Brooklyn Riot Grrrl trio Sharkmuffin are in town as part of their UK Invasion tour, following the re-release of their second album Tsuki. Playing the legendary Night & Day Cafe, they have brought along two bands as a showcase for both have the potential to be something very special.
For the first few minutes, local 4-piece Pretty Witches had something of a ruse going on- starting off with a short instrumental very much in post-punk revival-style, sharp riffs and chord sequences that could reasonably form groundwork for something Editors would use and build on. However, this doesn’t last long as the band suddenly change gears and move into their signature sound- icy, Cocteau Twins-like processed guitar sitting atop the driving, distorted garage rock- this gradually creeps forward, giving the music a psychedelic edge, bordering on stoner rock during “Fire“, which continues into the Sabbath-esque “Wildlife“.
As Pretty Witches smash through their set, it feels as though time is slowing down in every song, they manage the rare feat of being able to maintain their momentum and intensity as the tempo drops further and further. Guitars spiral and collapse into one another as the music moves from the Kyuss-like “Conditions” into something more resembling Red House Painters or Codeine- dark, cavernous soundscapes hypnotically drawing the listener in and rooting them on the spot. Pretty Witches are a band that need to be experienced live, and this opportunity tonight will hopefully have eyes on them, they will be going places sooner rather than later.
Armed with pawn shop guitars and channelling the spirit of 1969 Detroit (with a quick detour to 1989 Seattle), Sheffield quartet Femur are soul-scrapingly powerful, a raw, primal fuzz spewing forth bludgeoning all in it’s path. Huge monolithic riffs are almost fully buried underneath screaming and screeching feedback while pulled forward by an arena-sized bass and drum onslaught. Like Sonic’s Rendezvous Band covering Mudhoney or The Stooges taking a stab at Badmotorfinger, Femur fling themselves across the stage as they hammer through material on their EP In Your Belly, crashing into each other with reckless abandon in a way you would expect if they were playing a venue 10 times the size of Night & Day, all swampy guitars and gut-wrenching bass piled up over primitive beats- each element as important as the other.
Perhaps the most important point to note is that Femur look like rock stars, the way they dress, the way they play, all four of them have that intangible ‘it’ that is truly a one-in-a-million feat- and this can best be found with frontman Felix Renshaw mesmerising the audience with his natural effortless charisma, jerking across the stage like a man possessed. equal parts Iggy Pop, Lux Interior and Alan Vega.
Sharkmuffin make their onto the stage and rip into their insanely catchy, high-octane noise-pop with songs rarely breaking the two-minute mark. Grungy, fuzzy and angular, Sharkmuffin feel like the natural successors from the Riot Grrrl scene of the 1990s, meshed with the grimy lo-fi disco-pop of the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Tarra Thiessen’s vocals channelling Karen O and Kathleen Hanna simultaneously through a mix of singing, shouting and screaming, backed up by tight harmonies from her bandmates, Natalie Kirch and Jordyn Blakely.
Sharkmuffin are a band that the world needs right now- a whirlwind of righteous anger against a biased system, playful but with an undertone of justified aggression, swaggering with a rebellious, fiercely independent spirit, armed to the teeth with soundbite rhetoric and a message to spread. Musically the band is relatively sparse, often Tarra’s guitar and Natalie’s bass playing in harmony in a Wire-esque minimalist style, locking in sync perfectly in a tight groove, before letting loose with incendiary sonics more in line with Bikini Kill’s all-out aural attack or Sleater-Kinney’s more controlled use of noise.
It is immediately clear that the three-piece are having fun throughout the night, with fits of giggles punctuate songs and the choices to showboat from time to time, with Tarra leaving the confines of the stage- once armed with guitar, a second time just with a microphone to scream from the floor. Sharkmuffin are the kind of group that is vital right now- they have direction, focus and a gritty determination that you have to get onboard with.
Words and photography by Liam Moody.