Yard Act. Photo by Phoebe Fox.

Rule, Britannia!

The future of British rock music comes to Eugene

Eugene music fans are faced with a dilemma on Oct. 7: Two of the U.K.’s most vital young bands with debuts released this year perform in town on the same night. From Leeds, England, at the WOW Hall is Yard Act, who play a precociously snotty update on minimal dance-oriented post-punk with unexpected aspects of modern hip hop and a sardonic perspective on post-Brexit British life. 

Meanwhile, at the McDonald Theatre that same night is Wet Leg, who hail from the tiny Isle of Wight a few miles off the coast of England in the English Channel, an unlikely place for ’90s-era alt-rock revivalists to emerge from. 

Both debuts were nominated for a Mercury Prize, which is among the British music industry’s highest honors, but the September ceremony was postponed until October for the most English reason of all — the death of Queen Elizabeth II. 

Fronted by two vocalists, Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, Wet Leg both captures the mystery of its home while offering snappy-yet-deadpan instructive tales of how to be smart, young, female and randy in the post-#MeToo era. 


Wet Leg. Photo by Hollie Fernando.

With a yammering back beat and a Breeders-esque bass line, Wet Leg’s infectious smash hit “Chaise Longue” off their 2022 self-titled debut — a song that’s found its way into the live sets of both Pearl Jam and — well, Yard Act — conflates the “big ‘d’” of a recently earned college diploma and a part of the male genitalia that begins with the same letter. Wet Leg seems unimpressed, either way.

For its part, Yard Act’s 2020 breakthrough single “Fixer Upper” off their debut EP came out during the pandemic: a half-rapped, half-sung commentary on the British class system through the lens of home ownership and “not in my backyard” xenophobia. Meanwhile, the quartet’s debut full-length album, The Overload, offers humorous social satire on menacing topics like the growing nationalist sentiment rife these days in England and elsewhere. 

One highlight on Yard Act’s The Overload is a song called “Dead Horse” in which Yard Act vocalist James Smith turns British-isms against themselves as he continues his distinctive rap-sung spoken-word style. 

The last bastion of hope Britain has lies in both good humor and good music, he claims in the lyrics, as he also ponders “What becomes of the inhabitants of this once-unstoppable isle when all of its exports are no longer in style?” And finally, Smith adds, “We’re supposed to let it slide, because the press have normalized the idea that racism is something we should humor.” 

Though Wet Leg tends toward the personal, Yard Act gleefully tramples what remains of the British Empire — if Monty Python in the `70s knew the empire was dying, Yard Act understands it’s dead and bloated. 

But with far-right politicians scoring victories in Italy and elsewhere, the Russian-Ukrainian war still raging, and Trump threatening a 2024 run among other examples, both bands bookend an emerging Gen Z perspective on world affairs: With a whole life ahead of you, how to be young, humble and informed when the world seems to be falling apart around every corner, and most importantly, how to have fun while you’re at it. 

Around here, the accents are foreign, but the scenes they describe are all too familiar.

Yard Act performs with the New York band Gustaf behind their also excellent 2021 release Audio Drag for Ego Slobs 8:30 pm Friday, Oct. 7 at WOW Hall; $18 advance, $22 door, all-ages. Wet Leg plays 8 pm that same night at McDonald Theatre; $22 advance, $25 door, also all-ages.

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