Image Credit: Sam Harding
At the end of the zombie film 28 Days Later there’s a hallucinatory quick-cut to the idyllic green hills of England— which are flipped upside down and have the word HELL stitched across one corner. Except it isn’t a fever dream, just the unfinished lettering of a giant ‘HELLO’ sign for attracting the attention of a rescue plane from the outside world, a pastoral scream from the apocalypse.
On their debut album Bright Green Field, the Bristol art-rock band Squid deal in similar vistas of doomsday, as they tour on the heels of Brexit, the pandemic, and the attention drawn to their trawling themes of paranoia and agoraphobia on these concrete isles. And I haven’t even mentioned global warming yet.
Playing at the Newcastle University Student Union, to an audience split evenly between raucous freshers and an older crowd sipping moustachioed lagers (and bisected by a massive pillar in the middle of the basement that, while probably load-bearing still obscured the stage for a fair chunk of hipsters), the five-man outfit presided over a gnashing set that highlighted the vitality of indie artists seen up-close in mid-sized venues. Since Brexit, the new bureaucracies and expenses of touring Europe have hit these musical tiers hardest, and despite the ‘return to normality' embodied by a crowded gig— Squid play music that places these messy realities front and centre, tapping into the looming anxieties that define our generation.
Sound-wise, their haywire style of punky, jazzy guitar-music is a delirious fix, while lead vocalist and drummer Ollie Judge maintained a shout-scream that thrashed all night alongside the blasted instrumentals. Their set was full of moments both frenetic and paced, lulling the humid room into moments of mosquito-stillness before honing in on a lone trumpet or the steady rise of Judge’s declamatory voice from weary into wild. Inspired by everything from German Krautrock to sci-fi novellas, heroin overdoses, brutalist architecture and medieval instrumentation, the tunes are weirdly, but very intentionally danceable— a factor that sets them apart from many of the bands occupying the same experimental rock milieu. It also takes the edge off some of the more dystopian lyrics by veering into the brighter, although still turbulent sonic hormones of being a young adult growing up today.
The climax of album centrepiece ‘Narrator’ packed the biggest punch of the evening, a long and postmodern track encapsulating both the mania and the mutuality of their outfit, hooking each layer of glitchy instrumentals around Judge’s increasingly desperate pronouncement ‘I play my part!’, as each band-member played theirs to mosh-conducting effect. Encore tracks ‘Documentary Filmmaker’ and ‘Pamphlets’ were fitting aftershocks, both looming like portents of a harsh winter ahead as the UK heads through new crises towards the end of the year. But hey, it had been almost two years since my last live concert. And if any band is going to ease you back into the foreboding and uncertainty that is 2021, it’s Squid.