Whoosh! A violin bow swings quickly and freely over Annabelle Mödlinger’s head. The Umlauts vocalist curls into a ball as her bandmate Alfred Lear leaps up from a stool, nearly knocking his keyboard into the sold-out, slightly confused crowd in front of him. You sense the wheels might come off any time. Watching the south London group – who appear in this year’s NME 100 – tumble into mayhem as they fight for space on a pokey stage feels as if you’ve been shrunk and let loose in a maze.
Having doubled in size to bolster their live set, the eight members on stage tonight at The Lexington look like they’ve each wandered in from different bands, all mismatched dancing and contrasting aesthetics. It’s an unnerving experience at first, with punters at The Line of Best Fit’s showcase tentatively bopping along to the harsh, mechanical art-pop rhythms of opener ‘Remedy Song’. Its sinuous bass-line channels genuine menace and a dangerous, teasing excitement.
But even in the face of the unknown, we dance on. Mödlinger paces, directs traffic, and strikes increasingly ridiculous poses while flitting effortlessly between German, English, French and Italian, her dynamic voice sustaining throughout a full-body workout of a performance. Rumbling highlight ‘Der Fuchs’ – lifted from the band’s 2021 debut EP ‘Ü’ – fires off machine-gun drum rolls, while the propulsive ‘Um Politik’ sees Mödlinger punching the air with vicious enthusiasm after she nails a run of whistle notes.
Introduced by a brain-shaking bass tone, ‘The Fact’ throbs into a series of jagged drum-pad beats, creating a satisfyingly unpredictable trance sound. In the absence of fellow vocalist Maria Vittoria Faldini, Mödlinger works overtime, rapidly switching between her mic stand and a vocoder, and laughing as bandmates are pushed sideways. This level of chaos is wildly entertaining, sure, but is also a stark reminder that the visceral quality of The Umlauts’ production doesn’t feel best served by a fairly claustrophobic setting.
‘Boiler Suits And Combat Boots’ is a supercharged experience that eventually sees The Umlauts swapping their fairly ramshackle deportment for something that sounds more like tight funk. It builds to a thrashy climax, before Mödlinger brings a swaggering, Gallagher-esque silly walk to ‘Energy Plan’. It’s an audacious moment that sees her once again disrupting expectations and giving us something even wilder.
The 30-minute set works on the element of surprise to drive home the intensity of The Umlauts’ exciting and stimulating art-punk. It’s brilliant, messy and batshit crazy, and they band know it, too. “There’s no point in standing still,” Mödlinger quips, trying her hardest not to grin.
The Umlauts played:
‘Boiler Suits and Combat Boots’