Hookworms have had a turbulent few years. Following the destruction of lead singer Matthew ‘MJ’ Johnson’s studio and Hookworms HQ in the horrific floods that hit Leeds in the Christmas period of 2015, what followed was insurance induced financial difficulties, personal issues and a minimal musical output since 2014’s The Hum. It would have been easy to assume the unfortunate demise of one Yorkshire’s finest contemporary bands.
However 2018 has seen them propelled by the success of their newest release Microshift, with this the band have entered a new era of their career, transitioning from blog-sphere-favourites to top-twenty album charts status. When it came to playing in support of the new record the band clearly embraced their new level of success, carefully preparing a show worthy of this league not just as musicians, but visually and technically too.
Performing at London’s Brixton Electric their gear-strewn stage could have been mistaken for a Radiohead show as they played accompanied by a projected backdrop of carefully curated visuals syncopated to the performance. Opening with ‘Negative Space’ and followed by ‘Static Resistance’ from their latest release, frontman MJ sang raw and direct with his emotional lyrics no longer cloaked and hidden behind effects, his voice now tackling full melodies and not just shrieks and short phrases. It seems this same openness and clarity has seen Microshift propel the band to much larger audiences and it transfers equally live creating sing-a-long excitement to a sold out crowd of both new and old fans.
The set drew heavily from the new record and the band where joined by Alice Merida Richards of Virginia Wings, who provided support, as the counterpart to MJ vocals for a highlight performance of the duet ‘Each Time We Pass’. While a jammed out version of ‘Boxing Day’ featuring an effects drowned saxophone player got a little too Vangelis-esque. The set also saw older material with fan favourite ‘On Leaving’ receiving a particularly strong reaction from the crowd.
In terms of actual performance there was little criticism that could be made, along with the visuals and their attention to detail Hookworms shared a level of professionalism that can often be missed by bands propelled to fame without the years of hard work that go with it. However the constants in dynamics at times became fatiguing. Where on record synthesizers and samples sit carefully ambientl within the mix they could be somewhat overwhelming live and similarly live drums sat forefront and occasionally felt overly abrasive when replacing the more hypnotic electronic or manipulated loops of the recordings. With the softer and more melodic parts pumping the same amount of air as the heavier ones, the show was certainly a start to finish piece rather than a sonic narrative.
Despite this Hookworms have clearly entered the major leagues of contemporary alternative acts with the ability to maintain originality and intrigue while appealing to a wider audience, as well as helping to put northern bands back on the map. It would be hard to see them going anywhere but up from here.
Microshift is out now via Domino Records and you can catch Hookworms on U.K. tour dates throughout October and November.