The Irrepressibles/Noblesse Oblige

Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, London – 11 July 2012

"A striking splicing of Antony & The Johnsons and The Human League"

For fans of support act Noblesse Oblige this sold-out London leg of a UK tour supporting The Irrepressibles will have been the third chance to see the Berlin-based duo this year. A remarkable luxury given that several years can (and have) gone by between UK appearances in the past. The two previous outings were as the main act, but it doesn't matter where they appear on the bill. An opportunity to see NO's Valerie Renay and Sebastian Lee Philipp should not be overlooked. 

Well-suited to their electro-cabaret style, the performance space at the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in Shoreditch was, quite literally, underground. The feeling of being in a bunker quickly created a feverishly hot setting and (for what was obviously, largely an Irrepressibles partisan crowd) a very up-for-it audience quickly tuned into the Noblesse Oblige unique way of doing things. 

Tonight's set included much new material from their fourth album, currently in the works. All of which demonstrate something of a step-change from previous material. The quirky, occasionally schizophrenic style of earlier material replaced with a more coherent, (dare I suggest more traditional pop song structures) but no less compelling for that. Indeed, the new material was uniformly strong and where as some such nights can instil a sense of apprehension followed by disappointment, it turned out the be a total delight instead. (Oh, and Renay still has some of the most impressive thighs in the business.) 

Noblesse Oblige setlist: Equinox, The Great Electrifier, Chasing Shadows, Intro Jalouse (instrumetal interlude), The 7th Wave, 4 am, Morning Docks, The Heat of the Night, Mata-Hari, Runaway

Rather than their energy or spirits being dampened by the rising temperature (I can't recall the last time I sweated so much at a gig), this lively bunch had no sooner cheered Noblesse Oblige off stage, than they roared the arrival of The Irrepressibles. The band describe what they do as Electro orchestral Pop-Art-Pop with their gigs being billed in advance as falling mainly into one broad category or another.

[Live photo][Live photo]The Irrepressibles are a ten-member orchestral ensemble who often put on large-scale and hugely theatrical shows. Tonight's band member numbers and stage are far more intimate however, with the focus essentially on one person, frontman and countertenor Jamie McDermott [photo: left] (who describes himself as 'Artist/Composer/Vocalist'). So perhaps no surprise that McDermott was embraced more readily by the art and fashion world than the music industry when he started out. Each show they put on is given a title as a 'performance object'. This evening was advertised as an electronic night entitled 'Electro Nude' - which pretty accurately sums up the second half of the evening.

Out doing pre-release teaser work on their second album Nude, JG McDermott had barely stepped on stage and the calls for him to strip began. Couple that with the feverishly spontaneous clapping and whoops of delight that accompanied his higher register work, it was pretty clear that The Irrepressibles have garnered a genuine, hardcore following on the back of their debut Mirror Mirrror released in 2010. Their extravangant approach to the live performances has led to several comissions, including show as at the V&A, London Fashion Week and a Mirror Mirror show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2010. Which also explained why the more modest capacity here, in the heart of trendsville, had been a sell out in advance.

Lead vocalist/composer McDermott has the voice of an angel. This, overlaid the more up-tempo electro beats, means The Irrepressibles occasionally sound like an striking splicing of Antony & The Johnsons and The Human League. At their danciest there are shades of Scissor Sisters, and led by McDermott's remarkable warbling falsetto voice one thinks of Bronski Beat's Jimmy Somerville at times. However, they are no patchwork pastiche of others, but have a distinctive voice of their own. The live presentation tonight with the singer centre stage backed left and right of stage by two half naked, lithe drummers [photo: right], who (to be honest) often struck a pose better than they did their percussion. For the heterosexual males in the audience the eye candy was confined to a towering spire of a woman clad in contour-hugging black leather, wielding a shoulder synth. 

Everything about The Irrepressibles songs about life and hopes for tomorrow revolves around McDermott. The band is really the cult of McDermott. Yet, in spite of the seriousness with which he goes about creating his art, he never comes across as pretentious. More the opposite, as his droll, sometimes self-deprecating chatting between songs confirms. Whether he and his cohort have either the staying power or the right kind of attributes to break further into a wider public arena I'm not sure. There's no doubting his talents do deserve a larger platform, and audience, than they were restricted to tonight. At the same time though, he seemed perfectly at home in such an intimate setting where he could reach out to his adoring fans and they, for a moment or two, could touch him back. If all of this sounds intriguing and you'd like to sample them live, they will be back in London with a large-scale Nude show to support the launch of the new album in October. 8/10

The Irrepressibles setlist: New World, Arrow (Remix), Spy Superhero, Ship, My Witness, Finale, Tears of A Clown, The Tide, Arrow, In This Shirt

Rob Dyer

Live footage on dsoaudio's YouTube Channel