The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Live: NME Awards Tour

Saturday’s NME Awards Tour showcase was an evening of nostalgia and new beginnings


Saturday 6th February 2016

Manchester Academy

If there’s one theme tying together every act at Saturday’s NME Awards Tour, it’s new beginnings.

NME itself, having re-launched as a free magazine to massive criticism, is in something of a soul-searching phase currently—and in sense, so too are all of the artists from Saturday’s lineup.

Bugzy Malone, rising star of the hip hop scene, is fighting to prove that he’s more than just another grime rapper—a genre often labelled as a fad. Rat Boy and Drenge are also looking for their place in the music world, with Drenge having just released a new album that showcased a beefier sound. And then of course there’s Bloc Party who are currently touring with a new lineup and an eclectic collection of new material.

It seems that all who were involved in Saturday’s show are out to prove themselves, and they’re looking for a happy ending to their new beginnings.

Bugzy Malone kicked off proceedings with a lively‚ albeit uninventive set. However, despite the lacking instrumental variety, he made good use of his vocal prowess. At one point he indulged in a ferocious solo flow which culminated in what could only be described as a filthy drop.

Next in the lineup up was a group called Rat Boy, who had practically tumbled onstage in a ramshackle mess of scruffy clothes and teenage cheekiness. Entertainingly petulant throughout, the youthful foursome were hugely enjoyable, ballsy, and whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

Drenge, arguably the underdogs of the evening, delivered just as exciting a set. However, the band seemed at times far too clean-cut and calculated for the kind of dirty modern rock they were dishing out; they lacked a sense of danger that bands of their category should carry with them at all times. This didn’t detract from the audience’s enjoyment of their set though, as crowd surfers were being dragged from the mass of bodies at least once per song; this was particularly noticeable during ‘Bloodsports’.

And then Bloc Party arrived.

Lead singer Kele, sauntering onstage in what could only be described as pyjamas. He greeted the crowd with his usual cordiality, as the rest of the band not so much launched, but initiated their set. Beginning with ‘The Good News’ wasn’t the explosive start that everyone was anticipating— it seemingly under-cutted the visceral excitement that had been built up by the previous acts. The next few new tracks were received with some excitement, but not nearly as much as you’d expect from a band of Bloc Party’s status. At times, the members even seemed nervous; Russell and Kele looked bored during ‘Banquet’, a song which was a little sloppy in its performance. Not that anyone cared of course, any and all Bloc Party material pre-dating 2010 caused nothing short of a hysteria. Classics like ‘Helicopter’ and ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ were met with thundering applause, as was ‘Flux’.

But throughout the set, however much the crowd were loving it, there was this inescapable feeling that Bloc Party were desperately trying to get the audience to love their new material; material which just wasn’t as strong as their older work. No matter how good the band were, no matter how inventive the sampling or poignant the lyrics, the longing for great Bloc Party classics such as ‘Like Eating Glass’ and ‘The Pioneers’ were there, and that was a shame, because performance-wise, the band were virtually flawless.

What’s clear is that Bloc Party’s new lineup doesn’t detract from their live impact, and I’m certain that the crowd left the venue satisfied, and even craved more. But for this reviewer, the way that the band’s classics had outshone the rest of the set was a sad sign that they have little more to offer their fanbase.

Overall though, the evening was a blast, and if nothing else, it demonstrated that there’s plenty of fresh musical meat on offer for the future.