Posts Tagged ‘Electropop’

MØ floors the crowd at Shpherds Bush, London, Saturday 1st November 2014

MØ floors the crowd at Shpherds Bush, London, Saturday 1st November 2014

Those who have never seen Mo before may well be surprised by the vigour that puts into shows and this was no exception at Shepherds Bush Empire.Mo (real name Karen Marie Orstead) is already a breakthrough star in Denmark and fast rising in other countries including the UK. She has ditched her punkish roots for an electro sound with occasional soft R n B electro-beats. Her performance at Shepherds Bush was vocally gutsy and stylistically forceful.

Zazie and her Band absolutely at the top of their game, Forest National Arena, Brussels, Belgium, Friday 6th December 2013

Zazie and her Band absolutely at the top of their game, Forest National Arena, Brussels, Belgium, Friday 6th December 2013

It has finally happened – the extra special performance that I have been longing for from one of my favourite French artists – Zazie has arrived. Zazie, with an eye watering real name of Isabelle Marie Anne de Truchis de Varennes served up not only one of the most intense musical experiences I have ever personally experienced but did it without overly obtrusive visual effects so that your eyes and ears were focussed firmly on the singer and her band.
Zazie first came to my attention in 1996/97 while I was living in France studying for my degree. The buses in which I used to travel around the university town of Besancon, constantly had on the radio, playing a mix of French and English pop music that was current at that time. Tunes that were frequently played included several singles from Zazie’s first commercially successful 2nd album Zen, such as “Larsen”, “Un point, c’est toi” and “Homme, Sweet, Homme”. These tunes, that juxtapose sweet tense harmonies with Zazie’s emotional almost folk-like voice, imbedded themselves on my psyche and took root.
Then in 2004, she released the album “Rodeo” which I consider to this day to be her masterwork and one of the best French language pop albums of all time. The next year in 2005 I decided to go and see her live but unfortunately the experiences were mixed partly due to the venues (in Bordeaux we could only see part of the stage) and technical difficulties (in Lille, although the set was visually iconic with Zazie arriving suspended from the ceiling on 4 straps, the sound system and occasionally the singer’s voice sounded crackly.
The year 2008 saw Zazie break new ground and come to London, playing the venerable Shepherd’s Bush Empire on my wife’s birthday weekend. New material was aired from the Album “Totem” to an overwhelmingly French crowd made up largely of expats, young French workers and students. In my favourite London venue, it should have been the perfect show. It was a good show. We had great seats in the middle of the Level 1 balcony. Zazie made some valiant attempts to speak English and there was a vibrant atmosphere particularly towards when the crowd got up and sang classics like “Rue de la Paix”. Like I said it was a good show but not quite perfect. This time it was the crowd themselves or at least the ones around me that took the shine off. I heard too many murmurings, petty criticisms and unworthy attempts at deconstruction. My frustration was palpable. I did not know if I would ever get another chance to see this great singer at her best.
Her 2010 Za7ie: l’Intégrale came and went and while interesting, at 49 tracks over 7 EPs, demanded some work and patience from the listener. Admittedly, I didn’t go to the 2011 tour in France.
Now fast forward to 2013 and the release of latest album “Cyclo”, an album with an altogether darker and grandiose feel. This album is almost as good as “Rodeo”; I knew had to go to a live show again and being the most convenient date, booked for Brussels.
All I can say is perfect, perfect, perfect.
For this show, the venue was acoustically completely right from opening number “Ou allons nous?” (where are we going) to the end.

