Electric Soft Parade April 2002 – Tourcoing Le Grand Mix (NME)

Brighton’s teenage psychedelicists end their debut French tour in style, despite a weed shortage

The Electric Soft Parade – Tourcoing Le Grand Mix

Pre-gig

As a small town outside Lille, Tourcoing marks an unlikely stop-off on France’s indie gig circuit. Last week, German post pop act The Notwist played here. Soon, Trail Of Dead will be visiting. But tonight, Le Grand Mix – a stately, well-appointed venue with a capacity of 650 – hosts the final gig of The Electric Soft Parade’s debut French tour.

The ESP’s brand of experimental indie pop has gone down well in France: without any singles being released, their debut album, Holes In The Wall, has sold 16000 and all the gigs on the tour have been rammed.

Despite this, the band arrive at the venue in a glum mood and tempers quickly fray during soundcheck. Backstage in the dressing room, the real source of the problem swiftly becomes apparent: the ESP are running low on weed. And, my, do these boys like a smoke.

As soon as somebody scrapes together enough for a single joint, the mood lightens considerably. “Touring’s what you make it” declares Tom White, the ESPs likeable 18-year old drummer and chief songwriter, while his older brother – singing guitarist Alex (20) – fondly reminisces about smoking reefers “the size of a baby’s arm” with Ian Brown.

Talk soon turns to music. Both avid NME readers, Tom and Alex are unnervingly well-informed about indie bands past and present: strangers are earnestly canvassed on their views on Haven, Quasi and Guided By Voices. Six By Seven, Fugazi and The Delgados are declared to be “phat”, while My Vitriol and Hoggboy are dismissed as “rank”, views shared by permanently amused touring bassist Matt Twaites (a friend from Brighton) and suave keyboardist Stephen Large.

As stage-time approaches, the band are buoyed by the news that an obsessive fan has travelled all the way from Japan for this show. More exciting than this, however, is the night’s news: a fresh bag of weed has arrived.

Gig

Onstage, The Electric Soft Parade become very serious. Opening with tense, brooding ‘Broadcast’ – a B-side reminiscent of Scottish miserablists Arab Strap – they hypnotise the sizeable crowd into an awestruck silence, before jolting us to life with the swaggering ‘Start Again’. It’s this track which sets out the ESP’s sonic stall: equally influenced by Scouse psych-poppers The Boo Radleys and mobile phone salespeople The Dandy Warhols, it builds a momentum that’s carried through ‘There’s A Silence’s’ killer pop hooks. But it’s ‘Why Do You Try So Hard To Hate Me’ that really amazes tonight. An undisputed highlight of ‘Holes In The Wall’, tonight it’s spiky with menace and lung shredding vocals from Alex White.

It’s a hard track to follow and the ESP opt for the most perverse course of action imaginable, with Tom emerging from behind his drumkit to lead the band into an eerie cover of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’. Halfway through, the track mutates into Muse-esque rock opera: Tourcoing’s assembled indie kids are rightly baffled.

Having steered things back on course with the wry, delicate ‘Red Balloon For Me’, Tom swaps back with Alex and the gig enters a brief lull, ‘Something’s Got To Give’ drifts by aimlessly, while ‘Stay Where You Are’ – mooted as a future single – likewise fails to catch fire. But thankfully this proves to be the calm before the storm.

Over the course of a full 20 minutes, ‘Silent To The Dark’ is re-worked into a krautrock epic. When it finally stutters to a halt, Tourcoing’s response, naturally, is devotional. As triumphant encore of new single ‘Empty At The End’ confirms the simple truth: The Electric Soft Parade are phat.

Post-gig

Backstage, the White brothers are jubilant. “Did I enjoy it? F****** big time!” beams Alex. “We sound so much better in big venues” concurs Tom. Clearly, a celebration is in order. But first, the ESP must meet their fans. The jet-lagged Japanese visitor arrives backstage to hand out gifts, then offers Alex a neck massage. He shyly accepts but doesn’t push his luck: hitting on fans is, after all, “rank”.

A French girl who’s been following the tour – and who, scarily, can recite all their upcoming gig dates from memory – also pays a visit. Having taken some photos for her unofficial website, she decides to get friendly with Matt. Her method of breaking the ice is somewhat unorthodox, however, as she leaps on top of the hapless bassist and frantically slaps his arse. He’s stunned.

Meanwhile, Stephen politely fields queries from a local band claiming a strong ESP influence and is roundly complimented on tonight’s Iggy-esque stage antics, which included standing atop a keyboard and sucking on a mic.

Tom alone is undisturbed by the attention. Rolling the first of many spliffs, he resumes quizzing his guests. “Do you like Melt Banana, chief? Have you seen Earl Brutus?” He’s in his element.

Things get messier as the night wears on. Having got tanked up on whisky, Alex insists that we all repair to the car park for a game of football. Within minutes, the ball’s missing and some booze-induced vomiting has taken place.

Realising that no-one’s sober enough to safely drive the tourbus, NME departs in a taxi. The following morning, we find the bus parked diagonally across two disabled parking spots in the hotel car park. The journey, understates Stephen Large, was a harrowing end to a raucous, celebratory night. For The Electric Soft Parade, however, the party’s only just beginning.

Niall O’Keeffe

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