Live Review – Gengahr @ The Bullingdon, Oxford
There’s something about Gengahr. Quietly shuffling onto the Bullingdon’s small stage, you’d be forgiven for brushing them off as being like any other North London indie band. Boyish good looks, understated outfits – just a bunch of guys making noise for teenagers. But coy smiles are exchanged between the band. They know something we don’t. There’s a dark energy caught here: crackling, undulating, ready to ignite. And they fucking explode.
For a band riding the sole energy of a debut album and a follow-up EP, Gengahr have done well to establish their place on the indie scene. Undoubtedly, touring with Wolf Alice and alt-J has played a part in the band’s ascension to headline-tour status. But there’s something else – Gengahr are odd. Their songs reference eerie, sinister things – ghosts, vampires, witches – under pseudo-happy melodies. They’re quietly creepy, coquettishly unnerving. It’s this weirdness that marks them out from other bands dominating the scene. Opening with the newly released ‘Loki’ from the Tired Eyes EP is maybe not the most obvious start, but John Victor and Felix Bushe’s guitars lure the crowd into a rocking, swaying swarm. Bushe’s vocals are reminiscent of a young Thom Yorke loaded on Xanax, a gentle and shimmering falsetto over Hugo Schulte’s steady bass. Energy is wound and unwound, contracting and expanding, and before we know it, things come to a sudden and ferocious conclusion. The beast is released: we are held rapt.
From here they launch straight into ‘Heroine’, a glittering anthemic pop track, caught somewhere between psychedelia and indie rock. Victor’s finesse is revealed with wild, kaleidoscopic guitar solos, most notably on ‘Where I Lie’, ‘Heroine’, and album opener ‘Dizzy Ghosts’. A particular highlight comes towards the end of the set in the form of ‘Fill My Gums With Blood’, which Bushe introduces as ‘the first song we ever put online…if you’ve been with us from the start then sing along’. And sing along they do: a horde of Gen-Yers, young, strung out, woozy and united in their unidentified angst. The track brings together the unstable and contradictory elements of the band’s performance: a breezy vocal and dreamy instrumental, combined with a thinly veiled vampiric violence, begging to ‘Let me in/So I can drink from you’.
And so Gengahr establish themselves as a delightful contradiction: not, as it may seem, a run-of-the-mill indie band. There’s no denying that Gengahr are weird, but they do weird so well. Their initial coy smiles were telling, there was something we didn’t know: that they’re actually fucking brilliant.
You can find Gengahr’s music on Spotify or Soundcloud, with a new deluxe version of debut album A Dream Outside out now on Transgressive Records.