Sometimes Zazie played a brilliant melancholy with her voice on such songs as “Les Contraires” (The Opposites) , a song which as many, throws the spotlight on the emotional differences in relationships between men and women.
At other times, delving back into her extensive back catalogue, you could feel the substantial drama put into songs like “Ca fait mal et ca fait rien” (It hurts and doesn’t matter) that explore warring relationship within a couple.
Zazie also appears as a keen observer of modern tendencies and trends. The song “Tout” with its up-tempo techno beats and club-like synth rhythms was delivered as a critique to the fast paced modern life and impatient consumer society that now extends into our private lives.
Some classics such as the 1995 release “Larsen” were heartfelt and played in full but others like “Un point , c’est toi , and “Je suis un homme” were incorporated into an amusing Brazil medley style where the Zazie’s band left their instrument to come the front of the stage and play samba drums. At one point, Zazie and the band donned pretend bishops mitre’s and sat on the edge of the stage to acknowledge St. Nicolas Day. After Zazie then went off into the audience to try and start a story going with occasionally bemused individuals in the crowd, with mixed but hilarious results.
Within the long set consisting of about 24 songs there was a liberally sprinkling from latest album “Cyclo” . “Je sais Pas” , another song that with its slow start long build-up into a crescendo projected a feeling of foreboding of a relationship coming to an end. But the title track was a masterpiece both in vocal and instrumental delivery that held me spellbound. The synth riffs were haunting and reminiscent in many ways of the dark atmosphere found in Depeche Mode songs.
The concert got into full electro dance phase with Electro-libre and an slightly more up-tempo and squeakier version of Adam et Yves than usual.
The end of the main set saw 3 live classics; first ,a note perfect version of the truly beautiful “La Dolce Vite” whose synth melody reverberated perfectly through the vast space of the circular arena like a wave; then the proper version of “Je suis un Homme”, a critique of the nature of man in society and history. Zazie exhorted the crowd to sing the chorus “Je tourne en ronde “ ( I go around in circles) to which duly obliged, same thing for next song “Rodeo” – another live classic . The crowd were singing “C’est la vie pas le paradis” long before Zazie started singing the song. All three of these songs were executed with perfect precision.
The first encore also contained crowd pleasers including the very danceable and very apt 20 ans (20 years old), considering most of the crowd were probably in their 30s and 40s, the popular singalong “Rue de la Paix” and the smooth melodic vocal harmonies of “Ca”.
The second encore and last song “J’envoie valser”was personally very special to me and my wife who was also at the concert with there with me as it was the music of our first dance at our wedding; very emotional and a perfect end to a show that was without any shadow of doubt the concert of the year 2013.

Goldfrapp perform the last leg of theeir "Tales of Us" World Tour,  Hammersmith Apollo, November 1st 2013, London, UK

Goldfrapp perform the last leg of their “Tales of Us” World Tour, Hammersmith Apollo, November 1st 2013, London, UK

Watching Goldfrapp performing can be a bit like a making a spaghetti Bolognese; you know you have all the right tasty ingredients there but depending on how you combine them and also the chef’s mood on the day, the dish could be one of the tastiest you’ve tried or something good but not exceptional. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am and remain a massive fan of the band. I have all 6 studio albums and have been to see them more times than you could shake a stick. However, while exceptionally talented and with a 4 octave voice that could melt crystal, lead singer Alison Goldfrapp’s changeable on-stage temperament could and did, in earlier years, affect the tone of the show.

As the years go by, though, and certainly evidenced by the last two shows I’ve seen – both at Hammersmith Apollo, Alison seems to have become more self assured and relaxed as a performer. The venue seemed to suit and the audience was respectful and appreciative. I’ve noticed that shows have not always worked so well in venues like Brixton or at festivals where the crowd tends to be more raucous. While parts of Goldfrapp shows can be fun and demand you get up and dance, other parts require listening rather then just hearing.

Goldfrapp’s lastest live outing was more subtle than the “In your face” loud and proud 80s style power extravaganza of 2010, and fell in line with the mood of latest album, “Tales of Us”, many tracks of which were showcased in the first half of the concert. Commencing with the first of the track of the new album “Jo”, the tantalisingly delicate strings and background synth riffs and simple piano repetition of a few notes interwove beautifully with the fragility of Alison Goldfrapp’s vocals.

The acoustic guitar melodies on tracks such as “Drew”, “Stranger”, “Alvar” and “Annabel” were well played, proving as haunting and notable as Alison voice – the perfect foil. “Stranger” and “Annabel”, in fact, almost felt as if they could have come out of the songbook of Goldfrapp’s first album “Felt Mountain”.

Alison Goldfrapp is not renowned for long chats with the audience but did take time out to explain the meaning behind some of the new songs, like the gender ambiguity behind the character in “Annabel”. In focusing on the music, the intimate lyrically rich content intricately bound up with each of the characters showcased in the songs from the new album should be not be underestimated or overlooked.

A couple more mellow moments from the Seventh Tree album in the form of “Little Bird” and “Clowns” were to follow as well the operatically tinged “You Never Know” but then the concert gave way about way in to the splendid electro-glam song tracks from 3rd and most commercially successful album “Supernature” and impressive laser effects. A section of the crowd downstairs got up and strutted their stuff (or rather wiggled) – mostly men, I think during “Number 1” but then more and more joined in for “Ride A White Horse” and “Ooh La La”. The set by now, already littered with crowd pleasers was crowned with a quite screechy rendition of “Lovely Head”, the pulsating “Train” and the deliciously sexy and euphoric “Strict Machine” with which the group have finished their set on a number of previous occasions. Great climax – a string of danceable electro-artpop numbers. Frankly, what was not to love?

The mesmerizing voice and lyrics of Alison Goldfrapp and the musical electro genius of Gregory’s compositions are as strong as ever as was the touring band. A special mention should also be made of Angie Pollock whose keyboard work was as dynamic and vibrant as ever. In fact, this final show of the tour was probably the most polished and artistically mature that I have seen from the band thus far. Long may they continue.

