As Glasswerk left the Electric Ballroom, dripping with sweat, one disgruntled punter was overhead exclaiming that “drum’n’bass is dead… since when do you get a moshpit at a drum’n’bass night?” Whilst the sentiments may not have been shared with all present, it’s the exact kind of comment that makes Australia’s biggest export since the Minogue sisters and Castlemaine XXXX such a “marmite” kind of act… you either love ’em or loathe ’em.
On record, Pendulum’s catchy, hook-led drum’n’bass anthems have won them a huge fanbase, and made them one of THE crossover hits of 2007. Radio 1 playlisted (and rotated the s**t out of) recent single ‘Blood Sugar’, and they’ve hit the singles charts with both ‘Slam’ and their reworking of the Prodigy classic, ‘Voodoo People’. Debut album ‘Hold Your Colour’ sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and was reissued earlier this year with two new tracks, such was the demand for new Pendulum material. A full second album is scheduled for early 2008.
Live, however, Pendulum are a whole different animal. And it’s in the live setting that their true musical roots emerge. Prior to forming Pendulum, drummer Paul Harding played in a local rock band in Perth, Australia, and listened to AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen were members of various metal and punk bands. And when Pendulum play live, with a full band, the “sonic re-creation of the end of the world” that ensues (their words, not mine) is far more akin to a stadium rock show than a drum’n’bass night. Sure, the basslines are stupendously heavy, and the drumming comes to the fore, but they tend to slow down the tracks to allow the hardcore rock riffs to emerge, before speeding back up to a frenzied finale for each track. And the lighting is definitely more Metallica than Roni Size – sod the lasers and epilepsy-inducing strobes…. we want the big full beam spotlight rack, say the band.
And so it goes… Pendulum appeal to the rock fan, the drum’n’bass fan, the dance music fan…. their widespread appeal is the foundation on which they have built their success, but it may also be their biggest weakness, as the comments of the disgruntled punter above bear witness. Tracks like ‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’ and ‘Blood Sugar’ sound spectacular when played live, but your average Pendulum show contains more moshing than dancing, and that just won’t appeal to a lot of drum’n’bass fans. Even the choice of venue was fairly revealing about what to expect.
The new material on display at Camden’s Electric Ballroom also seems to suggest that Pendulum are going to great lengths to widen their appeal yet further. New single ‘Granite’ sounds like Ash or Jimmy Eat World on pills, whilst another new track is possibly the closest that drum’n’bass will ever get to imitating the sound of The Smiths. If past lessons are anything to go by, these tracks will be produced to a level that makes them immediate radio-friendly drum’n’bass anthems, but live, they fail to cut the mustard somewhat. The old material goes down a treat though. ‘Slam’ is a giant chunk of huge riffs and beats, ‘Voodoo People’ is given a whole new lease of life, over ten years after it was originally a hit, whilst the encore track, ‘Hold Your Colour’ is as laid back as Pendulum get, and yet simultaneously, a dancefloor classic.
They put on a fantastic show, let’s be straight about this. Rock fans who are keen on more beat-driven dance-rock crossover music will love the Pendulum live show. But drum’n’bass fans will continue to accuse Pendulum of selling out. And this is unfair criticism of a group that formed out of metal, rather than dance roots. But for the hardcore drum’n’basshead, steer clear of the Pendulum live shows, and wait to hear their more dance-focused DJ sets.
Drum’n’bass isn’t dead, it’s just evolving.