2016: Wolfgang Flür/Promenade Cinema/The Department/Johnny
Normal/Circuit 3/Vogon Poetry/Meter Bridge/Shiny Darkness/3D/Neil
London - 10 September 2016
last year and a credit to all involved"
I couldn't believe it was a year ago that the first Electro London
festival took place. It seemed much more recent. Still vivid
memory. It was a great day and the organisers said there'd be a
follow-up this year. Not only did they live up to their promise but
they confirmed the entire line up pretty early with former Kraftwerk
member Wolfgang Flür headlining no less.
So the 200 tickets began moving quickly. Most sold out in the run up
but the final few were kept back on the door. But the nature of a
one-day festival (doors at 2pm, first band 2:30pm and final band on at
11:45 closing at 3am) is that the punters tend to come and go during
day. This meant that despite the relative intimacy of the venue it
never felt too packed.
I noticed the biggest crowds for when The Department were due on stage.
Since this was directly before Wolfgang Flür, I think it fair to say
that many were also ensuring they'd grabbed a decent vantage point for
the former Kraftwerk robotnik.
But let's rewind.
Doors were at 2pm, with first band Strobegirl
Heather Strobes) on at 2:30 for 30 minutes. I'd heard a couple of
Strobegirl tracks before today and her low-key folktronica style
appealed. Live she
was joined by Darren Badrock (of Illustrial) on synths, leaving Heather
to focus on
vocals, some percussion and the occasional synth piece. I wasn't
expecting a cover version of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game to open
the set and today's soundtrack, but it turned out to be a clever
choice. Clever because being a recognisable song it immediately grabbed
the attention of those unfamiliar with Strobegirl. And clever because
the way it had been interpreted sat seemlessly within the rest
of their dreampop set. Heather's strong voice well-suited to it too.
with Badrock) was a standout, with a digital Aboriginal vibe about it.
What I liked most about the set was that it never really sped up. I get
bored of bands who feel that have to focus on the higher
PBM/dancefloor friendly of their repertoire. In the case of Strobegirl,
that wasn't an issue since most of her songwriting resides in the
mid-to-low BPM zone. With her flowing black dress combined
flower headdress and shoulder-length hair it was obvious that Heather
is her own woman, and creating
her own sound. A very
promising way to begin the proceedings.
Strobegirl setlist: Wicked
Game (Chris Issacs cover), Dreamscape, All Gone Wrong,
Stars For You, Heaven Today, Alice
[L-R]: Strobegirl, Neil Francis, 3D
Next up was one Neil Francis
who was introduced as if we all ought to
know who he is. At first, I didn't. It was only when he got to his
cover version of Erasure's A
Little Respect, that the penny dropped.
Francis is the guy who grabbed media headlines in December 2014 when he
singing the Erasure song on the London underground having
just seen the band live. After his
half hour on stage many won't have easily forgotten his name. (This was
for all the right reasons!) Accurately, billed as a 'PA' rather than a
live performance, this was indeed just Francis singing to a backing
track. I'd rarely give much attention to 'karaoke' acts, but this blew
Anyone who has heard Francis will focus on his remarkable voice. And it
impressive. When he performed Deadener
I realised I had heard
this song before but hadn't registered it was Francis. Keeping with the
karaoke theme, he announced he'd include a few cover versions. And they
were well-chosen to fully showcase his excellent voice. Erasure's A
Little Respect and Yazoo's Don't Go were
indeed choice, if not altogether
The high point though was a stunning version of the OMD classic Joan of
Arc (Maid of Orleans)
that finished the set. Not only were the vocals
superb (a given by now), but the most impressive feat was how all the
original musical elements had been re-recorded. These were structurally
faithful to the original recording, by that I mean all the elements
were present, but they had been recreated from scratch. The metallic
sounding percussion and lead emlody in particular were incredible.
Possibly better than the
original. I've heard OMD perform the song live several times. Honestly,
this was up there as one of the best 'live' versions I've ever heard.
Amazing talent – and we were only at 3.50 in the afternoon.
Neil Francis setlist: Ghost,
Love Action (Human League cover), Don't Go
(Yazoo cover), Connected
(Put Your Hands Up), Deadener, A Little
Respect (Erasure cover), Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)
3D are a
two-piece coming from the Medway towns in Kent, UK. One half
of the band is Dean Clarke who is also behind the interesting minimal
electronic outfit Brutalist Architecture In The Sun (and who's debut
gig I attended a couple of months ago). Here he leaves lead
to the other member Thomas Kelly – who'd caught my eye earlier with his
creative dancing along to Strobegirl and Neil Francis.
Complementing those moves is a sharp, distinctive look. A slim chap,
sporting drainpipe trousers, some well-sculpted facial hair, a trilby
hat, and some disturbingly piercing eyes, he would have blended in
perfectly outside on the streets of hipsterville Hoxton. It was good to
see someone on the electronic music scene rocking the dandy look. It
made a refershing sartorial change.
