To be arcane in the internet era is something many of us wish for but none of us manage. The lure of people not quite knowing who you are, what you look like and where you go is an urge only surpassed by its antithesis, and so, we follow, we share, we like — we feel good buying into the attention economy. These sentiments are particularly felt across the cultural landscape too, whereby buying into this economy is a way of promoting one’s work and achieving fame, fortune, and the undoubtable happiness that comes with this. Every once in a while, however, someone takes the opposite tack and aims for anonymity, seeing the mystery that comes with this as another way to success. W. H. Lung are current proponents of such an approach, and have been sleeping sound (somewhere) in their crafted cosy of confusion.
To seek secrecy while simultaneously trying to “make it” in the entertainment industry seems counter-intuitive, and yet for some special cases it really has worked. Manchester band WU LYF achieved cultish status back in 2010 when they avoided the press, wore bandanas in photographs, and waxed lyrical about ‘uniting’, ‘lucifer’, and ‘heavy pop’. Similarly, Jean Michel-Basquiat started life as the Delphian pseudonym ‘SAMO©’, before sailing to dizzying heights of stardom, and Banksy, who still remains anonymous, has been subject to hoards of investigative journalism pieces trying to ascertain his identity, triggering a series of captivating conspiracy theories.
Where Manchester’s W. H. Lung differ, however, is the eerie lack of press about them; having recorded their first single ‘Inspiration!’ with Matt Peel, the Leeds-based producer who’s worked with the likes of Autobahn, Eagulls, and even the Kaiser Chiefs (!), in 2016, as well as playing The Anthony Burgess Foundation, Blue Dot Festival, Green Man, End of The Road, and Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia as their first five shows, it’s hard to know how they’ve retained near anonymity. One might posit that due to the speed of their rise through the ranks of British music, writers have been too busy putting South London on a pedestal to play catch-up. Following up on a summer of dates that a band well into its second album would be proud of, W. H. Lung played headline shows in Leeds and Sheffield, before finishing their year in Salford’s cold White Hotel.
The venue is full before the band come on stage, having been slightly warmed up by Pearl City, the latest incarnation of Nick and Greta, formally known as Bernard and Edith. Singer Joseph Evans preens himself in the white light of the projector as the band filter on, making adjustments to his own shadow before turning attention to matters at hand. Their first track is a piece of driving kraut-electronica, with looping, reverb-soaked guitar riffs, a deep bass synth line and a drum beat Jaki Liebezeit would have been proud of. It’s a slow seven minute crescendo that is willed on by every member of the band, as they circle each other without ever taking dominion. Evans’ vocals move from an ethereal, almost Thom Yorke quality as he breathes “I remember growing old”, to something far more powerful, singing “I see a fire start in front of me” with a kind of scared intensity.
They barely stop or talk to the crowd between songs, perhaps to uphold their own mystification, and all of the members apart from Evans are practically unmoving — it seems bassist Tom Derbyshire need not blink when he plays, let alone look at his guitar, as he stares at the crowd stone-faced looking like a Graduate-era Dustin Hoffman. Evans, however, is constantly restless; as if to make up for the rest of the band’s seeming apathy, he paces, twists, turns, and displays shoulder movements that evoke King Julian, Sacha Baren Cohen’s meerkat character in Madagascar. It is hugely annoying and mildly distracting, and one can only help but finding the feigned absence of the rest of the band more engaging that the front man who tilts his head upwards as he sings — faced pained, he aims for the angelic and misses.
This is but a small chink in their amour, however, and their next track — the newly released ‘WANT’ — is a pulsating piece layered once more with winding synth sequences, guitar riffs, and a motorik drum beat — it’s part-Primal Scream, part-Kraftwerk, and it’s brilliant. As Evans shouts Kerouac’s well known opinion ‘first thought, best thought’, before he tells us to ‘look it up’, it’s hard not to feel slightly patronised by his rather corny evocation of the counter-cultural literary figure. Yet the bright, machine-like synth chord that repetitively cuts through the track works to dispel any lasting feelings of irritation.
They move through the rest of their set quickly, ending with both sides of their double A-side recently released on Melodica. ‘Nothing Is’ is discombobulating in its first three minutes, with whirling chord progressions, bass-synth lines and guitar parts moving in an and out of focus, so much so that it’s difficult to latch onto a concrete melody. This is interrupted by drummer Rob James’ pounding drum beat, with the snare occupying the two and the four for the rest of the ride. ‘Inspiration!’ is warmly received by the crowd, and is a similar krautrock-style number, drawing influence from the various nuances of the genre: driving beats from Neu!, Can, and more recently Beak<<, as well as Popul Vuul and Harmonia for parts of their electronica. It builds to a breaking point as Evans sings ‘no one needs us to survive’ with a fervour that makes it easy to forgive him for the dancing, before the track ends as quickly as inspiration(!) is conceived, with James flicking three quick snare hits. The band exit the stage and leave through the entrance to Tom Sharkett’s screeching feedback, wailing out of his Orange cab and head. They don’t hang about outside, but disappear off and leave all of us with a craving for more, for an album, for an interview, for something!
We would probably never know if a band aimed for fame through anonymity and failed, as they would be then simply be anonymous. W. H. Lung, however, have managed to create an intrigue around them that becomes infectious, and with a set of finely-tuned physically affecting tracks to go with this, they are likely to incite even more mysticism. The main question on my mind: are they sponsored by the Leeds-Manchester Chinese supermarket chain?