Ask anyone about the idiosyncrasies of the Bristol music scene and you’ll get a combination of the following: trip-hop, dubplates, drugs and drum and bass, psych, “Lola’s mate”, and all the sweat and regret in-between. A bastion of the underground, the city sits as one of the few places where a casual stroll could take you from a Peace gig to a sludge metal show and a lifetime of chronic tinnitus. Finding myself tucked away in a damp basement by the Avon then was no strange experience. Buzzing with musicians, sporting walls quite literally lined with vinyl records, Hotwells’ ‘Monty Burns’ house parties are bubbling concoctions of musical curiosity. The line-up is eclectic and unfurnished, and everyone knows a performer or two. After a dash of blues and a pinch of psych, South African indie rockers ‘Early Hours’ stroll through the crowd, formulating the photochromic chords sure to transform the dank-basement brew into a sweet summer cocktail.
For a band so antithetic to the aforementioned Bristolian stereotype (think mass internet fame, sunshine and actually appealing accents), their set-up is immensely congruent: a PA, two un-miked amps, a kit in the corner and a drum-pad. Launching straight into ‘Dance Along’, it becomes obvious that the barebones arrangement works to their advantage. It’s a risk every band takes at some-point; polished tracks that merge seamlessly with one venue can be polluted by another. Yet, Jake Bennett’s bright vocals dance with the darkness to produce a live sound reminiscent of the Strokes, echoing that intangible adolescence we British all so keenly latch onto. ‘Back to Front’ and 2018’s ‘Blink’ (“We’re dreaming with our eyes wide open/We’re living with our minds tied shut/Always living with the words unspoken/Tell me when you’ve had enough”) bounce off the walls as Adam Rothschild’s nimble guitar-licks lap like saltwater underfoot.
It’s no easy feat playing to a crowd of music lovers, but by 2016’s ‘Mojito Midnight’, there’s a smile on every face in the room. Candid and genuine, it seems like Early Hours take as much pleasure in their performance as the groups dancing right at the front: “I heard in Bristol you like drinking!”. A smiling rendition of ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ brings some familiarity back to the set, moulded to context by accompanying afro-pop rhythms. ‘Smells like Summer’ is feel-good at its finest: “Give me my daily dose of your coquetry/Yeah, I’ve put some thought into poetry” and calcifies the show as the most upbeat I’ve been to in months. Fairy lights glint on the ceiling, graffiti caricatures scribble across the walls; it’s every Hollywood college party you’ve ever dreamed of. Set closer ‘Changehood’ sounds out through the house as everyone shakes off the cobwebs of exam season together.
Early Hours broke into the industry back in 2015 when ‘Smells Like Summer’ became the first song from a South African band to hit one million plays on Soundcloud. If that’s not indicative of an upwards trajectory I don’t know what is, and the fact that they can still rock a mouldy basement is testament to their steadfast song writing and magnetic charisma.
Keep an eye on venues around the UK. South Africa is here, and big plans are in the works…