Scrounge: live review

Review by Tony Rounce – Scrounge @ The Windmill, London SW9 – 2/5/19

You may have seen their name cropping up here and there over the past couple of years, but you might not yet have heard South East London-based duo Scrounge.  If you haven’t, you really ought to remedy that immediately. Once you have seen them, I can promise that you will want to see them again. Their beguiling music is akin to a siren’s call, and once it has its hooks in you it will not leave you alone. 

Alumni of New Cross’ Goldsmiths College, Scrounge is comprised of local girl Lucy Alexander on guitar and most of the singing, and Luke Cartledge (who’s from Manchester, but we shouldn’t really hold that against him ‘cos he’s a nice guy…) on percussion and the rest of the singing. They merged musically a couple of years ago to create a sound that distills a number of subliminal influences to create something original and different. I can’t think of one band to directly compare them to, with the possible exception – musically, at least – of the early Cure (a comparison that they might actually neither see not agree with themselves!)

There is starkness about Scrounge’s music that makes it impossible to ignore. Their songs are not strong on melody, but the riffs that power them come in thick layers, pumped up by Lucy’s judicious use of assorted pedals and effects that make it sound like there are at least two other guitarists on stage with the duo. Her clear, honest voice maintains a healthy balance between plaintive and loud, as appropriate to any given song. And behind his kit, Luke keeps the whole thing going with some hard-driven drum work that never lets the pace drop. Their collaborative efforts are quite unique in the world of two-person bands, and what comes through the speakers is most definitely hypnotically compelling at all times.

Scrounge’s recent set in support of their pals Jemma Freeman and the Cosmic Something, at Brixton’s endearingly scuzzy dive the Windmill, was a typical night’s work for them. They set up, did what they do with minimum fuss and maximum passion, and melted away after maybe half a dozen songs and no more than 20 minutes leaving their audiences hoping for more, which sadly there usually isn’t. 

Not for Scrounge the luxury of excessive between-song frivolity and genial audience interaction. There are few-to-no song announcements, and it usually isn’t till the penultimate or even final number of the set that there’s any kind of acknowledgement that there’s an audience there at all.  I personally regard this as a logical extension to their intense approach to making music, so wrapped up are they in their performance. They are two decidedly sociable people offstage, and always happy to talk pre- or post-set to anyone who expresses admiration for what they are doing.

At present they are generating new material at a fairly rapid rate of knots, and the set they played at the Windmill was almost totally different to the one I saw when I caught them for the first time at the Finsbury in North London nine months to a year ago. They have been opening with the stark ‘Medicate’ from their “Brace” EP since then, but last night it was gone, along with the other songs from the EP, and replaced by a presumably new number that I couldn’t yet identify and that might best be described as a work in progress, before serving up a coruscating version of ‘Etch’, their first single for 2019.

Their latest single ‘Crimson’ came midway through the set, as any centrepiece should, and if you’ve heard the single it will barely prepare you for Scrounge’s adrenaline-heavy live treatment which, to quote the lyric, really HAS ‘gone ballistic’ since it entered the set.  Unfortunately because there are no song announcements and Lucy cunningly works without a printed setlist, the titles of the other numbers in their set must remain a mystery (to me, at least – sorry!) until they get round to recording them.

Which I, for one, hope will happen soon, as there’s some pretty fabulous stuff there.

Scrounge do not gig as regularly as some of their peers, so any opportunity to see them should be grasped with both hands (says a man who unfortunately will be up in Manchester when they next play at Hackney’s Paper Dress Vintage in just under two weeks time with HAVVK, those lovely Charmpit ladies and LW’s very own I, Doris). They are most definitely a band that is evolving quickly, and they are well worth getting to know now while they are still on the rise…

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