It’s a drizzly Tuesday evening on Cowgate, but inside Sneaky Pete’s two groups from opposite sides of the Atlantic are busy creating an atmosphere of warmth, celebration and inclusivity. The Spook School and Diet Cig are a well-paired line-up despite their geographical differences: both groups address issues of sexuality and identity, but encapsulated in energetic, upbeat melodies that acknowledge not only the struggles, but also the triumphs and thrills that can accompany the experience of figuring them out. Twee as this may sound, it makes for a cathartic and earnest performance.
Edinburgh Uni alumni, The Spook School, are up first, delivering their brand of DIY queer punk with zeal and wit. The accents of the singers are clearly, and wonderfully, audible throughout the set, aligning them with the likes of The Pastels and Martha. Vocal duties are shared among the members, adding a fluidity to the dynamic of the songs, many of which rely on similar indie-pop melodies. The frenetic bounce of ‘Speak When You’re Spoken To’ is driven by drummer Niall MacCamley and a simple electric riff, while the bratty intonations of Nye Todd roll rapidly on top. ‘Burn Masculinity’, another cut from their upfront sophomore album Try to be Hopeful, discusses coming to terms with the inherited history of your sex: “It makes us think that it’s okay to still have marriage, when there’s no way you can own a living being”. The chant-along chorus is thrown back by much of the (predominantly male) crowd, berating masculinity with the searing but nonchalantly delivered question “What good has it ever done?”. The band addresses most issues with nuance and earnestness, and maintain a light and lively stage presence despite the often somber and personal nature of the songs’ subject matter. Recent single ‘Still Alive’ is their most biting yet, a triumphant jaunt about “not being in a shitty abusive relationship anymore.” Its chorus, consisting of the taunting line “Fuck you, I’m still alive” repeated over jangly guitars, is arguably the best-received part of the set.
Before Diet Cig emerge, the stage seems sparse, with just a drum kit, guitar and pedal. However, Alex Luciano quickly fills all its corners with high-kicks and exuberant pogoing, whipping through a catalogue of short, spunky songs with an infectious vibrancy. The songs revolve around adolescence and being femme in the creative industries, with plenty of shouty rebukes and exasperated sighs directed at exes slut-shaming her (‘Sixteen’), men yapping about their ‘scene’ (‘Scene Sick’), or talking down to her in general (‘Link in Bio’). The reverb and fast beat of the latter are undercut by a sparkling melody and a relatively soft delivery from Luciano, but some of the lyrics can seem a bit cringey, even though their message is very relevant: “I’m done with being a chill girl! I’m trying to take over the world! Don’t tell me to calm down!” It’s clear, though, that she means every word she sings, energetically and breathlessly imbuing each phrase with passion. Some of the songs from their recent debut album Swear I’m Good at This fare even better live than on the record, the boxy room giving a meatier backbone to songs like ‘Bite Back’ and ‘Barf Day’, and emphasizing their use of a quiet-loud dynamic. Acoustic snippet ‘Apricots’ offers a sweet lull in the set – lines about curing homesickness through a trip to the supermarket for stuff your Mum would buy are a departure from an otherwise spunky, vivacious performance.
Whatever about the occasionally grating phrasing though, putting two bands with as much enthusiasm and animation as these in a venue like Sneaky Pete’s can only be a good idea. The crowd is receptive and eager, and the bands feed off of this and return it back again with more force. The Spook School and Diet Cig just want to encourage you to be yourself, and challenge you to enjoy it as much as they do.
Image: Daniel Dorsa