Natasha bangs the drum, Bar for Lashes at the Field Day festival, London, May 25th 2013

Natasha bangs the drum, Bar for Lashes at the Field Day festival, London, May 25th 2013

Bat for Lashes aka Natasha Khan’s performance shone through in the late evening sun at the Field Day festival during a day of high quality performances, though, it’s hard to know why she was not top of the bill. No disrespect to Animal Collective, who were the official headliners on the main Eat Your Own Ears stage (and whom I did not see) but they are hardly that well known in the UK and their chart performance in the US peaked in 2007/2008. This does not stack up with Khan’s two UK Top Ten albums and a prestigious Ivor Novello award. Similarly irksome was finding out band of the moment Palma Violets had bumped up to second billing when I was expecting to the see them on the Laneway stage in the afternoon.
Rant aside; let’s imagine Bat for Lashes was in the headline slot, Khan’s performance was, as ever as engaging and lively as her multi-coloured outfit. Tracks from new albums “The Haunted Man” were interweaved easily with songs from “Fur and Gold” and “Two Suns”. First up was the ethereal “Lillies” with its grand orchestral synth instrumentals that saw Khan purposely wielding a drum stick.

Bat for Lashes aka Natasha Khan dazzles the crowd at Field Day festival , London, May 25th 2013

Bat for Lashes aka Natasha Khan dazzles the crowd at Field Day festival , London, May 25th 2013

Khan’s vocals on “What’s a girl To Do?” resonated a haunting quality similar to that of top French singer Mylene Farmer while the four octave range of her voice was brilliant demonstrated on “Glass”.
Removing her colourful cape she swayed, danced and hopped her way round the stage during “Oh Yeah” and referring to Victoria Park said was glad to be back in “my back garden”.
Of the tracks from the new album, the lyrical allegories of All Your Gold were delivered impressively and “The Haunted Man” saw a strange moment with Khan holding what appeared to be an old wireless set over her head during the military drumming section. I’m sure there was a reason behind but I was hard pressed to see what that reason might be.

What on the box? Natasha Khan holds a wireless set aloft, Bat for Lashes at Field Day festival 2013, London

What on the box? Natasha Khan holds a wireless set aloft, Bat for Lashes at Field Day festival 2013, London

The dance interest for festival goers was brought with the introduction of the science-fiction type fantasy song “Pearl’s Dream” with its infectious drum beat. An hour long set seemed to fly by and was brought to an end with an enthusiastic crowd singing along to award winning song “Daniel”. It was clear from this set that the quality and range of Natasha Khan’s voice is comparable to some of the contemporary greats of British pop music such as Florence Welch and Alison Goldfrapp but you cannot help but think that, in spite of this being a great performance for a festival, the edge is taken off by an outdoor setting.
Last time I saw Bat for Lashes in 2009 it was also outdoors but night had descended and torrential rain and lighting added to the atmosphere. However, in general, singing of this calibre is better appreciated indoors and I look forward to the day that I can watch this talented artist in a venue like Shepherd’s Bush Empire or even the Royal Albert Hall.

This review was orginally published in 2008 following the Human League’s triumphal December 2007 tour of their most recognized album Dare.

Twenty-six years after in January 1982 The Human League stood at No1 in the UK album charts with their album Dare, the audience were treated to the first performance ever of this work in its entirety and went away completely satisfied. Blending haunting robotic synth riffs, pop melodies and accessible lyrics, the album was and remains a breakthrough, representing the transisition from art based abstract sythesiser music and to the melodic synth pop of the eighties. This genre has now been revived in modern Indie rock and electonica of the 2000’s but the League were most definitely one of its original exponent.

From the moment the show opened with The ThingsThat Dreams Are Made Of (the first track on “Dare”) large sections of the audience were up moving in typicial 80’s style or wiggling in the trademark style of singers Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall as the League moved relentlessly in strict order through the album, which of course contained many soaring hits such as Open your Heart, Sounds of the Crowd and Love Action. 80’s iconography flashed behind with images of personalities such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The slower tempo “I am the Law” gave a brief respite before the finishing the first part of the show on the hit that sealed their place in world pop history “Don’t you want me” which prompted a mass singalong from, at least, the 1000 or more dads present.

