Hands Off Gretel are a band from an alternate timeline. A timeline where it was a young Kurt Cobain, not Alice, that followed the white rabbit and gave grunge to the folks of Wonderland. Two decades later, and Hands Off Gretel are the closest thing the world has to ‘Wonderland Grunge’. A colourful band of renegades, taking equally from Bikini Kill, Hole, Sonic Youth and L7 with their hearts stuck firmly in the tail end of the last millennium.
Their London show on the 15th, the first of a UK tour, was a launch party for the band’s new release, ‘Burn The Beauty Queen’, with an eager crowd crammed into the pokey (and hotter than a Venusian summer) upstairs bar of Camden’s The Black Heart. Support came in the form of loop-pedal goddess Yanna A, Parisian live-wires A Void, and fist-pumping punk rockers Healthy Junkies. All female-fronted and powerfully grungy, they gave the night what you might call a ‘riot grrrrrunge’ vibe that set the stage for the main act’s special brand of feminist mayhem.
Once Hands Off Gretel took to the stage, things kicked into overdrive. That might have something to do with the volume being turned up from thunderous to downright bone-shaking. Hands Off Gretel were loud. Very loud. Like, ears-ringing-the-next-morning loud. And nobody was complaining. Raggedy-Ann frontwoman Lauren Tate dominated the stage like The Mad Hatter’s rebellious lovechild, a purple-dreadlocked icon with angst-ridden Brody Dalle vocals. Bassist Joe Scotcher and guitarist Sean McAvinue, as a sharp-dressed young fellow and an extra from Vikings respectively, bounced about the stage like hamsters on caffeine. And the hero of the night, drummer Sam Hobbins, played the entire set with a broken right hand, and an expression of utter punk-powered determination.
Much of the performance was given over to material off the new record, lapped up by a crowd of fans jammed together like head-banging sardines. The band t-shirts, adorned with Tate’s home-drawn dark cartoonish doodles, were in abundance. But they still found time to slip in firm favourites, especially the ending double bill of ‘My Size’ and ‘Be Mine’. Getting louder and louder with every snap of the snare.
“Thank you for making it feel as cool as the 90s” said Tate as a parting word to her utterly sweat-soaked crowd. That’s as fair a description of the evening as any you’ll find. At times it felt less like a 2016 album launch, and more like a celebration of a by-gone era. The kind mostly confined to early 90s Seattle VHS recordings of bands you’ve never heard of. The kind of performance that’s increasingly hard to find, embracing the DIY homespun aesthetic of punk and riot grrrl to a crammed-in crowd of loyalists. Hands Off Gretel did a stellar job of channelling their grunge-rock forebears, and brought the sound of the 90s screaming back to London.
This Hands Off Gretel article was written by Matt George Lovett, a GIGsoup contributor