Life & Culture

Remembering Sam Mehran of Test Icicles

With Mehran’s tragic passing, British underground music has lost an incomparable voice, writes Tom Connick

For a generation of left-of-centre indie kids, the strained chords that ring in Test Icicles’ Circle. Square. Triangle. will be forever embedded in their skull. The London trio brought excitement and experimentalism to sweaty indie-disco dancefloors across the country, soundtracking a lurid teenagehood of glow sticks and alcopops. And while Test Icicles’ hasty dissolution might have led frontman Dev Hynes onto his Blood Orange project (via an equally short-lived solo stint as Lightspeed Champion), and drummer Rory Attwell into a role as underground indie’s most sought-after young producer, it’s guitarist Sam Mehran – who has tragically passed away, aged just 31 – whose talent was most integral to that legacy.

Test Icicles, and their sole album For Screen Purposes Only (2005), arrived on the cusp of ‘indie landfill’ – a harrowing time in British music which, post-Arctic Monkeys, saw labels clamouring to sign any soundalike they could dig up, flooding the airwaves with middle English bores, each more uninspired than the last. It was a time that saw British guitar music’s reputation crushed under the weight of its own characterlessness. For Screening Purposes Only acted as an escape route – Mehran’s twisted guitar lines were the light at the end of the tunnel.

From the cacophonous introduction of Your Biggest Mistake, through to the barbed-wire likes of What’s Your Damage? and Sharks, via the otherworldly anthemia of singles Boa vs. Python and Circle. Square. Triangle., For Screening Purposes Only was a shapeshifting mass of noise, jagged melody and oil-slick transitions. In the hands of almost any other guitarist it would surely have ruptured at the seams, but through Mehran’s it became a calling card for a swathe of young kids turned off by the simplistic nature and passionless delivery of radio rock. It energised the underground in a way guitar music has largely failed to muster since, but, dig below the surface, and Test Icicles’ influence can still be felt today. Every math-rock wunderkind, garage rock thrasher and chaotic post-hardcore band propping up the country’s toilet circuit owes Mehran’s talent a debt.

To pin all Mehran’s glory on his two years in Test Icicles would be reductive, though. After that group splintered, he went on to produce some of his most captivating and kaleidoscopic works under alternate monikers such as Matrix Metals and Outer Limits Recordings – the latter of which saw Mehran flirt with everything from Bowie-esque pomp on tracks like Julie, to glitched-out lo-fi electronica on 2010’s Foxy Baby. That spasmodic energy that once made Test Icicles such a captivating prospect found numerous new homes, Mehran never content to settle. Whether it found an outlet in the blissful psychedelia of Matrix Metals’ Flamingo Breeze or the avant-noise of Flashback Repository, each release captured a new side to this musical mutator – one whose oddities and eccentricities were core to his creative being.

With Mehran’s tragic passing, British underground music has lost an incomparable voice – one whose works will stand up as testament to the power of pure and passionate creative freedom.