Huge credit to London six-piece HMLTD who transformed the inside of London’s Scala into a replica of an art school end of year party. HMLTD accost all of the senses — not just sound and vision. As well as the sound of their glam-punk music and the vision of their outlandish clothes and flamboyant mise-en-scene, this gig feels different from any other. The crowd is so packed that it’s hot and humid inside the Scala, and the dry ice pouring from above the stage changes the taste of the air itself. Members of the audience reach up to touch balloons and inflatables.
It seems they had help in revamping the Scala from their mates — who have shared in HMLTD’s experience of building up a following at Brixton’s Windmill. High fliers The Big Moon similarly started at The Windmill and took on the Scala last year, as successfully but not as ostentatiously as this. The shiny metal railings that divide different levels of the Scala’s main room are all covered in layers of soft cling film. Chains, pale balloons, sinister inflatables and massive papier-mâché monsters hang from the ceiling and walls of the auditorium. Even the main bar has had an HMLTD art school makeover. The arty young crowd is as dressed up as the venue, sporting brightly coloured hair and garish home-made costumes.
A huge roar goes up as singer Henry Spychalski and his troop take to the stage, and he declares theatrically: “They told me Assad was stained”. The lines of debut single ‘Stained’ get weirder still — “Mother Teresa was probably stained, my mother and my father are stained, London is stained, Athens is stained” — recited against the bewildering backdrop of a chugging rhythm section led by Achilleas on drums alternating with bursts of demonic keyboards and huge dance-synth blasts from Zac.
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Spychalski is wearing a red cap and camp white uniform. The rest of the band are all just as glamorous and striking. Guitarist Duke keeps his cap on, and second guitarist James is resplendent in green. The make-up is full on. HMLTD have no time for the black-clad sobriety of a lot of post-indie rock. Sure, parts of ‘Music!’ may sound as doomy as the early indie-goth theatricality of monochrome Bauhaus; but not when the crowd sing the sci-fi synth riff from the track, which is by turns minimalist, motorik, jazzy and space-rock. Spychalski’s artful vocals are reminiscent of musical theatre classic The Rocky Horror Show — full of B-movie sci-fi, glam and schlock, with a touch of The Cramps.
He struts around the stage, commanding attention despite the individualistic antics of the rest of the band around him. When the headgear comes off, Spychalski reveals a bright blue mullet. His legs twist and flex, he spins and jumps, he gesticulates; every angular movement accentuated by the sharp creases of his smart, flared, white trousers. New song ‘Choo Choo’ is a crazy train ride with a sing-along onomatopoeic chorus.
After that jolly number, the mood deepens as the slower ‘Kinkakuji’ winds up — reminiscent of The Birthday Party in the way it writhes along before transitioning to a manic chorus that sends the moshpit mad. And there is something of the young Nick Cave in Spychalski’s perpetual motion and expansive gestures.
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Another new song, ‘Satan’, is atmospheric and suitably descends into a ‘Paradise Lost’ of noise — the story of the Fall, but not by The Fall or John Milton. Fan favourite and second single ‘To The Door’ takes the Scala into the spaghetti western world of Adam and the Ants at their most romantic, interrupted by brief trance trap beat breakdowns that give moshers just enough time to breathe before the cowboy “hooh haahs” resume. The theatricality of HMLTD and something about Spychalski’s voice recall the late great Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive.
‘Proxy Love’ is a glam-rock dance anthem that requires half of the keyboards to move across the stage, causing a few minutes’ delay — why not move bass player Nico to the keyboards rather than the other way around? The demented and driving fairground twang of ‘Where’s Joanna?’ disintegrates to allow the moshing art students to prepare a large empty pit for slam-dancing when the Goat Girl-ish riff resumes. The set climaxes with ‘Is This What You Wanted?’, building funkily until it collapses. Is this what you wanted? It’s what hundreds of HMLTD followers inside the Scala wanted.