LIVE: Hot Mulligan / Spanish Love Songs @ Kentish Town Forum

By Katherine Allvey

Tonight is one of those shows that reminds you why you do this. The tube was out of commission so we all had to re-route, it was twenty six degrees even after the sun had set, and the crowd had packed themselves in like Tetris cubes half an hour before we saw any band. But all of these sweaty inconveniences fade into the background when there’s a double bill as good as Spanish Love Songs and Hot Mulligan.

Spanish Love Songs are very aware that they only have a forty minute set, and they are determined to make every second meaningful. There’s no gentle introduction or pause that allows us to adjust to their presence. From the moment the first intro kicks in, our hands are in the air. We’re hanging on to every word as the band flex their knees in unison, uniformly dressed in black. They’re incredibly polished, allowing each song to have a quiet moment to focus on a specific lyric so we can sing along and really connect to that line. It takes until the nostalgic rhythms of ‘Kick’ for our full body waves of joy to coalesce into the beginnings of a pit. Once it’s established, it reverberates throughout the rest of Spanish Love Songs’ set.

Vocalist Dylan Slocum addresses the younger members of the crowd rhetorically. “Why is this old man shouting about death,” he laughs, assuming that’s their opinion of his music, then waves his hand dismissively. “Give it ten years, it’s fine!” Their more recent songs feel like they’re tapping into the current zeitgeist or a post-pandemic sense of freedom. There is a unified feeling to the gang vocals, and there is a stripe of the diehard bouncing while the rest of us let the waves of newness bring us into another life. For a moment, Slocum’s voice trembles when he sings ‘‘You’re not haunted,” betraying his emotion on ‘Haunted.’ Our applause is like falling rice. ‘Losers’, their song about “living in a city that’s too expensive,” is an eloquent evocation of our shared hopes and frustrations. A girl with an undercut uses a scarlet hand fan as a prop and dances with glee as Spanish Love Songs recognise us and speak of reality. Their line “it’s cheaper just to die” hangs in the air as a dangling truth. ‘Brave Faces, Everyone’ buoys us on waves of building nihilistic positivity. “I’m an optimist,” Slocum says in a highlighted moment, fist to his chest, while his band pirouette around him in unison.

If Spanish Long Songs’ set illustrated universal feelings, then Hot Mulligan’s must portray friendship in all its forms. Vocalist Nathan Sanville, his hair flung across his face like a veil, keeps calling on us to “help him out” and whenever he looks like he’ll miss a line because he’s enjoying himself too much, rhythm guitarist Chris Freeman is instantly there to catch him. When ‘*Equip Sunglasses*’ begins, you realise that so much of their sound is simplicity itself, and the richness comes from our response. The sharp choppy chords of ‘Gans Media Retro Games’ are there to time our feet like metronomes, keeping our jumping coordinated. “We were once here during the Queen’s Jubilee,” laughs Sanville as we boo at his sentiment. “You’re right! That shit fucking sucks!” He pauses for a moment, catching himself out. “We’re not even a political band! I’m a fucking anarchist! Best thing about the UK? Slam Dunk Festival.” We cheer. He calls their performance of ‘How Do We Know It’s Not Armadillo Shells?’ their redemption as it was missed from their Slam Dunk set. We can only imagine how good this would sound performed on a summer field as every line is stretched like taffy to maximise each chance to feel and sing and we’re wound up and powered like clockwork by each melody twist and turn. “Let’s get fucking weird” Savile laughs before allowing a rock star guitar solo.

There’s a palpable warmth between the band that extends out to us, and it’s not due to the Forum’s lack of air conditioning. “We used to have band practice,” Freeman shares in a break with humility, “and my dad would come downstairs and say ‘You suck, and here’s why.’” Sanville steps in with, “Let’s hear it for Chris’ dad!” We chant ‘Wade’ while Freeman films us to prove how far he’s come before they launch into ‘This Song Is Called It’s Called What’s It Called’. A dream of concerts past manifests itself in front of us, with swaying and couples kissing. The drums march to an uphill crescendo as it becomes clear why Hot Mulligan are ‘post-emo’. Gone are the theatrics and posturing that characterised the genre’s early days, Hot Mulligan are the descendants of those pioneering bands, all heart and maturity. There’s still playfulness, of course; Sanville urges someone in the audience to backflip, and drumming over a drum machine adds a layer of sincerity to a clichéd effect.

‘BKYRD’, the only song in the encore, begins with a slow victory twang that smashes into an increasingly throaty vocal. There’s honesty in their presence and in our desire to let our feelings out during their show. As Hot Mulligan walk offstage, there’s no question of “what if” or “why didn’t they.” There’s no more to be said or done, in fact. Our expectations on Hot Mulligan’s set were fulfilled: a gallery of songs that captured our hearts, moved our souls, and moved our feet, showing exactly what makes them so successful.