Haven’t heard of HMLTD? They’re the buzzworthy band soon to be the hot new name on everybody’s lips. Think the most glam-rock version of the Rocky Horror Show colliding with a decked-out horror movie: aka something that your wildest dreams wouldn’t dare to imagine. HMLTD are absolutely bonkers but absolutely brilliant, as Deputy Music Editor Ellen Kemp discovers at their headline show at The Louisiana.
HMLTD seem to be a band who can generate ‘buzz’ in two senses: they bewilder and intrigue fans and critics at their often sold-out shows, and they perform with contagious effervescence that riles the audience into hyperactive mania.
Last Friday they arrived in Bristol. The crowd were chattering with anticipation as they ascended the winding staircase to the upper level of The Louisiana and entered the dark, windowless gig space that has become so legendary as an incubator for Bristolian ones-to-watch. Yet this space was no longer The Louis as we knew it: this was the territory of HMLTD, transformed into a veritable lair by patterned fabric draped across the ceiling and walls, inflatable rubber gloves dangling like foliage around the door and the discarded limbs of mannequins lurking in corners, strangled by tangled cassette tape. Nightmarish, unpredictable and flamboyant: the band expressed their set design to complement the flavour of the night ahead.
They launch into the set with ‘Stained’, a track which kicks in with an amalgamation of clashing sounds from what must have been every instrument on stage (and a few that probably aren’t technically instruments) and then flits rapidly from finger-clicking to distorted guitar to floaty dub and beyond.
HMLTD have only released about four singles so far, making it pretty damn impressive to have such a devout following flock to such shows. But even within these few releases the breadth of their influences is manifested loudly and abundantly. ‘Music’ has seductive vocals that sound a little bit New Wave and synth-lines that sound a little bit ‘new-rave’. They oscillate between menacingly minimal and overwhelmingly excessive, with sudden tempo changes and unexpected turns in tone. No one song is any one thing.
Yet I refuse to call them messy or chaotic – two words which sprang to mind immediately on reflection of the gig – because in spite of the relative youth of the project their performance is incredibly refined. And it would have to be to execute the sudden halts, the twists, the bizarre and unpredictable cues – all of which they appear to hit precisely, and violently, at the right moment.
The band were perhaps at their most delightfully macabre for ‘Where’s Joanna’: a song which seems to be about the eponymous lady’s body-parts hidden in various places across the lead singer’s house (a possible explanation for the dismembered mannequins). Here a bouncy, accelerated ska rhythm accompanies the screeches, howls and trills of Henry Spychalski’s jittery lead vocals. At one point, Spychalski authoritatively initiated a circular moshpit which sent half the eager audience sprawling across the carpet, (though truth be told the moshpit quotas were being satisfied just fine without such direction). The crowd’s enthusiasm coupled with the strength of the performance itself meant the night had a carnivalesque vitality to it that never waned.
HMLTD are dynamic, adrenaline-fuelled and simply a bit insane. The gig was one of the most refreshing and unique I’ve seen this year. I count myself lucky to have come across a band who are simultaneously able to combine so many styles, create a uniquely arty, DIY sound, and effortlessly persuade their crowds to join them in the crazed passion of restless, reckless, raucous rebelliousness that their live shows deliver. I anxiously await their (surely imminent) first record and return to Bristol.
Have you been impressed by the unconventional charms of HMLTD? Let us know in the comments or via social media.