Spooky synths in action
In a live environment, the irrepressible KNIGHT$ always manages to stand out in sharp relief through a combo of slick pop tunes and a charismatic stage presence.
Choosing Halloween to stage a headlining show seems like an entirely appropriate option, particularly in the intimate surroundings of Roadtrip & The Workshop in London. Joining James Knights’ Italo Disco adventures is Cambridge-based electronic musician Theo Sayers and synthwave stylist Roxi Drive.
It’s been a critical year for KNIGHT$ with the release of his debut album Dollars & Cents (see TEC review previously). Gathering together the various singles along with some other choice tunes, its pop credentials suggested an electro outfit challenging its listeners to a dance-off on the disco floor.
Tonight’s the occasion for that challenge to be put to the test, although to kick-start proceedings we have the intriguing electronic compositions of Theo Sayers.
He’s built a strong local reputation by previously hosting Theo Sayers & Friends, one of Cambridge’s leading electronic music nights. In keeping with the theme of the evening, Sayers has also gone to the trouble of decking himself out in a skeleton outfit (“It’s going to be a good night – I can feel it in my bones…”).
He begins his set with ‘Venezuela’, a rhythmic odyssey that dates back to his 2017 outfit Black Tibet. With its synth strings foundation (and even a little steel drums for effect) it’s a mesmerising number that sets the mood just right.
There’s a breezy beats-driven quality to his tunes, with a strong focus on tracks from his new EP Ado Pera. With able backing from Jules and Jasmine, there’s a certain vulnerability and charm to Sayers’ lyrical delivery which wins the audience over. This is particularly evident on the superb ‘Impatient’ where airy synth tones combine with a driving beat. Meanwhile, Sayers offers up lines such as “The breaks aren’t working/I’m in disarray” delivered with a laid-back insouciance.
‘Into The Silent Cave’ has a summery, synthwave quality to it with a philosophical lean-in on the lyrics (“Shake me up and turn me round/Is there more to life?”). But there’s a more spaced-out percussive approach (with some fine harmonic backing vocals) for a cover of Prince classic ‘When Doves Cry’.
Next up is Roxi Drive, whose unashamed love for synthwave and 80s pop tunes is evident from the opening number. ‘Stay With Me’, with its string synth rhythms, has touches of Canadian electronic outfit Electric Youth lurking in its twilight charm.
Elsewhere, ‘Walking out of Love’ suggests a tune from some lost synth-pop soundtrack fronted by Pat Benatar. There’s a sincerity in lines such as “The hope I held so long/That you would stop and notice me” that can’t help but find a home in the hearts of the audience. Then she’s dipping back into classic synth-pop territory with an energetic cover of SSQ’s ‘Synthicide’, complete with some frenetic synth drum fills.
There’s even time to deliver a fresh composition which, suitably for the evening, Roxi offers up as a “real Italo Disco number!”. The result is a thumping synth-pop banger with electric piano stabs and some 80s-style rapid percussion.
On then to tonight’s main attraction with KNIGHT$ taking to the stage. By now, there’s a real energy in a venue suitably warmed up with the tunes of Theo Sayers and Roxi Drive respectively. So there’s an instant chemistry with the shades-wearing pop icon and the audience as he kicks off with the crunchy delights of ‘What We Leave Behind’.
That vibe is kept going with the stylish beats of ‘Playing’ It Cool’, but it’s the Moroder-esque rhythms of ‘Gelato’ that really gets the venue jumping. Only KNIGHT$ could deliver a line like “Vanilla, strawberry, chocolate/To have and to hold” with conviction (while also swinging the mic stand like he’s conducting an orchestra).
The staccato synth-pop of ‘Julia’ follows up, offering sweeping romance via its electronic heart. Then it’s time to dive into a more disco pop flavour care of ‘Hijack My Heart’, an engaging number which gets everyone’s feet moving.
That disco theme is kept rolling by the busy electronic rhythms of ‘Alligator’, along with a superb outing of pop anthem ‘What’s Your Poison?’
Getting into the spirt of things, Knights is also happy to wander into the throng of the crowd, effectively erasing the border between stage and audience. In that manner, Knights throws a nod to his inspirations with a slick rendition of Pet Shop Boys’ classic ‘Heart’ while prowling through the assembled crowd.
Dipping back into the Dollars & Cents album, there’s a real physical impact with the robust ‘Shadows’. But there’s still some surprises in store for our Halloween crowd. Inviting Roxi Drive on stage, the duo take on a cover of the theme song from The NeverEnding Story. As a touchstone of 1980s pop culture (as revisited in cult TV series Stranger Things) it’s a tune that continues to have a charm that again establishes the lasting power of composer Giorgio Moroder.
It wouldn’t be a complete night without a live take on the album’s title track (and new single). As a result, ‘Dollars & Cents’ is delivered as an anthemic pop banger which gets everyone in the basement venue jumping around.
While KNIGHT$ is already at work composing song ideas for album No. 2, tonight’s Halloween adventure has offered up a perfect showcase for the disco pop delights of his work to date. Spooky fun!