Pop: I'm Sure I Saw Them on A Poster...

A new regular round-up of bands you won't have seen on `top of the pops'
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NOW THAT Ash are all grown up, the music press is desperately in need of someone to whom it can direct its wisecracks about A-levels and bedtime. Gel may be just the ticket. Their average age is 17 and their predominantly female fan-base is known by their record company as the Jellytots. And the fact that they cite the Spice Girls and the Ramones as influences doesn't make taking them seriously any easier.

They are an unruly lot. They stumble around the stage like newborn kittens, and the singer's attempts at a manly snarl come across as a gauche giggle - he is like the kid in the school play who can't stop smiling at his parents. They wear matching spangly shirts with pencil-thin ties, and have wonky spikes in their hair. Their set consists of fluffy three-minute thrash songs with sharp punk chords, raucous drums and breathless teenage lyrics. On first impressions, they are a delight, though their formulaic anarchism wears thin after a few numbers.

Ominously enough, they are hitching a ride as the support act on Republica's Astoria slot after being handpicked by their singer Saffron. Though Gel have enough zest to keep a teenage crowd jumping, their set needs something more substantial if they want to avoid going down the same road as their horribly hollow patrons.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are Dark Star, who, despite their screamingly camp name, take themselves remarkably seriously. They are the remaining fallout from the sombre early-Nineties prog-rock outfit Levitation, who became infamous for sabotaging interviews with talk of flying saucers, reincarnation and Egyptology. They went their separate ways in 1994 when their singer copped an inexplicable strop halfway through a gig and left.

As the first band on at the Forum, Dark Star display the same intensity and theatricality that defined their former selves - unsmiling, heads down, shrouded in dry ice. But even with their inflated self-importance, they are mesmerising. Dark Star lull you into thoughtfulness, even serenity, and then ambush you with tumultuous guitars and psychedelic sequences. Bic's voice, never fully exploited in Levitation, is surprisingly versatile. As long as they can keep their self-aggrandisement in check, their awe- inspiring melodies and fractured post-rock sound may be just what we need to combat the current profusion of empty-headed Britpop.

Which neatly brings us to The Superbs. A band that calls itself that may be asking for it, but unless they change their name, not to mention their hackneyed Britpop sound and look, they are destined never to live up to their self-image. Maybe Dodgy had it right all along.