The Radness

It’s 10:36 p.m. on a Friday night at The Macbeth on Hoxton Street, and The Radness is about to take the stage. The dingy back room is full of an assortment of postmodern urban trash: hipsters, skinny fashion girls, a few rudeboys out on the offchance of pulling one of same, college kids sniffing whatever it is that’s replaced the stuff that replaced mephedrone in bogs that look and smell like the end of the world…fuck, anyone would think it was 2003. Dalston was the new Shoreditch and then New Cross became the new Dalston but it would seem N1 still has whatever it takes to attract people dressed like prats who are prepared to pay four-fifty for a pint of piss in a plastic glass while listening to garbage and convincing themselves they’re at the bleeding edge of pop culture. On the stage, a soundman or roadie of some kind is playing the same note over and over on a Korg Mini while glancing sagely at one of his colleagues who’s manning the sound desk and adjusting the volume levels. They’re both sporting mullets, which is hardly unique in the immediate environment, although the lack of irony involved probably sets them apart from everyone in a hundred-metre radius.

At the back of the crowd is one figure who looks decidedly out of place. He’s well dressed in a long, old-fashioned navy blue raincoat, with leather shoes, pressed trousers and an immaculate brown blazer, topped off with a slightly sun-bleached fedora. He delights in the name of Timothy Chalice-Brown, and he’s here for a rather unique reason. He is, in a sense, perhaps The Radness’s most dedicated fan, if your definition of a fan is someone who listens to all a band’s songs, watches all their videos and, in the most general sense, ‘follows’ them – figuratively and literally. But that would be to miss the point of why he’s here. It’s not because he likes them, oh no – it’s for quite the opposite reason. For Tim despises The Radness with a passion that verges on the religious, and he is at a loss to explain even to himself just what it is that drives him around after them. Well, that’s how it used to be – following them around, enduring their shows, unable to believe just how bad they are – but tonight he’s here for one very particular purpose. A purpose to which all his hatred has been building these last few months. And that hatred is focussed most intently upon the band’s frontman, if you can call him that – a certain human excressence who goes by the name of Curly.

Tim scowls and crosses his arms over his chest as none other than Curly himself bounds clownishly onto the stage to a chorus of cheers – some half-hearted, some apparently in all earnestness. In his Borateqsue one-piece mankini, hideous white-boy ‘fro and revolting cod-New-Wave make-up, he looks like the downfall of Western civilization. Which may, after all, be the intended effect, but that could perhaps be giving him a little too much credit. He struts ridiculously up and down the stage as the rest of the band take their places, lower jaw jutted forward and eyes half-closed in what’s no doubt intended to look like a Jaggerish pout but can’t change the fact that he more strongly resembles the offspring of Mick Hucknell and a coke-addled potato.

Soon enough The Radness’s trademark sound starts to fill the Macbeth – a fairly derivative sort of electro-pop with jangly indie guitars over the top, competing for the treble register with Curly’s execrable caterwauling. Tim grimaces beneath his fedora, his hands involuntarily clenching into fists, itching for it all to be over so he can do what he came to do. He reaches into his raincoat and feels the hard, heavy, metallic lump slung beneath his left arm, and smiles grimly.

* * * * *

It all started some months previously – Tim can’t recall exactly how long it’s been – when a friend showed him one of their videos on YouTube for a laugh, the way you do when you’ve been out all night and it’s three in the morning and you’ve had a few. He’d laughed along at the time, at the singer’s obvious self-delusion and the ridiculous posturing, and had largely forgotten about it a couple of weeks later when he’d seen someone post another of their videos on Facebook in response to ‘Being A Dickhead’s Cool’. He’d smirked and then, for some reason, actually clicked the link. This time he couldn’t bring himself to smile while watching it – it was simply too bad for that. The terrible music, the awful clothes and makeup, the hackneyed stage antics…that was all bad enough, but what really got to him was the fact that some idiots genuinely seemed to like them, to judge from the comments on the page. This couldn’t be real, could it? How could this bunch of fuckwits have genuine fans? He could feel his blood starting to rise at the very idea. This was an outrage!

And so it became one of those odd phenomena which pass you by for years but which, once noticed, seem to be lurking everywhere you turn your head. Either it was a listing for one of their gigs in Time Out, a chance mention by a friend, or something like that…Tim just couldn’t get away from them. It almost started to feel like they we stalking him. To begin with he managed to convince himself it was amusing, but after a few weeks he started to find himself thinking about this terrible band at odd times of the day, while his mind was idling. On several occasions he even dreamed about them – and bizarrely, at least once, he wasn’t just listening to them, he was onstage with them…

From time to time Tim would successfully put all thought of The Radness out of his mind for several days or a week or two at a stretch, but then something would remind him of them and that was it; the cycle of hateful obsession began anew. It could be a poster in a music venue or some other mention of them in print somewhere but by now he was so attuned to their awful music and risible image that it could simply be a hipster with a particularly egregious Jewfro or a song on the radio with a grating chorus or a naff synthesizer sound that evoked their half-arsed indie-electropop. Within two months his every waking thought was taken up by a burning, loathsome fixation upon the group; even sleep offered no relief, as his dreams came to be dominated by thoughts of them to the exclusion of all else. He began attending their gigs, standing around at the back, swaying in mesmerized fascination at their sheer awfulness yet, for no reason he could explain, unable to leave.

