THE VANITY CLAUSE describe themselves as saucy sci-fi, synth psychedelia with beats and soul. They were originally a duo consisting of Russell Harris and David Woods who came upon the chance acquisition of some vintage electronic gear courtesy of an emigrating acquaintance. In 2009, they recruited vocalist and synth girl Louisa Strachan to augment the line-up and in 2010, their song Lifeline was played on Tom Robinson’s influential BBC 6Music show.
Following David’s amicable departure not long after, Russ and Lou completed their debut album Fractured after a lengthy gestation period. After a short lived Mk3 line-up, THE VANITY CLAUSE have settled into their fourth variant with the addition of new members Darren Pain and Emma Stone. With influences such as diverse as ULTRAVOX, SOFT CELL, LADYTRON, LITTLE BOOTS, SEAL, ETTA JAMES, ARETHA FRANKLIN and even JANEÍS ADDICTION, this fusion turns into a system of romance that is THE VANITY CLAUSE.
At Camden’s Proud tonight, they join a line-up of new bands for the Hot Vox Festival. Still very much a synthesizer based act, Russ comes armed with a MicroKorg, Roland SH09 and Yamaha DX21 while new boy Darren takes charge of a laptop and second MicroKorg. But looking delectable in front of a Roland JP8000 is Emma who gleefully harmonises with LouÍs impassioned lead presence as the feisty blonde takes centre stage clothed in deep red.
Opening with the DEPECHE MODE meets CANDI STATON synthesis of Mr Fairweathered, Lou magnificently hits the spot despite a lack of volume on the monitors and the unpredictable acoustics of the former horse stable that is Proud. The rousing off-kilter number is illustrated marvellously by a light show that is one of the venueÍs visual strong points. The following Fallin‘s sexy stutter shows how technological tension can sweetly merge with heartfelt reflection; the boys staring intently at their electronic devices while the girls seduce the crowd in an ABBA-like fashion. Next up is new offering R.O.R.B. which is basically an update of an old instrumental that was performed by the original duo under the title Requiem Of Roj Blake (The Way Back). Russ is a Blake’s 7 enthusiast of geeky proportions so excitedly gave Lou a synopsis of the first episode at one of their first rehearsals. Luckily, Lou was actually listening despite being blinded by the fictional science and has come up with the lyrics based on these edited highlights.
Recent single The Scream is one of THE VANITY CLAUSE’s standouts in the current live set. Documenting Lou’s time in hospital last year which resulted in major surgery, the song is about her experience through that period and how it made her feel. Despite the subject matter, The Scream has a bouncy New York disco feel which points to where the quartet could head musically. The techno rattle of 51 keeps the momentum up before the conclusion with the electro Wigan Casino stomper of Lifeline. Now in its third version with Emma taking the lead vocal and Lou retaining her original chorus, this provides a new twist to the original rabid tension between boy and girl. What you have now is an energetic girl-on-girl fantasy of Northern Soul mélange a deux.
With the traumas of line-up changes and personal illnesses now behind them, THE VANITY CLAUSEÍs performance tonight is relaxed but determined. Possessing what is turning out to be a unique blend in UK synthpop, they deliver passion, grit and sparkle in equal measures. If they can hold it together, there’s much promise that can be fulfilled.
The Scream is available as a free download via Soundcloud
Fractured is still available as a CD, along with Pre-Stress, a collection of earlier works by THE VANITY CLAUSE. Both can be purchased from www.audiolife.com/store/TheVanityClause/Albums.aspx
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price
22nd July 2011