Guildford’s rising Indie-Rock queen, Annabel Allum migrates north to London, unsettling the scene with one anecdotal lyric and scuzzy riff at a time.
It’s another average Tuesday night in Hackney. Everybody bustles about, shopping bags in hand, headphones in, rushing to get home or get to the pub before calling it a night. Crawling through the crowds towards the former working mens club feels like an apt move in going against the grain and disturbing the norm.
Sam Johnson takes to the stage with nothing but a guitar and his voice. The stripped back set is the perfect accompaniment to his soulful lyricism and stage presence, it’s unassuming and quite the opposite to the headliners of the show. And that is why it works so well as a set, the stark contrast between the folk singer and the rock singer sets the audience up to be struck by their polarity in sound, bringing together two seemingly traditionally opposing audiences.
In Hozier-like howls, the 23 year old singer charms us with folk tales of growing up in the country side, fighting boredom and loneliness. Happily chatting to the audience about the influences behind his music, he breaks down any barrier between the audience and the stage with quips and self-deprecating jokes.
The warmth and emotion behind his music is easily felt as he belts out “Perfect Circle” and dedicates a song to his friend, who recently went through a break up. Explaining that he “wrote this to make him feel better,” but quickly realising that “it did not,” the audience laughs, and lover boy gives the game away by jokingly protesting in frustration “gets a laugh, everytime!” Sam denies all utterances in the crowd that lover boy is in the audience.
Finishing his set, laughing his way through a few mishaps (the strap on his guitar pinged off mid-song) Sam delivers a moving performance, leaving the stage primed and ready for Annabel Allum.
Before Annabel even takes to the stage, her name is called out with heartfelt enthusiasm that can only emirate from a true artist following. Having started a mere two years prior to this gig, Annabel has graced the stage, supporting Beth Ditto and playing at SXSW, her climb has been steep and clearly gained momentum.
The hum emanating from the crowd creates a hive of anticipation, filling the corners of the dim-lit Moth Club to it’s glittery ceiling. As the band takes to the stage, the room has filled and the crowd shuffles towards the front, eager to catch a sight of the artist.
The once dubbed “Guildford’s Courtney Barnett” is a fair characterisation, but to compare her to the similar, vast growing stereotype of a dryly sarcastic millennial voice on the scene is reductive; Annabel’s storytelling ability is versatile without losing it’s honesty. She reels off songs like “Rascal” in which she earnestly fucks up, reclaiming a narrative of unapologetic mistakes, self-awareness and satire with such a fine expertise that has only been accomplished previously by the likes of Courtney Love, PJ Harvey, Shirley Manson or Mac Demarco and Kurt Cobain.
She does this so successfully by staying true to herself, implementing anecdotal quips and demonstrating the certain meta carelessness of this generation. By simply expressing these truths from a non-male perspective, whilst reclaiming both a traditionally male-sphere and adopting non-femme mannerisms in her videos and on stage (particularly in “Beat the Birds”) she has created a beautifully subversive potential that swells in each of her performances. The sense of this is reflected in her eager and smiling bandmates, who playfully communicate through facial expressions and subdued laughter throughout the set.
Her voice is one that comes from the perspective of a millennial without the pretence, it’s shrugged off as she grates the strings of her guitar into a scuzzy riff. Quite simply, Annabel is a welcome face to a tired, overgrown scene of average male bands and an undisturbed genre.
The music surrounding this narrative follows the same suit of adaptability, it can be quiet, warm and folky or loud, brash and thundering. The scope of the sound surrounding Annabel is immense, her talent is a tangible force that is only furthered by her powerful and stage presence. Exaggerated and limp-bodied strumming seems to be a camp, subversive nod to the aforementioned artists, stemming from her androgynous image and exacerbated movements.
None of the crowds overwhelming cheers and cries seem to get to her, she is relentlessly thankful and humble, seeming to take as much from the audience as we do from her. Once commenting that she writes to “inspire the truth, inspiring to create a safe space”, her intentions clearly radiated from her music to her audience; made up of queer and non-conforming, self-effacing groups, The Moth Club quickly became a hub of affirmation and celebration.
Giving the mic a true bit of welly, Annabel revs up the volume on her last song, whacking the whammy bar and whaling with tenacious vocals, the band joins in her apocalyptically loud farewell to London in a storm of heavy bass, smacked delay pedal riffs and the threatening thudding of the drums. Annabel Allum is sure to further unsettle the rock scene with her truly subversive force of satirical storytelling, and we look forward to the aftermath.