27th July | Rough Trade
Photos: Mar Reyes
“Thanks for waiting, I realise that five months is a long time,” announces bass player Johnny ‘JW’ Wilkinson. The crowd all laugh and seem unfazed by the lengthy wait. Hookworms were set to play Rough Trade back in February but sadly had to reschedule. They are now ready to give the people of Bristol what they wanted; an arsenal of fresh tunes combined with killer electronics.
The dripping synth intro to ‘Negative Space’ fills the room like a beast, a frantic flurry of popping bass lines and ‘Blue Monday’ vibes. The organ then kicks in, with the tempo gradually building, lead singer Matthew ‘MJ’ Johnson howling the lyrics, “How long’s forever?” I can already feel the room reverberate and we’re only one song in through a grandiose opening number, full of sensory overload. One-way ticket to Psychedelic-Noise-Central, please! There’s no time for applause. Hookworms seamlessly go straight into ‘Static Resistance’ – a thumping bass with electrifying synth riffs, a tornado of a tune which felt like an illusory sequence.
Hookworms know how to mystify a crowd. I stand in awe at their presence and aesthetic. Not one member is facing the front, each at various angles, often facing one another. Frontman MJ looks into the distance when delivering his most gutsy lines; these guys know how to captivate a crowd. ‘Ullswater’ then follows, a dirty offbeat laser synth intro with to-and-fro lyric chanting. I simply write in my notes, “This song makes me want to punch a wall, but in a good way.” The gig is turning out to be one big psych opera and there’s no sign of slowing down.
Then comes ‘The Impasse’, a song from their 2014 album The Hum, an anarchic protest tune, with MJ truly pushing his voice to its limits. It’s pure, raw and erratic energy, a white knuckle ride. The quadraphonic ‘On Leaving’ then follows, with crashing cymbals from Jonathan ‘JN’ Nash and a repetitive Morse Code-driven riff, topped off with a manic light show, making an insane carnival of sound.
We’re then treated to another two new songs from their latest album, Microshift. As the set is heavily weighted towards the material from their freshest release, it feels as though I’m watching a concept album being made right in front of my eyes. The whirring intro to ‘Each Time We Pass’ is infectious, the gospel-like chords and echoed vocals making for a spacey sound.
Ending the night is the foot-stomping ‘Beginners’, a steady, rhythmic start which then becomes more twisted and distorted. It’s a mighty and dynamic number which descends into a cluster of electronic waves. The whirring beat continues until each member takes their turn in leaving the stage one-by-one. It’s a poignant end to a mystifying set. Hookworms have got me hook, line and sinker.