Wolfsheim / Silence Is Sexy / Trademark

Islington Academy, London - 8 May 2004

"Rarely has such style been combined with such substance"

[Wolfsheim flyer]Having sneaked a peak at the Trademark website before venturing back to the Islington bloody Academy, I had an idea of what to expect. But nothing I'd seen prepared me for what they delivered. Musically, imagine early OMD. Presentationally, put tongue firmly in cheek, and think early BBC2 Open University broadcasts. Although the three members of Trademark (great name BTW) look incapable of growing full beards, their white lab coats, laboratory stage set, goggles and flasks filled with coloured liquid brought an all-too-rare sense of fun to the London gig circuit. The highlight of presentation was when the band stopped playing, turned down the lights, and conducted an experiment to prove that synthesiser sound waves do indeed affect the heart. After hilariously explaining their findings with a chart on a backboard, they thanked the audience for their attention and got back to playing music with "See, Trademark is both educational and entertaining!".

[Trademark]Most impressively, all the gimmicks were not an attempt to make up for any inadequacies in the music. Far from it. If they had stood rigid during the set it wouldn't have mattered one iota. For these guys know how to write a tune. Lots of 'em in fact. Mirroring the best of early 80s UK electronic music, they combined brilliant pop melodies with the sounds of industry and the odd Vocoder voice. Getting into their stride, thoughts began to drift towards first album I Start Counting. What a stunning gig it would be with Komputer, Kinetik and Trademark on the same bill. Song titles like Harmonic Emotion, Sawtooth Lust and My Life In Stereo should tell you enough about this great act to give you a notion of whether or not you'd be seduced by their power. I was deliriously happy to succumb to their impressive (and entertaining) time on stage and cannot wait to hear their debut album. It's hard for an outfit who are heavily influenced by bands which passed their best more than twenty years ago to impress, but Trademark turned out to be the discovery of the year so far.

That is until a few minutes into Silence Is Sexy's set. Drawing inspiration from the same era, SIS however, are more reminiscent of Dead or Alive that the experimental pure electronics of the pioneers who influence Trademark. When the glammed up Sebastian and Tara first walked on stage I thought this would be another exercise in style over substance. My thoughts only prove that I've never really stopped judging a book by its cover. I should have trusted the roar of approval from the audience when these two pretty young things took to the stage. Overcoming some early technology glitches, these two naturally talented performers let rip with a stunningly impressive electro sound that effortlessly rises above the sea of mediocre retro acts populating the London scene of late.

[Silence Is Sexy]Rarely has such style been combined with such substance. It was as if they had synths in the 1930s. As this progressed, and I heard more of Tara's remarkable voice, comparisons were boldly (but inevitably) drawn towards Alison Goldfrapp. Given that this slight young thing is barely out of school, if she can continue to develop there's no limit to what she could achieve. In perfect contrast, Sebastian hails from the Pete Burns school of vocal styles. Its hard to tell if he's putting it all on and he's actually quite an accomplished vocalist, but that is to miss the point entirely. SIS's style is built around the contrast in voices and using each to its strengths on each song. Sometimes you might hardly hear Tara, other times the reverse is true. Lyrically too, this was cleverer than the average outfit. Meanwhile, the attempted cover of Donna Summer's seminal Georgio Moroder-penned I Feel Love was a perfect idea but not quite there. It's fair to point out that little beyond the vocals was actually performed live, but no one was going to let a minor point like that spoil their pleasure. Glamour is back in quality electro music for the first time since the early 80s... and we love it!

Having been unexpectedly blown away by both Trademark and Silence Is Sexy, and not especially being a fan of Wolfsheim, I knew that this successful German duo would have to be something pretty outstanding to top what had already been seen. The bottom line is that whilst they did not, in my view, manage to surpass either of their support acts in terms of excitement, their maturity and experience was plain for all to see. As ever with German acts, which often enter the mainstream charts in their homelands, the level polish of professionalism was impressive.

[Wolfsheim: Peter Heppner]Musically often referred to as the German Depeche Mode, visually the stage was transformed into what looked like a arts theatre group setting - with large cones lit from inside by soft colours scattered around the stage. There being only two of them (singer Peter Heppner and keyboardist/electronics Markus Reinhardt) for much of the set, and with the performance side tending towards the static, Wolfsheim relied much upon their reputation and fans natural enthusiasm to carry them through tonight's show. The delivery had, and I hesitate to say this (but it is true), the undeniable air of Germanic stoicism/efficiency/etc. You wanted them (especially Heppner) to just loosen up a little, enjoy the evening a bit more.

Heppner's vocal style becomes repetitive and predictable before too long and only when he shook of the overly familiar vocal line structure that dominates their songwriting, such as in the odd ballad, did individual tracks manage to stand out. Otherwise it was that worst kind of gig for the uninitiated - the kind where almost every songs sounds pretty much like its predecessor. That said, their fans clearly loved this rare opportunity to see their heroes playing on English soil and all credit to promoter Flag for enticing them over.

Rob Dyer