I’m going to have to say something.
See, I’m normally quite polite, but it’s been bugging me for a while…
…I’m sick to death of solemn, over-earnest, po-faced young indie bands admonishing us all in self-righteous tones without even having the decency to do so with a sense of humour, glamour or an ounce of wit.
Thank God for Walt Disco, whose new EP, Young, Hard and Handsome, is here to spread their message of self-expression and self-love by having fun and looking bloody fabulous while they do it. This is a band, after all, that has worn wedding dresses onstage, namechecked The Rocky Horror Picture Show as an influence, and dressed as mermaids for a music video. What more could you ask for?
A six-piece from Scotland, they describe themselves as “heading towards a hyper-pop sound”, and they wear a wealth of influences on their sleeves. Singer James Potter has the majestic croon of Billy Mackenzie and the cheekiness of Adam Ant. Meanwhile, their songs remind me of a melting pot of groups: Scottish post-punk, “I Travel”- era Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, The Associates, alongside great mid-noughties bands like The Gossip, Franz Ferdinand and Late of the Pier. In other words, post-punk pop made for the dancefloor and dresses for the kill.
This is also pop music as personal politics. As James Potter has said, the songs on the EP focus on “gender. Love. Most recently we’ve been writing hypothetical songs about love and sex because neither of those things are happening. I think especially with this EP that’s coming up, there are songs about being young and identity and stuff like that. I just write about my own experiences, really. Like, how sometimes dating one gender sometimes makes me feel a different way about my own gender. It’s hard to explain… but I just try my best”.
Young, Hard and Handsome is testimony to this mix of the romantic, the personal, the fun and the danceable. Opening track ‘Hey Boy’ (You’re One of Us)’ sets the band’s stall out from the start. Poking fun at a determinedly hetero-normative male’s closeted ‘deviant’ desires (“Black leather/magazines/locked away inside your dream”) whilst offering to take said male under their wing (“You know your baby wants a queen/we’ll teach you the ways of us/not being afraid of one of us”), it’s a cheeky song of inclusion, provoking as much as it wants to bring people together. It’s brilliant, of course, a musical updating of Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ with bouncy glam rhythms and punchy keyboards pushed to the fore, while the chorus, with it’s big “hey!” backing vocals is positively infectious. There’s also an operatic opening and closing to bookend the song. The perfect opener.
Next, ‘Cut Your Hair’ is a storming plea to being able to dress up and experiment with yourself, while warning the older generation not to force the values and aesthetics of their youth onto the young (I wouldn’t want to enforce my youth on the young, of course, not since my Pete Doherty phase when that market trader called me ‘Bugsy Malone’…). Crisp staccato and scratchy guitars marry to a bassline reminiscent of “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine’ by The Killers, while the solo is all angular, cut-up wildness, similar to how Eno would process Phil Manzanera’s guitar for Roxy Music and make it sound like a synthesiser malfunctioning. Potter’s voice, meanwhile, is wildly, wonderful, theatrical and provocative. This has been on constant repeat in my head since I first heard it.
“I’m What You Want” is a two-chord groove with quirky guitar lines and a driving, mechanical beat. It’s possibly the weakest track on the EP, but that isn’t to say it isn’t any good. There’s a real feel-good vibe to the song which is endearing. Is Potter making a cocky statement to a future lover, or is he winding up a homophobic male afraid of his feminine side? Maybe a little of both, but either way there’s a real glee to his singing here.
‘Heather’ brings things to a close on a gentler, more romantic note. Starting with twinkling, chiming keyboards, the whole effect is gentler, a sweeping ballad that takes in shades of The Associates’ “18 Carat Love Affair” (a Walt Disco favourite) and Bowie’s “Wild is the Wind” (also covered by The Associates’ Billy Mackenzie), filtered through a modern indie vibe, the crisp drums preventing things from becoming saccharine. Potter is at his most Billy Mackenzie-esque here, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Said elsewhere to be uncovering “Potter’s experiences with understanding his gender”, “Heather” is great pop music in the best sense of that term.
On the back of this EP, I predict big things for Walt Disco. They’ve certainly got the ambition. As James Potter has said, “We want to appeal to people who are queer and like, go to vegan restaurants, but also to people who love garage rock and go mental at gigs…we want to challenge that divide.”
Amen to that.
And can we just agree that Walt Disco is a f*****g excellent name for a band?
Walt Disco’s ‘Young, Hard and Handsome’ EP is out on September 30