Cult of Youth @ Birthdays, London

Review & Photography by Natasha Truman

Cult of Youth, are a post-industrial folk band from Brooklyn, NY and have come far from their beginnings as the solo project of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sean Ragon. Having released an album which garnered much positive media attention, they are now embarking on their first UK and European tour….

The band’s sound is hard to pinpoint down to an exact genre, combining elements of industrial, electronic and punk into their neo-folk base sound. This amalgamation meant I was unsure what sort of a show to expect from them live. Though Birthdays is a fairly new venue, I have been there once before, while it was still somewhat under construction.

This was my first time seeing it since it had been finished, and I was quite impressed with how it had turned out. From the outside, it looks like a restaurant, and indeed it is, along with a cocktail bar, upstairs. Downstairs, however, is where the music venue is. It is a decent-sized small venue, with a bar at the back, and some seating along the sides. The stage itself is very low down, which in a way makes the venue seem larger than it actually is.

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Cult of Youth had two support bands for this show, though unfortunately I had some trouble getting to the venue and ended up missing most of the first band’s set, so there isn’t really much I can say about them. I did however catch most of the second band, London-based duo Crushed Beaks, whose stripped-back approach to music is more than made up for in volume and energy, and actually achieve a much fuller sound live than you might expect just by seeing them on stage, with their melodic noise-pop.

Though the venue was only about a quarter full when I arrived, by the time Cult of Youth were due to start their set, it had filled out quite a lot. Their set began in quite an understated manner, without much by way of introduction. In fact, they didn’t really talk much on stage at all, bar semi-seriously asking the crowd if they could stay at anyone’s house for the night. However, this relaxed style fit well within the context of the venue. Live, the punk elements of Cult of Youth’s unique sound come through far more than they do on record, right down to Ragon’s vocals taking on huskier qualities, and their whole feel in general drifting slightly further away from the folk undertones that hold them together on record.

This is not to say that Cult of Youth aren’t good live, quite the opposite, but they are just a very different band live from the band that they seem to be on record, as many are. With a setlist comprised largely of songs form their latest LP, Love Will Prevail, it was interesting hearing this other side to the band, with less of a focus on the melodic folk side of things, and more of an emphasis on all the other genres Cult of Youth combine within their music. Their energy came across strongly on stage, even in such a small venue, and the crowd seemed really into the set.

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For me personally, one of the highlights of the show is the bands use of interesting instruments. So many bands these days stick rigidly to the standard guitars, bass, drums and vocals, and it is refreshing to see a change. Cult of Youth used a mix of acoustic and electric instruments, including syths, and at one point, a trumpet played while kneeling on the floor, directly into the microphone. Regardless of whether you have heard Cult of Youth on record or not, I would recommend seeing them live next time they are in the UK.

Yes, if you have heard their music already, hearing it live will show it to you from a new perspective, with a focus on the other genres that they combine that otherwise slip a little bit into the background, but even if you have not, they are still just a very good live band. Their shows are interesting, and their music is complex, all in all making for an awesome gig.