The debut of the new song at Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival comes after the promise of new material
My Bloody Valentine will be loud. You know this by reputation – from the reviews you’ve read beforehand, the posts in the Facebook groups, the man whose job it is to hand you ear-plugs at the door.
For a band who sound like nothing that came before them and – for all the imitators – who no band has come close to replicating since, it might seem strange that their reputation hinges so much on their loudness, but it only takes seconds of opener ‘I Only Said’ for it to make sense. The feedback feels like a gale against your skin, the vocals barely audible above the noise of the amp – their music, though cosmic in its scope, cutting like a razor against your ear-drums.
It’s five years since the band last played together, their return at Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival comes after a warm-up the previous night in Birmingham, which the band’s de-facto leader Kevin Shields describes as experiencing “really bad technical issues”. There are no sound problems at the Southbank Centre, although Shields – occasionally meddling with the amps and shaking his head at offstage technicians – seems at points on the brink of lashing out, in search of a sound nobody bar he understands.
Their’s is music any shoegaze fan will be familiar with, their seminal album Loveless – released after infamous delays and followed up with over two decades of inactivity – remains the definitive work of the genre, a multilayered melting of noise they somehow get close to replicating on-stage with just two guitarists. Shields and Bilinda Butcher manage this through a mix of guitars swaps – a rotation of Mustangs, Jazzmasters and Jaguars – much-extended pedalboards, and other sonic voodooism.
In truth, a seated arts venue is a not a natural fit for a band whose the music is so immersive and all-consuming – theatres have a habit of sanitising performances and few bands work better in a venue where houmous and pitta is available to buy at the bar. The situation is saved by a group who establish themselves in front of the stage during ‘When You Sleep’, moshing and in turn highlighting the ridiculousness of choosing to remain in your seats amid the aural pulverisation.
The band debut a new song early in the set, likely taken from the band’s much anticipated and, predictably, much-delayed EP, although in truth it would be easy for fans of the band to have missed it. MBV are not a band reliant on individual tunes – the closest they get to a single is probably ‘Sometimes’, a song made famous a decade after its release by Lost In Translation, and a song they do not play on the night. Instead, in the same vein as their albums, the gig is wave after wave of feedback and vocal murmurs – no song entirely distinct from the last but with a thunderous overall effect.
They end their nineteen song set – which runs through material from their 80s EPs through to 2013’s MBV – with ‘You Made Me Realise’. A 3-minute song extended beyond ten by a prolonged section of sheer noise their fans refer to as the “holocaust section” – it is literally headache inducing, but it sounds like nothing else in the world.
In the final minutes of the gig, I look behind me to see almost everybody in the venue is now stood up – it is just too much to do anything else.