During the 10 minute break the musicians kept playing while Oakey, Sulley and Catherall changed into something more comfortable. In the case of Phil Oakey this consisted of a lounge suit and nothing more then glitzy shimmering very short cocktail dresses for Sulley and Catherell who looked fantastic . This costume change added class and sexyiness in equal measure to the proceedings. In the second part there was no experimenting with songs from recent albums as in the 2003 tour. They gave the public what they wanted and it was greatest hits all the way. A belting rendition of the League’s first venture into political pop, the still highly relevant The Lebanon was followed by 1986 hit Human. To the delight of a happy crowd they closed with Mirror Man. In the encore Oakey truly rolled back the years with the trance –like Being Boiled – the League first single release 30 years ago , then finished in triumphant fashion with the Giorgio Moroder penned Together in Electric Dreams. Not even an unwelcome intruder on the stage right at the end could spoil the overall feelgood nostalgia factor that emanated from this truly special gig celebrating “Dare” an album that some commentators have called synthpop’s equivalent of Sgt Pepper.

as first featured on the website

Ellie Goulding – A little bit of fizz,  A little bit of pop , A little bit of wiggle.
– Live Review from O2 Brixtion Academy, London, UK, Wednesday 12th December 2012

DSCF9291[1]Ellie Goulding' s passionate performance at London's Brixton Academy, December 12th 2012

Ellie Goulding’ s passionate performance at London’s Brixton Academy, December 12th 2012

At the end of 2009 I named my famous five of female singers who I thought would a serious impact on the UK music scene in the coming years.  The list included Florence Welch, Bat for Lashes’s Natasha Khan, Phillipa Brown from Ladyhawke , Victoria Hesketh aka Little Boots  and La Roux’s Elly Jackson.  I should have added a sixth at the time in the form of another Ellie – Ellie Goulding.

I believe the reason I didn’t was that the others had just established themselves in what proved to be a quality year for music and were already headlining their own major gigs but Ellie Goulding was still the understudy albeit a very promising one.  It wasn’t until 2010 that she broke through with the multi-selling Lights album and the cover  of Elton John’s  “Your song”.

Now, having spent a good part of 2011 touring and quietly  away from the UK spotlight, it seems she has surpassed many of contemporaries  (with exception of Florence) and has broken America with the single “Lights” – this having  registered  2 weeks in the No2 slot in the US Billboard charts and having just passed 1 year in the Hot 100.

Ellie has hardly stopped touring in the last 3 years with only a hiatus of 5 months this Spring and Summer.  She has chalked up well in excess of 230 concerst in the last 3 years which must make her one of the hardest working artists in the business.  It’s just as well she has a strong fitness regime

So out on the road again to promote sophomore album Halcyon it was to home shores to play her first gig at the Brixton Academy ably supported by another promising upcoming group Sons and Lovers.

Ellie Goulding and her band at Brixton Academy, London, UK, December 12th 2012

Ellie Goulding and her band at Brixton Academy, London, UK, December 12th 2012

Her band shuffled on stage to their instruments fairly innocuously but then there was no messing around. Ellie briefly acknowledged the crowd but went through at least 4 songs before any kind of audience conversation. Kicking off with “Don’t say a Word”,  she bashed away almost ceremonially  on the a drum with two sticks, setting an almost temple like atmosphere with the solemn yet soaring sound of synth and vocals.

Little Drummer Girl - Ellie Goulding drum up the crowd at Brixton Academy, London, UK, December 12th 2012

Little Drummer Girl – Ellie Goulding drum up the crowd at Brixton Academy, London, UK, December 12th 2012


The eponymous “Halcyon” was performed with heart and soul. During “Figure 8”.  Ellie moved around the stage with little bounces and skips, no mean feat given the killer 5 inch wedge heals ankle boots she was wearing; and she cutely wiggled her way through “Salt Skin”. Then, it was off with the jacket as Ellie gushed about how she’d always wanted to play the Brixton Academy and later how “mental “  it was.

Ellie Goulding goes acoustic for a song during her Brixton Academy show in London, Wednesday 12th December 2012

Ellie Goulding goes acoustic for a song during her Brixton Academy show in London, Wednesday 12th December 2012

An acoustic section was performed tidily with the majority of the audience singing-along to “Guns and Horses”.  There were folkish elements in the verses of the lyrically tender song “I Know You Care”, which contrasted with the anthemic Florence and the Machine quality of the chorus.  However, my favourite moment of the whole concert was when Ellie entreated everyone to “start moving a little” and then launched with full wiggle and supremely passionate voice into “Only You” during which she went to the edge of the stage and actually went down on her as per the lyrics of the song, finishing off with a drum bash.  Another highlight was Ellie’s slight vibrato soprano voice combined the euphoric synth hook on “Anything Could Happen”  that was simply glorious. Ending the pre-encore section with  “Lights” that morphed into a Dub-step outro, sent the teens in the audience crazy and prompted  some wild dancing at the back of the auditorium.

Ellie Goulding lets it all out - Live at the Brixton Academy, London, UK, December 12th 2012

Ellie Goulding lets it all out – Live at the Brixton Academy, London, UK, December 12th 2012

Her most popular release in the UK , Elton John’s “Your song” provoked another mass-singalong in the encore and the set finished with an energetic Ellie enthusiastically banging  her drum.  All in all – a good evening’s entertainment that fizzed and popped.