An Interview With Performance

Performance, 2/​11/​05, Club Malice at Bar3, Bristol

Your local pub at one in the afternoon, the crowd at a thrash metal gig, Physics lessons, The Simpson’s, even those boring dinner parties with your long lost relatives (where an Uncle ALWAYS gets too drunk), are all only fun because of the presence of one thing. Characters. Life’s full of them. And without them we’d all be very bored indeed; it might even be like living in Surrey.

Pop music is, of course, another one to add to the list. Here we need characters that belong on the stage (that doesn’t include you Borrel you fuck). Here we need something pretty to look at, a cartoon character made real on stage, the epitome of cool or someone to make us uncomfortable or quite frankly scared. Or sometimes you need all four, and this is where we find Performance.

Hailing from Manchester on a mission to spread the word, the band are tonight drawing their debut tour to a close. Gigwise managed to catch a few words with reluctant front man Joe Stretch (the uncomfortable looking character) after the show, where he needed no encouragement on the subject of Performance. ‘It’s all about this notion of inspiration, we’re a little band we know that, but we still hope to inspire some people and on this tour I really think we have.’ And he’s not wrong. In the short time it takes Gigwise and Stretch to bond over our shared hatred of the ‘cool’ London music scene, we are inundated with newly recruited fans and well wishers.

Starting life as an indie duo featuring the aforementioned Stretch and best friend Joe Cross, it wasn’t until they met electro-​​pop loving sisters Laura and Billie Marsden in early 2003 that Performance began to take shape. With a shared love of New Order, early Human League and Depeche Mode, synth drenched urgent electro pop soon began reverberating through the streets of Manchester. After releasing two singles last year, Dotted Line and follow up Lovelife, on local label Guilty Feet Recordings, the critical acclaim started heading their way.

So onto tonights show at Club Malice, with its sexy venue, sexy music, and sexy promoters (get down there Bristol people). Since Gigwise last came across the band in February, the promising ideas and nervous faces have been replaced by killer tunes and enthralling characters, with each member’s visual role as contrasting as their musical one. Keyboardist Billie keeps her Betty ‘too cute for school’ Boo face in tact while hammering out those catchy electro riffs. Beats and noise man Joe Cross is a modern equivalent of The Fonze if he’d somehow found his way into New Order. Guitarist Laura looks fresh from the catwalk of the year 2050 while spawning her wall of noise and piercing reply vocals. But it’s the slightly unhinged yet utterly endearing front man that really grabs your gaze. With just enough Ian Curtis and a little (hence too much) Brandon Flowers, Mr Stretch seems far too frightened to be allowed out of the house, let alone on stage. Giving a whole new lease of life to the term ‘nervous twitch’ is not a sure-​​fire way to gain a stage presence though in this case it seems to have worked, even if the legitimacy of such a show is open for speculation.

The sound itself is nothing to get excited about. The recent resurgent electro scene has definitely had its moments, but with it has come some unknown urge to forfeit atmosphere for hooks. So too have Performance, albeit successfully. The short set is hook city, with riffs, chorus’ and surging climaxes all thrown in for good measure. Tunes bound along at a phenomenal rate, so much so that after just 25 minutes it’s all over. ‘Surrender’, the new single and the first for Polydor, is an obvious highpoint while early release ‘Dotted Line’ fails to meet the commercial standards of the newer tracks, a sign of progression for some and a sign of ‘selling out’ for others.

But it’s their lyrics that separate Performance from the crowd, or so they claim. ‘We’re really about words, we’re gonna release loads of short stories based on our song titles, anything to get the point across really.’ And there’s certainly evidence of this. Lines such as ‘What’s that sound, what’s breaking? It’s just the crack in that smile you’re faking’ from ‘Freeze’ demonstrates a little more thought has gone into the subtleties of song writing than one would expect. Further demonstrated by their new and improved website, which sacrifices flashy graphics for words galore, it raises the point of who will actually care? Lacking the Arctic Monkeys’ reality wit or the poetic flair of a pre-​​fuck up Doherty, there’s often no room for anything but the simplest of couplets when appealing to the masses.

And appeal to the masses is almost certainly their aim, especially when considering their choice of label, Polydor. ‘Well someone wants to make money out of us so it can’t be bad; maybe they’ll do something horrible to us, but you never know.’ Practically creating The Killers-​​Part Two (otherwise known as The Bravery) from scratch last summer, Polydor managed to hype the band to such an extent that they moved from showcases at London’s Metro Club to headlining Brixton Academy in little over a year. Very impressive for a group without a single tune.

So is this what’s in store for Performance over the coming 12 months, or can they somehow use songs instead of hype to get to the top and stay there. The man in the middle seems to think so. ‘We were in a meeting in London and people were talking about all this shit around us, like T-​​shirts or badges or whatever, but they’re missing the point. THIS is the point, the live show.’ Joe then attempts to legitimise mass appeal, before pondering whether they’ll ever make it, ‘I suppose bands like Franz (Ferdinand) get the chance to inspire a lot of people, which can’t be a bad thing. I’d like to do this for a couple of years at least…….’ He trails off, obviously thinking this problem through as he speaks, refreshingly aware of the perils of self proclamation. ‘It’s all about radio play and marketing isn’t it, (waves hand dismissively) we’ll just stick to what we do.’

And that really does sum up Mr Stretch’s attitude on the business of being in a band in 2005. Bar the odd rock anecdote regarding lunch with Peter Gabriel, he truly does seem to have his feet firmly on the ground, even admitting that he couldn’t see Gigwise until he’d said Hi to his Auntie! Any gripes with that terrifying being known as ‘the music industry’ also seem to be, at this stage at least, unfounded. ‘Surrender’ is being released without the hype and NME coverage that supported The Bravery’s ‘Unconditional’ 12 months ago, though there have been some VERY suspicious looking entries on message boards this week (lets call it the Monkey effect for now).

Performance are a clever band, with great characters, catchy songs and with far more to offer than first meets the eye. Granted, you’ve heard it all before and there’s certainly nothing new to offer, but that’s not the issue. The issue is will their audience ever take the time to see the added depth, or even care? Again, Stretch is realistic, ‘Everything fails one day. All I hope is that our failure will be spectacular.’ Sounds good to me. Here’s to a spectacular failure, many many albums down the line.

New single ‘Surrender’ is out on Monday 7th November on Polydor Records

Originally published on

For an update five years later, go here and read the biog. It’s an interesting read when coupled with the words above

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