Tonight, in the bustling back room, London’s Michael Jablonka is first to take to the stage, airing his alternative rock ’n’ soul tunes whilst cloaked in a thick fog of artificial smoke. The 26-year-old is Michael Kiwanuka‘s go-to guitarist for hire and as expected he oozes class, nailing gritty riffs and virtuosic licks from beneath his big corkscrew hair. The songs from his 2016 EP ‘Myriads’ all feature this evening, with the Mac DeMarco-ish ‘Mantra’ proving to be the set’s pinnacle. Here, Michael Jablonka melds blissful, lackadaisical fretwork with his soulful vocals to create summery lo-fi that feels like it’s been warped by the beating sun.
After that rousing opening slot, fresh-faced Swedish trio Oxen bring something different altogether, creating a wintery guitar-driven noise that recalls veteran dance-rock stalwarts New Order. Below the venue’s vivid lights, three songs encapsulate their sound: ‘Come Back’ is a shimmering slice of glacial indie-pop that’s laced with sadness, ‘Only Forever’ is a raspy rock singalong that gets us all nostalgic for defunct Mancunians Wu Lyf and ‘Luck’ is a slow-building call-to-arms that sways its way to an epic climax of rip-roaring guitars and crashing symbols. Their stint brims with infectious hooks and its conclusion is greeted with bellows of appreciation, which is testament to Oxen‘s instantaneous appeal.
This evening’s HIDDEN HERD headliners, East London band Moth Trap, also make a lasting impact – with brooding alternative rock that would provide a fitting soundtrack to the moonless, pitch-black night outside. Born-and-raised in Hackney, the four-piece have been described as “one of London’s most exciting new acts” by the NME and tonight they do not disappoint: the PJ Harvey-ish ‘Tomorrow’s Sun’ is chockablock with sludgy grunge riffs, menacing atmosphere and growled refrains, while the Findlay-like ‘Black Hole’ builds and builds until it eventfully climbs to a gloriously turbulent crescendo of cymbals and six string. At the centre of each flawless psych-tinged rock epic is magnetic frontwoman Talia Cohen, who mesmerises thanks to her versatile Janis Joplin-inspired voice that swings from delicate coo to assured snarl to powerhouse howl in a split-second. It’s an impressive headline slot from Moth Trap; one that warrants the hype and tees up what should be an exciting year.