The Vaccines Review
by Ollie Hopewell

Photo by Andy Blakeley

Review for Ay Up Duck Radio’s Sugarmill Show

On Thursday 23rd September The Vaccines rolled into town during a busy and star-studded week for The Sugarmill, with the phenomenal English indie-rock band being joined by the exciting Icelandic LoFi-punk duo of BSĺ. A big band in a small venue, a near-religious experience was about to ensue.



BSĺ debuted at The Sugarmill as relative unknowns to the large crowd gathered to see The Vaccines, but the Icelandic electro-pop duo held their own on the evening and have certainly won several fans through their excellent performances while on tour with the English rockers.

Unconventional to the core and emerging from Iceland’s DIY movement, BSĺ were formed by friends Silla Thorarensen and Julius Pollux Rothlaender to experiment with music conventions while dismissing their own self-doubts in the process, opting to realise self-empowerment and condemn the kyriarchy along the way in a focused and unrelenting manner. The fortunate biproduct of this process is a mixture of angsty and poppy tracks which are endlessly catchy and enjoyable.

While they jest that BSĺ stands for Brussel Sprouts International, the band are named after Reykjavik’s central bus station, Bifreiðastöð Íslands, though they admit that the station itself is so uninspiring that both names are tinged with irony. However, BSĺ themselves are very inspiring, with Thorarensen and Rothlaender opting to pick up instruments they felt uncomfortable playing to find a sound which they felt best suited them rather than running with an established sound, a bold move which has more than paid off in terms of creativity and quality.

The Icelandic indie duo took to the stage in a slightly nervy way, but all nervousness seemed to dissipate as they leaped into a poppy and upbeat set filled with quirks and angst, all tightly wrapped up into enjoyable and catchy songs which are guaranteed to play over and over in your head. BSĺ capture a sound similar to Junip, ESG, Girl In Red, and Portishead while displaying influence from Kate Bush, the Spice Girls, Talking Heads, and Iceland’s own Björk, culminating in a balance of partisan independence and diversity across their musical portfolio.

Blending atmosphere with angst, BSĺ played the faster paced tracks from their twin EPs Sometimes Depressed… and …But Always Antifascist, the latter of the two being the edgier punk-infused portfolio of the two. The gig gave abundant room for singer and drummer Silla Thorarensen to display her composure on the kit while delivering a mixture of beautiful aethereal and aggressive scratchy vocals to balance out a wonderful and buoyant set. Lighter vocals were delivered in the catchy single Vesturbæjar Beach, an upbeat ballad of positivity laden with twangy guitar riffs and unrelenting but light drumming, while the darker side of BSĺ was shown in Dónakallalagið, an aggressive and blunt track well-matched to the earlier work headliners The Vaccines.

Guitarist and toe-synth player, yes you read that correctly, Julius Pollux Rothlaender had total control over his instruments, removing his shoes to better play the miniature floor keyboard while delivering a stellar performance on guitar. Rothlaender really shone in Feela Það, a track which saw him play both instruments simultaneously in a tight and resounding performance.

The self-described LoFi-cute-punk duo, and orchestrators of Iceland’s smallest protest, have a big future ahead, with plans to continue making music before playing a gig on the roof of the actual BSÍ bus station. The confidence and sound demonstrated by the pair was both intriguing and unapologetic in its delivery, making BSĺ one of the most exciting bands in Scandinavia.


The Vaccines

Having last played at The Sugarmill ten years ago, The Vaccines made their triumphant return to the Potteries having grown both as a band and in popularity, currently finding themselves as one of the biggest bands on the UK scene and making a name for themselves around the world. The National Lottery’s Revive Live scheme has given a breath of life into the struggling music industry and tonight was the culmination of months of waiting and plenty of hard work on all sides to draw the biggest crowd The Sugarmill had seen in years.

The now totally packed-out atrium was bustling with life and noisy excitement as the anticipation for The Vaccines built, so when the band made their way onto the stage to the soundtrack of Dick Dale’s Misirlou the place erupted into a theatre of noise and passion.

