Having heard BBC Radio One’s relentless plugging of Warpaint, and seeing their jam-packed list of tour dates for this summer, I came to the O2 expecting big things from the LA-based band. The crowd was excitable to say the least, which will be funnier when I mention that men in their 20-somethings occupied the majority of the audience. “Which one’s your favourite?” seemed to be a recurring conversation in the groups of surrounding blokes. But in all fairness, it isn’t very often that all-girl bands come around, so, as a lady of an equally perverse nature when it comes to hot guys playing the bass, I allowed them this indulgence.
The crowd were soon whooping when amidst the hazy smoke and blue lighting, four stunning girls with crazy haircuts emerged looking ever so sultry. Combined with their languorous appearance, I found their music confusingly provoking. A bewildering clash of dissonant vocals, wandering basslines, thumping military rhythms and thematic guitar melodies fell effortlessly from their nonchalant limbs and lips. The 4-piece played a mix of tracks from their EP, Exquisite Corpse (2009) and their debut album, The Fool (2010).
Their style could described as ambient psychedelia with post-punk influences, and has been compared to the likes of The Banshees and The Chili Peppers which is hardly surprising seeing as the lead vocalist Emily Kokal dated guitarist John Frusciante (who also mixed and mastered Exquisite Corpse). The youthful voices of the three main vocalists often layered the tune, singing in unison with occasional nuances of a semitone either side or bare open chords. With the use of stuttering echo, their sound provoked thoughts of nursery rhymes sung by children with haunting overtones. At times the guitars would contradict each other with awkward intervals and descants over the vocals, and the drum rhythms were disjointed and ever-changing. But this is what was so marvellous about Warpaint. Nothing was expected. Their music and performance felt transient, new and adventurous, but nevertheless, meticulously well executed.
Despite the surprisingly dark riffs, the tension was diffused by some impressive improv (but personalised – not the usual rocking out), and some superb rhythmic pivots. Their song ‘Billie Holiday’ brought a different dimension to their other-worldly music with a unique interpretation of ‘My Guy’. The crowd was stunned to silence by Emily’s solo song ‘Baby’ which she performed during the encore with only her guitar. Most of their songs use the vocals as instrumental decoration, but in ‘Baby’, it felt like the first time the lyrics and vocal melody had real significance. The simplicity of the song struck a chord with a lot of people.
There is something different about this band; they have brought with them a new perspective on the current progression of music. The murmur of excitement following this band and their sudden surge in popularity suggests that Warpaint are only destined for big things.
Photography by Tomasz Ras