Musically, this was equal measures inventive, wacky, and entertaining.
Not that this was a total tongue-in-cheek experience, rather that
lyrically and presentationally 3D, did their own thing entirely, which
was undoubtedly quirky, but this didn't overshadow the quality of the
By the end of the set Kelly had removed his hat, along with his jacket
and shirt, revealing a lean torso wrapped in black and yellow striped
warning tape. All of this effort was welcome and provided they can
broaden their lyrics beyond focusing on the confines of their regional
homeland, who know where this project could end up. One of the high
points of the day for me (as much for the attitude as the music).
3D setlist: The Next
New Thing, High Street, Medwave, City@Night, I
Confess, Ugly Nature
[L-R]: Shiny Darkness, Meter Bridge, Vogon Poetry
French synthpop band Shiny
Darkness have been going a little while now.
I first caught them at the BASII festival in 2012. They come
Lille in France but gig fairly often in the UK, but rarely in central
London, meaning this was only the second time I'd managed to catch them
live after that 2012 gig.
They developed nicely since then and I only recognised one song in
today's set from that era – the memorable and still strong Prayer For
My Imaginary World. The influence of Depeche Mode
seers through the
lifeblood of Shiny Darkness and lead vocalist Sebastien Deruwez in
particular. He has all the credentials for being a successful front man
and does a decent job delivering the songs (with guitar on a couple of
numbers) and looking the part too.
Katerina Pantazis adds a welcome female dimension, frequently sharing
vocal duties as well as synths, effects and drum pads to the live
instrumentation. On the other side of the stage is the quiet one,
Olivier Jacques, who delivers most of the live synths and some backing
vocals. Season 4
is their latest album, so no surprise that the setlist
relied upon that a fair bit.
Finishing their set with the cracking single Mother from their
2013 album New Substance
was a wise choice as it is still a stand out. This is a
solid piece of pop songwriting artfully utilising a great hookline,
all the more memorable (and interactive) with nostalgic and judicious
use of real handclaps.
Shiny Darkness setlist: The
Place, Highs and Lows, You Can Travel The World, Prayer For My
Imaginary World, Black Swan, Dirty Morning, Another World, Mother
travelled all the way from Canada especially to appear at the
festival, Meter Bridge
earned respect before they'd event taken to the
stage. Fortunate then, that having come all that way, that they turned
out to be one the highlights of the day. This female/male two-piece
worked off a large table that was filled with intriguing looking
equipment. Perhaps the most praise I can give Meter Bridge is that they
genuinely sound unique to me. I really cannot think of another band
that sounds similar to them. (If there is then I'd like to hear them
Richard Kleef formed the band in 2011 and Jill Beaulieu quickly joined,
both share musical and vocal duties, which makes for an interesting
dynamic live. Even though they were positioned behind their technology
table, they were captivating. Their voices complement one another and
the music they create is an unusual and original take on modern
electronic dance music but heavily tempered (both style and tempo wise)
by post-punk and industrial music. The results
are unpredictable and all the more fascinating for it. Are
they the new underground? Quite possibly.
Meter Bridge setlist: Secret,
Sincerely Yours, Filter, Kite, It Was Nothing, Frequent Seas, Beta
Test, Nothing New
Swedish three-piece Vogon
Poetry were followed by one-man band from
Ireland Circuit 3. Taking their name from Douglas Adams' cult novel The
Hitchikers' Guide To The Galaxy turned out to be the most
thing about Vogon Poetry. If light-hearted melodic synthpop heavily
demonstrating its 80s influences does it for you then you'll be fine,
but for whatever reason, I wasn't captured.
Likewise for Peter Fitzpatrick aka Circuit
3. I was startled by his
dazzling, multicoloured wardrobe – which made for some great photo and
video opportunities when combined with his projections. Dressing like a
jarring cross between Roger Mellie (The Man Off
The Telly) from Viz comic and Max Headroom (as much as I admire those
two role models) is a brave look to try and pull off!
Since his current album is entitled Siliconchipsuperstar,
I think it safe to assume that Fitzpatrick doesn't take himself too
seriously, and the organisers had scheduled him well, following on
directly from Vogon Poetry. If you liked them then you'd probably also
liked Circuit 3 – and there were a vocal bunch that quite obviously
did. Extra credit for playing a decent amount of the synth parts live,
given there were only one pair of hands on stage.
[L-R]: Circuit 3, Johnny Normal, The Department
I'd seen Johnny Normal
just a couple of weeks previously
at the Infest
Festival in Bradford, so wasn't surprised to hear that his
was the same bar one song, Save
Me, featuring Neil Francis who was on
earlier, on vocals.
Again showcasing his latest album, a synth-heavy interpretation of Adam
and The Ants' Kings of
The Wild Frontier; what especially struck me
this time around was how adaptable Normal's voice is. Wisely choosing
not to do an imitation of Adam Ant on the three covers, he nevertheless
gave his voice just the right amount of intonation that meant you
recognised it was a homage to Adam Ant.
