Someone leans over to their friend and mutters: “It’s so quiet. It’s a bit weird, isn’t it?” To be fair, she has a point. Nestled in the back of Rough Trade East, amid the boxes of merchandise lined up in size order, British/Icelandic born Dream Wife take to the stage in front of some of the first people to hold their debut eponymous record. “I’m not standing here”, says the friend. “I’m moving to the front” as she surges forward. Now it’s clear why.
This isn’t the polished pop perfection from recent single heavyweight, ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ (although it does make one hell of an opener). Guitarist Alice Go’s fretwork is deft and scrappy, more Delta 5 than Destiny. Glorious reverb drenches ‘Your Lolita’ over a thundering bass as time signatures smack up against one another. Lurching for a sing-along and then juddering back to skronky chords, all bounded up in a shellsuit. ‘Fire’ is a bit more reflective musing over being dealt a bad hand, but rolling up your shirt sleeves despite it: “I wasn’t always your future so I guess we’ll play it the best way we can”.
Wild abandon and simple friendships greet us in ‘Kids’ with its blissful Big Moon strums, reminiscing of Upstate New York, warm summer evenings and bruised knees. But it’s ‘Somebody’ where things start to boil below and the band throw a sucker punch our way. The track might sound like a candy pop classic but the lyrics warn of sexual harassment and the band’s mission to support other women taking space up at shows: “You were a cute girl backstage it was bound to happen”. When vocalist, Rakell Mjöll sings about how she took on the world, in light of recent events, it sure feels like it sometimes.
The dark mood transcends with ‘F.U.U’ as Mjöll tells us what we want, what we really really want in an artfully entwined Spice Girls breakdown. As the menacing guitars weave in and out, she ushers the stationary men planted at the barriers to “step aside, these girls want to mosh”. And these Bad Bitches do. The band announce that this is a special show for them as they bid farewell to London for a few weeks heading down under to Australia. ‘Let’s Make Out’ is a parting gift then, reminding us not to be too shy to ask for what we want, and deserve.
Turns out twenty years on from girl power’s first incarnation, we’re still asking for the same thing (and our friend had it right at the start): solidarity and access to the party pit. And if we can make that happen in the backroom of a hushed record store, is it too much to dream?
Dream Wife is out now via Lucky Number.
Photo credit: Joanna Kiely