Manchester Academy played host recently to the first half of Back To The Phuture, the celebration of all things good in electronic music created and curated by Mark Jones of BBC6 Music and Wall of Sound records fame, the second half of the extravaganza being held in London at the Troxy on the following day.
Both nights were headlined by synthesizer legend GARY NUMAN. The main support act however was RECOIL, the project masterminded by Alan Charles Wilder, one time DEPECHE MODE keyboardist/synth guru, and assisted live by Paul ‘PK’ Kendall, an engineer/producer/musician who has worked at RECOIL’s label Mute since 1985 and collaborated with Wilder on his last three studio albums.
RECOIL have been touring their show extensively in both Europe and the Americas in the last year or so. The music can seem to be very much studio-based, and it’s always a perennial problem with this type of act as to how to provide a live show that gets the audience involved and excited, rather than just being a louder version of listening to the CD at home. The way RECOIL have addressed this is two-fold: firstly, the live show features a very strong backdrop projection, and secondly, the tracks performed are heavily remixed live on stage, ending up quite different at times from the album versions.
The set opened with PK walking on stage first to a rapturous round of applause, many of the Numanoids obviously being RECOIL aficionados as well, which broke out into cheering, whistles and shouting when he was joined behind the other ubiquitous Macbook on stage right by Alan Wilder. He addressed the audience briefly, thanked them for coming and then they launched straight into the set.
RECOIL’s recent album sound is definitely on the organic side of electronic, influenced by trip hop, blues, and jazz at times. But for a live audience, the tracks were transformed, sometimes heavily, with a much stronger club/dance influence in the rhythms.
The choice of material ranged from ‘Edge To Life’ from 1991’s ‘DEPECHE MODE with Different Singers’ album, ‘Bloodline’, through to ‘Allelujah’ and ‘Prey’ from the most recent studio album, 2007’s ‘Subhuman’, with some notable cover versions interspersed – one being a superb version of THE NORMAL’s ‘Warm Leatherette’, but the most interesting being some reworkings of DEPECHE MODE material.
Indeed, after Wilder and Kendall had concluded an excellent pumped up version of ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ from 1987’s ‘Music For The Masses’, which had large parts of the crowd doing the ‘cornfield wave’ in true DM fan style, Mr Wilder commented to the audience, “Don’t worry, there’ll be some more Mode stuff later on”. True to his word, we were later treated to versions of Personal Jesus and a superb mash-up of the Grungy Gonads mix of ‘Walking In My Shoes’ with the vocals of RECOIL’s ‘Jezebel’ overlaid on top. Accompanying the music were some excellent back projections for each track, which were strong enough to engage the audience’s attention without overpowering the music. As well, there was plenty of bouncy dancing, waving, and playing to the audience from both PK and Alan Wilder, Wilder in particular seeming to really enjoy the feedback and the experience of performing in front of an audience. He also had a pair of what looked like analogue synthesizers to tweak and fiddle with, which may or may not have been stage props or may have been mixing equipment or indeed actual synthesizers – it was impossible to tell!
The audience obviously appreciated the show; despite the fact that many were there firstly to see Numan, there was plenty of dancing and appreciative cheers for each track.
Some might say that the music could seem perhaps to be a little cerebral, however, the efforts in performance from the two members of RECOIL, combined with the powerful visuals and dance oriented remixes, were enough to get the Numanoid audience on board and thoroughly enjoying the RECOIL experience.
Personally, although as a fan of Alan Wilder, DEPECHE MODE and RECOIL, I can’t claim to be unbiased. I thought that this was an excellent live gig, and far better than some might have expected beforehand. Two blokes, a couple of Macbooks, and a projector, can translate into a powerful and involving live performance after all.
Of course, it would be impossible to talk about Alan Wilder performing without speculation as to what his future plans might be. Wilder left DEPECHE MODE in 1995 after touring what many DEPECHE MODE fans consider to be their finest album, ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’, citing dissatisfaction with the internal workings of the group. He was rumoured to be doing the majority of the studio work, and remixed many of the songs for the tour on his own, and indeed, there are many sonic similarities between SOFAD and the following RECOIL album ‘Unsound Methods’ from 1997 – and Wilder has continued to this day to incorporate DM samples into his work.
He briefly reunited with his former bandmates in February last year at a DEPECHE MODE concert in the Royal Albert Hall, performing ‘Somebody’ on stage with former bandmate Martin Gore. And there are rumours that there have been discussions recently between the remaining three members of DEPECHE MODE, Mute Records supremo Daniel Miller, and Alan Wilder.
DEPECHE MODE are currently signed to EMI but on a one album at a time basis – and they are about to release the ‘Remixes 2: 81-11’ album which would then enable them to fufil their EMI contract.
Add to this his recent re-embracing of DM material into his live RECOIL set, and it’s difficult not to ask whether some sort of more permanent DEPECHE MODE reunion is in the minds of Wilder and his former bandmates, possibly involving a return to Mute records, who RECOIL are still signed to.
Certainly many, if not the majority of DEPECHE MODE fans have always clamoured for his return to the DM fold in some way. With some fan dissatisfaction with the last Depeche offering ‘Sounds Of The Universe’, an Alan Wilder mix of ‘In Chains’ on the forthcoming Mode remix album, and the obvious increase in warmth between the RECOIL and Depeche camps – who can say?
The next DEPECHE MODE album to be produced by Alan Wilder? Or indeed, even his return as a full time band member? I suspect that next month’s celebration of all things Mute at the Roundhouse in London may give rise to some interesting press releases…
RECOIL play Short Circuit Presents Mute at London’s Roundhouse on Friday 13th May 2011 alongside NITZER EBB and KOMPUTER with a DJ set from MOBY.
ERASURE with special guest ALISON MOYET play the second day of the event on Saturday 14th May 2011 which will also feature LAIBACH and THE RESIDENTS plus DJ sets by DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher.
Text and Photos by Mike Cooper
3rd May 2011