Bob Geldof leans, stony-faced, against a wall as his daughter Peaches’ fiancé Thomas Cohen performs.
Geldof nods his head a bit half-way through, in grudging approval it’s hard not to share. You can question Cohen’s band S.C.U.M.’s name (honouring the extreme feminist manifesto of Valerie Solanas, whose 1968 shooting of Andy Warhol shortened his life). The dark grandeur they attempt with vintage synthesisers also makes them a parodically suitable signing to Mute Records, home of Depeche Mode in the 1980s. But S.C.U.M. are scuffed and urgent enough to live with all that.
Beginning in near-darkness, the five band-members sport an array of vintage hipster styles, such as bassist Huw Webb’s Beat poet black sweater. Cohen, bird’s-nest hair knotted at the back, could be Nick Cave’s callow cousin. His doomy Gothic vocal can barely be heard, and his would-be mystical hand-movements are floppily unconvincing. In interviews he essays an abstracted intellectual air, but the most pleasantly odd thing about him tonight is his happy little grins, not hiding his happiness in his work behind rock star hauteur. But more conviction would help a singer who doesn’t yet seem ready to front a band.
That band though, rough and messy at first, cohere in the third song, “Cast Into Seasons”, into something majestic. The excellent drummer Melissa Rigby, hidden behind a curtain of hair, drives them at a half-gallop. For “Requiem” (such a 1980s title…), Webb moves from bass to a keyboard with a lid like a battered Victorian briefcase. You can actually, briefly hear Cohen sing, and as the music vibrates in tune with strobes intrinsic to its power, he balances on the lip of the stage, laughing. Then he politely thanks the crowd, not really a Cave or Jim Morrison, perhaps thankfully.
The strobes even give Cohen’s gauche movements some gravitas during “Amber Sands”, the next single from their soon to be reissued debut album, Again Into Eyes. It rattles along, gaining momentum and weight, and is the song to get Cohen’s future father-in-law nodding.
The great New York electronic band Suicide are one of S.C.U.M.’s acknowledged influences, and the old Korg and Moog synths they play give them a similar rough analogue power. Such music once had such a shock of the new that Suicide’s playing caused riots. This crowd just happily dance to S.C.U.M.’s vital facsimile.