ASTRID THE GARAGE, LONDON
SPACE RAIDERS DINGWALLS, LONDON
CARTOON WERE nice boys with nice songs. They smiled while they sang, and they sang about things which make them glad. At the top of their list were summer holidays, sunshine and girls. Appropriately enough, two members of the band met while working in a Mozzarella factory in Wales.
It would be invidious to knock Cartoon for being happy all the time - they are, after all, a "cartoon" band - but you couldn't help thinking they would have continued smiling if the roof had caved in and reduced their (smiling) fans to a mangled mulch. Cartoon's guitar-based bubblegum pop is meant to warm hearts, but left me cold.
There was youthful enthusiasm of a more infectious kind from Glasgow four-piece Astrid - not to be confused with the Scottish singer of the same name. Their songs have lyrics that overflow with adolescent whimsy. "I'm a boy, you're a girl/ Even when you rock my world", went their penultimate track, the subtext being: I can't stop thinking about sex even though you're quite a laugh too. Sweet and to the point.
Astrid's fluffy blonde tresses echoed the salubrious American siblings, Hanson, as did their on-stage antics. They bobbed up and down, earnestly nodded their heads and screwed up their faces when reaching for the high notes. These are exactly the kind of winsome ditties that Hanson will be doing when they finally grow up.
Even Hanson would draw the line at the kindergarten antics of Spaceraiders. Taking a leaf out of their Skint-labelmates Bentley Rhythm Ace's book, they had donned comedy outfits for the occasion and brandished plastic rayguns and similar Poundstretcher toys from behind the decks.
After the runaway success of Fatboy Slim aka Norman Cook, it seems that a stamp of approval from the Skint label is all an aspiring dance band needs to pack a venue to the rafters. As a result, Spaceraiders had a lot to live up to. Following in the Big Beat tradition, they had the requisite visual elements - Sixties B movie-inspired film loops as well as graphic artwork that seemed to have been shamelessly lifted from the Beastie Boys. But despite their wacky appearance, their music was pleasantly normal. They stuck to the Skint formula of mixing mellow lounge grooves with house rhythms, but they remained mercifully detached from the crashing drum rolls and endless sampling of their colleagues. The fluidity of their sound was marred by the presence of a seemingly redundant man with a megaphone and drumsticks, but in spite of his persistent air drumming, Spaceraiders came up with an energizing, if not altogether inventive, show.
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