It is always great to see a promising young band that has been mentioned on these very pages get an invitation to open for an established act. It’s a sign of approval, a validation of musical credibility but above all, an opportunity to make an impression. Both MIRRORS and VILLA NAH were featured on The Electricity Club several months before they supported OMD in 2010 while the same happened with KATJA VON KASSEL for ERASURE in 2011.
BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur has always been one for looking forward musically. In a recent interview with The Electricity Club, he reflected how gatherings featuring classic AND new electronic acts such as last year’s Godiva Festival with HEAVEN 17 BLANCMANGE and MIRRORS or Sinners Day over in Belgium were the credible alternative to the dreaded Remember The Here & Now circuit. And with that ethos in mind, it was TEC favourites CURXES who were accorded special guest honours at BLANCMANGE’s Brighton Komedia show last Autumn. Tonight at the O2 Islington Academy, it was the turn of STRANGERS, a smart London based trio who have been much talked about recently within the electro community. And in a rather bizarre case of synchronicity, CURXES’ Macaulay Hopwood appeared as guest bassist for STRANGERS!
Singer David Maddox-Jones projected a presence akin to a less intense brother of MIRRORS’ James New crossed with the mystique of a young Rod Steiger. Animated enough to connect with the audience, along with his colleagues Raife Hacking on electronic percussion and Piers S Robert on keyboards, ‘It Was A Sin’ and ‘If I Found Love’ were the perfect uptempo openers while recent single ‘Shine On You’ was supremely epic and anthemic. Meanwhile, the stylish synth noir (for want of a better phrase) of ‘In Chaos’ and ‘Promises’ came over all moody and marvellous. Having been one of the bands that stood out amongst the more industrialised strains at BAS II, their cinematic overtones won favour with the discerning London crowd.
The well-spoken threesome blend influences such as B-MOVIE, THE CURE and DEPECHE MODE with the sound of synth friendly contemporaries like WHITE LIES and MIRRORS. But dare one say the HURTS word? Although there may be some shared European arthouse aesthetics in the more dramatic, downtempo numbers like new single ‘Safe/Pain’, STRANGERS don’t appear to have listened to as much ELTON JOHN and TAKE THAT as Messrs Hutchcraft and Anderson, preferring the more thoughtful shades of JAPAN and JOY DIVISION.
And speaking of JOY DIVISION, BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur arrived on the stage as intense ever. “Get it out of your bloody system” he told the audience as ‘Happy Families’ album opener ‘I Can’t Explain’ illustrated this perfectly. Percussively fierce and haunted by the ghost of Ian Curtis, if JOY DIVISION had been fully fledged electronic band at the time of recording the ‘Unknown Pleasures’ LP, some of it probably would have sounded like this!
It’s been a year since their comeback album ‘Blanc Burn’ and certainly, songs such as ‘Drive Me’ and ‘The Western’ have shown themselves to be up there with their best. The songs performed were a blend of old and new, Neil Arthur preferring a setlist to satisfy the loyal fanbase who are now BLANCMANGE’s bread and butter, rather than the casuals who will probably chat on their mobiles until ‘Living On The Ceiling’ and then walk away after its conclusion…other Synth Britannia acts need to take heed of this, rather than pandering to the fickle hen party masses who now frequent gigs perceived to be more rewinding in nature. The bitter attack of the brilliant ‘Starf*cker’ was particularly poignant and wholly appropriate for those types of so-called fan who are only dumbstruck by the conjugal potential of the lead singer and don’t really care about the music!
But of course, there were still some old favourites but it wasn’t a row of hit singles just because they could. ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ is still tinged with heartfelt melancholic resignation, ‘Game Above My Head’ is great funky electro disco while the superb ‘Feel Me’ is Remain In Light era TALKING HEADS fronted by Ian Curtis. There was even room for the ABBA cover ‘The Day Before You Came’ which was absent from last year’s tour but has been rearranged slightly to have a more Germanic but still crowd pleasing template…it was a lot of fun in the same way present day DEPECHE MODE sometimes occasionally do ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’. But there were enough risks being taken with the setlist for this performance to be anything but pedestrian or retro! And despite the intensity, Neil Arthur was as jovial as ever sparring off game colleagues Pandit Dinesh and Graham Henderson.
The whole evening successfully combined new and classic which was perfect for music enthusiasts, but maybe not so great for nostalgia freaks. The Electricity Club knows which camp it prefers to be sat in. So spare ticket available for Flashback then? Nein danke!
BLANCMANGE Blanc Burn is now available as a vinyl LP as well as a CD. For more details, please visit: http://www.blancmange.co.uk/
STRANGERS’ EP1, EP2 and EP3 are available from Amazon, iTunes and the usual digital outlets. The excellent Sensual Harrasment remix of ‘Shine On You’ can be downloaded gratis and guilt free from their website at: http://strangers.co.uk/
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price
29th May 2012