By Alex Curran, guest columnist
Photo by Ryan McLain
There is an entire mythos behind the sonic power of shoegaze bands, whether it’s My Bloody Valentine’s ability to make people enter a trance-like state through continuously playing as loud as they possibly can, or the rumor that Whirr has the ability to make audience members physically sick and throw up. While these stories are often sensationalist, and in my past I’ve been disappointed by false rumors of other notoriously loud bands like Slayer and Deafheaven, Whirr’s performance at Strange Matter on September 13th shows that the band holds true to whatever people manage to see about them. It’s not a gimmick, but rather an honest reflection on the band.
Virginia Beach’s Keep was the first band on the show’s lineup. Despite being rookies to the scene, they delivered a strong performance. Their set was reminiscent of 90s-influenced bands, evoking Title Fight and Daylight but the use of atmospheric guitar elements gave it a shoegaze edge. While their set ran only about 15 minutes, it was promising and it will be interesting to see how they grow and develop in both the Virginia Beach and Richmond scenes.
Next came Richmond locals The Snowy Owls. Maybe it was just due to the young age of Keep’s members before them, but watching The Snowy Owls come on stage I fully expected them to bust out Wilco covers, wearing flannel shirts and relaxed denim; dad rock-ish to say the least. I was pleasantly surprised with their first song, which sounded like The Cure with tinges of Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins fuzziness. Their set continued in that vein, but with post-punk moments that resembled early Interpol. The last two songs of their set were their strongest, with a cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” – clearly embracing their influences, and a loud, fuzzy all-out original that sounded like it could’ve been a My Bloody Valentine b-side to close it out.
At this point, the show moved past local openers and to the first touring band of the night, with Indiana three-piece Cloakroom. Known for their stoner-rock influenced brand of emo, Cloakroom that sounds like Pedro the Lion if they had been listening to Neurosis. Musically, the band delivered in full force for their entire set, with tight, focused instrumentation as they moved from song to song with little interruption. Lead singer and guitarist Doyle’s vocal performance I found lacking at first, seeming uninspired or maybe just nervous, but improved as the set went on. Cloakroom’s use of recorded samples between songs allowed them to break up the set in an interesting way. By the time Cloakroom finished their set, it was clear that they are a band who has a strong command on how to engage an audience even when the musical material can be long and challenging for listeners.
20 minutes later the stage went black, with lights strewn across amplifiers. Whirr had little to say when they went on stage; it was clear that their sole intention was to play a skull-rattlingly loud shoegaze set. Opening with Mumble, the first single off their new record Sway, out on September 23rd on Graveface Records, the band capitvated the entire audience that filled the sold out Strange Matter. They continued through their set playing songs off of their new record and 2011’s Distressor, while almost entirely avoiding material off of 2013’s Pipe Dream. I had heard rumors about the sheer volume of a Whirr show, that they were able to make audience members puke and while I was skeptical, I can fully admit that the rumors are close to true. By this point they had reached the loudest volume I’ve ever heard from a band, contrasting with how little they spoke during their set. They ended out their set abruptly with the track Leave, which flows between verse and chorus ethereally in a typical shoegaze fashion, before walking off stage and parting through the crowd. The audience seemed confused by the band finishing without any warning or acknowledgement of the audience. While this kind of attitude that Whirr displayed at the show is one that they receive criticism as being rude and unkind to fans for, I saw it as a sign of humility and honesty. Whirr knows that all they were there for was to deliver a strong set, not to have witty stage banter or some inspiring speech, so they did so. Whirr grabbed onto the audience, pulled them in, and let go before they could lose anyone.
After the Whirr show, my ears rang for two days and I felt like I had a hangover despite not drinking at all that night. I’m disappointed it didn’t make me throw up like I was told it would, but Whirr’s performance is a testament to them being a band that plays entirely by their own rules. They see no need to compromise on what they want or to comfort fans and audience members at any level, something that is truly inspiring and holds close to the shoegaze ethos.