June 6, 2012
By Robert Freeman
Although the early 21st Century has been dominated by musical nostalgia and a re-hashing of the past, there has also been a trend in electronic music of digging up the future of the past – artists like Chromatics and Neon Indian embody a kind of ‘retro-futurism’, a mixture of times and tenses, a vision of the future from the viewpoint of the not-too-distant past.
The Village Underground, appropriately, is an abandoned London Underground tube station, so the old brickwork feels aptly industrial enough for the kind of time-slippage that this night is about. Scandinavian opener Philco Fiction’s joyful pop nostalgia sets the tone for the night, as they work their way around a mixture of electronic and acoustic instruments, beeps and chords providing as much of the percussion as the drum kit behind them. Like counterparts Niki and the Dove, Philco Fiction have a passion for the ballads of ‘the unremembered eighties’ (to use James Murphy’s phrase). However, despite its content very much having a sheen of the kind of balladry you would hear from Cyndi Lauper, the music still sounds new – this is not borrowed nostalgia, but a mixture of past and present.
Chromatics up the percussion for live shows, focusing on a chugging backbeat rather than the minimal spaces in between. Opener ‘Tick of the Clock’ ends up more of a beat-fest than on record, and although Adam Miller still has a bit of an itchy trigger finger on his arpeggiator, the genre-slip from John Carpenter soundtrack to dance music works well in a live context. Gentle guitar licks over a pulse still feels unsettling. Combined with the silhouette of Ruth Radolet wreathed in blue light and smoke, purring at you like a succubus, this is far from merely shoving a bit of reverb on some vocals. The music encapsulates the Blade Runner aesthetic of technology combined with a new past.
If Anthony Gonzalez is the John Hughes of retro-futurism, then Alan Palomo of Neon Indian is its Richard Linklater. On record, Neon Indian has moved from washed out, woozy synth to the M83 school of pervy breathing and big riffs, from deadbeat summer to a Gonzalez-style SF populated with ‘ghosts and shadows’. For tonight though, in his industrial redbrick setting, the lights are bright and the music is markedly more lucid than the tie-dye wooziness of Era Extrana. The gameboy bleeps, Boards of Canada keyboards and cut-ups are still present, but vocal melodies are more pronounced, and weave between riffs with more precision and force. The audiovisual aspect (projected on the back wall) is as you’d expect from a man who wrote ‘Should Have Taken Acid With You’ – fractals and old video games. But for all the hippy/hipster stylings, Palomo, like the other bands this evening, takes the tools of yesterday and makes tomorrow – not ‘retro’, but something far more interesting.