(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #330: Modestep

By on Thursday, 22nd January 2015 at 12:00 pm

Modestep are a tricky band to categorise, because they alternate between several different musical styles – dubsteb, grime, drum ‘n’ bass, heavy metal, and even straight pop – often within the same song. And while such stylistic confusion is one reason why it’s this writer’s sober wish never to hear their music again, there are no doubt plenty of listeners out there for whom Modestep’s magpie tendencies perfectly suit their iPhone-generation attention spans.

Their debut album ‘Evolution Theory’ runs to an ambitious 25 tracks on the deluxe edition; padded with various remixes and bonus tracks, that’s almost 2 hours of Modestep. Surely not even the most ardent fan could feel short-changed for quantity. It kicks off with the overwrought ‘Show Me a Sign’, dedicated to “the ones who care”; said dedication can apparently be demonstrated, not by perhaps helping an old lady across the street, or even sharing ones Polo mints with the office, but by holding a lighter in the air, an act of little practical use. Modestep throw the kitchen sink at their opening gambit – brostep, faux drum ‘n’ bass, and finally heavy metal riffing – conspiring to make a right old racket.

The title track is a bit more interesting: four rappers talk about which music has influenced them, namedropping profusely (Wiley, Dizzee), although it all inevitably descends into metal-step carnage towards the end. Similarly, ‘Praying For Silence’ has potential: it’s introduced by a news report on the 2011 London riots, and one would be forgiven for looking forward to a musing on that divisive episode from people closer in age and outlook to the rioters than your average man on the street. Sadly, there’s little social commentary, and the central refrain, “we’re praying for silence / now we’re burning with violence,” makes little sense. The rest is simply recycled brostep filler. An opportunity missed.

As an aside, what is the actual point of dubstep in 2015? Fair enough, when it was first invented, nigh on 20 years ago, it sounded edgy and novel, a break from the ubiquitous four-to-the-floor house scene, and probably heralded a move away from ecstasy to a novel plethora of barely-legal acronymic nightclub intoxicants. But now, with the advent of U.S. brostep and the ensuing mass cultural appropriation, the edge has gone and all we’re left with is the sound. Which, unfortunately for the genre, consists of deeply unpleasant bleugh, skweeeeek and wawawa noises. In other words, nothing to hum.

‘Time’ stands out like a black sheep – it’s a straight-ahead stadium ballad, with Hammond organ, piano, and real, heavily-reverbed drums. A jarring interlude in what is otherwise a dance album. And ‘Burn’ actually a pretty decent track, due to the contribution of a proper grime crew, Newham Generals, who actually have something decent to say, and say it well. But, yet again, the track is built around a bland platitude, in this case “can you feel the fire?”. Yes I can, and it’s in my ears. By this point, the album’s only halfway over. If you can stand to listen to the rest you’re a braver soul than I.

Let’s give Modestep the benefit of the doubt. Young listeners trying to work out exactly which genre floats their boat might listen to this and discover a previously unknown appreciation for drum ‘n’ bass, for instance, and end up seeking out some Roni Size and Goldie records. But whichever genre Modestep visit, and there are many, one can nominate a band that specialise in it… and do it better. If they chose one niche, and stuck to it, they might be more successful.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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