And the covers are different enough, thus avoiding those that fawningly
seek only to imitate the originals and, in doing do, invariably come
off as poor imitations. Antmusic
in particular is quite a different
beast to the original with added BPMs for good measure.
Johnny Normal setlist: Ants
Invasion (Ants cover), Remember Me, Alive, Save Me
(w/ Neil Francis), The
London Sound, Killer In The Home (Ants cover), Miss Razorblade, Don't Blow It,
Robot Rock, Antmusic (Ants cover)
Having expanded into a three-piece after former Naked Lunch
Cliff Chapman having relocated, The
Department continue to build on
their strengths. Rob Green always fronts the band well and his passion
for music comes across all the time. Always visibly giving 100% on
stage is an asset when your backed by two, low key synth players. And
it works really well.
I'm not sure why neither Chapman or his Swedish counterpart Magnus
Lindstrom get to play the wonderful hookline melody on Slow Down – I'd
love to actually hear that played live – it is one of Green's finest
tunes after all. It was clear from the audience reaction that The
Department are steadily building a faithful following.
There were a few jokes about the band having expanded to a four-piece,
as centre stage, for the first time, was a Revox reel-to-reel tape
recorder. A much fetishised piece of equipment in electronic band
circles, I've seen several gigs when it is only on stage for image
value – not actually contributing anything to the live sound. But here
it not only cleverly contained Green's own harmonised backing vocals
but drums, bass synth and some arpeggio sequences too. Very nice.
Beyond the existing favourites, fans will have been delighted to have
heard the first ever performance of new song Pressure, (with
some scattering percussion recalling Depeche
nudges the band's style forward nicely, and bodes well for
three are contributing regularly to the writing. It was discernable
that familiar songs in the set are still being tweaked for live
performance. It's this kind of attention to detail that helps define
their live sound. It was also the first
time they'd played live and didn't include their memorable
single As If Transformed.
An admirable (and well-founded) act of
confidence in the rest of their material.
The Department setlist: Don't
Give Up, Glass Houses, Not For You, Pressure, Days of Liberty, Slow
Down, This Be The Verse, When You're Not There
[L-R]: Wolfgang Flür x 2, Promenade Cinema
Former Kraftwerk member Wolfgang
Flür's performance split the audience
into those who were loving seeing one of their heroes (and, let's face
it, a bone fide electronic music legend) in a terrifically intimate
setting, and those who were gutted that this was just a DJ set rather
than an actual live performance.
Having seen Flür do the same thing in January last year
(coincidentally, just a couple of doors down the road also in Hoxton
Sqaure) and loving that I was prepared for the same thing here. Which
is what I got. Sure, it would have been nice to hear a proper live set,
especially since Flür has released some of his finest writing on his
most recent album, Eloquence,
released last year by Cherry Red.
Nevertheless, I was happy enough.
Others though were not. It didn't help that there was some technical
issues for Herr Flür. It wasn't clear if it was possible
to resolve them, so with pretty much everything coming from his two
Apple Macs on stage, this left little for Flür to actually do live.
Consequently, there was a more arm waiving and dance moves than before
– which only played into the hands of the detractors. Sadly, I couldn't
stop for the last band, but already Electro London 2016 had surpassed
last year and was a credit to all involved.
Review: Rob Dyer
As Rob had to catch his last train home, the duty to review Promenade
Cinema’s performance fell to myself. I should state that
during the day
I suffered an attack of gout, and due to this I would have left earlier
(I have already seen Wolfgang Flürs 'Music Soldat' set several times)
but one of the key reasons for attending was to see Promenade Cinema so
I held on. I am so glad I did, I have heard Emma and Dorian’s music
before, but to see them to perform live was great. Their voices
complement each other beautifully and there electronic sound, is an
absolutely spot on mix of electronic “pop” and classically constructed
sounds and music.
All the songs were great and I particularly like Words of A Stranger
and As the World Stops
One of the benefits of being the final act was there was an opportunity
for a spontaneous encore! 'Somebody's
Watching My Poker Face', a
medley of Somebody
by Rockwell and Poker
Face by Lady Gaga – which was both delightful and musical.
All I can
say, is despite the pain in my foot, I stood up to watch the entire set
and wished I could have danced along, but I did purchase their limited
edition (hand Dymo’d) EP so maybe I can dance along this weekend - have
to say their performance was highlight of show along with The
Promenade Cinema setlist: Norway,
The Words Of A Stranger, Leaving Notes,
Chemical Haunting, The Quiet Silently Wait, To The Last, Gentleman, As
The World Stops Revolving, Somebody's Watching Me
8/10 for the
Review: Rob Dyer
Photos: © AIWS
Cinema review + Photo: Mark Smith
See also: Electro
London 2015 (Festival)