Transgressive 10th Birthday // Live Review

mystery jets

Barbican – September 30th

When Toby L. and Tim Dellow met at a Bloc Party gig ten years ago at the tender age of 19, the music world was remarkably different. McFly were topping the charts, Destiny’s Child reformed, and then in September 2004, a brand new label called Transgressive released The Subways’ début single 1am.

Ten years later, Transgressive Records has become one of the most prominent indie labels and publishing companies in the business – and Tuesday night’s party at the Barbican is a perfectly fitting tribute to ten brilliant years.

We open with the new; up-and-comer Marika Hackman. Fresh from recording debut album We Slept At Last and supporting Alt-J on their national tour, Hackman’s understated elegance is what makes her so appealing. Playing folk with an almost gothic twist, Hackman – draped appropriately in a black cape – broods through her songs, but upon hearing the audience’s enthusiasm breaks into an ear-to-ear grin.

If this performance is anything to go by, Hackman has an exciting year ahead. Her mix of sweet vocals and almost dissonant minor chords brings a breath of fresh air to the twee folk that seems to be everywhere these days, and a cover of Joanna Newsom’s ‘81’ is a perfectly executed testament to the raw beauty of Hackman’s untrained voice.

Videos showcasing Transgressive’s myriad of talented artists fill the set changeover times (starting with Foals’ ‘Spanish Sahara’ because they have the key to my heart), after which Dry The River are introduced.

“Transgressive were the first people who sat in a room and really chatted to us about not just being students anymore,” says frontman Peter Liddle fondly. On the surface, Dry The River is just a good indie rock band. Delve a little deeper, though, and they’ve got some real substance behind them. Luscious harmonies come seemingly out of nowhere; they’ve got a depth that so much in the genre lacks. Also fresh from recording an album (in Iceland no less), new cuts show a fresh maturity from the East London group.

More videos play while the auditorium suddenly fills up, and Jen Long – who runs her own tape label Kissability under the Transgressive umbrella – comes up to introduce the next band; not that they need it. It seems everyone has come to see Mystery Jets, who have been on the label almost since the beginning.

Another group who have recently finished recording, the London band give definition to the ‘party’ of the night. Not three songs into the set, the politely seated crowd begins to flock right to the front to boogie, and it’s only then you get a sense of what this night is supposed to be about. It’s a coming together of the music industry from all sides, an ode to the progress and talent of the last decade in music and a tangible reminder of the effect it has on people.

Within Mystery Jets’ set comes a surprise track from Laura Marling, squeezing in a rendition of Young Love, their collaboration effort from 2008 that’s not lost a bit of its endearing charm. Closing with ‘Flakes’ – and a promise of new music and live dates soon – the all too short set ends to make way for the ‘headliner’.

“Well. Lots of music happening tonight, isn’t there? Hours and hours, in fact.” Johnny Flynn points out astutely.

While some people have trickled out after Mystery Jets, thankfully most of the Barbican remains for Flynn and his 7-piece band the Sussex Wit – they’re a joy to watch. People are running around the stage from instrument to instrument, there are completely unrecognisable stringed contraptions littering the stage – it’s non-stop energy that brings new life to the folk tunes.

Transgressive’s founders said in a recent interview that they wish they’d signed Laura Marling in her early days – and it’s not hard to see why. She’s back again to sing ‘The Water’ with Flynn, one of the most simplistic, loveliest tracks to come out of that whole nu-folk scene.

Of course, the grand finale sees all the night’s artists back on the stage for Flynn’s (somewhat depressing) ‘Tickle Me Pink’. The bouncing folk track provides what is essentially a huge celebration of music in all its forms, and it’s beautiful to watch, quite frankly. Overcome by a weird emotional rush of pride for the music world and its power, the party – by that time almost a folk-style rave – perfectly encapsulates what Transgressive is about. It’s a communion, if you like, of their passion for quality music and positive ethics, and if this is just the first decade then please pre-order me a ticket to the 20th birthday party.