Ist Ist

Sebright Arms, London E2 - 1st March 2019
It's six years now since the renaissance in alternative music kicked into action and it is great to see fine new bands still emerging. Manchester's Ist Ist have been one of the movement's recent highlights, a band who have done everything right in working their way up from tiny venues to sold out gigs and sold out records. You have to travel some way from their home town now to catch them in intimate surroundings and the Sebright Arms in the East End of London fits the bill nicely. It's strange venue for gigs, a pub in the middle of nowhere, a bit detached from public transport, with a well concealed basement in its depths. It is somehow fitting that this has become a second home for emerging underground bands – The Cellar, Nowhere-in-Particular, The Big City.

That said, it's a fine venue. The sound is superb all the way through the evening and there is enough room for the eighty-odd audience to get a view and get a drink without being crowded out. On the whole those in attendance are young and that is encouraging. It is also a twenty-first century audience in a twenty-first century environment which means we struggle to comprehend what is going on. At the bar they don't ask for money but bring out the card machine for a contactless transfer. And what happens on the stage is even more bewildering. The upsurge in vinyl demand in recent years has led to a lot of young people discovering post-punk classics which is great. Yet these appear to sit easily in their collections with all sorts of rock and prog bollocks. Anything is suddenly acceptable. Is there no discernment any more? Apparently not. We arrive at the venue just in time for the second band and they immediately throw me on the back foot with the singer shouting, "Let's see your arms in the air." What?

I sit at the side of the venue shaking my head. Ist Ist are obviously not big enough yet to pick their own support bands, and though this means we get to catch them in cosy surroundings, it also has its down sides. The duo on stage launch into 'Satisfaction' and spout every rock and roll cliche known to man. "Have we got your attention?" "This is your bit." Worst of all they ask the audience to sit down. And they actually do. Words fail me. I had been sitting at the side praying for death, so I have no choice now but to stand up. The woman on my right does the same. I love her. "Karaoke shite," she mutters.

The duo launch into T.Rex's 'Twentieth Century Boy' and leave. It has been excruciating. I travelled nine hours on the train for this? But then Ist Ist take to the stage and immediately all is well with the world.

Before the band launch into 'Preacher's Warning' from their Spinning Rooms EP, Adam Houghton smilingly plays the opening bars of 'Twentieth Century Boy'. It's a great moment, soon washed away by the immense waves of sound Ist Ist produce. They have developed music so powerful now it would be easy to submerge yourself in its strength without appreciating its intricacies. And they are there in abundance. These songs are finely crafted, delicately pieced together, with Houghton's voice adding further dimensions, demonstrating passion, despair, rage and wonder. They create stunning vistas, pieced together from broken shadows and burnt-out memories. Yes, of course they sound like bands who have gone before, but the whole purpose of renaissance is to gather the best of what has been and re-shape it into the best of what is now. This band is contemporary. And relevant as hell.

The set contains the remainder of Spinning Rooms – 'I'm Not Here', 'An Interlude', 'Emily' and 'Diversion' –  and most of the new EP, Everything Is Different Now –  'Exist', 'Son Is The Father', 'Jennifer's Lips', 'I Want To Disappear' and 'Undignified'. Also included are the early singles, 'Silence' and 'Nights Arm' and what must be a new song, 'Black'. They play beautifully. Joel Kay's drumming is crisp and punctuated, Andy K's bass is emotive and driving, and Mat Peters' keyboards either push you off your feet or build filigree around you. Houghton's guitar is the same. It can hurt and it can dance. God, this lot are good.

Gig over, the audience emerge from the depths into the crowded pub. Most of the drinkers are singing raucously to 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on the jukebox. Below, the best new band in the country have played an immaculate set. The outside world is oblivious to it all, preferring to immerse themselves in overblown seventies pomp rock. It was always that way. I know where I belong.

Kristin hersh in Manchester
Rockaway Beach 2016
Spectres live at The Hope & Ruin, Brighton, April 2017
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