Apparently when they were starting out, many record labels refused to sign Clean Bandit because they were convinced that it was some kind of joke. Now, almost three years after the release of their first single, after being graced with a Grammy Award and a slew of chart-topping songs, people are taking Clean Bandit very seriously. Unfortunately this has also resulted in Clean Bandit taking themselves WAY too seriously, delivering a live performance that is perfunctory and soulless, lacking in any tangible energy that isn’t brought to the gig by the audience.
Amid the slew of late-teens/early 20s, the four founding members of the group come out on stage, along with two additional female vocalists to carry most of the heavy lifting, and begin with their debut album New Eyes‘ title track, with its creeped out, slowed-down electro groove to get us all in a particular mood and bleeding into the minimalism of the first half of ‘Dust Cleanse’ before Milan Neil Alan-Smith kicks it up a notch with the band’s trademark violin breakdowns.
Things continue on a similar vein through the rest of the first half as they deliver conveyor-belt performances of ‘Cologne’ and ‘Up Again’, followed by their latest single ‘Stronger’. Stand-in vocalist Elisabeth Troy and Alan-Smith dance together for five seconds, and for the first time the group show signs of having a personality. It also signposts a continuing irritant, as Alan-Smith appears to gnaw on his own hand in between turns on the violin, dancing awkwardly around the stage, as if trying to over-compensate for his bandmates’ lack of energy.
‘UK Smithy’ sees Grace Chatto pound down on Caribbean steel drum, something we haven’t heard used that effectively since the heyday of Mystique, and it provides just the right shot of originality and adrenaline that the evening needs. Up to single number eight from their one and only album, it becomes clear that Clean Bandit don’t really have much of an edge. Even dance chart kingpins like Calvin Harris and David Guetta get down and dirty now and again but, as ‘Birch’, ‘Piece Of You’ and ‘Extra’ start to blur into each other, Clean Bandit are fine with keeping it all lovey dovey – a vanilla-scented dance act that your grandmother would find difficult to dislike.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as their live renditions of ‘Real Love’ and closing ‘Rather Be’ still have the Academy singing the lyrics to the ceiling in united euphoria, while the highlight of night has to be ‘Come Over’, with the audience all adopting their best faux-Jamaican accent on the incredibly catchy ‘You bring the sun-sun-sun-sun-sunshine’ bit. It’s moments like that when you can’t help but enjoy yourself, but there’s no sense of spontaneity, no inkling of breaking the formula that each and every one of the songs seems to adhere to. At one moment a female audience member, propped up on her boyfriend’s shoulders, pulls her top off to get the band’s attention. In response, Alan-Smith shruggs, while giving a weak thumbs up. Clean Bandit in a nutshell.
Clean Bandit photographed for State by Leah Carroll