A day of electronic music magnificence…
Not content with simply staging just one electronic music event in 2018, Synthetic City decided to do a return bout with the creation of Synthetic City Reloaded in the autumn months. As ever, the event featured a broad variety of artists and bands which included some fledgling acts as well as more seasoned performers.
An interesting aspect of the Synthetic City events is the desire to keep the line-ups fresh and different for every event. It reflects the large electronic music community out there and also invites attendees to move out of their own comfort zones.
Caroline McLavy came back on the scene with the release of her Quasi-Static album, essentially a remix project that combines tracks from her earlier album Electrostatic with some of the best remix talents that the community can offer. Dressed in a fetching black outfit, McLavy zipped through a set of dancepop numbers. Highlights included a percussive ‘Constant Pain’ and the tropical beats of ‘Where Did I Go Wrong’.
Switching up to cuts from her Quasi-Static album, McLavy also explained a little about the project’s origins. Fittingly, it was actually at the 2017 Synthetic City event – and a chance encounter with Parralox’s John von Ahlen – that laid the seeds for the remix idea.
Tonight also sees a premiere for the fairy tale aesthetics of a new video of one of those reworkings as McLavy performs the LorD & Master remix of ‘Miss Perfect’.
Samuel is another electronic artist who’s been making waves, including an appearance at one of the DEFSynth events. Smooth synthpop is the order of the day here with some heartfelt lyrics thrown in for good measure.
Songs such as ‘Deal With The Devil’ and ‘Only The Young’ marry up polished melodies with often personal and raw stories. At the same time, Samuel isn’t shy about having some fun on stage and the dynamic ‘Cocaine Cowboy’ remains a spirited live favourite.
There’s a more beats-driven performance from electronic duo Hemmingway later in the day. David Moriaty demonstrates that guitars still have a place in electronic music, while the striking vocal talents of CeCe Hemmings pierce through a collage of busy rhythms and catchy melodies.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated acts on stage for this Synthetic City event is BOO – Battery Operated Orchestra. Consisting of Chris Black and Brigitte Rose, this electronic duo hail from the south coast and present a love for analogue synths and sharp, evocative pop tunes.
Apparently, it’s taken promoter Johnny Normal a very long time to get BOO on the bill for a Synthetic City event, but the wait is swiftly revealed to be worth it. There’s an abundance of squelchy synth sounds and audacious percussion threaded throughout their setlist. Bri cuts a striking presence on stage with her sharply coiffured hair and white trouser suit. Her shoulder-strapped Yamaha CS01 sways in time to the tunes. Meanwhile, Chris (in a colourful Hawaiian shirt) confidently works his magic on a bank of synths.
There’s an easy confidence on stage from the pair that’s also evident from some choice stories between songs (including an anecdote about Kirk Brandon and a bargain-priced Juno 6!).
BOO’s latest album release Snare gets a special showcase tonight, with tunes such as the strident ‘Perfect Wreck’ and the subtle melodies of ‘Bella’ working their charm over the audience. Meanwhile, earlier classics such as the electropop wonder that’s ‘Radiation’ also slot into a solid setlist.
There’s a change of gear for the next acts to step onto the stage. Androids In The Mist are a new outfit that work in the rock/electronic niche (think along the lines of Tenek or Among The Echoes). Frontman Larry Smith is making his live debut here at Synthetic City, although any first-time nerves are dissipated by a confident vocal approach (at times, recalling Blancmange’s Neil Arthur). It brings a heavier performance to the stage, but there’s a bassy intensity to the songs that find a resonance with a lot of the Synthetic City audience.
Continuing that heavier theme, Yorkshire’s Hands Of Industry deliver a muscular pop performance. There’s something of the Sheffield school in the vocals department along with a particular beefiness and power behind the songs. Having live drums helps to give this powerful sound a raw quality. Signing their set off with a cracking cover of Numan classic ‘Cars’ also cements the appeal that this dark dance outfit offer.
