LIVE: Hot Milk @ Kentish Town Forum

By Katherine Allvey

Hot Milk have gathered their tribe around them and descended upon North London. In the hundred metres or so between the station and the venue, every pedestrian you spot sports a beanie, post-emo piercings and inventive eyeliner highlighting wide-eyed anticipation. Do Han Mee and Jim Shaw deserve this level of exuberance and devotion from their fans? Absolutely. A Hot Milk show is an hour of honesty, energy and inventiveness from one of the best home-grown talents out there. 

It’s abundantly clear onstage that Hot Milk are a band of two halves, both literally and figuratively. No sooner has the smoke cleared to reveal the jagged, glowing abstract set dressing, enigmatic as the scribblings of a future caveman, Mee is bouncing around the stage. She could power a small town with her kinaesthetic energy, pausing only to strike instagramable poses midway through translating the vibrancy of Hot Milk’s studio releases into a passionate live show. While she pings from corner to corner like pop punk personified, Shaw anchors the Hot Milk sound from the front of the stage. Take ‘I Just Wanna Know What Happens When I’m Dead’, for instance. The clashing darkness of the intro is shattered by the breaking storm of Mee’s harsh, chemical vocals but it’s Shaw’s melodic sweetness which makes it palatable. Occasionally she rest their shoulders on each other, discharging her lightning into the earth and to synchronise their harmony. Without the two sides to the band, our immersion into the neon hot tub of Hot Milk live would not be nearly as satisfying. 

“Hot Milk is an emotion,” Mee reminds us midway through the show and feelings are running high amid the controlled chaos of their ninety minute set. “I can’t tell you what it means to us, I can’t tell you what its taken to get to this point, lots of late nights, lots of stress,” she tells us, her voice cracking with the pressure of memory and gratitude. Sometimes a song is so powerful that you “just want to get it out of your skull and into the world”, she confesses, bracing us for the haunting distance of ‘Breathing Underwater’. What began as a moment of personal isolation has become a song which belongs to all of us as we sing it back to her, word perfect. She stops for a second, hand behind her head, proud and moved by the impact she’s had on us. As soon as the explosive slams of ‘Party On My Deathbed’ fade, Shaw’s vulnerability takes centre stage in the lilac vastness of ‘Forget Me Not’. Dedicated to his grandparents, who supported his ambitions before their passing (“They bought me a Trivium CD for Christmas! How lovely is that?” He laughs), the sense of shared loss switches from the private to the public which every chord change, shredding release in each riff like opening a wound to let it heal. 

Despite the emotional moments, or perhaps because of them, this is still overwhelmingly a party show. Hot Milk create ‘the widest pit this room has ever seen’ during the electronic hailstorm of ‘Over Your Dead Body’, and the light arcade touches bring colourful gumball joy to ‘Candy Coated Lie$’. The deceptively lightweight vocals disguise the lurking darkness in the lyrics and we revel in quite how intense their sound and performance have become. They’re no longer a ‘Bad Influence’, though that song does bring the pit to a rolling boil with its foundation of Bloc Party beats and crackling, static synth. Hot Milk have made their brand of frantic party music into something bigger and more tangible which grabs us all by the heartstrings or shoulders and shakes us violently. 

Hot Milk’s show at Kentish Town Forum is one of the last on this run before they jet off to Japan and Australia for a short run, and we’re left with a sense that dividing their time between the UK and the rest of the world is going to be the new routine for the duo. They’ve progressed incredibly far, taking their spark of brilliance and fanning the flames until it becomes a pop-punk party inferno, and they will find a warm reception among their people in London any time they wish to return.