If anyone turned up to tonight’s Marika Hackman gig expecting an evening of soothing folk music, they were certainly in for a surprise as the whole lineup brings something of a darker groove to the hallowed stage of Tut’s.
First up are Swedish-born, London-based Francobollo, who offer their artfully deranged pop punk to an audience who seem as keen for the band’s catchy melodies as they do for their shorts.
Both melodies and shorts are rocked with a quirky nonchalance; the frequent tempo changes and heavier moments have a certain flamboyance, more playful flair than showing off.
It helps of course when the band bring their own enthusiasm (inviting us “to the rock show” as they take to the stage) and Francobollo have it in spades, springing around with edgy licks and instrumental runs, always grounded in tight rhythms that loosen at all the right moments.
A lot of their songs have an irreverent jam feel to them, stretching out with bright guitars and drifting through even vocal harmonies that complement grungier, jagged riffs.
On songs like ‘Sense’, Francobollo achieve a kind of eccentric, Foxygen-esque indie rock with hints of psychedelia in Simon Nilsson’s tantalisingly strained vocals and the odd electronic ornament.
Towards the end, Francobollo play ‘Kinky Lola’, a whimsical saunter through the nostalgic corridors of youthful encounters with music; its trembling guitars, flirtation with discordant vocals and timorous synths recall Hippo Campus’ casual languour mixed with the witty euphoria of Peace.
Brighton-based Our Girl take to the stage soon after with brooding atmospherics emanating from lush dark bass and groovy guitar licks.
At times, they play some brassy shoegaze, and Soph Nathan’s voice has that sweet, often pensive lilt, layered with reverbed guitar that’s pleasingly structured around unyielding drums.
When encountering that awkward rock’n’roll hitch of a broken string, the band deal seamlessly with the interlude by praising their first Irn Bru and it isn’t long before we’re swept back up in the warm soar of their melody-laden grunge.
What distinguishes Our Girl’s take on the Sonic Youth noise-pop legacy is the emotional subtlety of their lyrics, coupled with a strong onstage chemistry–especially between Nathan and bassist Josh Tyler–lending a certain intensity to every twirling lick.
In many ways these bands are the perfect warmup for Marika Hackman, inviting vibes both reflective and fun.
Hackman herself does both with ease, running through upcoming album, I’m Not Your Man, alongside rockier takes on the crepuscular tranquility of songs from her debut, We Slept at Last.
She cuts a pixie-like figure onstage, playfully bantering with the audience between tracks in her billowing grunge-plaid shirt, clearly up for having a good time and delivering energy over apathy.
Quite appropriately, Hackman confesses she’s been watching School of Rock in the tour bus; much of tonight’s set benefits from being fleshed out with a full band and their rockier bent.
Her new songs are punchier, sassier and sharper, but retain that trademark wistfulness.
‘My Lover Cindy’ combines shimmery guitars and dreamy harmonies with frank lyrics, as Hackman admits “I’m a lousy lover” and the chorus builds around this brazen confession: “Because I’m a greedy pig / I’m gonna get my fill”.
Some of the newer material bears the heavier weight of emotional frustration; but other times this is channelled into something bright and assertive, as on ‘Boyfriend’ which easily allures with its subtle drums and crisp riffs.
Throughout, it’s Hackman’s voice that carries the set: her sultry melodies sluice so smooth through the sharper rhythms and angular riffs, playfully balancing dreamy feminine doo-wop vibes with semi-ironic twists of aggression.
Hackman deliciously deconstructs masculinised rock, her voice irresistibly soft yet pliantly powerful (recalling the complex tones of Hackman’s former tour partner, Laura Marling); her songs—especially the likes of ‘Ophelia’—weave lonesome stories of love, longing and broken relationships through mythologically-inflected lyrics which glitter with careful lustre.
The mesmerising tribal vibes of ‘Deep Green’, met with scarlet plumes of smoke and resonant arpeggios, seduce us back into Hackman’s dark past, recalling the morbid obsessions lurking beneath her mischievously casual, laidback persona.
While the new tracks seem sparkier, ‘Violet’ reminds us that Hackman hasn’t fully left the shadows behind.
It’s an earnest, luxurious declaration of lust that seduces through surreal, fairy-tale imagery, a vivid hunger made sinuous and strange within the song’s musical restraint: “Eat me alive / I love your mouth / I’d like to roll around your tongue / Caught like a bicycle spoke”.
When called back for a few more songs, Hackman self-consciously dismisses the whole encore thing as “a bit of a farce”, but treats us to one anyway, playing two more tracks off the new album.
Alone onstage, she performs ‘Cigarette’ with characteristic honesty and emotional conviction, weaving a freshly visceral take on relationship breakdown over simple finger-picked guitar.
‘Cigarette’, in all its understatement, is devastatingly short and its loveliness makes you wish for more stripped-back versions of some of the earlier tracks such as ‘Ophelia’ or ‘Drown’.
She closes with ‘Blahblahblah’, a more upbeat take on our contemporary addiction to technology, which leaves us with a clean slice of thought-provoking guitar-pop: “I could try to emulate the braindead / but I get sick and tired of the radio buzzing”.
Combining crooning folk with lively rock, romanticism with streaks of sass, Marika Hackman is many things and her live shows prove her hard to pin down.
While it’s easy to get nostalgic for the acoustic hinterlands of Hackman’s earlier material, the truth is that a dark spur of energy has been there from the start and her new music translates this into grittier pop, dabbling with grunge but always drawing back with that velveteen voice.
One thing Hackman certainly isn’t is twee, and like fellow folk heroines The Staves, her recent turn towards a rockier style achieves that more entropic form perhaps necessary for rendering the frustrations of contemporary life, while losing none of the formative enchanting melancholy.
Words: Maria Sledmere