Have you ever had the feeling…
Occasionally, an unusual event appears on the gig-going radar which invites curiosity. Following Northern Kind’s storming set at Silicon Dreams last summer (which marked the duo’s return to live performances as Northern Kind), they were already announcing their next live show for London.
What made this event stand out from the busy calendar of electronic music events was the story behind it. Jamelle Bejarano had wanted to stage something very special for her husband John’s 50th birthday. Being an electronic music fan, John had dreamed of seeing three of his favourite acts performing at the same event, which is how Northern Kind, Johan Baeckström and Future Perfect were assembled for this intriguing concert. “The name eLectronic singularity has the “L” capitalised” John commented, “because that’s the Roman numeral for 50 (for my 50th birthday). We used the name “singularity” because we know this is a sui generis one-time event.”
Putting together a show like this would normally involve a lot of work just in terms of organising schedules and a suitable venue. For eLectronic singularity there were some more daunting hurdles to overcome, which included the fact that all the acts were geographically scattered across England, Wales and Sweden. But perhaps the most challenging aspect that Jamelle had to contend with was having to organise this from America.
Under any other circumstances, this was an event that would never have got off the starting blocks, but Jamelle Bejarano is no ordinary person. “I asked John what he would like to do for his birthday” recalls Jamelle, “His response “I really would like to see my three favourite bands in concert.” I decided to make it happen. We imagined the difficulty would be getting bands to agree but that was the easiest aspect. I searched for just the right venue to meet our requirements with ADA restrictions and sound quality and decided Nambucca in Islington was a perfect match as their sound system is state of the art. I have a great friend, Lori Adams, who is a graphic designer who exponentially elevated my poor attempts at graphics into interesting, eye catching advertisements, posters, tickets, banner ads and created our fabulous website www.electronicsingularity.co.uk.”
“The sheer effort and determination that Jamelle put into making this happen was Herculean” suggests John on his birthday treat.
The event’s opening act was Future Perfect, a synth-pop outfit originally formed in 2009 with Simon and Rebecca Owen. Now running as a solo project with Simon Owen, Future Perfect have plans in motion for a new album titled Touch, scheduled for a 2020 release.
There’s a slow-burning drive to the pulsing beats of ‘Paradise’, while ‘Neo Rom Com’ offers a more muscular arrangement with some melodic lifts and a nice line in pointed lyrics (“Your new romantic comedy/Isn’t it a tragedy”). New tune ‘Assassin’s Eyes’, meanwhile, has a more dynamic driving quality to it.
Under this new solo arrangement, it’s perhaps a little unusual to still hear Rebecca’s vocals dropped into some of the setlist’s inclusions, but Simon’s own singing style feels a lot stronger from previous live outings and indicates something of the new path that Future Perfect is now aiming for. Simon pauses for a shout-out to the birthday boy for the special event, but also adds that for himself this performance is a healing process of sorts.
Much of Future Perfect’s performance leans into the Cold War themes of their 2015 album After The Fall. As a result, we get the unsettling machine rhythms of ‘Protect And Survive’ (“Firestorm intensity, Questioning reality”) as well as the more reflective moods of ‘Fall’.
‘Excess’ offers up burbling synth foundations matched with a more acerbic line in lyrics (“It’s a flash of the cash and a glint in the eye/I feather the nest while the rest of ya die”). Elsewhere, ‘Light’ (culled from Future Perfect’s 2012 album Escape) is a busy, layered composition of smooth synth-pop.
But there’s also time for trialling out other new tunes, as with the thumping ‘Sin – (Where Angels Fall)’ – another thumping synth-pop outing augmented by crunchy synths tones and some contrasting ethereal melodies floating over it.
Johan Baeckström has struck out on a solo career in recent years, following on from being part of electronic pop duo Daily Planet. There’s a slick touch to his composing as evidenced on his 2018 album Utopia (which is a particular touchstone that he draws from for this gig).
Kicking off with the sharp melodic appeal of ‘Homeless’, Johan reveals that he’s also got some significant vocal chops in a live environment. ‘Ask Them Why’, meanwhile, draws more from the classic synth-pop school with some great synth hooks.
Reaching back through his own musical history, Johan also serves up an offering from his first EP in the shape of a stylish ‘Starlights’. Encouraging the audience to clap along, the Swedish musician delivers a guileless vocal with a confident tone against the song’s electronic heart.
Breaking for a moment to offer his congratulations to John and Jamelle (who he now suggests is an established international promoter!), Johan also thanks to Northern Kind’s Matt Culpin for lending him a synth for this show.
There’s a few intriguing covers lurking in Johan’s set, including his take on Canadian artist Nick Gilder’s ‘Into The 80s’. There’s a hint of Sparks on this quirky number with clipped synth strings touches. Elsewhere, ‘Come With Me’ seems to throw a nod to Vince Clarke with its infectious hooks and ability to get the feet moving. It’s an instant hit with the Nambucca crowd who begin to clap along to the song.
