Sam Genders, founder and former frontman of folktronica act Tunng, went in a more glinting electro-pop direction on his warmly received Diagrams debut record, Black Light, which came out in January.
He ditched some of the glitch, the irritating samples and a lot of the more traditional folk elements of Tunng, and gave the whole thing a slick, snappy, precision that won them comparisons to Hot Chip and Metronomy (even as his mossy-thick Derbyshire vocals more bring to mind Doves or Elbow).
Sadly, this clipped tightness is lost in their live performance. This is Genders' project, but he plays live with a shifting line-up: tonight, they're an eight piece. They mix up the electronica – a couple of synths and laptops and drum pads – with live jams courtesy of a brass section (trombone, saxophone and trumpet), a regular drum kit, both electric and acoustic guitars and a bass. Sometimes, this works: 'Appetite' supports a funky guitar hook with a ballast of brass; 'Peninsula' layers up marvellously, with psyching out synths and cymbals, that brass section swapping to violins and clarinets, while the vocals become increasingly rhythmic, almost chanted. But even on these we also get a muddier, baggier sound – and the levels are often off too. Lyrics are largely incomprehensible, particularly from the almost inaudible backing singer, a slightly worried looking girl who also plonks away on a keyboard.
Genders may be the nicest man performing on stage anywhere in the country tonight: despite a frankly rude crowd, who chatter away throughout the songs as well as the admittedly sluggish between-song changes, Genders couldn't be more upbeat and appreciative. “Thank you very much, that was fun,” he says, frequently, with the kind of bounding, un-ironic enthusiasm more commonly seen in children’s TV programmes than Hoxton. He even has us singing happy birthday to their trumpeter Sam.
His enthusiasm isn't quite matched with confidence from his band yet, especially in the face of an arrogant, indifferent audience It is their fist tour; maybe this will come. And it's not for the lack of great songs: even given a blunt beat and being nervily galloped through, 'Black Light' is still obviously a cracking tune, while their encore, single 'Tall Buildings', has a vivacious energy and chewy guitar line that would surely make even reluctant feet twitch. Sadly, they just don't reach the same tall heights as on record.