Ok, here’s how this works: the PR people from Latitude tell me about two weeks before the event that I’ve got a press ticket. I then look through the line-up, roll my eyes at the headliners, scroll down to the Sunrise Arena bit, and suddenly everything gets interesting. About half the bands I’ve not heard of, so I listen to them and because I work full-time I employ a sort of triage system where I either dismiss them, like them, or can’t decide. Marika Hackman was dismissed.
And then, this morning, the paper they were giving out at the festival (the i paper), carried an interview with her, where she explained how much her music has evolved and how she hated being judged by her early output. So, in the spirit of curiosity and open-mindedness, here I am. Ready to be proven wrong.
The article name-dropped band members and brands I’d never heard of, so my suspicion is that this might be someone a tiny bit famous (or infamous?). But, because I’m an unbearable Brightonite hipster and I don’t watch telly or look further for news than my Facebook feed, I have no context in which to place these people, or this gig.
It doesn’t take long for the nineties influences she spoke about in her interview to show; about half a bar I’d say. But there’s a kind of dreamy quality to this. It’s like a mix of Belle & Sebastian and Nirvana played through a reverb pedal. It’s sort of poppy and teenage, with some rough edges and some very smooth ones. And, I have to say, I absolutely agree with her that calling this “folk” is ridiculously unhelpful and wrong.
But what is it? I can’t quite tell who this is for. It sounds a bit like it might be for me, but then if that’s right then it’s not edgy enough. I do like the harmonies though!
This really is just a taste thing. I like everything that’s going on here. There’s a sort of laid-back, Californian, post-beach-boys pop blended with the more melodic elements of grunge. But, ultimately, the angst here seems (to me, at least) more studied than felt. I’m not saying that Hackman hasn’t got plenty to say, just that in the absence of hearing all the lyrics I didn’t hear it in the music. What made Nirvana so important was the tension between the anger and the pop melodies. They were scary and edgy, but you can whistle all their songs. This uses a very polished version of that sound, but I don’t think it comes from the same place, so it doesn’t have the impact.
I like her voice, I like the way the band play and harmonise together, but this just doesn’t have the raw emotion in it that I think I need to satisfy me. Someone somewhere is going to love it. But I think, for me at least, whatever Marika Hackman has to say needs a different vehicle in order to say it with the maximum effect. But I would certainly watch her again, and will keep a more open mind next time I see her name. A friend who was there told me she adored it and that everything I said in this review is wrong, so, y’know, go and judge for yourself!
A version of this review first appeared at fringereview.co.uk