Since relocating to London a little over a month ago, I have been able to witness firsthand the historically intimate relationship that this city has with music. London wears its artists like a badge of honor, and rightly so; from the late Amy Winehouse and David Bowie to present-day pop sensations Lily Allen and Sam Smith, this city has been home to some of the greatest names in music for decades. Music has been the backbone of many districts of the city, like the punk subculture that shot Camden Town into the spotlight, or the great Ziggy Stardust himself who made the neighborhood of Brixton “the home of music.” One of the most recent successes in English rock is The 1975, an enigmatic London-based band from Manchester known for pop tunes masquerading as rock ballads, “whiny emo lyrics” (see: the music video for the band’s latest single, “The Sound”), and a slender grasp on its black-and-white aesthetic.
The 1975’s self-titled debut LP was released in the fall of 2013, a compilation of 10 years of the band’s greatest work, that debuted at #1 on the UK charts and collected
favorable reviews from critics in the contemporary music scene. The band had previously released 4 successful EPs, garnering a moderately sized fanbase that helped steer the band toward commercial success following the release of a full album. After touring for almost two years, and earning the title of “Hardest Working Band of 2014” after playing 195 shows in a calendar year, The 1975 relocated to Los Angeles to write and record a second full-length record: I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it was released on February 26, and is anything but a sophomore slump. This album concentrates almost wholly on the concept of love as a feeling and a choice all its own; love as a theme was definitely present on the first album, but was somewhat treated as a side effect of sex and drugs and other aspects of the disturbed psyche.
Hints about a second album were first introduced to the world via social media last summer, when the band’s Instagram and Twitter accounts diverted from their strict black-and-white theme, replaced with pale pinks and neon hues. The first single from the album, “Love Me” was released last fall, ahead of a US tour held in “intimate” venues with lower crowd capacity, ensuring that only die-hard fans of the band would be the first to hear any new material. I was fortunate enough to attend the Chicago date in December, and was unsurprisingly blown away by the band’s seamless transition from a rigid, formatted sound to a more fluid, colorful one. But, that one concert back home in Chicago couldn’t have prepared me for the whirlwind week that I have spent with this band here in London.
I like it when you sleep is as much a visual album as it is audial, utilizing the work of artist Samuel Burgess-Johnson to create a physical, viewable representation to accompany the music. And so, a pop-up art exhibition was held in London on February 29, doubling as a merchandise store that drew thousands of fans, including me. I queued for eight hours to spend a measly twenty minutes inside the exhibition, but it was truly mesmerizing; the track listing was spelled out in bright pink neon light while the actual songs playing faintly in the background. Everyone was silent, taken with the sheer beauty of the room.
The following day, media mogul BBC held a Radio 1 Presents concert headlined by The 1975 (which I also attended), which was recorded and streamed worldwide in both video and audio format. The band played a condensed 9-song set, focusing on new material in order to promote the album, performing many songs live for the first time ahead of European tour, to be kicked off with 5 shows at London’s Brixton Academy. The 1975 has always been somewhat theatrical in its live show, utilizing lights in conjunction with its signature logo, a simple rectangle, to supplement the concert experience. But with this particular concert, the band showed the world its full arsenal of live antics, including floor lighting and white noise, and a full choir that brought a polished feel to what was thought to be a rock show. Watch the full set here.
Four days later, on the opening night of the tour, I stood in the front row at Brixton Academy expecting a setlist full of new songs and devoid of any trace of the old; the band had seemingly reinvented itself, after all. But, I was pleasantly and excitedly surprised when the band took the stage and played 22 songs, a perfect
sampling of new and old, singles and lesser-known gems hidden in old EPs. The visual nature of the album was once again present in the show, this time seen in towering LED screens that changed with every note, serving as vibrant backdrops for lead singer Matt Healy’s eccentrically confusing, yet fitting, dance moves. A frontman known for his self-deprecating lyrics and inferred alcoholism (mostly due to his habit of stumbling on stage, bottle of cabernet in hand), Healy has also refined his personal image to mirror the band’s new direction. Taking the stage in a fringe leather jacket layered over a floral button up, complete with pleather trousers and a glass (instead of the whole bottle) of wine, he is simultaneously the epitome of rock-and-roll and the complete opposite of it. Nevertheless, regardless of what he wears or the rock-star image that he portrays, he is an incredible performer and a genuinely kind person.
The 1975 has been defended as a “rock band” for years now, avoiding the term “pop” so as to escape all the positives and negatives that accompany it; but as a band that utilizes both complex electric guitar riffs and ethereal synths, it’s difficult for critics, fans (and the band itself) to definitively decide which genre it is. As I stood in the crowd at last night’s sold out show, the third at Brixton and my third in the past week, Matty closed the night by saying to the crowd “Thank you for letting us be a pop band,” so I think we finally have an answer: The 1975 has decided to be unapologetically and prophetically itself, whatever that may be.