Avatars of Anonymous Ambition: Heavy Poppers WU LYF Hit Williamsburg

 Avatars of Anonymous Ambition: Heavy Poppers WU LYF Hit WilliamsburgIt is hard for anyone to be entirely arcane, even if one were to work as hard at being secretive as most would at becoming famous. Carefully designed anonymity, after all, is one way of achieving the latter end. Take the case of WU LYF, an English band that refuses to do interviews or pose for publicity photographs and played their first show in America, at Glasslands in Brooklyn, on April Fool’s Day.

After releasing only a handful of songs, WU LYF (pronounced Woo Life) was called by The Guardian “the most interesting band” in Manchester and by the BBC the “anonymous stars of now.” The singer has a terrifying, gravelly yelp, and he plays a synthesizer set to sound like a church organ. The guitar is filled with reverb and echo and mostly noodles around melody lines. The rhythm section is loud but minimal. All the songs sound like anthems. Critics say their style is “heavy pop,” which is a neologism born out of the band’s song of the same name. There used to be a Tumblr for the band to sell its handmade EP. Only 14 copies were made. After turning down most reputable labels in England, WU LYF will self-release their debut full-length in June.

An expensive-looking band Web site explains that WU LYF is an acronym for World Unite/Lucifer Youth Foundation. Shaky videos of them playing live are on YouTube, their faces quite visible. They have a publicist and a manager. They have a Facebook page that lists the contact information for both. No names are given. The manager is listed as “War God.”

The Observer contacted the publicist first. “I know the band hasn’t done much in the way of interviews,” The Observer wrote in an email, “but I thought I’d ask anyway.”

Night came and The Observer had heard nothing. We never would, either.

In March 2010, Paul Lester at The Guardian named WU LYF the “New Band of the Day No. 743.” He noted the band’s absence of a biography and the pleasure of being “baffled in this digital day and age. Even writing about brand new bands, you find that, more often than not, everything is spelled out at the first possible opportunity.” The Observer wondered if there was a difference between that and being able to spell out exhaustively the fact that nothing is spelled out exhaustively.

The critic Sean Michaels, who wrote a longer piece about WU LYF for his blog Said the Gramophone, told The Observer he discovered that all of the photographs on the band’s Web site traced back to the site for Four23, a Manchester ad agency that refers to itself as “a multi-disciplinary creative studio.” Four23 owns a venue called An Outlet, “an independent licensed coffeehouse based in the Piccadilly basin of Manchester,” where WU LYF has played many of their shows. Four23’s founder is Warren Bramley, a young advertising prodigy. His email matches the one listed on WU LYF’s Facebook page under the title “War God.”

“It all pushes my buttons,” Mr. Michaels told The Observer. “I bought their 12-inch single and it cost me something ludicrous–between 10 and 20 pounds. And its lovely heavy vinyl, it came with a sleeve, it came with a bandana with their logo, and it had two songs on it. And they were pretty good.”

Mr. Michaels included a picture of the group with his post. It features 10 people. They are standing in a horizontal line, dressed the way one expects a young band to look: tight jeans, denim jackets, wrinkled T-shirts. But everyone is wearing a white scarf wrapped around his or her face. They are atop a building, and part of the Manchester skyline is visible, a cold and ash-colored backdrop with the sky looking like rain. There is a leafless tree nearby. On the ground are cans of what look like flares, releasing yellow signal smoke into the damp air. The person in the center of the line has his arm raised to the sky like something terrible might happen if he puts it down.

Cal Mcvann, someone who appears in the photo, posted it on his Facebook page (“About Cal: HIPSTERxHOLOCAUST”) in the album “RAINBOW WAARCHES by Cal Mcvann” and tagged all the names. The caption reads “911.” Three people–Jaimee Arthurs, Alexander James Hirst, Racheal Crowther–like the picture. The following people had this to say about the photograph:

Joe Broady: “thats fucking ill” [sic].

Kayleigh Heydon: “sickkkkk” [sic].

Jordan Carrol: “aw this is good” [sic].

WU LYF is a four-piece band. Their names are Evans Kati, Joseph Manning, Tom McClung and Ellery Roberts. The Observer wondered if a young band with “pretty good” songs was really worth the effort of finding out more, or if having to make an effort at all was itself appealing. Still, the more WU LYF avoided The Observer, the more we wanted to know.

There were a number of people wearing white scarves wrapped around their faces mingling about the venue before WU LYF took the stage at Glasslands. The Observer kept his notebook discreetly hidden because the person in charge of booking the show said the headliner demanded that no press or label representatives could be included on any of the other bands’ guest lists. The Observer saw at least two label heads, a number of journalists and a great deal of photographers. How did a band with no album out come to believe they had more power than the record industry?

After 12:30 a.m., four skinny and young-looking guys left the room marked “staff only” and set up instruments. They tuned quickly and then walked offstage back into the forbidden room. Through the cracked open door, The Observer glimpsed one of the four–the singer, whom The Observer recognized from YouTube videos–holding a water pitcher and fake pouring it on himself. He was grabbing his rear end in feigned sexual positions, posing for the camera phone of a member of one of the opening acts, Wise Blood. The door closed. Soon the four guys started to file back onstage, and The Observer felt someone touch his arm. It was the guitar player, who was squeezing through the audience frantically toward the bathroom. He was wearing a hideous giant sweater that looked like a rug.

He returned quickly, and the band started to play. At the first notes of “L Y F,” for which the band released a video a few days prior to the show, the audience applauded loudly in recognition. The singer wore a jean jacket buttoned up all the way with torn holes on both elbows. His jaw was hard and clenched while he played his keyboard with one tense arm, the other clutching his heart like his chest hurt.

“I’ll love you forever,” the singer screamed loudly until the veins in his neck bulged and throbbed. It helped that he was good-looking.

“They’re just a boy band,” an audience member said to The Observer with a certain venom.

At the end of the song, the singer ripped off the jean jacket in one big movement. Instead of stage banter or introducing himself, he made a Donald Duck sound into the microphone, spewing gibberish. In a normal voice, he requested that all the lights be turned off.

By the end of the second song, he and the drummer–expressing more indifference with his face than if he were in math class–were both shirtless. In addition to being introduced to some of the band member’s tiny nipples, the audience was hearing most of the songs for the first time. They thrashed and moved their bodies. When WU LYF played one of the songs that has been floating around the Internet–namely, “I Got Dem Wu Wu Busted Teef Spitting It Concrete Like the Golden Sun God”–the singer announced, “Here is a song all of you know,” with genuine hubris. The guitar player shouted “New York City!” into his microphone the same way Spinal Tap shouts, “Hello, Cleveland!” The bassist poked fun at a girl for looking like “the singer from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.” (Many of the girls in the room did. We were in Williamsburg.) What the
y lacked in charm they made up for in intensity. WU LYF will not change the world–or the music industry–but they are excellent performers.

“Well, it’s just a band,” the bassist said sarcastically in between songs, though it was hard to hear. The singer was making Donald Duck sounds into his microphone again to obscure all the words.

mmiller@observer.com