Shrag, Pocket Books, Fever Dream @ The Lexington, London, Nov 15

The world of indie-pop is often more fractious than an ever splitting dance genre. For the countless derivatives of house there’s are twee antitheses, just as funky house has its handbag, post-punk has its riot grrl, similar but never the twain shall meet. For Shrag, however, this niche malarkey is nonsense, they’re just a band doing what bands do, and that’s, being in a band.

You see, Shrag are the kind of group who you feel you know, like a pile of scatter cushions in the sitting room corner, they’re always there, not always used, but it’s nice to have them just in case:  An essential mainstay of the indie scene.


Over the past five years of touring toilets, playing the railway stations and swanking off to New York, they’ve attained the status of indie-pop royalty through being a band unfazed by the tastemakers and evolving into the girl boy duet fuelled post-punk to make the twee-erati melt.

They are the obvious headliners for a Scared to Dance event, a one off for the club night which is London’s home to all things indie, but appears to be hit by the recent Neon Filler curse of being shamefully quiet with The Lexington only half full (see our recent live reviews for The Miserable Rich and Singing Adams).

Sadly this show will be forever marked by the untimely death of Peter Sykes, guitarist with This Many Boyfriends who were originally due to play tonight, but rather than being a maudlin night of cod reflectiveness each of tonight’s bands are geared towards major sets.

Indeed Pocketbooks are taking tonight very seriously by bringing along a string section from The Little Orchestra in what plays as a gambit for larger venues in 2012. However, their epic scope falls flat and it seems a bit, well, Beautiful Southy. It’s not quite twee and hand clap laden for pure indie pop nor are the harmonies memorable. The tracks with Emma Hall singing alone lift the set, especially the wonderful Sound Of The Carnival, but it’s all rather sedate.

In fairness, any group following London trio, Fever Dream, are going to struggle. Clean cut melodic office pop has nothing on visceral agit-noise-gaze which grafts Kevin Shields into the Public Image line up, then forcing him to cover Deerhunter with only a lo-fi four-track and one effects pedal. Truly mesmerising.

Tonight though is all about Shrag who without a new record to plug have the chance to maraud through new songs while maintaining an air of welcoming familiarity. Watching Shrag feels like seeing your mate’s band play, such is the openness of their between song banter, be that discussing vocalist Helen King’s descending gusset or the mystical Replicant growl emanating from  Steph Goodman’s keyboards, yet never detracting from delivering noisy post-punk.

Their conviction is never questionable and as King prowls the stage before dropping to her knees for the poetic bile of The Habit Creep there’s a tense passion which propels Shrag beyond art-pop into narcissistic terror-twee.

Screechy yelps and call and responses are Shrag’s bread and butter, so with Tendons in the Night and Devastating Bones they’re in safe territory, while Rabbit Kids shoots a classically catch sing along chorus over a gnarly jangle.

Whether it’s shouty or harmonious, Shrag have to golden rules of indie-pop in their DNA. There’s the thundering drums, Casiotone punches, 1-2-3-4’s and, of course, interaction which borders on the brilliantly farcical.

There are plenty of things going wrong, guitarist Bob (I shall call him Bobbie) Brown uses the wrong pedals and doesn’t know which songs are next, Goodman’s Keyboard has a mind of his own and drummer Andy Pyne was nearly incapacitated by a bad back, but none of this stops King spinning like a demonic dynamo in what is a fantastically coherent show.

There are obvious comparisons with Prolapse or even The Fall, but tonight they’re better than any contemporaries because they’re fun and carefree, just how indie-pop should be.

Shrag have been recording with Andy Miller who’s worked with Mogwai and the Pipettes, a perfect choice for a band who tonight blended relentless art noise and melodic pop to charming perfection.


by David Newbury