The Mercury Prize isn’t much to get excited about these days. Despite its judges’ best efforts, it’s an increasingly predictable marketing tool for a more upmarket demographic than the Brits.
Try telling that to 2012 nominees Django Django, though, whose self-titled debut album has some of the utopian, future-forging pop vision the Prize was surely designed for.The suits, singer-guitarist Vincent Neff proudly mentions, are just back from the dry-cleaners, all ready for the ceremony. The families of a band drawn from Edinburgh, Dundee, Leeds and Neff’s native Derry are in the audience for their biggest London gig, and staying down for the Awards two days later.
The sense of occasion could hardly be greater for a band delighted to be in Heaven(which is packed). They start with a fast tribal thump and ceremonial cymbal splashes, a ritual sort of prologue which eventually leads to “Storm”, their debut single from three years ago, which sums up Django Django’s strengths.
They splice much of what happened between synth-pop and Britpop, and a great deal of what fed into that. The played-out early 1980s revival is just a sliver of their sound, present in Tommy Grace’s banks of synths, and the Venetian blinds which descend for “Hail Bop”, as if they've been transported into the Thatcher noir of a Visage video.
They make neo-psychedelic dance-pop, most of the time. There’s something of the Stone Roses in the vocals and rhythms, Blur too, but they’ve been listening to Can and Link Wray as well. Though all the sounds are familiar, Django Django conjure a natural, quite new hybrid.
The pretty, creamy harmonies could be the Beach Boys. “Life’s A Beach” is propulsive garage-rock, drained of the genre’s 1960s darkness. “Skies Over Cairo” invokes the snake-charmer synth of The Specials’ “Ghost Town”, but this is 2-Tone retooled as time-warped post-techno synth-pop.
As it pounds its way towards a final muezzin wail, Django Django gather in the middle, all on percussion, reduced to spotlit silhouettes. Rhythms are at the core of a band led by drummer/producer David Maclean, but on “Love’s Dart” they’re delivered by coconut shells, and elsewhere by hand-claps. Django Django value the analogue and imperfect, using what’s to hand.
Their music is relentlessly optimistic, which is how they feel about pop. Tonight, as they dust down their suits, they must feel they have good reason to be.