Let me make it completely clear from the beginning that this could be the most biased article I have ever written (even more than the time I had to write about my own band). I absolutely adore Hippo Campus. They’re the first band I can remember being properly into. The music video for ‘South’ appeared on my YouTube sidebar while I watched videos after school in Year 10 so, once again, I’m forced to thank an algorithm that will never appreciate or know what it has done for me. I managed to see the band live a couple of years later when they came from their home of Minnesota to my not-home-but-closest-gig-venue of Newcastle. It was there that I saw the best gig of my life up till then – emphasis on “up till then” because they outdid themselves on their trip to London this week.
After hours in the library studying for my Quantum Physics exam the next day, I rushed from Fulham to Highbury & Islington (endless thanks to Citymapper) just in time to catch the end of the support act, Frankie Beetlestone. At this point I wasn’t going to write an article about the night but as soon as Hippo Campus stepped on stage, I changed my mind. The band entered with the hypnotic ‘2 Young 2 Die’, singer Jake Luppen choosing the left of his two mics to use. Yes, he had two mics, I was confused too. This mic was overflowing with effects from futuristic pitch shifting to other-worldly echoes and delays. When the band released their new album LP3, I wrote about my excitement to see how they would recreate the heavily produced sounds they had tailored on the record. The obvious answer came seeing them live. They simply have all those effects with them on stage. Luppen shifted and manipulated his vocals with the dials and buttons connected to the mic as he sang. These tones were most prominent in ‘Sex Tape’ and ‘Bad Dream Baby’ from electronic EP Good Dog, Bad Dream which took me a while to get into when it was released but now, after seeing it live, might be my new favourite Hippo Campus record.
Opposingly, the other mic was just set up as normal, enhanced only by some delicate reverb. One of the things that drew me to the band when I first listened to them was Luppen’s vocal range and the ways he could contort his voice, diving from silky highs to coarse growls. In ‘Boys’, a single from LP3, Luppen swapped mics for effects when singing the choruses, and returning to the normal mic for the verses. Everyone is used to seeing a guitarist fiddle with pedals for the perfect sound but doing the same for vocals made for an innovative set that lived up to the encapsulating standard of the studio recordings.
While the vocals are astonishing, Hippo Campus really shine when they spotlight their fifth member, DeCarlo Jackson, who plays the trumpet and various percussion instruments. My lacklustre note-taking abilities shone again during the trumpet solos: I just wrote “TRUMPET” and “can’t stop talking about the trumpet”. Essentially, I loved the trumpet parts, they added a majestic layer to every song that you usually don’t find with the indie bands who have similar sounds to Hippo Campus.
I could write about every song the band played, though eventually I think you’d get bored of the endless gushing. Hippo Campus have grown massively as a live act, and as a band generally, since I last saw them in Newcastle. They had a confidence on stage in London that they previously lacked. Luppen exuded energy, matching the crowd who had missed their presence this side of the Atlantic. I can only hope that the band keep the promise they made on stage to come visit the UK more often.