CSS, Alpines @Club Academy, Manchester – 30/08/11


Fear the fad, and fret for those caught up in the fad. It was always easy to feel a little sorry for CSS getting lumped in with the “nu rave” scene, if only because their day glo, messy-but-glossy pop music (yes, pop music) could have fitted in with any number of other scenes from chirpy 80s synth pop right through to today when Metronomy can collaborate with Nicola Roberts and no one finds this particularly weird. Maybe it was the fear of being forever linked to nu rave which led them to their often disappointing second album, ‘Donkey’, but now CSS find themselves out in the cold. Ish. In fact, as the arse-end of August decides to do an uncannily accurate impression of October, the only warm place around seems to be crammed into the basement Club Academy to see what the girls have to offer.

First up is Alpines who would find themselves in a similar boat to CSS circa 2005 if only someone could come up with a catchy genre name for all the vaguely gothic, girl-led synth acts who regard Karin Dreijer Andersson as the most important musician of the last 20 years. Like Niki And The Dove, Austra, Replicas, Esben And The Witch, et al, Alpines trade in stately paced songs which seem to come from forests and moors, but filtered through the creme of 1980s synth and drum machines. They start a bit slowly, as if unsure that their sometimes delicate, sometimes booming sound can cope in such a low ceiling-ed basement. As it happens, at first it can’t, and the guitars and sometimes the vocals get lost in the smush of noise, but as the band grow in confidence they seem to take control of things. New single ‘Cocoon’ in particular sounds like a rave from the depths of Odin’s garden.

CSS meanwhile sound like a bunch of bratty rich-kids who have decided to paint their faces and get pissed. Ok, that’s cos they are a bunch of bratty rich-kids who have decided to paint their faces and get pissed, but on their first album their sheer shamelessness about this fact was what made it endearing. They were a gang of weirdos who could afford to be as weird as they liked. Losing a member, bassist Ira, for the second album dented that image, and now they seem to be touring without Adriano Cintra too. It initially seems a bit weird to see the four girls left, in front of two rent-a-blokes on bass and drums, but CSS were always at their best live.

And so it proves. Despite their drop from the limelight there’s no denying that Lovefoxxx remains one of the most endearing and energetic frontwomen in music, and as if to prove it she takes less than two minutes to lunge into the crowd as the band kick off with the punky ones – ‘Rat Is Dead (Rage)’, ‘La Liberacion’, from the second and third albums respectively. If neither record is capable of hitting the consistent heights of their debut then it doesn’t seem to be deterring Lovefoxxx, who returns to the stage in messy style, dragging half the front row with her. They form a huddle around her, a scrum of girls in bright clothing. Lovefoxxx herself cannot and will not be outdone on the costume stakes, shedding layers of clothes to reveal strange outfits, a batman mask, a bat bowtie, a vampire cape. She’s a captivating presence, and the nonsense which passes for between song banter is top notch, ranting about turning 30 soon (she’s at least a couple of years off that) and introducing Snoop Dogg for ‘Red Alert’ (not altogether surprisingly he doesn’t appear, clearly dizzling some shizzle elsewhizzle).

The songs from the new album sound good, but then again so do the ones they play from ‘Donkey’. They are a band who really light up live, but on record only the debut has really captured this. It’s not unsurprising that the best moments are the best moments from the debut – ‘Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above’, ‘Alala’, ‘Music Is My Hot Hot Sex’. They’re still worth seeing, and occasionally a new song hits the heights of old – ‘City Grrrl’ is a brilliantly swaggering electro rocker – but in a way this is a nostalgia trip back to the heady days of 2005. Which wasn’t that long ago. Still, at least there were no sodding glowsticks this time.

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