It’s hard to work out whether London band, HMLTD, are a joke — or a pithy commentary on the moribund condition of modern rock. Art-popsters with an emphasis firmly on ‘art’, they took the stage for their first Dublin headline performance dressed like a charity shop Duran Duran — frontman, Henry Spychalski, in military hat, and French guitarist, ‘Duke’, sporting matching black-and-red striped hair and dinner jacket.
But the group — forced to drop their original name of Happy Meal Ltd, when the McDonald’s legal department got in touch — are more than poseurs. ‘Stained’ is a nihilistic rant against moral superiority; ‘Is This What You Wanted’ sounded like Aladdin Sane-vintage Bowie fed through an industrial rock filter.
It was bonkers and thrilling — no matter that several songs felt on the brink of tipping into ‘Danger! High Voltage’ by Electric Six. What was striking, though, is just how little a splash the HMTLD have created, with what should have been a memorable baptism, drawing an enthusiastic, yet modest, crowd.
In the mid-nineties, when the music press still had it in its gift to anoint the stars of tomorrow, HMLTD would surely have swaggered into town as buzzy newcomers, in the gauche, glamorous tradition of Suede or Menswear. Even a decade ago, it is easy to imagine them on a trajectory similar to Klaxons, who leveraged a scandalous image into an (admittedly brief) chart-topping career.
However, in this era of Spotify playlists, milquetoast millennial icons, such as Ed Sheeran, and a dwindling music media, artists can no longer count on taste-makers as a springboard to overnight fame. “If you all come up to the front, it will be better,” said Spychalski at one point. Nowadays, bands have to do everything for themselves, including conjuring hype out of thin air.