In February this year, I went down to Stricken City at The Drop in Stoke Newington play their final gig. It was sad to say goodbye, but I was glad I did. I interviewed them around their first proper single, the textured, timeless indie jam Lost Art, and it’s still one of my favourite pop records, and, as is common with bands you adore early and manage to interview, have followed them with irrational ardour ever since.
They always felt wonderfully out of time, gloriously uncool. A four-some built around schoolfriends, and later lovers, Ian Pettifer and Rebekah Raa, they played indie that sounded like – at first – some lost Sarah or Postcard release or some TOTP 1985 gem. Then, after realising you’d fallen absolutely headlong for the tracks, you realised how breathlessly modern they sounded – under the pure melody and unashamedly jangle-y guitars you could spot the energy and choppy textures of the pirate radio stations Raa listened to while she spent nights working on her designs, the sonic power and instant bounce of the clubs they danced at and they met their label, Adventures Close To Home.
They also believed, unfashionably. Their tongue was never-in-cheek, and while they danced through every set I saw, no poses were thrown, and to, rose-tinted as this is, I never saw them make a cynical move. Direct in speech, friendly in conversation, sincere on record, their world was steeped in off-the-radar influences – early 20th-century sheet music, Goddard, Orange Juice. Rebekah was a fashion student at Central St Martins (one of the highest-scoring ever, apparently), but while most of world was dressing in stark black or tacky neon, she was making head-dresses from cockatiel feathers. Ironically, around that time, it seemed as though the hip world suddenly learned about bookishness, and vibed off weirdos, at least in narrow, accredited confines. But for Stricken City, it was spending life surrounded by what they thought was beautiful, and doing whatever it took to make things that were beautiful to them. An old fashioned attitude, really, but one that should never be allowed to get old. From that came two really great – edging on perfect, even – pop albums. Unfortunately, for whatever reason fate hands down, the buzz wasn’t on their side, and despite their songs, their looks, their story, their buzz, for whatever dull reason, they never made it, not in the way they wanted. Life on the road without tour support is no cake-walk, and better to leave while memories were still bright.
Ian joked at the last gig that they really, really wanted to play on Top Of The Pops. It was just a shame that it wasn’t on anymore. True romantics to the last, they called time on the project at the show. Better to hold a good sentiment than let yourself get jaded, and as much as it sucks that they split up, I’m glad they never changed what I loved about them. Ian also joked that they split up because they were finally getting good, and though that’s only half true, I’d heartily recommend getting hold of Losing Colour, their final album, as great an album about holding fast, and keeping your head above water as I’ve heard. Above are some videos Ian shared with me this week of the final days of the band intercut with some shots from SXSW and other tours, and below is a hint at what the next project will sound like.