Swedish musician Hiltipop had originally been due to make an appearance at an earlier Synthetic City event, although plans changed at the last moment. Hilti Johansson makes up for it though with his performance tonight, a stylish setlist of smooth synthpop that throws a nod to classic electronic music.
Previously, Hiltipop’s music has been marked out by the pure electronic appeal of songs such as ‘The Pattern’ and ‘Tuesday’. Johansson has an ear for melody matched by hints of melancholia, often to the point where even he wonders if some tracks go too dark (“That fucking song is so depressing that I’m never going to perform it again!”). But Johansson’s acerbic wit on stage and his talent for tunes clearly wins over the gathered audience.
Meanwhile, the strangely-monikered Armada Named Sound brings a combo of stirring beats and electropop with a stylish vocal delivery. The outfit is a musical endeavour from musician Spiros Maus whose approach is to bring together a broad range of electronic influences with female vocalists. As a result, their music can cover a wide ground with some often surprisingly catchy electropop moments. Tunes such as the evocative ‘Bittersweet’ have both a stylish flourish as well as a sadness that touches the heart.
Tonight also sees the live debut of The Rude Awakening, Synthetic City promoter’s latest musical project. Augmented by the powerful vocals of Bridget Gray, The Rude Awakening offers up a mix of tracks both new and old, including ‘Miss Razorblade’ and ‘Gentle Then Not’ (from Bridget’s collaboration with Matthias).
The stage is flooded with green light for ‘Emerald Dancer’, one of the latest Rude Awakening compositions. Here, there’s a slow burn to the song with some mesmerising lyrical touches delivered by Bridget’s captivating vocals. Meanwhile, the more risqué ‘Fuck Puppet’ has its own particular energy in a live setting.
French electropop outfit Shiny Darkness, meanwhile, come suited and booted for their live performance. There’s a big, expansive sound to their dark electro set which draws heavily from their last studio album Oddities For Sophisticated Betrayal.
The vocal duties are swapped around during the set, particularly between the animated Sebastien Deruwez and Katerina Pantazi. This contrast between a male and female vocal gives their set some variety, although tunes such as ‘Love Hate Lust Prey’ and the impressive ‘We Were The Kings’ are standout moments.
Closing proceedings for the evening, it’s time for a legendary figure from the world of electronic music to step onto the stage. Having grown up in Basildon with the Depeche Mode boys, Robert Marlow has managed to carve out his own intriguing musical career since those fledgling times.
Sharing the stage with long-time collaborator Gary Durant, the pair cut a stylish look with their hat and suit arrangement. Marlow delivers his vocal on all the songs with an urgent energy. The setlist boasted some classic tracks, including ‘The Face Of Dorian Gray’, ‘Claudette’ and a well-received ‘Calling All Destroyers’.
Along with those early tracks, Marlow also offers up some songs culled from his 208 album InsideOutside, including the bass dancepop of ‘Stars’ and the rhythmic melodies of ‘My Teenage Dream’.
There’re also some surprises in the set – as well as an opportunity for the pair to exchange some witty banter on stage. With the next song “Dedicated to you lovely people” by Marlow, Durant quips “You told me it was for freaks!” before launching into a raw, electronic take on Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’.
There’s even an energetic rendition of Depeche Mode’s ‘New Life’ delivered as a gift towards the end to the enthusiastic crowd.
Once again, the reliable Mr Rob Harvey (Synth City) was on DJ duties with some suitable setlists to entertain between the stage performances. Added with the excellent line-up of bands, it made for a superb day of electronic music.
Synthetic City remains an important part of the electronic music calendar, helping to promote interest and growth in the grassroots scene. In a period in which there are so many new artists often struggling to find a platform for their music, Johnny Normal and his dedicated team continue to provide a valuable service.
Synthetic City London 2019 takes place on 23rd March 2019 at The Water Rats, London. Details: https://www.facebook.com/events/277792909523086/
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.