Photos by Josh Groom
It’s 6:30 on Friday night as a small crowd gather inside the Oxford Art Factory. The occasion – an intimate preview performance of Bloc Party’s upcoming fifth album Hymns. Unlike earlier years where the front-row-faithful would be restlessly waiting, a mixture of anticipation and curiosity lingers around the room as even lifelong fans are unsure what to expect.
Bloc Party have gone through massive transformations since their last release, 2013’s EP The Nextwave Sessions, and no one really knows what the band will sound like, and how the new material will compare to the old classics. With all these questions and more burning at the back of our brains, the gig proved itself to be highly informative, showcasing what the future holds for Bloc Party.
Here are the five most important things we learnt…
1. The New Band are Awesome
Whilst some bands have a penchant for constantly shifting members (looking at you, Queens of the Stone Age), Bloc Party stayed pretty stable from their first release, Silent Alarm in 2005, to The Nextwave Sessions in 2013. This made the subsequent departure of drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes all the more shocking. Bloc Party have long embraced a distinctively fast and tight sound, thanks largely to the rhythm section, and fans worried whether the new members could hold this responsibility.
They can. New drummer Louise Bartle and bassist Justin Harris fit into the sound perfectly, and their stage presence makes them seem like they’ve been there since the start. They add flair and character to the new tracks, whilst retaining the familiarity of the old. An encore performance of ‘Ratchet’ proved this, with the two members easily keeping up with the song’s intensity. The crowd were highly receptive of the new members, and Louise’s name was chanted multiple times throughout the night.
2. The New Material is Different Yet Familiar
The first official taste of Hymns, ‘The Love Within’ surprised Bloc Party fans, and proved highly divisive. It saw the band largely abandoning their tried and tested guitar-based indie rock sound in favour of electronic and dance influences, akin to lead singer Kele’s solo album Trick.
I’m pleased to announce that this song represents one of Bloc Party’s biggest departures, and that other tracks from the album feel more familiar. Many of them embrace new electronic elements, but they still retain Bloc Party’s signature riff driven and rockier sounds.
3. ‘The Love Within’ Is a Live Banger
Although it may have initially garnered a mixed response, the track seems to have rightfully become one of the band’s biggest live cuts. Kele described the track as a banger, and he was completely right. The chorus especially saw the entire crowd singing along and jumping up and down like mad men. “Don’t you want to get high?” asks Kele in the song’s chorus. The answer is a resounding yes.
4. ‘Virtue’ is Kele’s Favourite New Track
Kele described ‘Virtue’ as his favourite track from the new album and it’s easy to see why. With a strong, driving bass line and layered guitar work, it’s a slightly slower track than some of their other biggest hits but easily as powerful. Moreover, its primary vocal hook is catchy as hell, and showcases some of Kele’s most powerful vocal work yet.
5. Embrace the New Sound
Bands change. Sounds evolve. It’s a natural process.
Although it’s easy to be sceptical of change and dismiss any band’s new material as a departure from their signature sound, this can easily lead to stagnation.
Hymns isn’t Silent Alarm, and nor does it need to be. It represents a brave step forward for Kele and the band, and a shift towards new musical pursuits. It’s familiar enough to entice fans in, but also different enough to allow the band to try something exhilaratingly new.
Indeed, the most exciting part of the gig was Kele’s genuine and palpable delight to be playing new material. For a band to be truly engaging they need to be passionate and inventive. I’d rather allow the odd misstep then watch my favourite band simply go through the motions and churn out song after song without feeling anything.
We filmed Bloc Party pre transformation at the Hordern in 2013. Head here to compare sounds.
Artists in this post
Bloc Party are a British indie rock band, composed of Kele Okereke (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Russell Lissack (lead guitar), Gordon Moakes (bass guitar, synths, backing vocals, glockenspiel), and Matt Tong (drums, backing vocals). Their brand of music is said to have been drawn from such bands as The Cure,Mogwai,Siouxsie and the Banshees and in