It’s difficult to trust HMLTD at first sight. A garish assault of military accessories, art deco makeup, fishnet and tailoring in technicolour, the London-based sextet can easily come across as an overbearing pastiche – a bunch of New Romantics for the new millennium, with little to offer but shock tactics and a loyalty scheme with Bleach London.
It’s a good thing, then, that there’s substance beneath the blinding exterior – their sprawling collection of genre-flouting songs is some of the most genuinely exciting, invasive music to be heard from the capital in a good while. Ambitious and dedicated to crafting an artistic vision that enacts an incendiary assault on all the senses, the last thing on their minds is being down to earth. Having steadily built up a reputation for staging phantasmagoric extravaganzas at their London shows, customising venues into budget horror movie sets, Heavenly debauches, and most recently a Hellish masquerade, it was intriguing to see whether this creative carnival would be brought up north too.
As it turns out, it wouldn’t, which is understandable enough budget-wise, but the band fared excellently even without the frills. Despite the lack of disembodied mannequins, stuffed tights or fluffy clouds suspended from Broadcast’s scalp-skimming ceiling, the show manages to encompass a theatricality that is rare and precious on the live circuit at the moment. Opening act Pixx commands the stage with flamboyant swagger, whetting the crowd’s appetite with erratic synth-pop gems such as ‘Waterslides’ and ‘I Bow Down’. Although the Sauchiehall St basement doesn’t allow much space for mobility, it’s clear from the moment HMLTD take up their positions that the room is in for a vociferous performance: the audience is antsy and eager to get going, and frontman Henry Spychalski’s steely eyes are gauging the mood from the front few rows. Seemingly satisfied, the band launches into ‘Is This What You Wanted?’, an initially sedate number comprising a steady drum loop, some isolated guitar chords and Spychalski’s echoing drawl, before vacuuming into a spiky, distorted interlude and accelerating chaotically to an end.
Their sound isn’t readily categorized, combining an assortment of styles from krautrock, lounge funk and ska to trap and EDM. The latter can be found on debut single ‘Stained’, a throbbing meditation on institutional morality which hits the room like a motoric Sparks-esque torrent. The glitchy eight-bit and splintering vocal acrobatics on ‘Music!’ is undercut by a stalking bass rhythm, while the galloping ‘To the Door’ is a set highlight, whipping fans into a frenzy as Spychalski alternates between sashaying around the stage, sequinned crop-vest and fluoro suit reflecting the flashing strobes, and towering above the crowd on amps, hand stroking the ceiling. A couple of unreleased songs are thrown into the mix too – there’s the harder ‘Death Drive’, and a questionable number involving a repeated incantation of “ch-ch-choo choo train”.
HMLTD aim to polarise, preferring to receive a complete slating than a shrug, and there are certainly people for whom the debonair melodrama and melange of latex, leather, Victorian blouses and overlined lipstick will be a major sticking point.
However, there are few icons of the last fifty years for whom the same couldn’t be said, and they were all the better off for it. The band bring viscerality to all aspects of their output, from videos and performances to the music itself, and the immediacy of this is what sets them far apart from the current crop of artists in Britain at the moment. They realise that we no longer consume music in a linear manner, and the feast of styles in their songs reflect this. Rather than looking backwards, HMLTD are recontextualising music for a modern age.
Image: Paul Hudson, Flickr (@pahudson on Twitter)