Riviera F, Ex-Rental, and SchmoofEdit this event
They’re calling it "electroclash" because it is imagined that this will make it more acceptable to the knowing ‘00s audience than if it were marketed as what it is (synth pop, and a good deal of blatant retro styling at that). Well, if they must. It may make a good temporary buzzword, but if you’re there to see any of the bands in particular then you’re a committed fan of chirpy, squiggly, squelchy noises and you know it. Unfortuntely, it becomes more and more evident that the technology is not going to live up to the techno-pop image; the vocals are drowned almost completely, the sound changes according to where you stand, and the balance is all wrong. Perhaps just birthing problems, but a damper nonetheless.
Openers Vic 20 appear a little intimidated by the setting, but you could halve their energy and still get more than the average band, so no problem there. They set the tone with the red lights on their miniature synths that flash in time, gleeful boy-girl vocals, and songs about text messages. Lo-fi hi-fi. It’s fun and it’s good. Schmoof are also a happy-go-lucky duo. They’re totally unashamed about their musical origins (“Our next gig is at the Eighties Night… why do you think that is?”) and writhe about sexily, caricaturing themselves to the point where all you can do is grin insanely. Their songs are totally transparent, one idea in a few repeated words affairs, but you can’t help but love them for it. The final touch is a huge video projection of blocky Tetris-style figures acting out each song in an random pixellated rampage. Genius.
Ex-Rental are, to all intents and purposes, more of the same but fail on the grounds of taking the whole thing more seriously than is warranted. "This is for any Stereophonics fans who took the wrong turning at Trafalgar Square!" they announce, before launching into another slick synth number. But it feels out of place and time… they’re preaching to the converted, and altogether seem too self-conscious to fit into the “just because” spirit of what went before. Something about it harks back too strongly to the mid-Nineties, when this could still have been futurism rather than furious niche-digging. It’s the manifesto you give your mirror before you go out, sure, but it’s one we know already.
Also failing to look like they’re having fun are Riviera. They have their moments (they have one and two half songs, to be precise) but they still leave me feeling worn down and dissolute. I think it’s the sheer lack of passion in their music, a studied poise without any compulsiveness in the songs themselves to make it endearing. Which might be okay, but the ‘study’ is all too obvious - they look more lost and miserable than glacial. It sounds harsh, but there are only two ways to respond to a band who come across as so aloof that they refuse even to enjoy the sounds they’re making themselves: idolatry or hostility. They’re ultra-cool, of course, but so were a lot of the great electronic pop bands when they started out, and they still managed to be human too; it was precisely the opposition between the clinical sound and the flawed wonder of, say, Marc Almond or Sarah Cracknell that made you stop and listen. Riviera may go far, because they have precisely the sort of chilly modernist attitude espoused by people who come up with words like “electroclash” to disguise any artistic debt to anyone else at all. But will success give them an iota of enthusiasm? Unlikely.
Finally, Motormark take the stage, last in a long continuous line – or so we think until the first wave of frantic distortion and squealing hits us. Motormark consist, in the words of my companion, of “a boy who thinks it’s funny to wear a skirt and a girl who thinks it’s funny to be in a band with a boy who wears a skirt” (not entirely fair; it's a kilt), and _damn are they scary. If Kevin Rowlands couldn’t get away with his dress, then this sub-Minty effort should really think twice about the hula hoops in hems. But no matter: they’re obviously ‘art’, hence meant to be difficult, or else simply having a massive and public laugh. Perhaps it’s just too late and the cocktails are too strong. Either way, they prove to be the final straw and we escape gladly into the night. It’s definitely going to be worth returning – better to be alternately cheered and depressed than simply to think “oh” – but let’s just hope the next one features audible vocalists. It might even cheer the poor bands up.