Music, News, Review

TTSSFU / An Exercise @ The Castle review – Screams, hugs and wobbly floorboards

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Featured image: Esther Roberts

Crimson lights bathe the crevices of The Castle’s wooden vaulted ceiling and two chandeliers. Think of your local Methodist chapel taken over by the Hellfire Club. The stage looks set for a human sacrifice, and with a determined “Right, come on then”, An Exercise put themselves forward.

Most of the sold-out crowd is already crammed inside by the time the local duo fire up their Mac, and wedged back at the bar long before they finish. An Exercise’s melodramatic dream-goth isn’t without its moments, but they’re as fleeting as a Higgs boson. The nameless singer, arms possessed by restless serpents, mixes caterwauling with the sheer inanity of lines such as ‘Femininity’s, “I like you very much, I like you and all your stuff”.

The lighting switches from red to blue for TTSSFU. The room, back to packed, becomes a refuge for retro tech; two people snap away on digital cameras, a camcorder is recording and there are unconfirmed reports of someone playing with a Tamagotchi.

Fronted by Tasmin Stephens, this dream-pop project is far from her role as lead shredder in Duvet. Her bandmates, dressed as though they’ve been at an all-day wake, pin down clippity-cloppity beats, stretch the top end of their backing vocals range and wrestle with slipping spectacles throughout. Stephens is the focal point, though. She strums at her heart-shaped guitar with a tenderness normally saved for stroking kittens while staring with studied indifference into the middle distance.

She breaks character between songs, giggling with a group of enthusiastic early adopters down the front, who scream along – actual screams and the odd tear, in fact – to tracks from the new ‘Me, Jed and Andy’ EP. The one-two of ‘Baggage’ and ‘I Hope You Die’ evolve through mild jostling into a wholesome pit full of hugs and camaraderie, but one that still puts the Castle’s rickety floorboards under strain.

Stephens pulls a Victorian strongman pose at the end of the set. “Thanks for coming,” she says. “We’ve been T’tsfoo.”

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Ian Burke

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