd breathes in. They’re good at band/crowd banter. They have glockenspiels. Their first track is bassy, a bit trippy, positioned somewhere between dance and indie in a way that’s unashamedly familiar yet also harks back further to The Doors, T-Rex and even a little bit of Love. So far so good.

But something’s not quite right, and exactly what this is becomes apparent somewhere around the third or fourth song. They’re very 1990, very psychedelic in an indie/dance crossover good way that should (and at times does) recall the best of the Happy Mondays. Yet the band they’re like more than any other is very early Blur, for all the wrong reasons. Theyre Blur in their baggy days, when they saw the main chance and went for it mainly because it was there. And, like Blur in that period, there seems to be something fence-sitting about the Sunshine Underground, something not quite from the heart, as if where they are right now is simply a good staging post, a way to get them from A to B where B is mainstream success at any cost.

They’re a little bit too slick, a little bit too considered. Large numbers of the audience are waving glowsticks because the venue is giving them out free, not because they’ve spontaneously brought them along. It’s all rather neatly controlled, rather moulded. Take a pinch of Graham Coxon-lite, a little bit of pre-Britpop from the Kinks, a little bit the proto-Oasis bit of Madchester. They’re in the middle of a musical crossroads from which all the directions were chosen 15 years ago by everyone except Kasabian and while this leaves them in a place that could, potentially, have cross-genre appeal, it also leaves them looking either a bit indecisive or a bit too managed. A band whose musical direction and image has been decided by committee rather than coming from the soul. They’re Southern Madchester, Northern Casual and it just doesn’t entirely hit the mark.

Not that the audience necessarily agrees. They seem to be lovin’ it, clapping along, waving their glowsticks, enthusiastically enjoying being filmed for the band’s next video, cheering back when they’re thanked for buying previous single I Ain’t Losing Any Sleep. They’ll happily come along for the ride.

Sunshine Underground are slick. Their set is tight and they work the crowd well. The music they make is a mix of early Blur, Happy Mondays and Oasis mixed up with a little bit of Doors psychedelia filtered through Kasabian. They can hold a riff well and they can even layer on a bit of punk sensibility when a song calls for it. For a new band, who should be all raw energy and shameless enthusiasm, they seemed just a little bit too accomplished, but don’t automatically let that discourage you from giving them the benefit of the doubt. They’re at Bestival next weekend; you might like em.

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Sunshine Underground @ Cargo, London