Hot Club de Paris, Scala,London<br/>The Sounds, Water Rats London

Is it me, or has indie gone posh?
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The Independent Culture

Hot Club de Paris, for all the ironic exclusivity of their name, couldn't be more inclusive if they tried. "Welcome to the Hot Club de Paris, welcome...", the Liverpudlian trio chant in a warm a capella greeting.

And yet, walking into one of their shows can bestow, upon the uninitiated, the bewildering feeling of entering a room full of laughter just after the punchline has been delivered.

There are two primary reasons for this. Here's the first. This may be something of a side-issue - and it's perhaps unfair to single out HCDP - but have you been to an indie gig lately? I'm not just talking about Kasabian or Razorlight. I'm talking about gigs by really indie bands. If you have, you can't have failed to notice a real change in the clientele around you. Everywhere you look, you see horsey young fillies canoodling with flush-faced young bucks, fresh out of public school. The Scala tonight is teeming with them.

Not that indie rock has ever been proletarian as such, but for the first two decades of its development it was certainly Outsider Music, made by and for misfits, freaks and visionaries. Nowadays, it has become a social club for dressed-down debutantes to see and be seen. Something, without a doubt, has been lost.

The second reason is that Hot Club de Paris are, in essence, one big in-joke. Fortunately, once you overcome the feeling that you don't know the correct handshake, you aren't wearing the right tie or mouthing the right shibboleths, it's rather a good one.

Even if it's one you've heard somewhere before. In terms of content, they're Half Man Half Arctic Monkey, specialising in real-life tales delivered in a style which summons, for want of a less sickening alternative, the word "quirky" (although the line "I can't promise you champagne fountains and ice sculpted swans" is uncommonly beautiful).

In terms of sound, they carry the indelible mark of Futureheads fans, with their asymmetric time signatures, flat, almost mediaeval harmonies, and gimmicky interjections (like the interactive "Woooh!" in "Sometimesitsbetternottostickbitsofeachotherineachotherforeachother"). The treble is like fresh air, the bass is like a punch in the guts. Add it all together and you've got a Fall for the privately educated.

To further dismantle the mystique surrounding them, HCDP have the admirable decency to actually explain their songs before playing them (and, given that 50 seconds is a not-atypical duration for a HCDP track, the explanations frequently last longer than the songs themselves). "This is a song about getting done for arson...", Matthew Cameron Smith announces in his gentle Scouse accent before one song, adding, "It's not a true story".

And if you're still feeling left out? They hold a question and answer session.

Surely by now, you would think, we've scraped pop's barrel clean of big-in-Scandinavia, unheard-of-over-here bands. You'd be wrong, because here, hoping to follow in the crossover footsteps of The Cardigans and The Hives, comes another one. Since forming in 1999, The Sounds, a New Wave quintet from Helsingborg, have regularly reached the Swedish Top 10, but barely caused a flicker on the radar this side of the North Sea.

In fact, they've overshot the UK completely, and launched an assault on the US instead, with a not-inconsiderable degree of success. Britney and Pharrell are said to be fans, as are Tarantino and Dave Grohl (who has worn a Sounds T-shirt in a Foo Fighters video), they've toured America supporting the Foos, Strokes and Panic! At The Disco, and vocalist Maja Ivarsson, guesting with Cobra Starship, sang the theme to last summer's B-movie Snakes on a Plane.

After that sort of rise, playing a small pub-theatre on Grays Inn Road must feel like something of a come-down, but if it does, Ivarsson, their lopsided lawnmower blonde of a frontwoman, isn't showing it, climbing on the drum riser and indulging in a spot of Howlin' Pelle-style self-aggrandisement (albeit of a more modest stripe): "How do you like it so far? It's getting there, right?"

The most obvious comparison is Blondie circa "Call Me", and Killers producer Jeff Saltzman has done for Ivarsson's band what Giorgio Moroder did for Debbie Harry's (that is to say, polished them into a rock-disco machine without blunting their New Wave edges). That tish-tish beat on the hi-hat never lets up once.

The difference is that, unlike Harry's seductive sigh, Ivarsson has the sort of voice that could warn Baltic shipping of rocks dead ahead (and, with a slight tailwind, might even have saved the MSC Napoli), a throwback to the post-Siouxsie school of pomp-punk yelling (Willcox, Lovich, Hagen, O'Connor).

"You've been amay-sing", she tells us. Before long, she'll be hoping, the UK might be saying it back.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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