Hidden away in the set, there’s also a peppy rendition of Rational Youth’s ‘Saturdays In Silesia’. With a wistful take on lines such as “Holidays are for heroes”, it’s a tune that also proves a winner with the assembled electronic fans.
“Can you stand a ballad?” Johan inquires of the audience, getting a big cheer in response. “I’ll do my best…” The result is an earnest ‘Better Stories’ – a doleful slab of synth-pop angst with a big romantic sweep to the vocals.
Suggesting a more up-tempo number, (“This one is really easy to sing along with”) Johan slots in the pure synth-pop joy of ‘Silence’. There’s a good rhythmic drive to this outing along with melodic touches that have a particular emotional warmth.
Coming up to his final song, Johan playfully trots out a few notes on the keyboard as if to offer a clue about what’s coming next. It’s birthday boy John in the audience who gets it straight away as a sturdy take on the title track to Johan’s Utopia album follows. It’s a big, bold slice of pop that also sees the crowd clapping along once again as his set draws to a close.
But the audience are keen for things to keep going and ask for another tune. Luckily, Johan has another one in reserve with the magical melodies of ‘The World Through Your Eyes’.
With a superb set of songs bringing Johan Baeckström’s set to an end, there’s a sense of anticipation for the final act of the night. Northern Kind smashed it at last summer’s Silicon Dreams festival in Liverpool (see our review previously). Could they replicate that electric performance tonight?
There’s a huge cheer from the audience as Matt Culpin gets the music going and Sarah Heely steps on stage. Opening with the engaging electropop melodies of ‘On & On’, there’s an instant template for Northern Kind’s evening adventures.
Despite some initial confusion on stage (Sarah lacks a setlist – a minor blip which Matt soon resolves), the opening numbers demonstrate that Northern Kind haven’t lost any of their sparkle. This includes cuts from their last studio album, 2013’s Credible Sexy Unit (see TEC review previously) such as the raw ‘Daggers’ and the pop sweep of ‘Yours’. Meanwhile, the chiming tones of ‘Piece of Me’ lend a smoother style to proceedings.
But the duo are also happy to reach further back into the Northern Kind catalogue, with the polished ‘Millionaires’ (from their 2007 debut album 53 Degrees North). While Sarah strides the stage, Matt is 100% focussed on synth duties with a barrage of beats and melodies that hit the heart of the audience.
Then it’s back up to date as Sarah announces, “One of our new ones….” The result is a dynamic rendition of ‘Lip Service’, a tune TEC referred to previously as “a finely tuned slice of dancepop perfection”. As Sarah purrs the opening lines, “Dark eyes were the start of it…” the crowd are already enraptured.
Following that energetic workout, Sarah pauses for a moment. “We’re going to take down a bit with a tale of loss…” ‘Into The Blue’ delivers a melancholic slice of synth-pop with some bass synth tones giving the song a physical quality.
After that, the tempo gets cranked up for a percussive ‘The Feeling’, a peppy ‘Euphonic’ and an unashamedly pure pop outing for ‘Out of Time’.
Elsewhere, ‘Dreams’ is a real thumping electro banger with some sultry vocals from Sarah (“I wish you well…”) while euphoric synth beats drive it along.
With the Northern Kind set drawing to its inevitable close, Sarah offers a declaration “Let’s finish on a high!” The result is a surprising mashup of ‘Pleasurely That Machine’ from Northern Kind’s Wired: album and The Presets’ ‘This Boy’s In Love’.
The crunchy joys of ‘Dirty Youth’ with its empathic lyrical delivery (“Buy here a drink/Tell her what you think”) provides a perfect closer.
There’s little doubt that Northern Kind have smashed it tonight with what is apparently their longest ever live performance. But there’s also some sort of symmetry between all three acts to grace the stage at Nambucca this evening. All with a different style and approach, but also complementing each other with a demonstration of the variety of electronic acts the scene offers up.
“Everything that mattered worked that night” commented John Bejarano post-gig. “ FP was inspiring. JB was scintillating. NK just brought a new echelon of joy to everyone there. Seeing NK was especially poignant as the last time I was in the UK, I was going to drive up to Leicester to see them perform, but Sarah lost her voice, and we had to fly home. Soon after, they went on hiatus”.
Equally, Jamelle was happy with the night – and the support she had in achieving this ambitious goal. “We were blessed to have family and friends to come to the concert and assist. Robert Bejarano, John’s brother is by profession in AV and he created the ES image that was projected and filmed the entire event. Brandon Sonderegger and Irene Chen were great help with logistics, food and myriad tasks. The bands were amazing and the whole night pulled together perfectly. Nambucca’s manager, Giles Horne, and staff were fabulous and supportive. I was extremely pleased at how it turned out!”
Perhaps the final word has to go to John: “Jamelle is the coolest person I know. And I know rock stars.”
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.