For Alt-J, 2012 really has been a busy year. After releasing An Awesome Wave in May that has been steadily achieving both critical and commercial success, the band has been going from strength to strength, building a strong fan base around their intriguingly original, trip-folk sound. The group is made up of four ex-university students that combine the talents of frontman Joe Newman (vocals/guitar), Gwil Sainsbury (guitar/bass), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboard) and Thom Green (drums) who travelled to Oxford last Friday night to play a sold-out gig to an eagerly awaiting crowd at the 02 Academy.
After squeezing my way through the mass of bodies that had begun accumulating around the dimly lit downstairs stage area and positioning myself between a couple of sweaty young teenagers (who managed to spill beer over one another quite contently whilst leaning against the front security barrier) the night kicked off a little after 7.30pm. The support act was all-female trio Stealing Sheep. Playing a selection of songs from their current album, Into the Diamond Sun, the band received a positive reception with their combination of delicate harmonies, warm synths and complex finger-picking guitars. Their sound lies somewhere between the beautifully dreamy vocal interplay of Warpaint and the folk-infused talent of Fleet Foxes. Notable tracks were the up-beat single ‘Shut eye’ and the feel-good track, ‘Genevieve’.
Now an optimistic, excited mood followed the success of Stealing Sheep as the audience began anticipating the main event of the evening. As smoke meandered its way amongst the tangle of cables and amplifiers, a huge neon-lighted triangle dominated the stage’s backdrop – a sure signal that Alt-J were ready to begin. As the boys took up their positions, vocalist Joe Newman addressed the crowd: “I don’t know if you’ve heard but we won the Mercury award last night”. Unsurprisingly, this prestigious achievement was met with a huge cheer from fans, who raised their arms and made triangle shapes with their hands (an image alluded to in their lyrics and now recognised as the band’s official symbol).
Standout songs in their set included the impressive a cappella harmonies of ‘Interlude I’, the huge drop and gritty synth incorporated into ‘Fitzpleasure’, the intricate melodic phrasing on ‘Ms’ and the captivating emotional intensity of ‘Bloodflow’. The band also showcased a relatively new cover called ‘Slow Dre’, which is a mash up of Kylie Minogue and Dr Dre that still embodies a distinctive Alt-J sound. It proved an instant winner with the crowd.
With hits such as ‘Something Good’, ‘Matilda’ and ‘Breezeblocks’ making frequent appearances on well-known radio stations across the country, it’s not surprising that Alt-J are quickly becoming one of the definite bands to add to any reputable pre-drinks indie playlist. If their live performances are anything to go by, the musical career of this Cambridge-based four piece really is set to ride on an awesome wave.