British rock is dead. Well, maybe not buried in the ground but it’s on life support. So far nobody has pulled the plug, put everyone out of their Catfish & The Cabbage Blossoms-related misery and admitted that ears have moved onto synths and autotune. The bands who try to break through in the UK can’t afford to behave rock and roll anymore. In the social media age, you can’t shoot up, invite kids round to your East London living room, give them a stick and poke that reads ‘The Libertines’ and get away with it. There’s no budget to pay for a limousine to show up at the back of the NME offices and drive the editor around London blaring your new album, as folklore maintains Noel Gallagher once did.
London four-piece Wolf Alice know that they were born ten years — maybe twenty years — too late. They are students of rock and roll, indebted to the chronicles of history; from The Clash to Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Pixies to Fugazi. Their 2015 debut My Love Is Cool had that tattooed on its sleeves. They are a band who bought physical copies of the magazines they’d appear in, who live in the Hawley Arms pub in Camden years after Amy Winehouse’s death, who could probably tell the difference between Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong and The Rumble Strips.
Wolf Alice are the only band in my two-and-a-half year stint at NME who gatecrashed the office at 8 AM still on their night out, escaping in a taxi shouting “we’re going to break into London Zoo!” only to sheepishly return moments later to retrieve guitarist Joff Oddie’s phone, which he left behind on a desk. That’s Wolf Alice. Too sensible to be reckless. Too sweet to be fully chaotic. Too diligent to fuck it up. Their engine runs on the fuel of punk myth without its tragic endings. They are more likely to throw a brick than a TV through a window. It would happen by accident, and they’d apologize for it a thousand times. Fortunately, they have a good sense of humor.
After relentless years of touring that debut, frontperson Ellie Rowsell, Oddie, drummer Joel Amey and bassist Theo Ellis became more astute musicians, their lens widened while traveling, and their friendship became a marriage. While doing so, the indie landscape changed. In 2017, to identify as indie is to be an orphan. The NME might not have abandoned Wolf Alice but in its new wide-angled era does the idea of an “NME band” mean anything concrete?