Xeno & Oaklander/Phosphor

The Waiting Room, London - 31 May 2013

"A barrage of audio wonders"

[Xeno & Oaklander poster]I was a bit late coming to the repetitive minimal electronics of Brooklyn New Yorker male/female duo Xeno & Oaklander, having heard them for the first time in their support slot to John Foxx and The Maths at XOYO in 2011. That date was just one of a mini-UK tour they'd lined up at the time and I was very nearly tempted to get to a second date but never did. Two years flies past, and having gotten to know their third album Sets & Lights particularly well (I purchased it at that XOYO gig immediately after hearing their set), along with a range of their back catalogue thanks to YouTube, I was well prepared in advance this time.

 What I wasn't prepared for was support act Phosphor. A girl, boy, girl three-piece based in London, whose music is described as dark electronic pop with a touch of shoegaze. Can't say I noticed much of the latter live. It would have been fine if I had as I'm quite partial to a bit of shoegaze. No, this was alternative, melancholic, electronic music in all its finery. A barrage of audio wonders that had my tongue hanging out by the time they'd reached their first chorus.

In the combination of guitars and synths there was a frisson I hadn't heard live from a band since the days of Xmal Deutschland (ah, such sweet memories). I don't throw out that comparison lightly. This was seriously impressive and for my money quite brilliant music. Best new discovery so far this year – so contender for a certain dsoaudio.com award come the end of 2013.

Setlist: Skull, Internal, Survive, Tortured Soul, Rotary, OFF//ON, Rouge a Levre Noir, One Night in Rome

I was still in a heady daze when, after a quick change over, Xeno & Oaklander took up their positions on stage. And a sight to behold it was too. Unlike some of their contemporaries their love of analogue equipment isn't reserved for the studio only. So, with a fondness for all things Roland, in addition to Sean McBride's two SH101s side-by-side and Liz Wendelbo's sumptuously monochrome RS-09 synthesisers, there was a multicoloured spewing of patch cables coming out of a pile of boxes that generated, with a bit of constant tweaking by McBride, the whomp, whomp of the thumping beats and those cascading sequencers that are so distinctive of X&O's sound.

The audience that now packed out the basement were clearly well up for this and didn't let the non-stop-mix nature of this evening's set prevent them from throwing in countless whistles, whoops of delight, roars of approval and cheers for even more. French/Norwegian lead vocalist Liz Wendelbo is on very good form tonight, both vocally and performance wise. Her voice noticeably stronger than when I first saw them and her distinctive, swirling dancing was curiously captivating to watch. They sound uber cool and they look uber cool. They don't need to pander to the masses. They just resolutely do their thing and do it just as they fancy on the night.

Their reliance on backing tracks is non-existent, so every Xeno & Oaklander gig is (literally) technically unique. So the same song performed on various nights of this tour will be subtly, sometimes markedly, different. That creates an extra buzz to their performances that (one assumes) keeps it fresh for them too. This added energy transmits to the audience who pick up on it and work themselves up into a frenzy. The set was constructed to showcase tracks from their forthcoming six-track EP Par Avion, due in the Autumn on Electric Voice Records; but included tracks from each of their three albums, plus current single Sheen.

Before we know it, the set has come to an end, the audience go crazy (I can't remember the last time I heard such a racket come from so intimate a number of people) but there's no time for an encore. Xeno & Oaklander must pack up and prepare to travel the next morning to Ireland for a gig in Dublin tomorrow night, before returning back to England for Manchester after that as the final date on this Eurpoean tour. It's been fast, it's been passionate, and for us fans it's certainly been a joy to behold. We wait avidly for news on the next UK appearance. 8/10

Setlist: Sunday, Sheen, Par Avion, Blue Flower, Sentinelle, The Staircase, Years Before, Sets & Lights

Rob Dyer