As time passed, the creeping realization of what he had to do to end his torment gradually crystallized in his mind. It simultaneously terrified him and yet provided comfort: surely even a life at Her Majesty’s pleasure would be preferable to this living hell, if only he could know that this abomination was cleansed from the world forever? And so it came to be that he was there that fateful night in The Macbeth, packing heat and hatred.

* * * * *

Eventually the show ended and the band left the stage, Curly giving exaggerated I-love-you-all! waves and air-kisses out of all proportion to the desultory applause from the crowd, while his bandmates mooched off with surly indifference. Tim knew this was his one chance. Screwing up his courage, he waited till the crowd had mostly dispersed and the sound crew were busy clearing up equipment while the venue staff meandered about collecting plastic glasses. Finally he made for the still open stage door and passed through it, moving as nonchalantly as possible, his heart in his throat at the thought of what he was about to do.

Following sounds of talking and laughter, Tim made his way down the dingy, filthy corridor to the dressing room, whose door was slightly ajar. Pausing outside, his heartbeat thundering in his ears, he peeked through the gap into the small room. Curly’s bandmates were larking about, passing around a bottle of Apple Sourz and a mirror covered in lines of what was probably mostly talc. The singer himself, however, was oddly inanimated, sitting to one side with a rather vacant expression and neither speaking nor moving. For a moment Tim felt a strange sympathy for this ridiculous figure and sensed his determination begin to waver. Worried that he might lose his bottle, he took a deep breath, pushed the door to one side and strode into the room.

“Whadyouwant?” came the half-hearted challenge from a lanky bloke with a floppy fringe and glittery eyeshadow whom Tim vaguely recognized as the guitarist. “Fucknell, it’s Sherlock!” said someone behind him, to a smattering of chuckles from the others. Before he could give himself time to reconsider, Tim frantically reached into his coat, fumbled for the gun in its holster and pulled it on the silent singer. The handful of groupies and hangers-on in the room screamed and rushed past Tim for the door; the rest of the band watched Tim intently without becoming noticeably afraid or panicked, while Curly simply looked up and smiled. Tim hesitated for a heartbeat or two, suddenly wrong-footed: he’d imagined that at this point he would say something like “Die, scum!” but the look on Curly’s face made him say, ridiculously, “I’m…sorry”. And then Curly did a very curious thing. Rather than pleading for his life, breaking down in tears or anything like that, his smile – no sardonic grin of defiance but an honest, grateful smile – spread wider over his potatoid physiognomy and he said “Thank you”. Then Tim squeezed the trigger and there was a lot of noise and a lot of blood.

* * * * *

None of The Radness’s remaining members screamed or even seemed to react much at all, beyond wincing and shrinking slightly from the noise. As Curly’s corpse slumped to the floor, the beatific smile still bizarrely on his face as rivulets of blood ran down it from the neat circular hole in his forehead, a low chuckle started up from the guitarist. Soon the other three were at it too, and Tim looked around himself nervously, completely thrown by this unexpected reaction. “Fuck, it’s happened again”, said the keyboard player, a diminutive, spidery man-boy with a ridiculous blond bush of hair and ironic tribal tattoos. “We’ll ‘ave to cancel tomorrow’s gig while this one learns the set”, volunteered the guitarist. Tim was by now panicking, not so much at what he’d just done as at the incredible behaviour of four men who’d just seen their colleague and (one would presume) friend shot dead by a stranger.

And then something even more bizarre happened. Tim finally came to his senses and willed his feet to carry him out of that terrible room as fast as they could, but he felt himself rooted to the spot. He tried to replace his gun in its holster but his hand simply opened and it clattered to the floor. Then an odd itching, tingling sensation came over his scalp and he instinctively turned his head – the only part of his body he seemed able to move – in the direction of the mirror. The bassist apparently realized what had prompted Tim to do this and reached forwards to roughly swipe Tim’s fedora from his head. They all let out a leering, sniggering chuckle as Tim’s eyes opened wide in terror at the sight that confronted him. His hair was abandoning its natural kemptness and was twisting, curling and coarsening into a horrific white-guy Afro – exactly like Curly’s! He tried to speak, to scream, to make any noise at all, but all that happened was a slight trembling of his lips and a low, weak moan.

The guitarist then said “Come on Curly, you got some songs to learn”. One of the others began stripping the erstwhile Curly’s corpse of its ridiculous costume; another got on the phone to a taxi firm, and then (Tim heard in mute horror) a man who was good at “dealing with stuff”, who was to come to The Macbeth with a van and take the corpse away before the police arrived and were apologetically informed of a silly prank involving a realistic toy gun.

* * * * *

If you’re in any way ‘on the scene’ of questionable live music in certain parts of east London, you may well come across The Radness at some point, jangling, bleeping and warbling away to an audience of largely uninterested hipsters and a handful of deluded genuine enthusiasts. You’ll see ‘Curly’ prancing around like a tit, hear him grunting and whining like a good ‘un, and if you didn’t know how he came to be there you might not be able to see the empty, hollow horror deep in his eyes even as the rest of his face contorts into a ludicrous grin while he belts out the inane and poorly scanning lyrics. Tim didn’t see it until it finally melted into blessed relief as he raised his piece and ended the previous Curly’s torment.

You may feel as if the only humane thing you could possibly do would be to put the current Curly out of his misery, just as Tim did. Perhaps, as did Tim, you’ll simply be so outraged that such awful music and repugnant pretentiousness should be allowed to exist on this earth. But you’ll resist that urge because you know the fate that awaits the next man who succumbs to the curse of The Radness.

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