bdrmm's 2023 project i don't know oversees an aggressive sonic exploration: a marriage of poppy tendencies within a boisterous soundscape that has since exceeded its eponymous bedroom pop typicality, blasting the metaphorical bedroom apart from the floor to the ceiling, as the group continue to sell out gigs with their effectual and dynamic noisiness
When I was 17, my history teacher told me that I was "a shoegazer," on account of my outfit for a mufti day: long sleeve top, baggy jeans and a Sonic Youth shirt. Years later I still listen to shoegaze, albeit with an updated and less angsty dress-sense- though it's hard to escape the teenage nostalgia associated with the genre. Bands like bdrmm preserve shoegaze's youthfulness, pushing into the new with varied and dynamic influences. i don't know, co-produced by Alex Greaves of Working Men's Club fame, was released in June and has appropriately secured a comfortable position in the neo-shoegaze fandom.
The band are thick into the album's supporting tour, having cut their teeth beforehand in the northern scene and as a support for Mogwai. The album's neatness and clarity is matched by a gritty, new-wave flavor derived from noise-rock legends. Live, the band were ready to articulate their noisier tendencies in full. Lead singer Ryan Smith's The Jesus and Mary Chain shirt was a clear nod to one of these earlier influences, the band are in many ways inheriting a passed obligation to keep shoegaze noisy- inflicting tinnitus on as many unsuspecting fans as possible.
In a sense, Shoegaze's tendency to be extremely loud live contributes to its psychedelic qualities. Kevin Shields has described how he experiences euphoria as intense noise washes over him in studio. Harking back to the 60s, feedback and droning guitar noise has developed from an undesired side-effect to a dynamic sonic tool to be dissected and harnessed with the famous "battle-station" pedal rigs of shoegazers.
I myself discovered the genre as most do: the seminal Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. I remember painting a watercolour cover for the bootleg CD I made before the album was on Spotify, complete with hand-painted track listings. Sitting amongst my CD collection, the album was one I would frequently fall asleep to as its dreamy guitar carried me away to the pillows of its lush soundscapes. Shoegaze and sleep go together: Slowdive call the listener "sleepyhead" on their track Altogether, bdrmm take their name from sleeping. Baked into the genre is a dreamy quality.
It would not be a gig where anyone would be able to rest though. Appropriately the group stepped out to a whitewash of noise after paying homage to Bristol, playing Angel by Massive Attack on the loudspeaker. Instruments are hoisted as the members battle against the noise for their brief introductions. It is not be the first time in the night that I have to cover my ears, grinning as the baffling levels of feedback ricochet and swoop over the crowd with a roar. Often shoegaze bands are loud, but compared to my last gig in the genre the gentle Slowdive seem worlds apart from bdrmm's cacophony.
Rather than dwell inside the noise however, a melodic bassline weaves its way through the mix. I turn to see bassist Jordan Smith swaying amid the distorted racket before he leads the charge against it with a silky groove. Not what I was expecting: there's a rythmic infectiousness to his playing. The instruments don't feel far away, like they do on the record, and I can see the band lock in to a cohesive pace as the songs continue. Basslines match the dotted tempos from vocal delays, there's synchronicity to the chaos which distinguishes them from a lot of shoegaze acts I've seen before.
On their third song, the drum machine which opens it is another unusual sight in a louder shoegaze project but the band use the softer sound to their advantage. The exaggerated differences between louder and quieter passages add to a feeling of a dynamic playfulness. The members are also displaying some impressive musicianship in switching between keyboards, guitars and associated gizmos which produce a noise even more bizzare than the last: a circus of musical tricks. They're playful too when they mess up: Jordan curses his synthesiser as a bass note is blurted out between songs and Ryan berates his mic stand, uttering "mic stands eh?" in his thick, Hull accent.
The band work through their set and as the songs continue the audience are collectively enthralled by the noise. Perhaps Shields was right to theorise that an intense noisiness creates euphoria: everyone in the crowd is entranced despite the jarringness of said noise. By the end of the set, Jordan has his precision bass hoisted high and at an extreme angle- pounding on the strings whilst fretting a power chord at the top of the neck. Open chords sweep through the music and a more abrasive pick-scratching adds to the din- which is silently being sustained by the crowd who watch, eyes glazed with dreaminess. As shoegaze tends to do, it has absorbed the audience in its lulling noise. They are now captive to the band's tricks.
Only briefly is the spectacle broken when the group disappear after the songs, leaving what is an utterly unbearable shrill droning noise. Fans laugh to themselves in question of whether this is just part of the act, but as the band reappear for the encore they shrug and scamper to silence the shrieking. Their last song, A Reason To Celebrate brings a sombre close to the night as the lyric "it's ok for you to walk away" echoes to close the show and permit an exit. Though the gig may be over, it's hard to forget a sound as challenging whilst simultaneously fascinating in its nuances. We all trickle out of Thekla in what I assume is an awed silence before I realise that my ears are completely blasted by the band. I mentally note that, from now on, I will be bringing earplugs to gigs.Featured Image: Benji Chapman
Do you ever regret not bringing earplugs to gigs?