A few weeks before releasing their fourth album 'Singles', a beautifully crafted synth-pop record, Future Islands performed on Letterman and became an overnight sensation. It wasn't so much the choice of song they played that gained them the deserved attention, but the eye-opening dance moves of the lead singer. The video now has over 1.5 million views on YouTube.
Standing in the front row of the cramped and sticky-floored Fleece rock venue in Bristol, with one hand on an amp and another protecting my camera from the pulsing wave of people behind me, I watched in awe as Samuel T. Herring unleashed an abundance of raw emotion vocally and physically.
Herring has the ability to lure you in with his soulful singing and then surprise you with unnerving roars similar to hardcore punk vocalists. But his physical presence is even more empowering. It's something you have to experience first hand to fully appreciate or understand.
It's not just the unique and sometimes strange dance moves that keep you transfixed on the frontman. Throughout his performances Herring aggressively pounds his chest, seductively sucks his fingers and even appears to attempt to tear off his face as if he's revealing a new version of himself, less emotionally damaged, perhaps. It all sounds unsettling and uncomfortable, to the uninitiated it may well be, but it doesn't take long for Herring to have you under his spell, mesmerised. But when Herring approaches you, kneels down within 12 inches of your face, singing and staring deep into your eyes, that's when you really start to feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Herring appears to search inside you, searching for a hint of weakness, strength, love or hatred. Something. Anything. It feels like he's making the most of the short time he has with the audience, luring us in to try and read his mind and trying to make some sort of emotional connection with each person, no matter how brief. When he stares at you, singing about love, lost or found, it's almost as if he asking 'do you understand?'. Yes, we do.
This was the first time I'd tried photographing a live show with my X100s. I won't lie. It wasn't easy. And the shots I got really don't capture the intensity. I don't think it's even possible. It's something you have to see with your own eyes. With the poor light available I opted to shoot in full manual mode. I planned on taking a few test shots of the support band (the highly energetic and hilarious, Ed Schrader's Music Beat) but being a two-man DIY punk band, they opted to play with a single desk lamp pointing up beneath them as their lighting set up...
When Future Islands hit the stage I started shooting. I managed to get some decent shots but my main target, Herring, moved around so quickly I struggled to nail the focus countless times. Autofocus was a no-go. I tried it but it struggled to quickly focus in such poor light and on such a fast moving subject. I attempted to zone focus (difficult as I was shooting wide open) and waited for Herring to hit the sweet spot. I got a few decent shots this way but after trying to focus a shot on the guitarist I never got that sweet spot back, even with focus peaking it was difficult.
Anyway, I managed to get a few shots I was happy with but after a while I was so engrossed in Future Islands' set I didn't even want to take any photos. But at least I picked up a few learning points for next time.
More photos below, including a few of Ed Schrader's Music Beat. Feedback always welcomed!