Fightmilk / Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something / Nervous Twitch – Dubrek, Derby – live review

Fightmilk / Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something / Nervous Twitch – Dubrek, Derby – live review

Fightmilk conclude their UK tour for 2021 album Contender with a last-minute date at Derby’s Dubrek with Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something and Nervous Twitch.

Line-up: Fightmilk with Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something and Nervous Twitch
Venue: Dubrek, Derby
Date: 28 November 2021

Fightmilk at Dubrek

Derby; on a wintery Sunday night where the roads are peaked and sparkling with recent snowfall set to ice as the temperature drops sub zero. The street is clad in deep shadows between haloed street lights, an alarm is ignored as it persistently sounds from one of the empty buildings. In this scene the low frontage and warm lights of Dubrek are a welcoming beacon with a bustle of figures within, the promise of music and community glowing, and toward which you are drawn.

It’s hard to believe tonight will be one of the last gigs in this building before the community is forced to move on and make room for a new development. It’s another DIY space deemed somewhat inconsequential in comparison to the mainstream, to commercial possibility. The assumption always that people won’t mourn the loss of such things when they are gifted with the Far Better Future Thing. They are wrong of course. Far from inconsequential, this place and others like it can be moved but not quashed, community will grow in any cracks and bloom regardless of rulings. We hold these places dear. They are spaces which remain a home: forever and authentically vital.

Tonight too has that vitality of spirit.

Now more than ever, live music feels defiant. Not in a combative way, but in joyful celebration at the return of gatherings, of making things happen against the odds. Here there are old friends, new friends, enjoying a cup of tea and altogether raising in the most wonderful sound the delight of making something from nothing. Elation and triumph flows through the music tonight, the air is thick with the feel of it.

Nervous Twitch

A much-loved live favourite tonight Nervous Twitch kick us off with a set of rounded-out surf-rock classics. Off the back of their self-titled fourth album, released at the start of 2021, they of course bring us the singles from it – Alright Lads with the weariness and heart of the familiar post-gig chat, Tongue Tied with its waves of surf-rock guitar – and the deeper album cuts too.

There is something so effortlessly cool about the band’s sound, a love letter to the retro sound at the heart of what they do, perfectly balanced to be referential without being staid. Short, sharp, and punchy songs leave no-one behind with infectious rhythms and racing riffs take a hold of you. If you get away with only a self conscious tapping of the foot you’ve a higher resistance than I to their catchiness.

For a band locked tightly into a certain sound they’ve found ways to widen their musical palette while staying true to it. On the latest record they range between surf-rock and synth punk, bringing in keys to a broader musical landscape. Live, it is all fast-paced tight AF, and immense fun. Working away on album number 5 there’s much curiosity about further explorations of their sound.

Nervous Twitch are a band often over-looked, but are one of the finest around right now. They have much humility in their presentation but without a note out of place tonight they impress with their fast-paced effortlessly cool set. If you’ve not caught them live before then make sure you add them to your must-see list, and in the meantime return to their catalogue for wry-humour and tons of energy.

Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something

Two years on from the release of album Oh Really, What’s That Then? Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something portend to being ‘obtuse mother fuckers’ as they eschew songs from it, for a set of newer material. They say they are playing songs they are ‘really proud of’ and it’s obvious why.

The Cosmic Something live are a squall of sound. An onslaught of guitar tethered to laid back bass as the rhythm lifts it all higher, sonorous vocals punch through lyrical insistence. Elements pull against each other, yet are working together too. To watch them is to be caught in the eye of this musical storm: there is no passive waiting it out, you are pulled right in, carried along, and tipped out the other side, wild with the lingering feel.

There are songs here dedicated to those who had to teach phonics to six-year-olds in lockdown, to shipping container freighters. These are songs of head and heart, glam-rock tinged ferocity and vulnerability crashing over you, consuming you.  Songs which face everything and rise: here with that defiance, joy, and vitality we’re all so needing and surrounded by tonight.

Building from that first album what we get tonight are vast songs which never sprawl, there is not a superfluous note here even while there is such a big soundscape in which to roam. The industry-wide delays in vinyl production are mentioned but this new album is on the way. Even with an unavoidable and somewhat indeterminate wait it’s something to be really, really excited for.


Taking the stage to the Grandstand theme tune the mood is set for Fightmilk.

A band with infinite on-stage charisma, they excel at acknowledging the individual awkwardness we’ve all felt sometime and through songs which compel you to sing-along made that the common ground on which we meet. They do it not with the oft-compared but self-important tone of Britpop and instead with the bold introspection of pre-guyliner era emotional hardcore, the soar of timeless anthemic indie. This is big melodic guitar riffs, striking runs of rhythm, and lyrics which swell those inner feelings with stories we all know. And in truth, whatever genres they draw from for their sound, there is no escaping Fightmilk are so much greater than the sum of those parts.

Fightmilk at DubrekThis is to say Fightmilk are one of the finest bands around, their songs full of intelligently playful lyrics woven into the catchiest of melodies. These songs are rich with subtle references to pop culture touchpoints, and warmed with humour to diffuse the emotions without ever diminishing them. Polished in all the right ways their energy is infectious and the bumpy road to release with album Contender is put well behind them in the elation of playing tonight.

We get plenty of tracks from it of course – Lucky Coin, Cool Cool Girl, Maybe, Overbite, title track Contender, and I’m Starting To Think You Don’t Even Want To Go To Space with Katy Perry’s Firework  playfully mashed in where on some versions a Tim Curry sample gives us the collective shout along. Tracks from the first album, 2018’s Not With That Attitude, get a run out too – How You Move On and Four Star Hotel just as gleeful and gratifying as ever. The band could have played twice as long and still not fully exploited all of the delights to be found in their catalogue: pop songs of the finest order only here.

The Derby date may have marked the end of the tour, the culmination of the Contender cycle in other ways too, but what tonight’s set does is make you really excited for the future of Fightmilk, and makes you miss their musical presence as soon as the last note ends.

A band who come from and belong to the indiepop scene – weaving in a shared moment of reflection for the loss of can crushing, owls, and Indietracks generally to their set tonight – but who deserve and need to be lifted beyond it. A joy to see them – and the other bands – in such a small community-focused venue, but who should rightfully be taking to bigger stages and playing to bigger audiences soon.


If you missed Fightmilk on tour (or just want to relive those moments) you can find their full Contender album launch show filmed at Paper Dress Vintage London is available to watch for free on the band’s YouTube channel.

Find Fightmilk: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Bandcamp | Spotify

Find Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Bandcamp | Spotify

Find Nervous Twitch: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Bandcamp | Spotify

Find Dubrek (moving to a new home, thankfully not totally lost): Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Live image: Pete Darrington
Video: Andrew Barlow

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Disclaimer: As well as being Popoptica Sarah Lay is co-founder and label manager at independent record label Reckless Yes, to which some of the bands featured are signed.

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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