Kenickie weren’t exactly obscure (and of course Lauren Laverne has gone on to bigger and more mainstream things) – but I think most people would struggle to name one of their songs (Stay in the Sun, maybe? In Your Car?)
Kenickie were one of those bands that were great because they felt like a proper gang (and they sang about it, too – ‘Time goes slow in the dark, getting drunk in the park/We’ve got our gang and I know we’ll always be friends!’). They were best mates first and a band second – like most of the ‘bands’ I’ve been in, they decided they were a band way before they had written any songs or could play anything decent. They were the very welcome polar opposite to a band like, say, Garbage – who were cool but seemed more like a corporation than a group.
Their first LP, At the Club, was a burst of joy and fun when it came out – songs about being smalltown teenagers by actual smalltown teenagers. As such they captured perfectly the dizzy high of ‘Getting chatted up by the lads/Bombing down the street, it’s a laugh… She drank all that we had/Then she threw up and I was glad’ and the classic couplet ‘I can’t work with heavy coats, they’re not revealing/Have to steal each other’s clothes, so we’re all freezing’. It was like something we all could have written ourselves about what we did the last weekend, from my Saturday job in a café for £2.50 per hour, to running to Miss Selfridge with my wages before it closed after and meeting all my friends.
Then it goes from the ridiculous (‘PVC – it’s my favourite plastic, cos it’s nice and shiny, and completely waterproof!’) and into the lovely depressed-philosophical territory of staying in on schoolnights and overthinking things (‘I would like another way to breathe/Keep my eyes wide open in my sleep/Cos when I’m underwater, you keep me under glass’). And my personal favourite, the very metaphysical Robot Song – ‘I wish I had the skill to stop my thinking/Contemplate each breath, to make sure that it’s done – it’s not instinctive’).
The percussion is largely provided by handclaps and finger-clicks; the call-and-response style is utilised wherever possible, and the word ‘yeah’ is used possibly more times than on any other record. Even the cover art sums up that teen era – various passport and Polaroid style photos of four going mental in London, wearing afghan coats, too much eyeliner, sparkly skirts, ripped fishnets and clumpy heels.
Then, being only a few years older than me, they grew up as we did. Their second and final album, Get In, is – contrary to the jaunty title – a total comedown album. It’s full of flat-sounding synths, brittle beats and wistful vocals. It’s all about those long depressing late nights and early mornings, rather than the great ones – the ones where you get all dressed up and the person who you wanted to notice you isn’t even at the party. ‘Sun is up and the dawn it is pale blue/We’re on Nintendo sitting in your front room/I can’t see through the smoke and I’m tired/But I’m not sleeping yet cos I’m just too wired’. And the plaintive ‘We didn’t drink on weeknights/When we were young’ – which seemed so sad and true when I was 18 and living alone for the first time. Most heartbreaking of all is the talk of ‘all that washing, all that hoping’ only to find that ‘that’s why no one wants you’.
It’s also about growing up and growing apart from your friends, leaving your hometown and looking after yourself, which is sometimes exciting and sometimes horrible – ‘Do people say your voice has changed when you’ve been away? Do you look at them see you and wish they could see it too?’ and ‘It’s been said, there are thousands of places not like this one/When you’re dead, there are millions of faces – why did I get this one?’.
Basically, if you listen to these two albums back to back, it feels like my life from the ages of 17 to 21. Although both records were a few years old by then, that was when I listened to them the most. And they still take me right back there, smoking fags and listening to John Peel in a tiny little high-up flat by the sea.