Fortuna POP! Curated Shake The Shacklewell II Proves British Indie Is In Rude Health
Dalston’s The Shacklewell Arms is an odd spot. From the outside it bears a striking resemblance to the kind of establishment my dad likes to frequent. The front bar is unassuming and low key like your local, but in the back the “dance hall” sports a mirror ball, dodgy but endearing murals of reggae musicians, and is fucking roasting. Seriously, dripping.
This dichotomous pub, whose owners are “after a discerning music crowd”, is the perfect foil for the Fortuna POP! curated all-dayer Shake The Shacklewell II, back for a second year. By all accounts, the event was so successful last year, that only an idiot would have decided against having another one this year. Clearly, there are no idiots at Fortuna POP! and The Shacklewell Arms.
First up are female trio The Wharves. There’s two things you notice immediately about this P.J. Harvey and folk influenced indie pop band: the delicious vocal harmonies between guitarist Dearbhla Minogue and bassist Gemma Fleet, and the driving, pounding drum work of Marion Andrau. Hypnotic and creepy stuff.
Vancouver bubblegum pop quartet Thee AHs lighten things up nicely for their set. At times the band’s lilting and delicate pop songs are reminiscent of Beat Happening or The Vaselines, but there’s enough edge too here to make things interesting. Singer Sarah Lowenbot’s vocal work ties the whole thing together as her voice goes from vulnerable and restrained one moment to powerful and defiant the next. Mid-song she snaps a selfie with the crowd, further endearing herself to the congregation. After their set bassist Dan On told me he loves UK crowds and, judging from the band’s reception, they certainly love Thee AHs.
No Ditching are a pop punk five piece from Durham. This is bratty, no nonsense punk replete with thick yakka vocals something like if The Undertones if they came from the north. This youthful, exuberant racket immediately reminded me of being a teenager and drunkenly racing trolleys through the local Tesco car park. Good times.
London based Flowers‘ shoegaze pop is next up. This unassuming trio craft an ethereal and somewhat haunting racket. Singer Rachel Kenedy’s vocals float through a sea of echo atop guitarist Sam Ayres sometimes aggressive jangle pop strums. Their highly anticipated Bernard Butler produced debut album Do What You Want To Do, It’s What You Should Do is out in September and promises to be a humdinger.
The Proper Ornaments
The Proper Ornaments are the day’s first slight disappointment. Their 60s and britpop inflected sound is proficient and workmanlike, but on a line-up like this, that is full of bands with such abundance of personality and imagination, they fade slightly into the background. Still though, they perform with enthusiasm and their huge sound fills the room.
The punky and nerdy Martha hail from the same small town of Pity Me, Durham as No Ditching. Their hooky, group vocal laden music is lapped up by the enthusiastic fist pumping crowd who clearly absolutely adore Martha’s playful, tongue in cheek shtick. You can’t blame them. Martha craft infectious punk songs, with an excess of funny, vulnerable, and touching lyrics.
The Spook School
Edinburgh’s The Spook School contribute a playfully irreverent set. Their mustachioed drummer Niall McCamley, who bears a striking resemblance to Husker Du’s Greg Norton, entertains with tales of his odd dreams that involve members of the crowd and his mother in between catchy punk songs about isolation and gender binary. “I’ll Be Honest” and “Something” are particularly spectacular. Their set is haphazard, energetic and a clear highlight of the entire day.
Now for the special guests. Quite special there are. Perfect Pussy hail from Syracuse, New York, and their brand of hardcore is equally unforgiving, aggressive, and unrelenting. It’s direct like a kick to the nuts (or ovaries!) and the band plays with unbridled passion like a wild animal that gets left off it’s leash for two minute bursts of reckless freedom. Unfortunately, singer Meredith Graves’ vocals are completely lost in the mix. Literally cannot hear her at all. Still though, this doesn’t slow her down as she screams, shouts and bellows her way through the band’s incendiary set. Their debut album Say Yes To Love, released earlier this year via Captured Tracks, has been rightfully critically acclaimed and is even more astounding in a live setting. Epic stuff.
Cardiff five piece Joanna Gruesome are clearly Fortuna POP!’s flagship band, and are welcomed onstage like returning heroes. Vocalist Alanna McCardle and co. plough their way through their ramshackle and schizophrenic scuzz pop with aplomb. Each song pinwheels from delicate, bubblegum pop to cacophonous abrasive punk. The band are tight but feel messy. The whole set is like a runaway mine car that is constantly in danger of flying off the tracks. All this results in a unique and infectious product.
There are number of mysteries in life. One of them is why aren’t Joanna Gruesome more critically acclaimed and commercially successful? Still though, there’s benefits to this situation. Namely, we, the crowd of 150 sweaty Fortuna POP! fans, get to witness the terrible beauty of one of the UK’s most promising young bands playing live in a small pub in North London. Result!
Hit up the Fortuna POP! website. Currently one of the best indie labels in the world!