It’s pretty much a truism that every small-time indie band you could care to mention is going to be composed of three to five shy and awkward individuals who are in no way cut out to be placed upon a stage in front of other people. So to say that we were terrified on the day of our first gig seems redundant. Also, it’s a massive understatement: we were in a state of near-panic over all the things that could, and likely would, go wrong.
It didn’t help that by this point, we’d accumulated an ungodly amount of instruments and equipment. To compound the problem further, some of the drum machines and keyboards we had incorporated into our act were liable to stop working if you so much as brushed against them the wrong way. A recipe for disaster if ever there was one.
After a not entirely promising soundcheck, and with our nerves on a knife edge, we took to the stage, doing our very best to avoid eye contact with the audience; one bored or disinterested look would likely have destroyed us. Once you’re up there, there’s nothing to do but play…
It wasn’t a flawless performance by any stretch, but we carried it off well enough, and the folks who saw it seemed to enjoy it. It was a start, at any rate, one we quickly followed up on a month later with a much improved showing at Joshua Brooks. Everything went right for us, from the sound on the stage to the enthusiasm of those who’d showed up. The Manchester Music review was flattering to say the least; we were dubbed “one of Manchester’s most exciting newcomers for 2006.” High praise indeed, and there were still nine months of the year left to go.
We spent the year attempting to build on those kind words, by gigging whenever we could, wherever we could, and locking ourselves away in whatever spaces we could find to work on new and better songs. We closed out the year triumphantly enough, appearing on the High Voltage compilation, Full Charge, and felt poised to push on further.
Alas, 2007 was an exercise in standing still. We still received plenty of positive reviews, but our gigs were almost always populated by no more than a handful of people. We got some great support slots – with Subtle at the Bierkeller, with Danielson at the Levenshulme Bowling Social Club on a bill that also included Los Campesinos! – but even those made no difference to our fortunes, and with Twitter still in its formative stages, creating word of mouth seemed like the hardest thing in the world. No matter that we were “glitch ridden intelli pop of the highest order” (Subba-Cultcha’s words) with a “frail and fractured, dreamy and downbeat sound” (Is This Music?). We were going nowhere fast.
It isn’t difficult to remember rock bottom. Let me tell you, the Dry Bar basement is a lonely place to be when the band members outnumber the audience. It sends you into a spiral of “are we actually not very good?” doubt and despondency. If creating and sharing music is supposed to be fun, then performing live to a room of four people is the surest way of ruining that feeling. No-one wanted to come to our gigs, no-one wanted to put out our music. Sometimes it’s hard to carry on…
In part three: things fail to get better before getting worse.