Somewhat surreally floating in and out of a gathering crowd within the Harley whilst the mock-bluesy groove of Filthy Boy‘s guitar pop warms the stage for the main attraction – with no sign of fan hysteria or excessive swooning – is the main attraction: the unmistakeable Archy Marshall, AKA King Krule. His pale face and gangly figure, topped off with an oversized shirt, and almost-bohemian air of nonchalance, belies his acidic, world-weary musical persona: his set, primarily focused around the eclectic palette of his debut album, is brimming with visceral tales of teen angst and disillusionment, and occasionally the odd piece of poetic balladry. But it’s his raspy, cigarette-strewn voice that is most striking, a voice so deep it’s hard to find – it’s a world away from the fish-out-of-water eyes and marigold-red hair of a boyish nineteen-year-old Londoner about to take to the stage.
Maintaining his skittish but contemplative demeanour as he picks up his guitar, he turns and awaits for the minimalist drums of ‘Has This Hit?’ to slowly kick in, before letting the primal power of his vocals rip through the venue. To some extent, this sets the tone for much of what’s to follow, his intense Cockney reinterpretation of Tom Wait’s unrelenting drawl orchestrating the tone of each tale of bleak, repressive urban squalor. It’s a smart move, to maximise the verve and dominance of his voice over the darkwave soundscapes behind him, considering the immaculate production values present on 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, of which would be virtually impossible to effectively recreate on such a small stage. None more so is this evident than on the luscious, blue-eyed melancholy of ‘Baby Blue,’ an undeniable standout on record, but live Archy’s floating vocal melody – and consequently his intriguing, abstract poetry (see: “My sandpaper sigh//Engraves a line//Into the rust of your tongue”) – occasionally withers away underneath the dreamy, xx-ish guitar chords. Still, this provides a welcome opportunity to showcase a talent that endeavours beyond an endless pit of anger.
The rest of the set veers and bounces off the zeal of the chaotic melting pot ‘A Lizard State’ – incorporating elements of jazz and rap, and showing he certainly knows his way around a guitar – from EP survivors, ‘The Noose of Jah City’ and ‘Bleak Bake,’ to a revamped remnant of Archy’s Zoo Kid alias, the brilliant high-point ‘Out Getting Ribs,’ threading his recurrently frank, hopeless theme of being “beaten down” through a simplistic, clean-toned guitar reminiscent of, though arguably superior to, early Billy Bragg. By the time the rumbling bassline of set-closer ‘Easy Easy’ comes around, chants of “Kruley! Kruley!” emerge in a small section of the crowd – sounding eerily similar to a drunken football chant – and continue for the duration of the song, with Krule thriving off this energy for an appropriately anarchic finale, followed by intimately jumping into the crowd.
Truth be told, King Krule could be a face for your average disillusioned youth in Cameron’s Britain. But that voice is so much more: dark, deep and immediate – you get the sense it could speak for everybody here in this student-dominated crowd, too.