Live Review: Softcult, The Key Club, Leeds – 19.05.22

If you like your alternative indie with a serious helping of social comment and conscience, you could have done much worse than getting to Leeds on Thursday night to see Canadian twins Softcult as they wrapped their first headline UK tour. 

Having formed in Kitchener, Ontario in 2020, Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn have spent the last 2 years and 2 EPs creating socially conscious, inclusive songs that make an immediate impact. There’s very little they shy away from, tackling head on, issues such as sexual violence, consent and toxic relationships.

They’re in the UK in support of their second EP Year of the Snake, released in February 2022 and this record unashamedly builds on their social commentary through tracks like BWBB and Gaslight.

The opening to the show is unusual, in that the band (with Brent on guitar and Ollie on bass) all took to the stage to complete their set up, then performed what looked like their pre-show ritual in front of Phoenix’s drums. From there, silhouetted by white back light, Mercedes moved forward to the mic and unleashed Another Bish as a crowd pleasing opener. In the early stages, it’s a vibe more than an atmosphere the band create. The opening 3 tracks come from the band’s first EP, rounded out with depression-fuelled Gloomy Girl, encapsulating the angst of many of us, if not energising the crowd at this stage. 

The first track from the new EP, Spit it Out, drops in at this point, a story of rejecting the harmful ideologies that pervade our society still. Indeed, the sound translates well from record to stage. This is especially true of the punkier elements such as this track, as the driving riff at the end of the chorus lights up the room. 

It’s an interesting mood though, perhaps because, beyond the music, a lot of the show passes without much meaningful interaction between band and audience. Musically though, there are clear highlights. House of Mirrors sounds beautiful, with Mercedes’ guitar offering at times a Stone Roses-esque quality, coupled with the twins haunting harmonies. 

Similarly, Birdsong written in lockdown “on a f***ed up sleep schedule” and inspired by the birds singing, starting their day as the Arn-Horns turned in showed the depth to their arrangement and production that translated perfectly from the record to the road. Again, it’s the richness of the harmony and the layered guitar sounds that draw you deeply into the world of Softcult.

Perfect Blue and the slightly controversial Uzumaki round out the main set. I said that the show was, broadly speaking, on a level throughout. As the band re-emerge for the encore, it’s with a determination to land something fundamentally important to the crowd. Mercedes tells the story of Sarah Everard, from just up the road in York. She takes us through the details of Sarah’s last movements, the tragedy and brutality of her fate. It’s not without a point. It culminates with palpable anger at the perpetrator – “It was not where she was! It was not what she was wearing. It’s not her fault that you don’t know what f***ing consent is”. It’s the raw and powerful preamble to BWBB, standing for “Boys Will be Boys”. It’s a rebuke for the standard apology and hypocrisy that seeks to ‘justify’ the behaviour of those who commit crimes like this. 

The Arn-Horn twins feel a responsibility – perhaps even a compulsion – to use their platform to speak out. “If we don’t speak out, nothing will change” says Mercedes. The demographic in the audience are more likely to respond to this than anything they see on the news – crucial conversation, driven on the back of a drumbeat. The sound is rich and layered, but the power is not lost in the beauty.

For all the (self-described) “music for mall goths” angst, Softcult are much more than that. “All of you who’ve come here…you get it. It doesn’t matter how you identify, where you’re from, what you look like…it’s all our job to take care of each other in this scene” says Mercedes. Until the end, it’s a lower key vibe, but the message, the energy, the urgency of the closing drives us all home with something to think long and hard about. 

Set list:
Another Bish
Young Forever
Gloomy Girl
Spit it Out
Take it Off
House of Mirrors
Been a Son
Perfect Blue

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