Review: I Swim With Sharks
Hope House, to put it charitably, resembles the end of the world. Located somewhere between Sheepscar and Arthur Scargill, the building is stately mess of boarded up windows, rusted iron gates, a masonry facade one strong zephyr away from council condemnation, all wrapped around what must be one of the most intimate and intense (viz. cramped and claustrophobic) music venues in Leeds. Inside, ceiling panels and flickering fluorescent strips belie a previous existence as an office, and beneath their pallid glow a cluster of ‘rescued’ upholstery and furniture form a grimy pantheon for the band’s support act – a veritable Dr. Strangelove in this apocalyptic bunker – in the ‘Lounge’ room.
It’s only late afternoon, and neither the main act nor the majority of their followers have descended on the last outpost of humanity in the end times. Instead, the room is scattered with seeds of an audience, reclining on squeaking faux leather and MDF armchairs and priming the air with chatter and smoke. In the corner, The King of Cats (for it is he) begins. Screeching and howling like a harpooned Bon Iver, or Morrisey reimagined by Eli Roth, the little man from Oxfordshire is terrifying. Is it a joke? The sound he produces is – in the traditional sense – absolutely fucking awful, but that is the point: he represents the logical extreme of the earnest young musician, the reducto ad absurdum of the boy with an acoustic six-string humming along to Ben Howard in his bedroom. Strip away all suburban self-conciousness, all dignified preoccupation with inoffensive harmonies and Mum’s well-meaning music lessons, and this is what you get: an unchained, Lovecraftain beast of misdirected emotion gripping a fret-board and vocalising the constant nightmare of his conciousness to a room of indifference. His support set is a mere 30 minutes, but feels like strange eons for the all the wrong (and horrifying) reasons.
By the time we break the trance of Mercutio unplugged, the rest of the building has filled and I Swim with Sharks have assembled both their fan base and their baffling array of guitar peddles in the adjoining room. Opening with their new single, it’s easy to see why they’re the main act: polished, tight and utterly composed, delivering the sort of performance that would stand happily on any stage in Leeds, Reading or Glastonbury. Channelling Foo Fighters, the sound is anthemic and rousing almost to a fault, as the crowd bounces with anticipation and worries the plaster partition walls. But, as the set list slides on, it becomes clear that transformation of the band from niche metal hidden in pub cellars, to commercial rock a la Dave Grohl, is far from complete. The rambunctious choruses gradually give way to indulgent solos and mild screaming – a mark of musical heritage and progress perhaps, but not when it dilutes the sort of sound that got you signed. It’s a memorable night, but one that may not be succeeded if such metal recidivism remains uncorrected.
Words: Max Bruges