Photographs by Sarah Rix
The 1975 exist in an interesting place in pop music right now. While they’ve been around for over a decade, there’s been a recent surge in popularity – undoubtedly helped by One Direction’s Harry Styles status as a huge fan boy. Of course, where Styles’ goes, teen girls are sure to follow.
There are similarities between the two bands, no doubt about it. Similarities The 1975 are likely aware of – (see: their cover of One Direction’s massive hit “That’s What Makes You Beautiful” in the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge back in September.)
And yet the crowd at Toronto’s Mod Club wasn’t even part of that core 1D demographic. A sold out 19-plus audience greeted the band’s first Toronto appearance. While the front few rows were obviously packed full of screaming girls, behind them stood a strong contingent of guys – happily singing along to every word.
Now, this all brings me back to the “interesting place”. Because what do you listen to if you like – but don’t want to admit to liking – One Direction?
That’s where The 1975 and their brand of poppy electronic rock neatly slot in.
Matthew Healy’s vocals show all the signs of youth and their use of synths and keys on catchy choruses fill the void where MGMT once stood. Similarly, a song like “Pressure” veers toward the upbeat pop of Two Door Cinema Club thanks to Adam Hann’s guitar work, while the show highlight came with the help of pre-recorded whistling on “Settle Down”.
There’s also plenty to delight fans of 80s and 90s pop – the band heavily influenced by Prince, Michael Jackson, and Brian Eno. “Talk!” starts out sounding like Rick Springfield’s ubiquitous “Jessie’s Girl” and “Heart Out” smacks of John Hughes meets Talking Heads. On the latter, the drums from George Daniel would make David Byrne proud.
Breakout single “Chocolate” had the crowd on vocal duties, Healy interrupting part way to say: “Do me a favour. Put your phones away. It’s just us, no more phones.” The audience complied for a little while, but soon returned to their Instragram accounts to document the show. Other interaction between the band and the crowd was kept pretty limited, Healey doing the typical banter with the crowd. “Sorry, I’m a bit shy,” he explained at one point. “There’s lots of people and we’ve never been here.”
Shyness aside, there was some problems. Sludgy vocals (perhaps more a fault of the Manchester accent than the venue’s sound system) made understanding lyrics difficult, and I had trouble seeing any kind of spontaneity from the four-piece. While they perform energetically and seem to be enjoying themselves on stage, it was a bit like watching someone paint by numbers. They’ve got the formula down, they’ve executed it before, and they know what works. Not always a bad thing, but there’s a problem when it’s this noticeable.
Regardless, one thing’s for sure: they’re not going to have trouble finding an audience. As the One Direction fans inevitably grow up (sorry Mr. Styles and company), they’re going to be looking to expand their musical tastes. The 1975 are a bit more edgy, but similar enough to help in that transition. The success of their 2013 self-titled debut – an album that bested Nine Inch Nails for the top spot on the UK album chart – proves they’ve got a good thing going for them.
No, I’m not sure I completely believed Healy when he said: “We’re not that commercially minded. We just want you to enjoy yourself,” part way through the set. While I do think he has an eye on the audience and wants to entertain the fans, there are undoubtedly big profits in this – especially as they play to more people in bigger venues. With tour dates stretching into March 2014 and more on the way, an increase in popularity is unavoidable. (Plus if you missed them this time around, don’t worry. Healy hinted to the audience that The 1975 would be back in Toronto next year.)
As someone who was far too old for the allure of 1D, I can’t say I find much from it. I don’t expect them to have a problem with this. They’re the right band at the right time, for the right audience. And it’s going to be a big audience.