"Dating sites were already home to some of the most sustained and intense mendacity in history. In chat rooms, people liked to impart a sense of their own talent and importance, which rarely corresponded to the mundane reality of their lives. The Web fostered this because people were unable to check up on their virtual partners' behavioral traits. Everyone was discovering that on the Web they could lie without fear of exposure or opprobrium."
p.280 Dark Market: How Hackers Became the New Mafia, Misha Glenny
People who make music together cannot be enemies, at least not while the music lasts- Paul Hindemith
"We should get a camera," I tell Raf as he hands me a cigarette, "and we should go up to the gates and start asking random people if they work for MI5."
"This is MI5 you idiot," he grins. "And anyway, I've got a camera on my phone."
"Fine," I say. "I'll ask the questions, you film."
We are standing outside MI5 headquarters after a long walk down the Thames from Charing Cross, killing time before a gig I've been invited to by a band I discovered on Soundcloud called The Bedroom Hour. MI5 is even more impressive than it looks from a distance, a giant post-modern fortress opposite Vauxhall Cross, the gay capital of London. Cameras are everywhere, and tough looking rugby boys with serious eyes, dressed in expensive tailored suits enter and exit along with scruffy long haired computer types. A sign on the entrance reads: ANY BIKES LEFT ATTACHED TO THESE GATES WILL BE REMOVED WITHOUT WARNING.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," Raf says.
"There's probably about five hundred different ways to break somebody even before you use violence," I muse.
"Possibly more," he replies as I light my cigarette. "There's probably thousands."
The windows are mirrored two way glass, and inside this mysterious building one can only really guess at what goes on.
"Theatricality and deception, Mr Wayne," I say, putting on a Bane voice. Raf grins. We leave, but not before we pass some sinister looking army types, eyeing us with practiced menace. Hopefully I haven't managed to inadvertently piss off Military Intelligence. But, judging from the new Bond movie "Skyfall", nowadays everybody hides in plain sight, and since I'm not a drug dealer, pimp, hacker, international terrorist or cat burglar, it's highly likely that they are simply too busy to care about the tourists. That's not to say they wouldn't be able to read what I'm currently typing, as I'm typing it, however...
"Are they any good?" Raf asks. We're sitting in a TGI Fridays in Leicester Square, sharing a thin chicken pizza and some barbecue ribs.
"They're not bad," I say. "I listened to them online for a couple of hours."
"Where are they playing?"
"The Venue, Great Portland Street."
"Big gig, then?"
"Seems that way, they've even got a management team."
"Their manager wants me to write their biography."
Raf chews the meat off a rib. "Cool. But that means you'll have to really get to know them. You'll have to spend a lot of time...I mean, what if you don't get on?"
"Then I don't do it," I reply, sipping my Corona. The Russian (?) waitress comes to our table.
"Everything is okay?"
"Fine," I say, and when she leaves: "They make most of their money from tips."
"And you're giving them the book, I gather."
I have a copy of my 2009 debut "Smoking Is Cool" with me. (A book that has been read by a handful of very notable people, and pretty much nobody else.)
"I'm a shameless self-promoter," I say, waving over the waitress for another beer.
I'm drunk(ish) by the time I get to Great Portland Street after a couple of interlinking tubes. The Venue is a little less dramatic than I was hoping, and there's no big crowd. In fact, there's no one here, just a gate across a stairwell that leads into the (admittedly shabby looking) club. It's dark and cold and I'm running out of cash after London prices have sapped me almost dry. It's going to be about five quid for a beer I'm guessing, it's how the functions make their money from the bands that regularly play here. I wait around for ten minutes or so, until a bouncer turns up, looks at me and says:
"Give me one cigarette."
"What time does this start?" I ask as I hand it over.
"Come back later. Eight," he says, looking at his watch.
"Uh huh," I say, and walk away, marginally pissed off. I find myself in a Cafe Nero ordering the cheapest filter coffee they have, which helps kill forty minutes. When I get back to the Venue it's open, so I head down the stairs hearing some hip indie music thumping from the speakers. I pay the entry fee, get my hand stamped. It's dark and mostly empty. I hunt out the bar, buy a can of Carlsberg for four quid, and then see a group of well dressed kids in their early twenties playing chess on their Apple Mac. I wander over.
