Live Review: Mammoth Penguins at Fusion Arts, Oxford

It’s been four years since their debut album Hide and Seek was released on London superpower label Fortuna Pop! and now Mammoth Penguins are back with the brilliant There’s No Fight We Can’t Win, teaming up this time with Fika Recordings. The Cambridge based trio are Mark Boxall on bass, Tom Barden on drums and Emma Kupa (also of The Hayman Kupa Band & Standard Fare). Beyond Emma’s collaboration with Darren Hayman and the many successes with Standard Fare, Mammoth Penguins also released a concept album John Doe in 2017, diving into new rhythms, harmonies, synth samples and nuanced instrumental moments with friends, Sophie Barkerwood of Haiku Salut, Russell Lomas and Joe Bear. Tonight we’re tucked behind a vibrant Cowley Road in Fusion Arts, a hidden pearl of a venue with a nostalgic charm reminiscent of Indietracks’ tiny stages and their best starry night moments. It’s this intimacy bound with punk directness that makes it an instant perfect setting for everyone’s favourite indiepop band, supported brilliantly by the local acoustic gem Aphra and a whirlwind of sounds from Birds of Hell.

With the first beats of the drums, we’re thrown back to 2015 pining for all those indie nights and their hazy, dancing memories with the debut album’s punk tune ‘Strength in My Legs’ and the brilliantly upbeat, pop hit ‘Played’, inducing nostalgic smiles across the room. All of our hearts start beating faster to the lonely ‘The Sailor’, the only track played from the band’s concept album tonight. It pulses through our veins with Emma’s raw and powerful vocals alongside the song’s rhythmic bass lines, sending soothing beats through our bodies, reminding us of the album’s intricate and utterly lovely layers of samples, loops and synths.


It is with their latest release, however, and the thunderous three marvels of ‘I Wanna’, ‘I Put It All On You’ and ‘Closure’ that the brilliance of Mammoth Penguins shoots right through us with a disarming honesty of sound and emotion that push you into a beaming smile, a cry you can’t help but let out or a dance where you forget where you are for those few minutes when the raw, candid sound is everything that exists in the world. Emma runs us through confessions of friendships, relationships, those lost and new, growing up and staying young with the fervour and beauty of their punk gallop. Her poetry is drowned in the heartbeat of pop. The chapel-like room fills with cheers as this perfect moment hung up in time ends, and the crowd are begging for more beyond the early Sunday curfew. With the last breaths of tonight, the memories hit again with the first verses of ‘Cries at the Movies’ to everyone’s joy, Mammoth Penguins throwing us off into a brisk spring night with hearts filled with the night’s romance, longing for more.

Review & Photography by Anna Siemiaczko

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