Posted by: Richard Frost | 9 Apr 2020

El Presidente gig review

Logo of award-winning student magazine Durham21Original publication date: August 2005
Outlet: Durham21

Richard Frost gets all excited about the uber-camp, mincing Glaswegian glam displayed by El Presidente in York, and also gets to see The Federals and The Upper Room…

They say image is everything. They say bands need:

  1. Charismatic singers
  2. Cool-as-fuck bassists
  3. Guitarists majoring in masturbatory guitar solos

They say throw all these ingredients together and you may, just may, have yourselves a marketable pop commodity.

Then again, how much do they really know?

Noise, Riffage and 80s Revivalism
First up trying to dispel the pop-marketing myth is The Federals. Featuring an improbably paunchy guitarist amongst an otherwise non-descript assortment of skinny grungers, the band hardly look like, well, a band.

This sense is no doubt strengthened by their chilled-out banter on the pre-gig sofa. It’s a real plus about Fibbers in York – think the New Inn but playing host to rising superstars such as Franz Ferdinand, Babyshambles and Kaiser Chiefs – that the pub is so small, bands can freely mingle with the 30-odd paying punters. This leads to great moments like seeing headliners queuing patiently at the bar, and the anonymous lads on the sofa saying “lets do it” before jumping onstage and into The Federals’ opening number.

Yet this is where it all goes wrong, as chugging, monster riffs are undermined by sheer contempt for vocal melodies. It’s a deflating distance that verges on being rock ‘n’ roll in signature tune ‘The City’, but elsewhere just descends into a wall of noise and riffage.

Rocketing up the style quotient, meanwhile, are next band The Upper Room. In this fearful music culture of 80s revivalism – yes, The Killers had one good album, but have we forgotten the lesson of A Flock of Seagulls people?! – The Upper Room should be cashing in. Vocals that are one-part Morrissey, three-parts Pet Shop Boys, backed by incessant drumbeats and pre-recorded synths, they seem to neatly encapsulate the decade.

Problem is, they actually embody what’s worst about the 80s. This is all smooth edges, unintrusive beats, tinny drums and bass with so little bite you could flip it over, tickle its belly and call it Flumpsy. Style yes – but less substance than a paracetamol.

Photo of glam-rock band El Presidente

And now for Something Completely Different
High time for El Presidente’s military coup, methinks. Anticipating dictatorial fervour from their fans, the bandmembers really ham up talk of La Revolución in their interviews. But can they really deliver on their ambitious promises to revolutionise music?

Well for starters, it’s no surprise the Scottish five-piece were recently plastered all over MTV’s New Bands Week. They seem tailormade for music videos, in fact, with a degree of image-consciousness that even Mussolini and Big Brother (nope, the other one) would baulk at.

Just look at them – a distant oriental drummer in grossly impractical mini-dress; a keyboardist with acute eyeliner fixation; a stomping, dreadlocked, cool-as-fuck bassist; and an uber-camp mincing guitarist.

It’s not quite Scissor Sisters, though comparisons are inevitable, but instead a fiercely individualistic and (yes) camp backing group that would overshadow any singer. Almost any singer. Any singer except the improbably named Dante Gizzi.

Whether in his all-in-one lime-green suit – last spotted stealing the plaudits at Newcastle’s Orange Evolution Festival – or his equally hideous lollipop-orange get-up, charismatic Gizzi dominates the limelight. Disowned as the oh-so-camp offspring of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Marc Bolan, Gizzi is a microphone-waving, pouting, twirling, finger-trembling behemoth of a showman who puts even Jake Shears to shame.

Style v Substance
But doesn’t so much style drown out the songs themselves, I hear the hecklers cry. Well, yes and no. YES because the melodies are hardly rocket science, with songs like ‘Rocket’ and ‘100 mph’ hardly stretching the brain lyrically. But ultimately NO because this isn’t Bob Dylan, but good-time party hi-jinx that reclaims euphoria for the indie-dance kids.

Whether it’s the zany singer somehow making “oo-ee-oo” sound like a great lyric, or the stomping bassist with his stomping bass lines or, yes, the masturbatory guitar solo, even a manic depressive has to admit El Presidente’s songs are FUN! It’s the sort of entertainment that will launch the Scots supernova in the coming months.

Style over substance, they say? Rubbish, say El Presidente, substance is all part of the style.


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