The Kooks, HMV, London <br/> Hotel Motel, Notting Hill Arts Club, London

Why the kids can't Kook, won't Kook
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The Independent Culture

It's all quiet on the West End front. Oxford Street is spookily deserted tonight. Half of London's workforce has thrown a sickie due to a Tube strike, added to which the capital's nightlife is still semi-comatose after Christmas and anyone sane is rushing home for the latest addictive fix of the Burns-Marsh feud (and Maggot's genius asides) on Celebrity Big Brother.

Quiet, that is, apart from one corner of the HMV store, which has been transformed into a playground. It's full of schoolies in here, straight from classes. The CD aisles - my vantage point is adjacent to Madness, Madonna and Magazine - are jammed with boys who look like Screech from Saved By the Bell, and girls who look like Daria from... well, from Daria. I'm surrounded by pale, posh Southern youth, all flushed cheeks, greasy curls, orthodontic braces, rucksacks and excitable squeals ("There's someone from our year over there!").

When the main cause of the excitable squeals takes the stage, shakes his greasy locks from his flushed cheeks and announces "One-two, hello, we're The Kooks", and his ginger-fro'd mate starts some strangled-fretboard riffing, I swear he was stood in front of me five minutes ago. The Kooks, then, are of the kids, as well as for the kids. He may be wearing a Camel T-shirt underneath his unzipped hoody, but Luke Pritchard wouldn't get served fags by any responsible newsy. This, perhaps, is part of his group's appeal.

That, and the simple matter of access. It's a gig (and one with no age restrictions, to boot). It's a band (and one that exists within the pages of NME, to boot). They're allowed to play, and they're allowed to watch. It keeps the youth off the streets (Charles Clarke would be proud).

Beyond that, I'm struggling. With just one exception (they end on a reggae number which makes Babyshambles' similar effort sound like Sly and Robbie), this Brighton quartet specialise in the kind of club-footed Britrock stomp that I thought we'd left behind when Cast called it a day. (Just as the blues were the lingua franca of the first generation of Britrockers, I think as I bump my elbow against that Led Zeppelin box set with the crop circles on the front, this stuff is the native tongue of the new crop.)

"I know it's a bit weird that we're in a record shop," quips Pritchard, "but... yeah." Not one for finishing his sentences. Not a raconteur. If he had an audience in the palm of his hand, he'd spill it.

He's right, though. For the duration of the first song, the screen behind The Kooks is showing a looped ad for The Eurythmics (nothing stops the march of commerce). "Have a good day," he says at the end, remembering the punchline this time. "And it's ample opportunity to steal records."

"Is it anyone famous?" asks a casual shopper, tapping me on the shoulder. "No", I reply truthfully. But the kids at the stage don't care: it's someone from their year, over there.

Being Boiled is a Notting Hill club night named after a Human League classic, and run by Sarah Blackwood from Dubstar and Client so, as you've already divined, aloof synthpop is high on the agenda. Hotel Motel fit right in like a silicon fist in a velvet glove.

They also fit perfectly on to a timeline of techno tragedy which runs from Eighth Wonder's "I'm Not Scared" to The Knife's "You Take My Breath Away". An electro trio temporarily slimmed to a duo (keyboardist Suzanne is, er, holidayinn'), Hotel Motel are led by Cardiff girl Marika Gauci, who could be Charlotte Church's corrupting older sister. When she isn't singing power ballads in a 1980s Madonna style, she comes over like Alison Goldfrapp singing for Depeche Mode at their sinful, synthful best.

For a bit more of that, I reckon we have a vacancy.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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