Huddled in the lobby of our block in the early hours of Sunday morning, I found myself wrestling with words in an attempt to describe the evening to my flatmates. Just then, our friend from the floor above stumbled in from the cold outdoors, proclaiming dryly, “well, Clean Bandit were _shit_”.
Now, I hesitate to be too negative in my handling of this review, but he wasn’t completely wrong.
I should begin by pointing out that I’m not your average nightclub-goer – even if you were to find me in such a place, it’s hardly likely that I’d be driving a hoedown on the dancefloor or getting my grind on with sequined beaus. No sir. If you can’t tell already, it’s just not my thing.
That said, I pride myself on knowing a good band when I see one and certainly, on their materialisation at the end of 2013 with the insane Mozart’s House, Clean Bandit grabbed my attention. Finally! Here was a dance-band truly radicalising the format; an eclectic blend of strings and bass synthesisers, impeccably produced, gorgeously fat and superbly danceable. The Jess Glynne-featuring international super-hits that followed were also pretty great, the band’s uniqueness cemented by a jaw-droppingly tight appearance on Later…With Jools Holland.
Surely then, all that performance and production technique must make for a fantastic DJ set? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Alas, no. Clean Bandit were, in fact, mind-bogglingly dull to behold. These fallen pioneers of a new, poppy IDM, are but accessories to themselves; an exercise in gimmickry and a horrid test of my patience.
It wasn’t just their DJ-ing either. After arriving onstage very late, the band queued up, waddling unprofessionally and looking terribly lost, with each musician clutching their own headphone jack and waiting for a go on the deck. It was quite pathetic to watch. Worse was the light-show, a very normal affair, and flanked by strobing PowerPoint presentations bearing variations on the band’s logo – as if to remind the mindlessly-euphoric crowd just who it was pressing the buttons at this one.
Because quite seamlessly (I’ll give them that at least), the band cut swathes through crates of bland, uninteresting chart music, dropping their own bangers in for good measure. There was no evidence of this being Clean Bandit onstage – no clever mixing; no surprising blends; not a cello to be had. I couldn’t tell you objectively if this was a bad DJ set – I don’t suppose it was. But for goodness’ sake – Clean bloody Bandit were in charge of it. If you’d have blindfolded me, I’d have been none the wiser. For sure. Which got me thinking. I looked into the crowd and no one was paying attention – obviously! It’s a club. Everyone was dancing. So if no one really cares, what’s the point in there being a celebrity DJ? More to the point – if no one cared, that must be because Clean Bandit sounded like every other DJ going. If they’d been any good, yeah, sure, people would be dancing – but hell, they’d be doing something different with their moves; some might lurk at the edges to watch the mixers at work. As before however, it’s such an artless, airless night, that the crowd throngs on in spite of itself.
Ask about – I have, and the consensus is more or less as I describe it here. Don’t be fooled by my unfamiliarity with clubbing either – writing this genuinely aggrieves me. I hate to slate a live act – but then I hate to endure a half-hearted, affectation of a performance from someone I know can do so much better. After an obscenely long wait, I was obscenely disappointed and that really is all there is to it. All I could think of the whole night was places I’d “rather be”.