The whole point of Onetwo appears to be "Let's have some fun". Since both Paul Humphries and Claudia Brücken have made all the artistic musical statements they need (via OMD and Propaganda respectively) decades ago, they're both at that place in life where they can relax and just focus on what it is brings them pleasure and if anyone else likes it too then great.
Promoter and DJ Frankie D reveling in his 70s and 80s retro sounds quickly warmed up the stylish if modestly-sized crowd. Darrin Huss of Psyche (again!) and Andy (Erasure) Bell were in attendance adding additional celebrity to this gathering. There was a buzz building even before the support took to the stage.
Hotel Motel quickly established themselves as 80s influenced but very much standing on their own distinctive with their easy listening electro pop sound. A stylish three piece who switched between instrumentation including a (rare on this scene) saxophone. The latter featuring heavily and effectively on the second song which imaginatively utilised triggering synth backing - further proof of their love for the 1980s. This combined with Marika Gauchi's strong lead vocals and inventive structures meant that Hotel Motel easily held the attention of the partisan crowd. Her enthusiasm and keenness to engage the audience worked well and quickly won over new converts. Myself included. As Gauchi said: "Check us out on Google or something".
Although Onetwo had nothing to prove, that didn't stop them caring about the presentation. There was a cool, minimalist stage set up with two huge synths up front and four Apple notebooks behind them. Humphries and Brücken were joined by three black-clad men who switched between notebooks, keyboards and guitars as the song demanded. The setting too was striking. Too2Much is the obscure name given to the former Raymond Revue (read nude floorshow) bar - which was about as close as you could come to an English Heritage site for adult entertainment.
This was fantastic place to hold a gig and had the feeling of a private party. And that décor! Think total glamour. Think Deco kitsch meets Rococo mix. Think glitter balls, purple velvet drapes, pole dancing tables, mirrors and plush chairs. Even the toilets were shiny, and with several tables drinking from chilled bottles of champagne - this wasn't what you'd call your average Flag event.
From the superb mellow mid-tempo opener with its effective backing vocals and onto the second song with its Morse code beeping intro, this could have been early OMD. It was immediately apparent just how much Onetwo had progressed from their 2004 London appearance. At risk of sounding tactless, this was way better than before. The newer material easily eclipsed the earlier stuff. Whereas at the first gig you were politely listening to the Onetwo songs but really only waiting to hear an OMD or Propaganda number, this time, I was quite content listening to the Onetwo material. Anything else was a bonus.
This was shaping up to be a great gig and there hadn't been any 80s classics yet! The emphasis, like the principals' older bands, is on melody. The songwriting remains understated and impressive. It wasn't all just synths either. The third track was made memorable thanks in large part to a terrific live guitar.
Still, there was no way they were going to get away from performing some OMD and Propaganda material, and Messages was the first to get an airing. This version started slower and went on to be a bass-heavy affair with shimmering vocals from Claudia. "The great thing about working with Claudia is I get to play songs like this..." said Paul before launching himself into the keyboards on Mabuse. This was exhilarating - a firm reminder of just how fine Propaganda's work was at their peak. Hearing all those original sounds through the brilliant Too2Much sound system was just fantastic.
One new song with its Kraftwerkian Showroom Dummies-like German intro and dialing telephone proved there is plenty of great electronic alternative pop song writing still in them. Good enough to grace any OMD or Propaganda album long since gone by. P-Machinery was superb and very bassy. Have A Cigar, a left-field Pink Floyd cover about the capitalist side of the music industry, ironically was the most beat-driven number so far. But that was immediately outdone by another Onetwo feel good track based around a dance music vibe, although this was more 70s disco than 90s e-music. Even tracks from their debut EP had been subtly but effectively tweaked. Only Cloud 9's drifting melody was on the lightweight side. Paul's sharp piano playing on If You Leave went down a storm. There was also the Act cover Snobbery and Decay which was perhaps more Pet Shop Boys than anything else.
In spite of decades of live performances behind her, Claudia Brücken still occasionally strikes a slightly uncomfortable figure on stage. Only when she truly gets into a song and drops her inhibitions does she seem truly at ease performing. When her vocals really come alive is when she belts them out rather than uses her softer voice. Humphries was obviously really enjoying himself throughout. His between song chatter demonstrated his complete lack of pretension, yet he always respects the songwriting - not afraid to stop a song and start afresh if it wasn't going as he wanted.
The rendition of Propaganda's A Secret Wish was a pure joy and pretty much summed this evening up. I know some are wary of revisiting favourite artists from their youth, but when it gets this good I cannot think of any reason why you shouldn't indulge yourself. Besides, the Onetwo project is really coming into its own and is worth the price of admission alone. A brilliant night's entertainment and contender for gig of the year. 8/10
Onetwo - Islington Academy, London - 30 September 2004