A low drone noise has been radiating from the speakers for the past half an hour. I’ve just downed one vodka tonic and I’m gripping my second. I look up and see the outlines of three rectangles above the stage, three dark boxes waiting to be filled with light. There’s nobody behind the microphone yet.
I didn’t even care about The 1975 six weeks ago. Then “UGH!” came on the radio when I was driving my mum’s car late at night and I almost crashed it into the wall at the end of my parents’ street. I’ve crashed a car once before, on the journey home from kissing a boy who I then fell obsessively in love with for ten years.
Next I saw the video for “UGH!” The section at the beginning before the set is crushed with light felt like taking a deep breath. I saw the clapperboard in front of the camera, saw them all line up in front of the set, then I saw Matty Healy in silhouette, and I waited for him to start singing, and when he started, I was in love. Three minutes of him in what felt like a hundred different outfits, with the set glowing blue and pink and static in the background. I’d never thought about him for a second before then.
It all happened so fast.
It’s 8:45pm and the drone is louder now. I’ve been thinking about this exact minute, this specific pocket of time for weeks. The anticipation I’ve felt about seeing this show has been so intense that it has become physical. The week before I see them I can barely eat and I have to drink to calm my nerves. I keep thinking about the five minutes before they go onstage. If I can’t keep it together when it’s far enough in the future to be abstract, how will I cope when it’s close enough to touch, when the lights go down, when I can hear the ripple of screams from the other side of the crowd? It’s sickening anticipation, it’s wanting them – wanting Matty, specifically – now and forever or just wanting him to never arrive onstage, to leave the country, to get out of my life forever because I can’t handle the possibility of his presence.
The lights go down. The girls at the other side scream. There’s Ross, the bass player, then Adam, the guitarist, then George, the drummer, then a long pause. Then Matty, leather fringe hanging from his arms and corkscrew curls hanging in front of his eyes. First it is “Love Me” and then “UGH!”, no stopping between them; it’s perfect and breathless and there’s no time, there’s no time to intellectualise that this is happening right now, right in front of me. It’s living inside the “UGH!” video for an hour and a half – the same set and a different colour scheme for each song. I feel like the girl in the a-Ha video who dissolves into her television.
Matty’s the centre of attention at all times – of course he is. He’s taking his jacket off, then pulling his cowboy shirt out from his jeans, then unbuttoning it halfway through the show. He walks around the stage with his glass of wine and he’s mesmerizing. He’s half expert sex angel – licking his lips and then throwing his head back during “Robbers” – and half embarrassing cousin at a wedding, addressing us as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ with his thumbs up after every other song, playing up to and then completely shattering the much-discussed image of him as a studied pretender to the rock star throne.
Even when they’re onstage the push and pull of wanting and having doesn’t stop. The moments when Matty disappears and reappears are the most delicious, even more than the time he spends dangling from the edge of the stage screaming with his head between his knees. At the end of “Anobrain,” he climbs up behind drummer George’s drumkit and stands behind him for the end of the song, then he disappears behind the set, and the lights turn to television static. As the band starts to play “Fallingforyou,” their most intimate song, Matty emerges, climbing onto the amp stack, a shadow against the buzzing static behind him. I can’t see him singing the words, he’s a silhouette, but I feel the sense of sexual possibility, the wanting, the longing for someone who might long for you too. Then he leaps to the edge of the stage, back into the light for the best line – “I don’t want to be your friend / I want to kiss your neck.” The song ends with a bass rumble that I can feel crawl up my toes, through my heart and into my lips – the climax of the drone from the beginning of the show. What I’ve been waiting for since I first heard “UGH!” on the radio, since I bought the ticket for the show, since the lights went down at the start. The moment when the anticipation makes way for the actual release.
Claire Biddles is an artist and writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. She makes work about crushes, regional glamour and the relationship between pop culture and real life.