Clean Bandit Come To Exeter University

by Matthew Graham

Having spotted tickets for this event last academic year, just after the overwhelming trail of hype left by Rather Be, I was anxious to get my hands on some as fast as I could. Despite earlier misconceptions of having heard very little of their material, Clean Bandit certainly impressed me. Being of the electro/dance genre, I was initially vaguely skeptical about how well this would translate into a live gig, especially in the somewhat awkward spacing of Exeter’s Great Hall. Yet the outcome was pleasantly surprising and their trademark blend of classical and electronic elements did not disappoint.

Firstly, the atmosphere of the crowd was electric, and the mass collective eagerly lapped up any hint of encouragement from Clean Bandit. Guest singers Florence Rawlings and Elisabeth Troy had to only clap once for the crowd to carry it through the rest of the song without a moment’s hesitation. This was what really made the gig come alive. There wasn’t a single moment when we didn’t undulate and pulse with movement – never being still – even during the set’s slower tracks, which I hasten to add, provided well-placed moments to catch your breath between the bigger songs. It was definitely a high-energy gig and there was no other option than to dance. Indeed, the enhanced bass of Mozart’s House and Heart On Fire had everyone bouncing and kept the energy at a constant high – so much so I would argue these tracks came across better live than on the album.

The band themselves were what for me, fell a little flat. Cellist Grace Chatto majorly lacked stage presence, spending most of the night stood awkwardly at one side of the stage like a spare part, seemingly unsure of what to do with herself. Likewise, percussionist and synth players Jack and Luke Patterson remained merely background members for the gig’s entirety, emerging from the shadows simply to bow at the end. Chatto only really came out of her shell during Come Over were she provided vocals, which were actually pretty solid, and exhibited some of the dance moves I recognised from their videos. The standout member therefore was without question violinist, Neil Amin Smith. His raunchy swagger and snake-hipped displays to both the other singers onstage and to the audience delighted many. Whilst his exceptionally confident solos with his violin brought out the best attributes of Clean Bandit’s signature style.

Furthermore, as far as stage decorations go, there were none. Not even a band logo. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by this, considering they have had a massive Number 1 hit. I expected there to be a little more in the way of display, it looked as though I was at a gig for a completely unknown group. What’s more, the lighting was pretty unspectacular and for the most part was pretty basic – although it was at it’s best during Rawling’s sultry solo performance of Birch where it provided an eerie backlit cloud of white.

Having said this, Clean Bandit really shone towards the end of the gig, climbing to meet the crowd at the dizzying heights of their verve. Finale, Nightingale, ventured into a delightfully darker, rave sound thanks to the use of the Gorgon City remix. And a guest appearance from Shana Bass for Extraordinary whipped up a frenzy. Their encore consisted of a perfectly performed cover of 90s tune, You’ve Got To Show Me Love, that blended the classic with the band’s house twist and was enhanced by Smith’s violin rendition of that iconic musical refrain. The scream when the first chords of Rather Be played was deafening and everyone left completely buzzing. Indeed, the whole evening went by surprisingly quickly, so I was definitely having fun. Overall, Clean Bandit were good, but not the best live act I’ve ever seen. And of course, the gig ended with the obligatory crowd photo.

On a side note, I would also recommend their support act, Years & Years. Often, I find support acts are just vehicles to make the main act look better, being a bit crap themselves. But Years & Years weren’t. Frontman Olly Alexander’s vocals were silky and his moves as much so. Their music matched Clean Bandit’s in its upbeat and dancey style, thus getting the atmosphere in just the right place for the main act.