Words by Tony Allen.
Norwich psychedelic-indie band Hugo z played their first London show last week, a Hot Vox showcase at Roadtrip and the Workshop in Hoxton, alongside Alex OHM, Blind Atlas and an exciting young band called The Glitter Shop from Bury St Edmunds who will no doubt be gracing these web pages sooner rather than later.
But all eyes were on Hugo z, who brought a healthy following with them to the capital. And hopes are high for the group, who have promised new music soon.
After a few different configurations, the current lineup is now settled on a four-piece, with the members all having met at the University of East Anglia. Thomas Leif-Samuel is responsible for providing the band’s distinctive sound with his jangly lead guitar lines. Frontman and vocalist Hugo Douglas-Deane is no less fond of a good effect pedal on his guitar as he leans forward to sing his lyrics in a relaxed, listenable twang.
Bassist Mark Brazier is an expressive player, contributing some interesting, noticeable patterns to numbers like Movements and On Your Own, while adding chunky sounds to the louder efforts in the set. Drummer Miles Clark is the band’s newest recruit, although he plays like he’s been there since day one. Happy to sit on the cymbals and snare when a clear beat is required, Clark is equally able to pull out some rhythmic pieces during the more melodic and heavy tunes, particularly Burnt Out and Control.
Hugo z describe themselves as providing “at once dark and summery sounds: indie rock/psychedelic/lo-fi and everywhere in between.” They leave their description deliberately broad, and it’s hard to describe their offering with much better accuracy. Leading on from the instrumental introduction to their set, there is a definite chilled, surfer-vibe to tunes like live favourite Movements and new track On Your Own, which develops more of a singer-songwriter feel as Douglas-Deane delicately puts the focus on his delivery. Leif-Samuel’s pedals are even mounted on an old skateboard as if to emphasise the point.
The relaxed Sunday-afternoon feeling, however, is often interrupted by a click into a higher gear for more lively, urgent tracks such as a revamped version of Control, the only survivor in the live set from the band’s debut EP. Some songs which start off fairly calm build up to a cacophony of noise and thrashing instruments, like Burnt Out, a staple of their set for some time which includes some superb Douglas-Deane lyrics, pounding set-closer Fixer which sees some particularly impressive guitars and the rollocking The Swell.
Up-and-coming Norwich promoters Poorboy Promotions, who recently put the band on at a packed Mischief in the city told punters to expect “floaty psychedelic indie” which doesn’t seem too wide of the mark when it comes to the more chilled end of the Hugo z sonic spectrum.
In terms of comparisons, Hugo z do give prospective listeners a few clues, describing themselves as being “for fans of The War on Drugs, Warpaint, and Fugazi”, the latter being cited particularly by the band as a current influence. And they’re right, you can hear elements of all three in Hugo z’s output, without them trying too hard to be carbon copies or pilfering riffs wholesale.
The aforementioned debut EP, Stress, actually came out as an album in 2015. After a break from performing and recording last winter, during which time Clark joined up with the band, they have started making new music again which will be released in the upcoming months. A demo of On Your Own was their latest track of several to be given an airing on BBC Norfolk Introducing, in February.
Hugo z find themselves in good company, being one of several University of East Anglia acts to gain traction recently alongside the likes of Ellie Bleach and Dazy Crown, who Hugo z appeared alongside at last year’s Zig Zag festival where they performed on the same Blue Bar stage as Coldplay did when they visited the university in 2011.
And where did the suffix in the band’s name come from? It’s pronounced ‘Hugo-zee’ by the way. I know, but I can’t tell you. Why not get to a gig and ask them yourself…
Next up for Hugo z is a set at Norwich’s Bicycle Shop on the 20th April as part of an already sold-out event for Earth Day featuring local bands and poets including Bag of Cans and Ella Dorman-Gajic. Hugo z will play their second London show on the 26th May at The Islington, with other acts to be announced. Find out more here.
All photos by the author.
Article by Tony Allen, you can follow Tony on twitter here.