There’s always been something slightly off about Sports Team. Sure, we’ve covered their ramshackle Pavement-esque indie racket previously – even made them a Next Wave artist – but over the past few months we’ve had these nagging doubts, these burgeoning signs that something isn’t quite what it seems.
Arriving at London’s Kentish Town Forum, they begin to coalesce, to formulate into something coherent. It’s a bold move to put this show on, but it’s also one that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The band’s album isn’t even finished yet – fans can buy seed tins on the merch desk as a form of pre-order – and it’s despite the relentless social media push the venue doesn’t feel busy.
Perhaps the build up has put us on edge. A few days ago NME visited Bristol to catch Sports Team on the road, and the band spoke to the title backstage.
“If you were in another genre, you’d be embarrassed to play the Forum,” says co-songwriter Rob Knaggs. Try telling that to J Hus, who was banned outright from playing in East London. Or perhaps sit down with any one of the victims – the artists, DJs, the promoters – who were shut down by Form 696.
Sports Team can’t quite shake off their entitlement. An abridged quote used by NME reads: “Our audience is bored, suburban kids a lot of the time. I think those people haven’t had a voice in so long.”
Ah yes, those poor white middle class people; long shunted to the side-lines, their voices dwarfed by pesky interlopers such as people of colour, the LGBT community, and the working class. If only that were true.
But bands have long said silly things to create headlines in the music press. It’s just that the heroes Sports Team cite so reverentially had a little more to back them up with. Tonight’s set feels like a few half-formed ideas spread to an obscenely thin level, failing to rouse the room and fill the venue. Worse still, it feels agonising repetitive, with the ultra strict palette of those singles merging as little more than so white it may as well be opaque indie schlock.
“Loads of great music comes out of dull, middle-class suburbia,” Alex insisted in that NME interview. And – to be honest – he’s not wrong, with that nebulous strip between the aspirational working class and lower middle class providing British music with a healthy interzone, a state of identity-stripped flux. Think Pet Shop Boys. Think Everything But The Girl. Think Blur, even.
Except in this case it’s been robbed of the poetry, the nuance, the sexuality that flushed through their forebears. In the same fashion as Stewart Lee once so cruelly skewered Peter Kay, it’s essentially just pointing at things and shouting their name, like an impatient child on a lengthy car journey somewhere in Hampshire: Little Chef! Roundabout! Semi-detached with a separate garage!
There’s a sickly veneer of irony over everything Sports Team put their name to, but it often wears oh-so-thin. The band host annual trips to Margate, a bunch of Cambridge graduates renting a mini-bus for something that skirts dangerously close to a poverty safari. Tonight they perform in front of an enormous table-cloth, while one band member dons shades and tries to look a bit tough. It’s all a bit much.
Sports Team begin and end the show with the music of Robbie Williams, leaving the stage to the strains of his ultra-successful single ‘Angels’. Curiously, it seems to get a bigger cheer than the bulk of their own songs. But that’s the thing with all that self-regarding humour – eventually the references disappear, and you’re left being the joke.
Margate, LOL. Roundabouts, LOL. Tinnies in the park, LOL.
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