Sunday, 20 September 2009

The 'New' Mentalists

Steph Hamill, 21 Septmeber 2009

Performing with iPhone apps is nothing new, but gizmos, gadgets, whatchamacallits, doodahs, thingamajigs and iPhones, whatever you like to call them, they're part of music's future. You may have heard of an all girl band championing this digital age movement. Their name, The Mentalists. I'm sure you've seen the reviews, videos and interviews on The Guardian and Telegraph websites, alongside a plethora of technology based sites and blogs.

Impressively, The Mentalists have already played Glastonbury, supported Kate Nash, Babyshambles and The Automatic. In fact, the buzz around them at the 2009 Meffy Awards was pretty cool. Geeks love hot girls playing with gadgets; a fact Stuff magazine's cover can confirm. However, their musical cover of MGMT's 'Kids' in March this year was a groundbreaking moment for musical aficionados and iPhone geeks alike.

By using their iPhones instead of regular instruments, they made headline news. Shrewdly, they filmed the performance in an office with great lighting and intrigued office staff, thus creating a crowd. Many people watching the released video on YouTube thought the band had performed at a press conference. So far was the reach of the video, Sony even passed it on to MGMT and they loved it, apparently. Clever musical geek girls! Just don't call them the 'new' Spice Girls... They don't like it.

Post digital assault of their MGMT Kids 'gig', downloads of the iTunes App Store's Ocarina, Retro Synth, miniSynth and DigiDrummer Lite soared. A band idea primarily born from the difficulty of lugging a Korg to gigs, they're keen to quash any thoughts that they're a gimmick only band. In every interview I've read or watched, The Mentalists constantly remind that they began their musical journey as a punk rock band of tight and talented musicians.

In fact, digging a little deeper I learned the band are no strangers to gimmicks... Remember their 'blink and miss it' involvement and exposure through T4 Unsigned, hosted by Jo Whiley, Lily Allen and Alex James of Blur fame? Whilst Lily and Alex thought they were fantastic musicians, Miss Whiley wasn't particularly taken and to be honest, watching the show, neither was I. Yes, I understand they're named after a Victorian stage magician troupe, but they're musicians, not a circus act. Interestingly enough, they calm it down when they perform with iPhones; their moments of success.

However, the band has seen a big shift of late and the new dynamic may ensure the performance aesthetic alters. The Mentalists are now three, instead of the original four who met through the classified ads of the NME. The 'New' Mentalists currently stands as two original members and a new member, with the bass player stepping up to become vocal lead. Keeping up?

Despite their success at a couple of French festivals, their self released song, 'Don't Know What To Do With You' was a little disappointing, aside from the wicked bass riff. They even tried out being an exclusively battery powered band, made up of portable mini keys and the like. Essentially, it wasn't much more than a glorified acoustic session, with a new label for the digital era. Yawn. The next stage for the band was covering Estelle's 'American Boy' on their iPhones and filmed, with a little editing and uploaded to YouTube, attempting to keep the gimmick momentum going perhaps? Post 'Kids' cover, it just didn't cut the mustard.

I'm no cynic though, these girls are onto something, but I don't think they've got the polish or cool factor to carry off the iPhone band title. I'm genuinely sorry to say it, but the concept would work better on a foursome of hipster girls more likely hanging out at the Old Blue Last and gracing Vice's Do's pages. Sad to say I know, but the girls in The New Mentalists are gifted musicians; they should stick to what they're really very good at. Let's hope the line up shuffle calms them down and helps refine their performance skills. Props on getting the digital inches though; I wouldn't be writing about The (New) Mentalists without them.

The New Mentalists are playing Proud on October 1st. I'm hoping they are going to show us they're embracing their early 70's, rock influenced undercurrent and going to focus on the music and not the stage theatrics. Girl Power!

To read more articles by Steph, click below:
Penny Lane

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