Wild Belle

Converse Gigs @ The 100 Club, London, November 15

Jake Bugg skiffle, Alabama Shakes antique blues, Mumford & Sons farmer folk, the Adele/Winehouse axis of soul and Motown – the distant past is big business for new artists. So what other long-sidelined genres are prime for resurrection? Reggae? Really?

Chicago’s Wild Belle certainly hope so. At SXSW 2012 they were the retro till-ringers on everybody’s lips, and they certainly look like the types to sex up a staid old style. The tall, bearded Elliot Bergman has the cult Americana folk-hero aesthetic covered. His beautiful sister Natalie, meanwhile, slinks onto the 100 Club stage boasting the catwalk glamour of a born pop star, but enough lyrical anguish to endear her to the chardonnay-glugging match.com masses.

But do the duo rejuvenate reggae? At first, no. ‘Twisted’ may talk of the evils of materialism, but coasts by on a cruise-ship sort of pop/ragga groove, Natalie’s voice hovering dangerously between the sweet pop coos and the nasal soul whine. ‘It’s Too Late’ has Elliot cracking out the baritone sax for a deep dub skank desperate to taste the sweat from the ceiling of the Jazz Café.

But slowly, more adventurous elements creep in – Donkey Kong bleeps, spectral calypso and ’70s soul keyboards all start to give Wild Belle a narcotic subway edge. Guitars crash and basses throb through ‘Love Like This’. Hip-hop whip-cracks and a dense eau de Southern swamp add meat and bluster to ‘Another Girl’. The closing ‘Keep You’ lets loose swirling space synths and the sound of icicles disintegrating. But these are subtle garnishes. At their core, Wild Belle are about the comfort of a romantic soul-pop chorus cuddling up to the familiarity of classic reggae and ska, and that’s a billion light years from ‘dangerous’. They’re being fast-tracked through the Retro Cash-In aisle, but it’d be great to see them fucking a bit more with the formula.

Mark Beaumont