Jockstrap’s show at Glastonbury was electrifying and shone out against a consistently stellar line-up on the Park Stage, so I felt lucky to secure the £23 ticket for Glasgow’s 550-capacity Classic Grand on November 6th and caught the bus from Edinburgh in a flurry of anticipation. It wouldn’t have taken much to live up to the hype and keep us all happy.
Jockstrap is experimental electronic duo Georgia Ellery (also of 6 Music mainstays Black Country New Road) and collaborator Taylor Skye, a project which started in 2018 after they met at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama. This formal training – Skye is a trained pianist with a degree in electronic composition and Ellery studied jazz composition and violin – is apparent in the slickness of their production but contrasts with their unpredictable musical approach.
They are on their first date of the promotional tour for their second album I<3UQTINVU, a fully remixed version of their debut album I Love You Jennifer B released in 2022. The acronym stands for I Love You Cutie, I Envy You. Described by Skye as “the final extension of the album,” the remixes take the songs in fresh directions, with new collaborators and sounds layered over previous arrangements, heightening the already eclectic sonic choices. Characterised by their lack of continuity, the band cite inspirations ranging from Skrillex to Madonna, and their subject matter reflects this – from the vulnerable and lovelorn ‘Concrete over Water’ to the club-beat ‘Good Girl’, in which Ellery’s wispy ‘Everything is good, girl’ is reverbed to make it danceable. The pair have found notable and quick success, supporting Blur at Wembley (Graham Coxon hailed their first album as the best of the year), scoring an impressive 89 out of 100 on Metacritic, and being shortlisted for the Mercury Prize.
Conveniently located beside a tetrad of fast-food restaurants, the Classic Grand is filled with bearded, bespectacled twenty-somethings. A former cinema hall of 80 years turned music venue in 1992, it features tight stairways and charming period décor. Like many converted music spaces, the sound is iffy though, with Jockstrap’s higher-pitched electronic wails proving an auditory assault, the bass occasionally obscuring the lyrics, and the rustling sound of the barstaff tidying away bottles discernible during the set’s more intimate parts.
Ellery appears in a nautical halter-neck, with a white headband holding back her hair. Skye looks drab in a plain white t shirt. They open the set with ‘Debra’, a soaring number which lifts Ellery’s voice into hymn-like heights as she sings “pain is real / and love is real” before a fast-past keyboard changes the tone to an upbeat, electronic ditty as Ellery sings ‘Press Y for a party.’ But despite the interest of their songs, their passionless recital seems pained and feels boring. The sonic complexity of the record is stripped down for this performance, with Ellery’s voice less distorted than on the studio version.
Sat at his keyboards for much of the set, when he finally stands Skye peers grumpily over the audience below, hands on hips. His rather severe presence is offset by Ellery’s rave-fairy dancing and flicking about of her violin bow, but she is grave, too – I find myself wondering if they had an argument before the gig. There is little communication with each other and zero with us. Even ‘Glasgow,’ a song about their current stop-off, allows for no audience address – “I’m not coming to Glasgow” sings Ellery delicately, as the audience belts along.
Ellery is at her best unencumbered by her guitar, running up and down the stage to the
flashing lights and harnessing and conducting the energy of the audience through frantic ballerina arm-movements during Skye’s DJ moments – but the total lack of warmth towards the crowd makes her performance solipsistic.
A regal wave abruptly signals the end of the show, as Ellery and Skye trudge off stage without so much as a backward glance. The lights are immediately turned on, and hopes of an encore are dashed as the roadies rush to clear their instruments away. A sea of confused and underwhelmed faces squeezes towards the single exit.
In paying to see a live gig, one hopes for an insight, a further connection to the artist, to regard them, tangible in the flesh, differently and to experience some new and more intimate connection – but Jockstrap’s show provided only an unappealing and unseductive distance. An hour and a half later on the Megabus back to Edinburgh, I am resolute in my new dislike for Jockstrap (but their albums are still genius).
Image by Silver Eliot