England might be flooded, but recent shows by the Hives, the Bravery, and Hard-Fi prove that the pop-music scene is hardly watered down

By Mark Beaumont
Updated July 31, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Gie Knaeps/LFI

Okay, so most of Gloucestershire has started resembling Atlantis, we’re getting the average rainfall for the whole of July falling in one day every day, and the festival season has been turned into one big sluice around for the drugs you dropped in the slurry during the Arcade Fire, but England’s Worst Summer In Living Memory has one distinct advantage.

Y’see, come July, there’s always a flurry of gigs by big bands in tiny venues. Perhaps it happens all year round, but you only really notice it in July because they’re the most unbearably sticky, stinking, and sweat-drenched nights of the year.

With most UK venues not bothering to update their air conditioning systems since the Jurassic period, you generally find yourself crammed into the indie equivalent of the Black Hole Of Calcutta, with the moshpit sweat raining off the ceiling into your lager, and then you have to take the tube home looking and feeling like you’ve just swum across the Ganges at corpse-dumping time.

Not this year though. The mild-to-torrential summer has meant that watching the Hives at the 100 Club this week was a remarkably fragrant and un-slimy affair.

While usually we might swelter painfully through the new tracks desperate for the hits so we can get the hell out of there, the Hives’ new-album previews were fresh and frenetic, particularly a Britpoppy number with a working title of ”You Dress Up For Armageddon, I Dress Up For Summer.”

Plus Pelle Almqvist was in fine arrogant form, parading and posing for photographers yelling, ”Yes it’s true! I really am here! Tell your grandchildren!”

Meanwhile the Bravery popped into town after a Welsh festival was washed out by the floods to play a surprise free gig to a rammed Proud Gallery, a room approximately one tenth of the size of the Electric Ballroom where they’d played earlier in the week.

But maddest (and hottest) of all was the even tinier and wildly riotous gig that Hard-Fi played at the Dublin Castle, where 200 people crushed into a pub backroom that can officially hold only 130.

The crowd was so dense that it was impossible for the band to leave the stage for an encore, so instead they stayed onstage and simply described what they would usually do. ”At this point we’d pretend to go home but just go backstage for a bit instead?about now a roadie would come on and go ‘one-two’ into a mike?and now we’d come back on!” At which point they mimed a triumphant return to the stage, arms aloft and yelling ”THANK YOU CAMDEN!” Laugh? We almost stopped pogoing.

Meanwhile, the NME office is all a-fluster over the sudden and meteoric rise of Kate Nash, a self-made Harrow girl who started writing pop songs on a laptop when she broke her leg last year. Nash’s Regina Spektor-ish single, ”Foundations,” hit the Top Three with next to no radio play last month, and has hung around there ever since — even vying for the Number One spot with Timbaland as we write. Which means that either:

A) The nation has gone chav pop mental or,

B) Kate’s mum has remortgaged her house and spent a full month downloading the track off iTunes night and day.

Whatever, it’s a triumph for outsider pop in an age when The X Factor and American Idol are telling our nation’s 10-year-olds that they’re too talentless, fat, or ugly to be a pop star, and even if they’re not they still have to beat three million other people in a contest to win the chance to be one.

Plus, there’s Amy Winehouse having fights with herself in the tabloids every day, proving that you can be a glamorous pop superstar and still get hammered off of your cakebox on hard booze whenever you like.

Dunno about the States, but over in Blighty pop music just got a whole lot more real.