Brighton art school graduates Dream Wife turn London’s Scala into a prom to celebrate the end of their tour, a new single and an album release announcement. Friends and fans dress up in glamorous or deviant outfits for the party. Singer Rakel Mjöll sports Burberry, flanked by uncompromising guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec. Together with male drummer Alex Paveley, they blast pop-aware art-punk that Mjöll brings alive with her sparkling energy and genuine charisma.
‘Hey Heartbreaker’ is the power-punk opener, tight as elastic, followed by the fantastic and knowing ‘Lolita’. The incendiary and relentless opening blast culminates with Go’s excoriating guitar on ‘Fire’ — a recent 12-inch vinyl single that includes dance remixes hinting of fascinating potential future directions. A sassy ‘Spend The Night’ — one from the new album — gets a live debut. ‘Luv Without Reason’ sparks a spontaneous clap-along and pogoing.
“Thank you for making our prom fantasy come true,” Mjöll says before ‘Kids’, with its screeching guitars and dreamy vocals. She dances with Go, then balances on the edge of the stage close to the crowd, meaning it when she ends with, “And I don’t wanna be anywhere else”. Crucially, the fantasy involves making the gig a safe space for women, especially the front of the pit. “I spy with my little eye a lot of bad, bad, bad bitches — take up this space! Make room for the badass bitches!” she tells Scala. “I want the first two rows to be bitches.” As girls come to the front, she says, “This is beautiful”.
Similarly named but even punkier band Dream Nails make “girls to the front” a feature of their gigs too; tall men and boys lurking at the front of gigs, beware — your time’s up, especially if you’re creeping.
Dream Wife’s clear stance is distilled into ‘Somebody’: “This song is special to us. It’s about the whole lot of shit bad bitches have to go through. It’s about owning yourself and your own body. Everyone has the right to feel safe. Everyone has the right to have a damn good time.” Podpadec’s bass and Paveley’s drums boom out the opening bars and Go’s guitar shrieks into late ’70s overdrive as a huge pogo breaks out. Mjöll ends the song passionately, then crowns a prom king and queen (in very “American” style).
“Now, back to our set,” she says. Go’s guitar twangs for ‘Everything’ — not because she’s using fancy pedals, but because she’s stretching strings with her fingers. She only has a hum reducer, tuner and simple overdrive pedal — preferring to play guitars without effects to create a visceral, raw sound. Podpadec’s bass comes in and out of Go’s rapid shredding, picking and noodling. Unprompted, the crowd claps along to the funky, punky power beat.
The music is redolent of The Undertones and other bands that managed to bring a pop sensibility to the rock created by punks, but the edge in Mjöll’s lyrics and the controlled thrash playing by Go and Podpadec adds a dichotomy — “Do I amuse you, do I confuse you”, as Mjöll sings in ‘Act My Age’.
Dream Wife are angry, but with a knowing smile. Nothing expresses that deliberate disjunction more than a dark and scary, smokey, strobe-lit ‘FUU’, as the band chops through transitions from Paveley’s drum intro, to scratchy guitar from Go and buzzing bass from Podpadec, to melodic verses, to the confrontational spoken and shouted lyrics “I’m gonna cut you up, I’m gonna fuck you up”, to the less fearsome “I’m gonna cut your hair,” to a rap borrowed from ‘Wannabe’ by Spice Girls, to a psych-horror-rock refrain of “I spy, with my little eye, bad bad bad bad bitches”, to a screamed “Bitches”. Scala’s pit opens up a mosh circle, smashing together ecstatically and holding Mjöll aloft. After her crowd surfing, she says simply, “I have a bloody lip and a lot of love in my heart.”
The fast-slow-fast-faster, twanging ‘Let’s Make Out’, a new single, with Mjöll screaming the “let’s make out” choruses, Go’s guitar on max reverb and Podpadec joining in on the “ooh wah-ah ooh ooh” vocals, veers from Rolling Stones-gone-punk pogo to power pop boogie. Prom balloons descend from Scala’s balcony onto the bouncing moshers, and a chorus of friends rushes on stage to join Dream Wife in a final rousing singalong of ‘Wannabe’. Mjöll leads the rabble in a formal theatrical bow, and they’re gone. All that’s left is for the glammed-up prom students to take selfies in front of the decorative backdrops created around the venue by Dream Wife’s art gang.
Edgy art school post-punk is creating a stir, working its way out of tiny London venues such as the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch and onto bigger stages. Dream Wife have played at least four London shows this year — from Shoreditch to Tufnell Park via a Sleigh Bells support stint in Camden — plus a short slot at the iconic Winter Gardens in Margate (Southeast-London-by-the-Sea) ahead of ‘By The Sea’ festival headliners The Libertines. And they’ve been putting the finishing touches to that eponymous debut album, which is due for release on 26th January. The album launch show in the London-based band’s home town will be one of the hottest tickets of the new year.
Dream Wife Scala setlist
Spend The Night [first time live]
Luv Without Reason
Act My Age
Let’s Make Out
Wannabe (Spice Girls cover, sung by friends on stage)
Dream Wife at By The Sea festival, Margate, 1st October 2017
Dream Wife at Tufnell Park Dome, London, 27th April 2017
Dream Wife at Camden Electric Ballroom, London, 22nd February 2017