"Are you The Darlingtons?" I ask. The Darlingtons are the headliners, I recognize them from their promo photo outside, and I remember I'm already following them on Twitter.
"I'm uh, following you on Twitter," I say.
"Oh," one of them says. There is a moment of silence, and I work out a new segue.
"The Bedroom Hour wants me to write their biography. I'm...a writer."
"Wow," one of them says. "I'm Chris."
I introduce myself around to the foursome, possibly hyping myself up a little too much after I say that Bret Easton Ellis has read both of my novels, and that I'm basically an industry insider. (Not the case).
"Wow," Chris says, and then: "Who's Bret Easton Ellis?"
I explain who he is. And that I've met him. Which results in a few minutes of back and forth compliments, and the plugging of my two almost universally unread books.
"Who's winning?" I ask, to sidestep any more questions about how hip and connected I am.
"We've been playing for an hour. It's deadlocked," Chris says. Putting on my new found music journalist face, I decide to ask some questions. Turns out the line-up of The Darlingtons is:
They started playing together five years ago when they were sixteen in Taunton. They've known each other since early childhood, and their big influences include The National and Editors, two bands I have vaguely heard of, but am not young or cool enough to follow. No matter, I'm now feeling like the little kid in "Almost Famous", swanning with the bands and occasionally asking strikingly important questions. In fact I'm pretty much tapped out, since I've been drinking since whenever and all I can really ascertain is that these kids look a lot like One Direction which, in fact, can only be a good thing in commercial terms.
"You look a lot like One Direction," I say. "But, in a good way."
"Oh," Kiwi says. "Umm."
"That's a good thing," I add, feeling a little stupid. To make myself feel less like a spy posing as a genuine music journalist and more like I work for NME, I say: "So, have you got YouTube videos? Also, what's the most rock and roll thing you've done?"
Chris seems to be the most vocal of the bunch.
"Ten thousand views on 'It Hangs'," he says.
"Not bad," I say.
"We've had about six thousand each on the other two, as well," Biz says, possibly giving me more status than I deserve. I deserve no status, I'm basically winging this.
"And uh, what's the most rock and roll thing you've done?"
"In Italy," Chris says, and then I interject:
"Italy, wow, that's impressive, right?"
"In Italy," Chris continues, "We played a gig after being awake for 48 hours."
"Were you coked up?" I ask. They all laugh, thinking I'm joking.
"Nah, but we were pretty drunk," Kiwi says.
"You'll get on the coke when you play Glastonbury, then," I laugh, knowing that if I was playing Glastonbury I would definitely be coked up, although that's not particularly likely to happen.
"What are your songs about," I say, wishing I had a cool little pad to write this down, "who is your target market?"
Chris certainly appears to be the leader. "Small town angst, suburban drift, the idea of breaking free. We all lived in the same little town, it was...I dunno, we all wanted to break out when we started playing together... we all just wanted something...more."
"And your target audience?" I ask.
"People that want to escape," Chris says.
I'm actually quite touched by that, and I'm praying that they don't suck. "Well you're out now, right? I mean, touring Italy, that's cool, huh? What's the biggest audience you've played to?"
"Bestival," Kiwi says, "eight hundred people, give or take."
"Yeah," Chris smiles, "but it's not like they were there to watch us play."
"Still, though," I say.
"I guess," Chris says. I show him the copy of "Smoking Is Cool" I signed for The Bedroom Hour, and with the torch on his iPhone he starts to randomly read a few pages in the dark of the club.
"What's it about?" Kiwi asks.
"Mental institutions," I say.
"Oh," he replies.
"My second one is about school shootings, it's free, I'll tweet it to you."
"Cool," Kiwi says, possibly a little unsettled at the taboo content of my books.
"Do you swear in your songs?" I ask. Chris looks up, hands me back the novel.
