Live electropop thrills…
Sometimes it’s good to appreciate the wide variety of electronic acts who are out there performing live (as well as on record). While the UK is, in many ways, the spiritual home for synth-pop, there are also a wealth of acts on the global stage that are worth some attention.
Artefaktor Live 3 sought to showcase some of these acts, mixing up talent from the UK, Germany, France, Sweden and the USA. In all, fifteen different acts were assembled for an all day event that would serve as an education in electronic music.
Having established itself as a radio station (which features hosts such as Rusty Egan, Mat Mckenzie, Johnny Normal, Bridget Gray, Stuart Calder and Colin Spencer) located in Mexico City, Artefaktor’s move into the live arena (this marks their third outing following on from smaller events) has seen the outfit becoming more ambitious with each event. Artefaktor Live 3 also enjoyed the support of Electronic Sound, pretty much the bible for electronic music at present.
Overseen by Artefaktor’s charismatic Renato Moyssén, this gathering of diverse talents would give London audiences exposure to some of the brightest and best electronic acts currently on the scene.
The first act to grace the stage was a dark synth-pop duo from Gloucestershire in the form of Sombre Moon. Comprised of Amanda Jane Rogers on vocals and Steve Loxley on synth duties, the pair delivered some pounding darkwave tunes (and even a Client cover). But their performance was topped off with the driving beats of ‘Numb’.
Sweden has been a forge for plenty of decent electronic acts over the years, including Vogon Poetry (of which, more later). But there’s something unique about aux animaux, a duo built up by Ghosty (vocals & theremin) and Jons (synths).
The use of the theremin certainly lends an otherworldly quality to the Stockholm duo’s performance. Ghosty’s wispy vocals float over the styled synth rhythms, giving tunes such as ‘Black Holes’ and ‘The Unraveling’ a wistful quality. There’s elements of synthwave at work with aux animaux, although much smoother in how they deliver it. It’s not tough to see how they can draw influences from the likes of Cliff Martinez, Chromatics and Electric Youth.
Along the way, Ghosty offers up some commentary about the songs. ‘Revolution’ is “a song about animal rights” she suggests, adding emphatically that aux animaux are a vegan band. Meanwhile, the zippy ‘Street Fright’ is offered as “a song for all the feminists out there” and features some impressive vocal trills from Ghosty.
Following that impressive performance, the duo of Graflex take to the stage with their own take on electropop. Ian Sharrock provides some melodic flourishes on synths (and a little vocoder) although it’s quickly clear that singer Sam James has a set of pipes on her.
Despite some initial nerves, Sam loosens up through the set, which includes the sturdy synth workout of impressive new single ‘Close To You’. Elsewhere, ‘Dirty Angel’ weaves in some industrial elements for a darker approach.
Morgan King has an impressive musical background, having been part of Manchester band Illustration (who featured on the iconic Some Bizzare Album). Since then, he’s worked with a number of different bands (including the Manic MCs, who had a UK top thirty hit with their first release, ‘Mental’). Currently, he divides his time between his solo work and being part of the Lene Lovich Band.
The first thing that strikes you about Morgan King on stage is the particularly percussive delivery of his music – helped by Morgan’s strong vocal style. ‘Dump You’ has a thumping electronic presence, while ‘OId Skin’ (featuring Danny Valentine on guitar duties) is a punchy number with some tight bass elements.
To round things off, Morgan unveils an unexpected surprise for AL3 attendees when he introduces none other than Lene Lovich to the stage. Accompanied by Kristen Morgan, the pair provide some effective backing vocals for Mr. King for the rest of his set. This includes the perky and quirky rhythms of ‘Alien’, whose message of trying to fit in while being different (“Feeling like an alien/Like a freak”), somehow feels very apt.
Elsewhere, Astrovoyager dip into electronica territory with their set. With a mix of material that sounds like Jean-Michel Jarre meets Eurobeat, the French outfit’s compositions are also augmented by some mesmerising violin accompaniment.
In times past, Cult With No Name have carved out a name for themselves for their stylish lounge pop, while also managing to successfully carry that concept over to live outings. Jon Boux takes care of keyboard duties while Erik Stein provides the silk-smooth vocals.
They waste little time in serving up some of their best tunes with the beats-driven appeal of ‘Wasted’ and the hypnotic ‘When I Was A Girl’. The suave tones of ‘Breathing’ also go down well. The duo take the opportunity to offer up a new song in the shape of ‘Mona’. There’s a hymnal quality to this number with Erik’s sleepy vocals drawing the audience in. “We’ve been Cult With No Name” offers Erik as their set draws to a close, “See you at the merch stall!”
AL3 darts into synthwave for the next act. Roxi Drive pulls extensively from her Strangers Of The Night album, including the evocative ‘Walking out of Love’ (which suggests Pat Benatar meets John Carpenter).
There’s sparkling synth-pop on the unashamedly 80s-styled ‘See it in your Eyes’, while ‘Run All Night (Chase This Dream)’ combines bright synth stabs with big drum fills.
Keeping things in a chilled-out mood, Seattle-based electronica duo Static Shore grace the Artefaktor stage with their synth-pop/dreampop compositions (see the TEC review of their album Panikon) . Eric Smith conjures haunting soundscapes while Shannon Alexander’s pastel vocals drift over everything.
