I am surprised in our very cynical indie world that there isn’t more being made of the transparent cycle to break UK acts in the states. The point of the cycle is creating a buzz and maintaining it as long as possible (at least until radio picks up a single or two). The cycle begins in late December/early January and works as follows:
Phase One: Play a string of “introductory” shows in major cities at bars a third of the size they could already be playing, especially given our file-trading/blog culture where fledgline UK acts were well known here in America before being signed (see: Arctic Monkeys).
Phase Two: A primo slot at SXSW that will have reporters talking of long lines, ecstatic crowds, and a celebratory, sweat drenched set (ever notice every review of a SXSW set sounds the same?)
Phase Three: The record’s release stateside to coincide with said SXSW performance. Usually in late February/early March. Finally, people can find out what the hype is about, ignoring the fact that those in the know (you know, the people that would sell out a bar to see an “unheard of” UK band) have had the album for months already.
Phase Four: Culminating on a spot at a large music festival, preferably Coachella. Confirmed as a viable U.S. act, expect to see promotion on the band to really increase.
Each phase leads into the other, and any misstep could dissolve the fragile cycle for the band, postponing their break into the U.S. until their next album or possibly indefinitely (only now are Muse getting headway after years of attempts). This cycle has proven very successful for Bloc Party (’05) and Franz Ferdinand (’04), slightly successful for other bands (such as Maximo Park), or a dead end for others (JJ72).
’06’s first spin through the cycle is Editors, a quartet of brooding, fashionable post-punks described by some as the “UK”s answer to Interpol.” While these sort of trans-Atlantic comparisons are tenuous at best (Franz was called “The Scottish Interpol,” for example), this one is particularly apt, though Editors are more earnest and conventional (i.e, marketable) then NY’s fashion darlings. Chock it up to their infusion of U2-style hooks and arena-sized sound. These guys are ready now to be headlining said festivals. Which is why I am seeing them in bar with a 300 person capacity.
Sitting on a broken Golden Tee machine, I was at Great Scott’s to witness phase one as Editors are on their first headlining U.S. trek (they supported Maximo Park here last summer on a bill that would sell out in minutes across the pond). Anyone who read my old column, Under the Influence, knows I have been trumpeting their cause for some time and was very excited about this show, especially given the surroundings. Great Scott’s has a growing reputation as a venue for hip bands “in-the-know.” The Subways (another UK band making waves in the states) played their first Mass. show here in December, and I saw Clap Your Hands Say Yeah here the same week they released their now ubiquitous debut.
If the band gets irked when Interpol or Joy Division get mentioned (as was the case when I interviewed them), they certainly don’t do much to dispel the comparisons. Music aside, their image (music packaging, press photos, merch, etc) displays the same minimalist photography, gothic fonted lettering that lets a discerning customer know what to expect from the music. Even the bands dancing commands comparison. Midway through set opener “Lights” it is abundantly clear that singer Tom Smith is a proud graduate of the Ian Curtis School of Dance.
Every word from Smith was met with rapturous screams and applause. The songs were familiar with the audience (culled from their July ’05 album that will see release here in….you guessed it. March), and even if they weren’t, they would have won the crowd. “Bullets” and “Blood” were album-perfect, sounding more polished and tight then their last visit to the U.S., where they were criticized of being unsure of themselves on stage. That is certainly not the case anymore.
At a show as electric as this, there is always the chance a band can lose their momentum when they dip into their slower material. That wasn’t the case here, as the energy level was maintained when they broke out “Fall.” Another reason is that these mid-tempo numbers have the kind of rapturous endings that translate well to the people in the back of the concert as they do to those in the front.
Set over, the band is whisked away, single file, through the bar and out the front door, guaranteeing no encore. Cynicism aside, the band put on a great show. The album is great and they were able to bring across its big sound across, no small feat given the size of the venue.