"I don't think swearing in music is useful or interesting," he sighs, "I mean, Nirvana never swore, neither did The Beatles."
"True," I say. Out of the darkness a large, casually dressed lady swans over to the couches where we reside. She starts chatting to Biz, and it turns out this is my contact, Diane Sherwood, the woman who wants me to write the inside scoop on The Bedroom Hour.
"I'm Andrew Moody," I say, offering my hand.
"Oh," Diane coos, "we don't shake hands here!" and hugs me a little too informally and for a little too long than is normal for complete strangers to greet each other. I hand her the book (which has quite a few pages of sexualized torture in it, not to mention the most arrogant character in possibly all of world literature) and she holds it close to her chest. "I'll treasure it forever," she sighs.
"So," I say, trying to steer the conversation into business. "You wanted me to write the book about the band?"
I think she's a little drunk. "Oh, yeah. Yeah. The keyboard player just had kidney stones removed. Today! And the singer's wife is due to have a baby at any point! It would make a really insane story...and..madness, just crazy..." she trails off. It has become apparent now that this is a case of Twitter addiction, and this woman doesn't really have a clue about the machinations of writing, and especially the machinations of writing a book about an unsigned rock band.
"Cool," I say, nonplussed. I decide to "go for a cigarette" and time it so I can miss the first band, of whom I have little interest in. The bouncer is looking bored as I step outside. I give Raf a call and light my second to last Benson Silver.
"Bro," he says. "What's up?"
Yesterday was Valentine's Day. I went early to Pynchon Ward to get my two weekly depot injection of Olanzapine. I arrived at eight thirty, in time for breakfast, the nurse didn't recognize me through the door and I had to wait until they'd searched my pockets and shoes for contraband. This place is harder to get into than Fabric, I thought, trying to be chipper about the fact that I had a date with a needle and not with a mysterious teenage blonde who loved the romance of struggling writers. I went to the office to tell them I was here. A little confused, they told me Holly (responsible for the jab) wouldn't be in for another hour and I'd have to wait. The smell, cheap bleach and medical rubber brought back memories, all bad. I wandered down to the smoking cage. Inside, a battered looking man in his thirties with a bandage around his right hand stained with dry, browning blood was trying and failing to roll a cigarette. I offered him a Benson out of pity, and lit it for him.
"So why are you in?" he asked.
"I get an injection every two weeks," I said. "And then I leave."
His story is common, after a ten minute manic explanation I ascertained that he spent some time in prison then had a nervous breakdown trying to reintegrate into society after the post-traumatic stress of doing hard time led him to self harm and start fights with people just to lose.
"My dad just doesn't fucking get it," he said, "fucking cunt."
Back on the ward I sat down and read an article about the German philosophers who supported Hitler's rise to power in the history magazine I bought from Sainsbury's. The mental patients were rising, groggily, and the standard day's chaos was about to begin.
After waiting twenty minutes (and being accosted by an old woman who demanded to know who I was, and if I was working for the doctors as a spy) Holly arrived.
"I'm uh, here for my injection," I said.
"Oh," she giggled, "well let me at least get my coat off!"
"I wasn't pressuring you," I said, a little nervously.
"Ooh, I know, babe," she smiled. Ten minutes later and I was undoing my belt in the medical room.
"Welcome to my parlour!" Holly actually said. "Which side, you choose, honey," she giggled, setting up the needle.
"Left, I guess," feeling like I was unwittingly married to a butch dominatrix. I braced myself as the needle entered my buttock, that aching sting that momentarily jarred a nerve.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Andrew," Holly sighed, post-coitally.
The three hours I then waited on Pynchon Ward included a random visit from a sniffer dog searching the rooms for drugs, and a South African murderer played catch with it after calling me a homosexual, and then asked if my depot injection was "Heaven" before his mother turned up. The psychiatrist asked me to fill in a questionnaire rating his standard, and after he attempted to force the vote with some last-minute sucking up, I gave him full marks on everything and left, musing on the LSD trip that was always there, never leaving, never changing, never dying, never making any sense at all.
