Wolf Alice were the band of last summer. The fiery North London-based quartet played a multitude of festivals and had their faces plastered all over NME. They gigged relentlessly, playing sold-out shows across the UK in March, April and September, as well as across North America throughout May. Last year also saw the release of the alt-rock group’s debut album My Love Is Cool, nominated for both the Mercury Prize and the BRIT Award for Best Album. When I speak to guitarist Joff Oddie and drummer Joel Amey before their headline set at Oxford’s O2 Academy, they are (unsurprisingly, for a band who are by now well used to this touring malarkey), very relaxed. “This must be the fourth time we’ve played this venue”, says Joff, almost having to count the number of alcohol-aided, sweat-infused shows on his fingers. Joel talks of “crowds kicking the shit out of each other. It’s not that we like to see people hurting each other, but seeing that many people move en masse… that’s the reaction we play for.”
It’s a reaction they get later that night, playing the venue’s larger room for the first time. Even early on, during support sets from Bloody Knees and Swim Deep, the crowd are anxious to get moving. By the time Wolf Alice appear, with Joel and Joff joined by lead Ellie Rowsell and bassist Theo Ellis, the room is sticky. But the energy of the crowd does not cease throughout their set, although the tunes peak early and the exciting anguish in their sound plateaus after the fourth song or so, stalling any expected sense of momentum. The crowd don’t seem to catch on, though. Earlier, Joff had said, “I think our live shows are a bit more aggressive than the record.” Just a bit.
It is fans like these, moving with wild thrust, who are so crucial for a band whose live shows are such a vital part of their existence. Joff mentions one girl and her dad who come to every Oxford show, and Joel is even grateful for fans teaching him how to play his own tracks. Laughing, he says “There was a phase where I couldn’t remember what I ’ d done on ‘I’m a Germ’ and so I found someone who’d covered it on YouTube and I was like ‘Fuck yeah! That’s what I did!’ It was so helpful, having someone teach me to play the songs.” It is this lack of pretension which makes Wolf Alice so likeable.
They are likeable, too, because they know what it is to be a fan. Joel tells me how he used to go to every gig of The Horrors, made especially exciting because they played such unusual venues. “But I became disillusioned with fandom pretty fucking quickly when I realised how much it costs you.” Furthermore, these unusual, independent venues just aren’t around anymore.
For two ordinary boys swept up in the whirlwind of rock ‘n’ roll, the politics of their industry is still very much at the forefront of what they do. Joff gets most riled up when considering the money behind it all, but he’s unsure of Wolf Alice’s position in all of this. “I don’t know if there’s much bands can do. I think it’s all about funding from the top down. Our government are cutting arts funding – and this is a part of that. If you want the output, the arts need to be accessible. David Cameron, you wanker!”
Yet art that has come out of times of strife has so often excelled. “Grime is the punk sound of now”, Joel says. “It’s frustrated colloquial poetry, self-sufficiency; it’s putting on your own shows. The work you have to undertake to do that is phenomenal. That’s why I have a lot of respect for so many people who are killing it right now.” It’s not just grime’s practical output, but the musical output too, that gets Joel so impressed: “There’s so much being made all the time. It’s physical music. You’ve gotta be fucking astute, like lyrically smart.”
As Joff reminds me, “You should never judge the industry by the few anomalies that go through”. But, surely their home-grown success, alongside their continuing down-to-earth nature, can only instill a hope that the British music industry still has something to give.