Various venues, Camden, Saturday November 2
For a certain type of indie rock fan, the line-up at Mirrors Festival in London reads like a dream. Across five venues in Camden, the festival is basically a winter edition of Green Man or End of the Road, serving up the best from the artsier end of the genre.
First up, Camden Assembly hosts an afternoon of shape-shifting guitar music – if you can get in the door to see it, that is. Queues stretch through the bar and out into the rain while Irish shoegazers Just Mustard play upstairs. Being crammed against a wall like a sardine is a strangely suitable way to watch the five-piece, though; their music is claustrophobic, disconcerting and, when singer Katie Ball’s vocals rise like a wave alongside pummelling, manipulated guitars on closer ‘October’, absolutely biblical.
From the sonic equivalent of being eyeballed by your enemy, Alfie Templeman is more like watching a puppy who’s managed to force his way into the biscuit tin. Emerging last year as a songwriter from the school of Mac DeMarco and Kevin Parker, the teenager is beginning to carve out his own space – the drums now hit harder, the riffs play out with more purpose, and, above all, Alfie and his three bandmates look like they’re never had more fun.
This enthusiasm sets up nicely for Sheer Mag‘s riotous afternoon set at Dingwalls. The venue already looks quite a bit like a grubby dive bar from the ‘80s, and by the time the Philadelphia punks’ bedsheet backdrop is hoisted up and their three (!) guitarists launch into a melee of classic rock riffs, it feels like one too.
Despite these seemingly aesthetic and sonic throwbacks, Sheer Mag are a thoroughly modern proposition – their song ‘Expect The Bayonet’, battling for voting rights in its hammerblow chorus of “if you don’t give us the ballot, expect the bayonet”, was recently played out at a Bernie Sanders rally. It’s only one highlight in an hour of righteous, fist-pumping rock music to give your soul to.
Back at the Assembly, Stef Chura is the latest in the stream of brilliant indie-rock songwriters coming out of America at the moment. The music is catchy, tight and invigorating, but it’s Chura’s voice that sets her apart. A truly unique, spiky twang – it may turn a few off, but convert plenty into devotees, too. The set’s highlight is ‘Method Man’, which bites back at patronising men over intense guitar stabs that gather pace and energy across the song’s length.
Like much of the line-up today, Sorcha Richardson’s songs are born on the guitar, but flirt with pop, R&B and rock without a care for the boundaries. Richardson’s songs often concern self-doubt and deprecation, but their delivery and her silky voice make them sound like warm, comforting reassurances rather than unwelcome reckonings.
The end of the night at the Roundhouse serves as a passing of the baton. American Football play the penultimate set, mixing nostalgic late ‘90s emo throwbacks with songs from their excellent, forward-thinking new album, including a guest spot from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell on ‘I Can’t Feel You’.
Their crown as kings of emotional indie is then duly given to the genre’s new hero, Phoebe Bridgers. Coming off a busy year with projects like Boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Center, Bridgers is here to preview the follow-up to her already-adored 2017 debut album ‘Stranger In The Alps’, and it sees her expanding her horizons. The new songs range from surging, punk-influenced rock songs to “fucking miserable” solo efforts, pushing the sounds explored on the debut record to their extremes.
Amping up excitement for the forthcoming second record as well as giving a welcome reminder of ‘Stranger In The Alps’’ brilliance on opener motion sickness and an anthemic closing ‘Scott Street’, Bridgers’ position as an icon of a new generation looks perfectly secure.