The Bedroom Hour have taken the stage. They open with "Shadow Boxer", its long, dreamy intro segues into a euphoric peak and after a mesmerizing few minutes, the almost purely sensual vocals emerge. I'm standing next to Chris, and he's nodding his approval. There's only about thirty people in the club, but Stuart Drummond, the vocalist, is so lost in his performance, a beautiful, desperate longing, a melancholy, romantic sexual act, that the sonic vibes are immense. I nip to the bar, and the barman agrees when I say: "Fucking sexy band, man," and wish I had money for something harder than a can of lager. "Tyrannosaur" is book ended by some banter with the audience, the keyboard player DID just have kidney stones removed, which receives a cheer. That's pretty hardcore. The next track, "Nocturnal", which I remember from their Soundcloud, has the same urgent, tripped out tempo with a soaringly catchy chorus. After "Midnight Game" and "No Key" I'm totally sold on the performance, which leads to the triumphant "Heart Will Haunt" which has such an emotional, epic thrust, that Drummond is now somewhere else with the music, possibly sending his psychic energies to his pregnant wife. This music is designed for the sex act. The classy "X Marks the Spot" and almost transcendental "Slow Motion Cinema" to close inspire me to head to the stage and shake the guy's hand.
"Fucking good effort," I say drunkenly, and I mean it. He's exhausted but buoyant, slightly dazed from the emotion he's just let out. Whatever this guy means with his tunes, he really means it.
I debrief with The Darlingtons outside.
"Doves meets Elbow," I say, "with a little Joy Division." I actually know these bands, and that's the extent of my musical comparisons, I am not a music journalist, so the subtle influences from bands I've never heard of are lost. Still, I'm having fun.
"Have you seen Control?" I ask the lads.
"God it's horrible isn't it," Chris says, laughing. "But great at the same time."
"Ian Curtis has to be the most influential musician of the eighties," I say, trying to sound knowledgeable.
"Maybe, maybe," Biz says. "We love Joy Division. It's that small town thing."
The bouncer asks me for another cigarette, which I think is hardly professional, but whatever.
"So guys," I ask, after Stuart Drummond pops up and very graciously thanks me for my support, which makes me feel ultra-hip and savvy, "what's your battle plan? You can't make a living out of journeyman gigs like this."
"It's like boxing," another drunk guy says, wearing a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt and smoking a roll-up, "you do these to get experience before-"
"-the title shot, yeah," Chris says. "We know."
And then they transform. The shy, polite and well groomed foursome that look as sweet as pop bad boys One Direction (face it, they're cool as fuck) , put on their game faces and start. What strikes me immediately is just how talented they are as musicians. The sound: upbeat yet complex guitar riffs, tight and ambitious drum patterns, charmingly scruffy vocals and soaringly catchy choruses is really quite impressive and their togetherness and comradarie is infectious. The defiant and classy "Bats" (N.B They shot a really interesting video to this that I didn't quite understand) does actually speak to a Facebook generation that is a little bit lost in the morass of post-digital culture. Kiwi is a shy front man, preferring not to take the focus away from the band, which possibly needs to change in the future. The little girls have come to worship, but the older women will want to eat them. "Ship at Sea" and "Don't Give Me Hope" do promote the maturity of their sound, and the extremely interesting "Everything" is a small masterpiece of complex guitar patterns mixed with the pitch perfect simplicity of the chorus. They end with "Watch Yourself", and what comes across most is the technical abilities of the lads, and their consummate professionalism. Again I head to the stage to congratulate a job well done, and they're sweaty and energized and happy and defiant. I make my exit then, ready to write my first gonzo piece on the underground music scene. At Charing Cross I'm bemoaning the smoking ban and shudder a little as I see two drunken girls dressed like nurses, obviously heading out to destroy a few male egos and get a few more vodka tonics bought for them with the promise of kinky sex. Speaking of which, The Bedroom Hour (aptly named) would provide a nice soundtrack to the action.
Twitter- @thedarlingtons, @thebedroomhour