Happyness are an indie-rock band in the truest sense of the term. Their 2015 self-released debut record Weird Little Birthday, with its college-rock influences, provided a refreshingly raw alternative to the ‘dream pop’ sound which was a ubiquitous feature of British indie-rock at the time. This year, their follow-up record Write In showed further distillation of their unique approach. Through their rejection of stylistic trends and their online self-promotion, the trio have secured a devoted cult following. Similar to (Sandy) Alex G and Car Seat Headrest, they’re yet another of the decades’ Bandcamp success stories.
Given that most of my Happyness knowledge comes from only listening to their music online, I didn’t quite know what to expect on my way to see their live performance at the Garage. I thought about it with the sort of nervous anticipation one might feel before a Tinder date. It was rather uncanny then, to recognise the muffled opening chords to their first song from outside the venue as I queued to get in. When the door opened into the main room, I was immediately struck by the Garage’s atmosphere and energy. The song I’d heard from outside was Write In’s opener ‘Falling Down’, and was now in full swing. Its playful guitar melodies were chanted along to by a crowd which oozed a palpable adoration for Happyness all night long- and the band seemed scarcely able to contain their excitement in front of such an enthusiastic bunch. Next song ‘Naked Patients’ went down just as well, its crunchy bassline thundering through the room.
‘Anything I Do Is All Right’ – a belting grunge track from Weird Little Birthday– was followed by the hazy piano-based ballad ‘Through Windows’ that was released this year. Most of what Happyness played were older tracks as opposed to newer material (I calculated it actually; only 31% of the songs were from Write In – less than a third). This actually went down pretty well, as the audience seemed more familiar with Weird Little Birthday than its successor. Perhaps as the band returned to London to perform, they were greeted by an entourage of diehard fans and old friends – many who would have followed them from the very start.
Between each track, Happyness seamlessly went through several line-up changes, bringing in all kinds of musicians to play on various tracks as a testament to their eclectic back catalogue, the thriving musical community in which they operate – and not least their social prowess. Indeed, for this show, Happyness gifted five lucky ticket holders with a special ‘canal cruise’ acoustic set that afternoon. At one point, bassist Frank Wright of fellow indie band Blaenavon was brought into the motley crew, occupying the stage to perform the cool and serene ‘Pumpkin Noir’. Everything was done in a fluid and flexible manner with minimal faffing around.
The highlight of the show came right at the very end, and took everybody by surprise – myself included. Drummer Ash Cooper, with his bright red eyeshadow and sailors hat, came to the fore to provide lead vocals for a heartfelt performance of Pavement’s ‘Here’. Enough people knew the song’s lyrics (“come join us in a prayer/we’ll be waiting, waiting where/everything’s ending here’“) and the atmosphere intensified to something of an almost holy experience. The set then ended with another track from the first album, ‘Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’ – a song dedicated to Arcade Fire. The final applause lasted forever, as Happyness received the warmest welcome home possible. For indie-rock heads, they are truly a must-see.