True story: there’s a place next to my house in London called Vogue Fabrics, and every Wednesday or Thursday out of it spill countless astonishing-looking kids. Out-of-control mohawks, crossdressers, cyberpunks, freaks, weirdos, try-hards, don’t-try-hard-enoughs… basically wonderful, wonderful-looking people who are way more interesting than the norm. And for the past year I’ve walked past that place, dressed in my shitty grey raincoat thinking to myself, ‘Fuck, I hope there’s a band in there somewhere…’
Then, two weeks ago I trundle upstairs to the Old Blue Last, just like I have a billion times before, to see a band called Happy Meal LTD. All I know about them is that they rehearse at a place called Alaska right by Waterloo station, along with a clutch of other fantastic left-of-centre acts who nobody else outside of London’s ultra-secretive indie industry fraternity has picked up on yet (pointless fact: Jesus & Mary Chain recorded their first London session at a seemingly-unchanged Alaska too, back in 1908 BC…that’s how low rent it is).
Back to the gig, though. Onto the OBL stage for Antidotes night, like a stampede, march six or seven kids dressed in this weird metallic silver gear, reflecting everywhere, hair flailing everywhere, guitars clanging into each other everywhere. There’s one skinhead frontman madly staring into the audience like a fucked up Freddie Mercury, and another one flouncing about the place like Adam Ant on too much amyl nitrate. I’m watching them, and I suddenly realise: Fuck! It’s those kids from the pavement outside Vogue Fabrics!!
They were all over the place during the performance, frankly. But it was totally invigorating to watch, and it felt shockingly different to everything else I’ve seen so far in 2016. Needless to say, I was intrigued enough to go back for a second look last night at Sebright Arms, where Happy Meal LTD were supporting a new Scottish outfit called Catholic Action (more of whom later).
This time I was also impressed enough to write about them here, making them New Music Of The Day on NME.COM despite them having precisely nothing online I can actually share with you. It’s the first time that’s ever happened, so you’re just gonna have to make do with these two flaky YouTube videos I filmed last night instead:
At the Sebright gig I got a much better look at Happy Meal LTD. I learned that they have roughly ten of their own fans now, two of whom were definitely off their heads on something or other and spent most of the set dancing maniacally in the crowd, regardless of whether the band were playing or just stood there tuning up. At one point, one of them became so into it that he smashed clean into one poor punter’s pint, sending it shattering to the floor. That was on song one, if memory serves.
After that, and with the atmosphere already a bit weird, one of those kids ripped his 4AD shirt clean in two and started trying to snog anyone within spitting distance. Behind the handful of superfans were about 90 industry people, most of whom seemed to either love the band or absolutely detest them.
While there’s certainly loads of work to still be done – they’ve played about ten gigs, I’d guess – on the plus side I can say that Happy Meal LTD have at least three stone cold AMAZING songs written already. One of them, the second track they play, is just brilliant: a glam rock beauty with emphasis on a big, dumb, 4/4, Cozy Powell drumbeat for a few dark, stomping minutes until it all goes really loud and double-paced at the end. It’s really thrilling and breakneck when it does that, and it reminded me of seeing The Coral for the first time when (believe it or not) they all used to jump around the stage amid loads of wailing feedback, screaming at each other like the audience wasn’t even there. Happy Meal LTD are The Coral if they were weaned on the Mudd Club and Blitz Kids, if you will.
The next track they played aped Arctic Monkeys – entirely unintentionally, as I imagine they loathe everything about that band – by having the singer go “choo choo” like a train at the start for ages, before it mutated into something more reckless, again with 70s British glam playing a central role. But it’s fucked up glam, as if Country Teasers had invented it, rather than Bowie and Bolan. Intriguingly, they really spin people out when their keyboardist jumps in for these chaotic, fleeting moments of drum’n’bass every two or three songs. When this happens, the front rows lose their shit, while those further back scratch their heads. It’s been ages since a band has been so divisive. It’s as if they’re wilfully drawing a line in the sand.
Their guitars, even when they’re in tune, sound absolutely horrific – anti-FX – but when you chuck in a hefty dose of Frankie Goes To Hollywood imagery and old school art school aesthetics, Happy Meal LTD suddenly begin to make a whole lot of sense.
There are a few tunes that need working on during the set – one is about self-service check out machines, only it ends up sounding more Supermarket Sweep than The Sweet – but things are still super early for them, so they deserve the time to figure it all out.
Best of all right now is their last song of the night, ‘Where’s Joanna?’, which is a batshit crazy proto-reggae/calypso thing about killing your friend and cutting her body into different pieces to make her easier to hide. Very Fat White Family… except, not really, because it doesn’t really sound that much like them. The guitars are, again, absolutely horrendous (even Lias and Saul would probably turn their noses up at the smell they make), but the riff that carries it all is huge: two chords, big and fat and sounding a bit like The Fall whenever they turn things right up. Not to get too muso-twat on you all, but the rhythm guitar on it – which is all upstrokes on the offbeat, exactly as it should be – is immaculate too. What it proves (to me, at least) is that finally, among the seemingly never-ending stream of fake plastic cack that’s been British guitar music for the past few years, here are a band who genuinely seem to stand for something different. I’m excited about it.
They’re a tough act for Catholic Action to follow though. Down from Glasgow on their first trip to the capital, they’re admittedly nervy, but they needn’t be. Like Hooton Tennis Club last year, they have the canny knack of being able to make distorted melancholy sound like the sweetest thing, and when they turn their hands to making classic glam (note the word ‘classic’ – there’s nothing as skewiff as the support act) they do it in fine style. Singer Chris McCrory has a beautiful voice that’s totally unsuited to sweaty basements, especially as he occasionally goes out on a limb while the rest of the band gently come to a halt behind him. It’s something they should utilise in the studio, because here, although it never quite reaches truly jaw-dropping proportions, it’s still really beguiling. Their final track L.U.V. is a total blast – it’s out now as a single and deserves a listen.