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A huge glitterball hangs from the ceiling of the Deaf Institute’s upstairs room. Making last-minute adjustments to her table of electronics, an anorak-clad Trish Keenan glances up at it and frowns. Time was when you might have been forgiven for thinking that Broadcast would welcome such a stage accessory, would revel in the flecks of light waltzing serenely across stage and audience as mirror to a sound poised impeccably between The United States of America, frosty Gallic lounge-pop and the plaintive theme of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).
But having shed members until 2005’s Tender Buttons found them reduced to the core duo of Keenan and James Cargill, a leaner, braver Broadcast have emerged. Instead of wearing their influences as an (admittedly cool) set of threads, they’ve used them to delve inwards and unlock the secrets of pop’s unconscious: the unsaid, the half-pictured, the things you tried to forget. This fragmented, hallucinatory side came to full disorientating fruition on the recent Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, a team-up with long-term visual foil Julian House, whose alter-ego as Ghost Box artist The Focus Group explores similar hauntological dark corners through cut-up library music.
So it’s off with the glitterball, and on with stark, silhouetted branches and harsh light that flickers in and out of negative, as Broadcast improvise a soundtrack to House’s short film Winter Sun Wavelengths. Clad now in their stage garb – a white tunic for Keenan, some natty boffin knitwear for Cargill – the pair flank the screen, Cargill coaxing hypnotic oscillations from his Korg, Keenan deftly juggling effects and chanting in sweetly threatening Witch Cults style. As the film switches between mundane hedgerows where evil lurks around every corner and queasily rotating Op Art circles, the music builds to an oppressive density. Too bad that a slightly underpowered PA makes the whole experience less immersive than it should have been.
Any audience fidgeting abruptly ends, however, as the screen bursts into rainbow colour and Broadcast launch seamlessly into ‘Corporeal’. This may be the ‘pop’ half of the set, but the songs are drawn from the more cryptic end of the catalogue, with ‘Papercuts’ and ‘The Book Lovers’ cast aside in favour of Tender Buttons and tour EP Mother Is The Milky Way. New song ‘In Here The World Begins’ sees Keenan step centre-stage, bathing in pools of projected colour as she muses languidly about “A dream within a dream”. As ever, her blankness is knowing, and deceptive: the patterns may play upon her face and tunic like a living Rorschach test, but the complexity comes from beneath, bubbling up in the symbolist imagery of ‘Black Cat’. As Cargill throws on a guitar for the needling riff, she stretches the line “Curiouser and curiouser” out like an Alice marvelling at her own Wonderland.
‘Lunch Hour Pops’ from HaHa Sound follows, sung low and sinister as its merry arpeggios accompany vintage animation of nuclear fisson in reverse. Then Witch Cults’ gauzy ‘Royal Chant’ gives way to a finale in which Keenan brandishes a dulcimer-like instrument and proceeds to thrash out a tinny motorik groove. Exorcism or invocation? That’s a question Broadcast are still asking in their own beguiling way.
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