Held in collaboration with Bombshell Radio, Portobello Radio and The Electricity Club, artists and enthusiasts from around the world made the trip to London and were welcomed by Rusty Egan for one of his famed DJ sets for those who like it electronic. An event’s quality can often be reflected by its clientele and among those attending were Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR and CLIENT fame, Grammy Award winning graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook and Rudi Esch, author of ‘Electri_City – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music’.
As the event’s wild card entry, Norwegian post-punk combo ANTIPOLE opened Synth Wave Live 2; with their own imprint Unknown Pleasures Records, they have openly worn their influences on their sleeves. Being first on meant they bore the brunt of the sound issues, but they soldiered on admirably with tracks from their appropriated titled ‘Northern Flux’ album, playing to a good turnout for so early in the afternoon.
Regular Artefaktor Radio DJs Rob Green and Andrew Maley then appeared consecutively with their respective musical vehicles THE DEPARTMENT and REAL EXPERTS.
With regular keyboardist Cliff Chapman and new addition Pete Dolan, Green showcased some excellent new compositions including the punchy electro of ‘Take My Hand’ and the snap Schaffel of ‘Pressure’, set to be the lead track on a new EP by THE DEPARTMENT, before finishing with the chromatic ‘When You’re Not There’.
Meanwhile REAL EXPERTS took a different approach to their previous live sets, augmented by female vocalists from the duos DESTINATION and FOURTH ENGINE on songs such as ‘If I Don’t Go (I Can’t Come Back)’ and ‘In Pieces’ from the recent ‘Watch This Space’ EP. With hints of more dance and pop oriented sub-genres, Maley’s collective are certainly unlike other acts who are usually associated with the synthesizer.
Dark synthpop pairing THE FRIXION opened with a great new number provisionally named ‘Magic’ before impressing further with songs from their debut EP and a crowd singalong cover of HOWARD JONES ‘What Is Love?’.
In a performance which saw the duo of Gene Serene and Lloyd Price go up a gear since their live debut last Spring, their enticing Kylie goes Gothic pop as exemplified by ‘If U Ever Wonder’ and ‘Deceive a Believer’ certainly won over new fans, while the eerie swung rhythms of ‘We Walk A Line’ pointed towards the spectre of Cold War Berlin. Speaking of Germany, Synth Wave Live 2 hosted the first UK performance of songstress KATJA VON KASSEL since Autumn 2010.
Backed by ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, the ensemble led by Chris Payne, keyboard player for GARY NUMAN between 1979-1990 and co-writer of VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’, it was a perfect half hour set that began with some of Payne’s own straight-to-the-point synthpop about roundabouts and space invaders.
Fraulein von Kassel then joined them to perform all three songs from her superb ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP which was produced by Payne. With the electro Weimer Cabaret of the EP’s title track recalling the neu romantisch poise of a bygone era, it was highly fitting that the audience were treated afterwards to a much appreciated cover of ‘Fade To Grey’. Despite not being credited, Payne had actually played the original VISAGE track’s iconic synth bassline and string pads using a Polymoog.
Including many of their best songs to date from their three album career, Swedish trio VOGON POETRY took their ‘Hitchhikers Guide To The Glaxy’ themed synthpop on The Heart of Gold to London to wax lyrical about ‘Life, The Universe & Everything’.
Wonderfully co-ordinated in their 19th century European military garb and demonstrating that delightful dry Scandinavian sense of humour no doubt assisted by a dash of Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, ‘Hyperspace Bypass’ and ‘Dangers Of Space’ were particularly well received; but a performance of the anthemic and emotive ‘Spit It Out’ originally by IAMX provided another highlight.
Danish duo SOFTWAVE who played the inaugural event in 2017 were back and brimming with confidence on the much larger stage, they pair showcased a number of brand new songs.
Fronted by the vivacious Catrine Christensen whose smile simply lit up the room, ‘Follow You’, ‘Awake But Still Asleep ‘and ‘On And On And On’ provided the points of familiarity while the previously unheard ‘Reflected Memories’, ‘Still Beside You’ and ‘No Need To Hide’ were marker points to SOFTWAVE’s artisticl progression, particularly in partner Jerry Olsen’s production and in the songs’ overall musicality.
Welsh duo SHELTER led by the flamboyant Mark Bebb and ably partnered by Rob Bradley on keytar presented an improved starker and darker SHELTER, a direction that was first indicated with the brilliant ‘Karma’ which penetrated the airwaves in 2017.
Beginning in earnest with high octane synthy trance ‘In The Dark’, ‘Ascend’ came complete with a blistering synth solo courtesy of Bradley, while the more solemn ‘Soar’ was another of the songs from their upcoming long player performed at Synth Wave Live 2. Throughout the set, Bebb demonstrated a passionate restraint that complimented the mood of this edgier material while Bradley made occasional brave forays into the lively audience itself.
The energetic Britalo of KNIGHT$ took Synth Wave Live 2 into full Saturday night mode, partying like it was 1987 with James Knights reimagining the work of Tuscan Europop pioneer SAVAGE with a Home Counties accent.
The glitzy glitterball stomp of ‘Alligator’ and ‘Playin’ it Cool’ were just the tonic after the snow and storms of March. Meanwhile on the effervescent ‘What’s Your Poison?’ and an enjoyable rendition of PET SHOP BOYS ‘Heart’, the former SCARLET SOHO front man was joined by local disco lungsmith Nyema Kalfon, who delightfully acted as KNIGHT$ very own Sylvia Mason-James. With a debut album supported via Pledge Music on the way, KNIGHT$ will provide some much needed escapist colour in the current sociopolitical climate.
TINY MAGNETIC PETS were another Synth Wave Live returnee from 2017 although last time, their lovely singer Paula Gilmer had flu which affected the band’s performance. But this time, she was in fine voice and it was as if there was double the passion in compensation for the appreciative crowd.
Their headline set included the cosmic synth prog of ‘Semaphore’ and the delightful ‘Never Alone’. With a new live album ‘Pink / White’ just released which was recorded during their tour opening for OMD , many of its featuring songs were aired. To end a great evening, there was the bonus of a brand new song ‘Falling Apart In Slow Motion’ for the encore, before Chris Payne was welcomed onto the stage again to join TINY MAGNETIC PETS for their own Emerald electro reprise of ‘Fade To Grey.
The best electronic events are always those curated by electronic music enthusiasts, which is what Synth Wave Live 2 was. Supported throughout the day by DJ Lynda K and director of visuals by Flix1202’s Will Cunningham, this was possibly one of the best events of its kind which The Electricity Club has attended during the eight years of its existence.
Synth Wave Live 2 was not just any old normal event. The overall quality of the line-up spoke for itself, as did the audience whose inherent good taste persuaded them to came along to join in the fun.
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price and Chi Ming Lai
11th April 2018