A stage full of LED light poles would serve as an atmospheric backdrop as the West-London rockers crashed into their set, starting with Wanderlust, the punk-tinged headbanger from their newest album Back In Love City. While the band’s latest album is an 80s pop-inspired concept album, Wanderlust stands out as perhaps the heaviest song the band have recorded to date, conjuring sounds similar to their earlier and angstier post-punk roots while rocking The Sugarmill from wall-to-wall along the way. This eruption of noise and energy was met with deafening cheers from the audience, cementing the fact that The Vaccines were going to surpass their lofty expectations on the night.

Reenforcing the nostalgia trip of their earlier work, the five-piece jumped straight into a duo of I Can’t Quit and I Always Knew. While Back In Love City is a very very good album, The Vaccines are renowned for their stellar eye for showmanship and excellent setlists, selecting the liveliest songs from their portfolio of work in a way that is bound to win over any crowd.

Channelling the wobbling guitar riffs from walkout song Misirlou, Alone Star and Paranormal Romance feel like an ode to the Spaghetti Western genre of film and fits perfectly into the drama of the band’s newest album. Sexy guitar loops from lead guitarist Freddie Cowan, who was appropriately dressed all in white, matched with the melodic voice of lead singer Justin Hayward-Young made this a night to remember, as the frontman casually jived around stage with a crazed look in his eyes and a smile on his face. Bassist Árni Árnason delivered a cool performance throughout the night alongside the very talented keyboardist Timothy Lanham and energetic Yoann Intonti.

As previously mentioned, The Vaccines know how to select a setlist that will make people go wild, so when a short silence is ended by a faint buzzing sound the crowd familiar with the band erupted into song, knowing that the ensuing song was to be 2011 anthem Wetsuit, one of the band’s most popular songs. The crowd lovingly sang each and every word back to Hayward-Young, further electrifying the atmosphere as the band downed instruments to stand back and watch on as their song was sung back to them entirely acapella. I’m not saying that I cried, but there were certainly tears in my eyes as I felt an overwhelming feeling of happiness as the crescendo of the track was reached, a feeling I am confident I shared with the majority of the audience.

Slowing things down with Wetsuit lead to the emotional part of the night, with band continuing with beloved What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? track Post Break-Up Sex before rolling into Combat SportsYour Love Is My Favourite Band and El Paso from Back In Love City as the audience swayed along in a delighted and loved-up manner.

For the uninitiated, The Vaccines have cultivated a genre-spanning sound which has taken them from humble post-punk roots to an 80s inspired electro-pop sound, picking up fans and dropping hit after hit along the way. Their sound is similar to the likes of Blossoms, Franz Ferdinand, The Enemy, and Two Door Cinema Club with heavy influences coming from The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Strokes.

At one point of The Vaccines’ career The Sugarmill was the biggest venue the band had played, and frontman Hayward-Young took time to describe how special it felt playing in the same place but with a much bigger audience, saying that The Sugarmill felt like a much bigger place when the band first played here. Proud to help smaller music venues back on their feet, The Vaccines kicked on with Headphones Baby and Handsome as they continued their run of all hits and no misses, before trailblazing into Jump Off the Top and All My Friends Are Falling In Love, getting the atrium back to a riotous state of dancing and singing.

By the time The Vaccines got to the explosive finale of If You Wanna and XCT pints were flying across the dance floor, the audience now on an excited rampage of jumping and dancing, so as the band downed instruments and exited stage left the audience was left vying for more; the obligatory chants of “we want more!” were subdued only by a deafening rendition of “Allez Allez Allez Vaccines Vaccines” before the band emerged one final time to deliver a spectacular encore consisting of the fast and furious 1 minute and 22 seconds that is Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra) and the emotional farewell singalong that was All In White, bringing an excellent night of romantic, fast-paced, and perfectly performed music to an close.

The Vaccines have reminded everyone of their love of live music and got The Sugarmill filled with a crowd teeming with energy, excited for the return of their favourite bands. BSĺ have won a new group of fans with their unique and inspired music while The Vaccines continue to be the rowdy band that gets everyone moving to their diverse collection of excellent songs. Before they begin their 2022 tour it’s obvious to say that they were amazing in every way and that you should make an effort to see them performing live again, after all, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?


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© Ollie Hopewell 2021
Contact: SugarmillShow@gmail.com








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