Electronic music magnificence descends on London…
As ever, the Synthetic City music festival keeps things ambitious with an all-day event boasting 11 acts. The 2018 affair offered up a range of styles and approaches, while also throwing a nod to the more diverse ends of the electronic music world. Once again, host and promoter Johnny Normal has managed to pull together a live bill that promised some heavy hitters, but also threw some wild cards into the mix.
Despite some teething problems with the timing of the performances, there was a palpable air of anticipation in the pub end of The Water Rats (the venue of choice once again for the event). Conversations between a variety of musicians, promoters, bloggers and assorted figures managed to touch on some intriguing topics over the course of the evening. Whether or not acts should employ an element of performance art into proceedings proved to be one of the most engaging debates (the general consensus being “Yes”, although as it was mostly members of anarchic outfit LegPuppy arguing the case, it was a foregone conclusion!).
As ever, the reliable Mr Rob Harvey (Synth City) slotted in some perfect DJ setlists around the stage performances. In fact, over the course of a very long day he seemed to offer up a concise history of electronic music for the gathering crowd.
Kicking things off on stage, Tenedle offered up a solid performance which merged a Eurocentric taste of electropop with subtle guitar elements. Keen to get an atmosphere going, Dimitri Niccolai (aka Tenedle) encourages some audience participation through clapping. Niccolai’s vocals deliver a laid-back warmth across a foundation of busy electronic elements. It’s an approach which lends songs such as ‘Stranger In My Own Tongue’ and ‘Sentenced To Death’ (from Tenedle’s polished album Traumsender) an easy appeal.
Tenedle’s performance is also given an additional attraction with the addition of guest singer (and radio presenter) Bridget Gray, whose own vocal talents give songs such as ‘Sparkle’ a particular impact.
The combined talents of Erik Stein and Jon Boux come together under the banner of Cult With No Name. Although on stage they present a lounge quality to their performance – with Boux effortlessly tickling the ivories and Stein presenting a stoic confidence on stage – there’s a potent energy to tunes such as ‘Wasted’.
Subtle synths slide in and out of ‘Swept Away’, a tune with perhaps a timely political note in its lyrics (“Inside this rain-soaked mess/lies the president elect”). A buzzier collage of electronics comes with ‘Everything Lasts An Age’ (“for people celebrating their 18th birthday today”), a pulsing collage of electronic effects through which Stein’s vocals soar. Meanwhile, there’s a slow-burning power to ‘When I Was A Girl’ with its layers of synths and choral effects.
Straddling the gap between the UK and Denmark, Ian Harling and Martin Nyrup form the nucleus of electronic outfit Perpacity. The duo have attracted acclaim for their recorded output in times past, including their 2016 album Arise, and have their eye on a forthcoming new studio album The Order Of Now on the horizon. On stage, Perpacity offer up some serviceable synthpop, including the sturdy power of new single ‘Rule The Day’.
By now, there’s a busy, thriving crowd filling the venue. The merchandise stall is doing brisk business and artists still waiting to grace the stage are discussing plans and ideas for the future. A few funny stories come out of the various conversations, including a drama with a can of Pringles concerning Derek Anthony Williams (Defsynth, Jan Doyle Band) and an intriguing suggestion for YouTube called The Glowstick Challenge which is probably best left in the bar of The Water Rats…
Meanwhile, on stage, things take a heavier direction with the strident tones of La Lune Noire. There’s a thumping presence to the duo’s live show, with Sven Vogelezang’s muscular percussion and Victor Verzijl’s dynamic vocal delivery offering a trip into darkwave territory.
The Circuit Symphony brought a dazzling laser show with them for their stage performance. Joined by Ladywolfe onstage, there’s some nice nods to Jean-Michel Jarre in the mix which delivered tunes care of some E-mu Emax strings, LinnDrum and PolySix elements. ‘Warrior’ in particular had a potency to its clean lines, while the effective laser light show gave the stage an amazing backdrop.
Later, the duo of Palais Ideal deliver a raw energy to proceedings with a little gothic flavouring whipped up in their gritty post-punk tunes.
Johnny Normal, taking time out as host for the evening, also takes a turn on the stage. A particularly powerful ‘Miss Razorblade’ is one of his set’s highlights, along with a robust cover of OMD classic ‘Enola Gay’. One of tonight’s performers (in the form of Mr Strange) also joins Johnny on stage for a strapping live performance of ‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’.
For his own stage show, Mr Strange provides it loud and heavy. There’s a sleazy electro-rock delivery for tunes such as ‘Disco Bitch’ and a song inspired by the late great Pete Burns (“I want to do it like Pete Burns/My gender you can’t discern”).
Berlyn Trilogy can always be relied upon to present a solid live show and tonight is no exception. An effectively bassy ‘Tokyo Rooftops’ wins over the crowd very early, followed by a languid ‘Rain’. Things go darker for the emphatic tones of ‘The Drone’, with James and Simon alternating vocal duties. Faye, meanwhile, has switched out her trusty bass to take on keyboard duties.
A dynamic rendition of ‘Synthetic Love’ also features in the setlist, but the trio also have a treat for the Synthetic City audience with the unveiling of new song ‘Simone Nicole’. A siren-like intro opens up the new outing, which also employs a lighter melodic touch against repetitive brass sounds. The contrast between lighter and darker elements suggests an evolution of Berlyn Trilogy’s sound and is a nice touch to their live show. Meanwhile, the trio close the set out with another new number ‘Domus Aurea’ which has a more classic Berlyn Trilogy feel to it with its sombre lyrics (“building my empire/on poison and desire”).
Once LegPuppy take to the stage, it’s a fair bet that something surprising or disturbing (or possibly both) will happen. Tonight’s performance features an ensemble cast (including stellar singer Voi Vang) who just about manage to fit on stage. The announcement that their ranks would also include a new dancer had people peering to discern her in the line-up, but in fact the new ‘dancer’ was stage-left in rollers and night dress ironing LegPuppy merchandise (because why not).
‘Paranoid’ elicits a neurotic theme through its dance-beat rhythms. Elsewhere, ‘Selfie Stick’ maintains its brooding, sinister menace as part of LegPuppy’s consistent live numbers. To drive the point home, LegPuppy’s Darren proceeds to smash an actual selfie stick on stage, which results in some worried looks in the audience.
Meanwhile, tracks such as ‘Running Through A Field Of Wheat’ take on a spacey vibe. The combination of LegPuppy’s Claire and Voi Vang on vocals for some tunes provides the electropunk outfit with an effective harmonising quality that’s tough to beat.
Closing out this year’s Synthetic City event is the darkpop trio of Dicepeople, who can always be relied upon to deliver a heavy yet engaging live performance. Taking position stage centre, Zmora Monika bobs back and forth in a striking outfit that’s given a final flourish by a pair of wings arcing out from her back. Meanwhile, fellow members Matt and Rafael earnestly focus on their work stations either side.
The stage is almost total darkness with only the strobe-like lights lighting up the audience in time to the darkwave rhythms. In particular, a robust version of ‘Control’ is delivered with an effectively powerful vocal from Zmora. It seems like a perfect way to close out another successful electronic festival.
As TEC has said previously, Synthetic City represents an important element of the electronic music calendar that help 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 are providing a valuable service.
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.