There’s calypso beats on the breezy ‘In the Dust’ and hints of Goldfrapp lurking in the depths of ‘Many Times’. Meanwhile, the haunting ‘Wednesday Grind’ dips into more obvious synth-pop territory. Its repeating carousel motif with a driving beat has a wistful air to it and a mesmerising vocal from Shannon (“Help me hear your voice again”).
Meanwhile, the thumping tunes of the well-received Nature Of Wires shifts things up a gear. Tonight, vocal duties are bounced between NoW founder-member Andrew Stirling-Brown and Sarah Bouchier (aka Lady B), allowing the audience to see both flavours of the electronic outfit.
As a result, we get the euphoric lifts of ‘Madame Serena’ with Andrew Stirling-Brown giving the vocals a strangely hypnotic flavour. Meanwhile, Lady B gives a bravura ‘Human Nature’, with a particularly effective emotional punch. This is followed up by an equally dynamic ‘Golden Girl’.
Arch pranksters Leg Puppy can always be be relied upon to do the unexpected. That said, the outfit have been evolving from their brash cheeky image into a darker direction.
This is impressed upon the audience by having both the house lights and stage lights turned all the way down. Meanwhile, masked figures prowl the audience (one of which is lead on all fours around the room). Meanwhile, Hugo Bamboo, Leg Puppy’s resident clown, is as intimidating as ever. The rapid-fire ‘Nominate’ (taken from forthcoming album Non-Disclosure Agreement) provides one of their set’s best moments, while the equally biting commentary of ‘Selfie Stick’ and ‘Twit Machine’ have a raw, visceral quality to them.
Elsewhere, there’s polished pop care of Ekkoes, some retro synth workings via Rodney Cromwell and even some German-flavoured dancepop with e-bit. In fact, e-bit’s set takes on a much more earthy feel care of live drums and, later on, a surprise guest appearance by Gary Barnacle on sax.
Keeping a European vibe for Artefaktor, Sweden’s Vogon Poetry are next to perform. It’s clear from the outset that they’ve also bussed in some domestic fans as the audience is buzzing from the opening number onwards.
We’ve praised Vogon Poetry previously for their ability to draw inspiration from pop culture (particularly cult classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) balanced with penning engaging electropop tunes. Here, Roger Tell and Daniel Önnerby shape that sound while John Andersson’s distinctive vocals take stage centre.
The perky ‘Hyperspace Bypass’ (from their 2015 album The Prefect Stories) gets the crowd singing along to the chorus. They even dip into earlier outings via the pure synth-pop perfection of ‘The Diceman’.
Meanwhile, ‘The Upside Down’ (throwing a nod to Stranger Things) is a more sober offering, with a dark insistent rhythm to it. Vogon Poetry have certainly managed to make some new fans tonight, judging by the reaction of the crowd – and that buoyant atmosphere sets a perfect mood for the headlining act of the evening.
Empathy Test continue to be on an upward trajectory as one of the UK’s finest synth-pop outfits – although they’re not without encountering problems. Tonight, this includes technical difficulties with an audio interface burning out. On that basis, their stand-in drummer (Crissy is away for a wedding apparently), who has rehearsed for some weeks on this set, is essentially redundant. As a result, vocalist Isaac Howlett and keyboardist Samuel Winter-Quick have to make do with song choices culled from the original Empathy Test EPs.
Not that this affects the setlist in terms of delivery and power. A solid ‘Kayleigh’ provides an engaging opener. Next up, a dramatic ‘Last Night On Earth’ goes down well as Isaac works every inch of the stage.
A heartfelt ‘Throwing Stones’ is at least one song in which the drummer can join in on (with some extra percussion from Isaac himself!). It’s also possible to do the same for the brooding tones of ‘Holding On’.
A powerful ‘Demons’ seems to craft a particularly strong chemistry between the band and the Artefaktor crowd. It’s also a vibe that’s carried over into live favourite ‘Losing Touch’ in which Isaac drops in an impromptu lyric for Mr Winter-Quick (“It’s always been you Sam”).
Empathy Test’s set closes with a heartfelt ‘Here Is The Place’, the perfect song to be going home to.
Outside of the main acts on the stage, the vibe inside Electrowerkz was kept buzzing by the DJ talents of Mr Rob Harvey. His sets pulled in some shrewd choices (along with a few welcome surprises) that included Promenade Cinema, Chvrches, Erasure, The Prodigy and even Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
An event of this scale was always going to present challenges, which included some technical issues and the schedule slipping behind to some degree. To their credit however, Artefaktor (in conjunction with the sterling Electrowerkz team) always seemed to rally around and solve any major problems.
The end result was a chance for London audiences to enjoy some of their favourite acts, but also alongside less familiar names. The buzz afterwards suggested that a lot of these bands had not only won over some new supporters, but also delivered a full day’s entertainment.
Artefaktor 3 Live Gallery
Artefaktor Live 4 takes place in London, Copenhagen and Cologne 2020. Full details: https://artefaktorradio.com/event/artefaktor-live-4-london-berlin-copenhagen/