Battery Operated Orchestra/The Department/Jan Doyle Band/Brutalist Architecture In The Sun

Hope and Anchor, London - 9 July 2016

"An eclectic and really rewarding night of new electronic music"

This evening came under the banner of Synth Club (previously known as Analogue Nights), a series of irregular gigs with DJs, courtesy of The Department's Rob Green; who has been doing a lot to support, promote and expand the underground electronic music movement in the UK (and elsewhere) in the last couple of years.

Brutalist Architecture In The Sun first caught my attention last year when a recommended video for their song Basildon that popped up on YouTube. Seems I'd caught them still near the start of their adventures, with only a handful of tracks released online to date, with tonight being their live début. Started by Dean Clarke, BAITS, or 'Brutalist' as I prefer to shorten them as, have recently added Cye Thomas as lead vocalist.

I immediately fell in love with their name and so wanted them to sound as good as their name suggested they might be. Thankfully, they pretty much were. Their style is one of austere minimal wave/coldwave made with some magnificent synth sounds. But whereas a lot of that stuff can sometimes be a bit too self-conciously po-faced, there's a sense of wonder and joy behind much of Clarke's writing that keeps this from getting morose. If you like your early The Human League then you need to check this out.

As live débuts go, this delivered aplenty. Chatting to Thomas afterwards, his background is in the indie rock world and tonight was his first electronic scene gig. And he'd loved it. He was energised by every other band on the bill and had been firmly converted. Brutalist's first album Concrete Pop has just been released and is well worth seeking out.

Brutalist Architecture In The Sun setlist: Slaves, Towers, Dead Friends, Two Horses, When Is It Better?, Running On Empty, Do We Ever Know The End?

[Brutalist Architecture In The Sun]    [Brutalist Architecture In The Sun]    [The Department]

Photos [L-R]: Brutalist Architecture In The Sun x 2, The Department

The Department have been steadily doing their thing for last couple of years. Making an immediate splash with a rather swanky video for their 'once heard, not forgotten' single As If Transformed, releasing a noteworthy début, Alpha, last year and contributing a new track to the recent Synth Wave Vol. 1 compilation on Electro London Records.

Work is under way on a follow-up to Alpha, and what makes this already welcome news even more tantalising is that Cliff Chapman, former original member and main synth guru of 80s almost-stars Naked Lunch, joined The Department earlier this year.

Still, what all this means for you, dear reader, is that not only do you have relative newcomers The Department to enjoy but their contribution to the electronic music scene can only be enhanced further by Chapman's contribution who, it has been confirmed, is already co-writing with Green and Lindstrom for the second album (due in a few months time).

Tonight was the first time I'd seen this expanded, three-man lineup and given one of my comments in a previous review was that I thought the band would benefit from an additional live member – well, I'm chuffed they've been so obliging!

Clearly Chapman is still finding his feet in the new role and is picking up parts that he's had no hand in writing, but there's a nice symmetry to the band live now with frontman Green flanked by two quiet synth types either side. Albeit Lindstrom still looks like The Terminator – it's a good look.

This was a rock solid set, with the live arrangements of the recorded songs sounding already fairly bedded in despite having to adapt them for the additional live synths. This project is progressing nicely and with the recent sneak preview of a new song online suggesting that the vocals are going heading in a more ambitious direction, there's a lot to like about The Department.

The Department setlist: Don't Give Up, Glass Houses, Not For You, Days Of Liberty, Slow Down, This Be The Verse, As If Transformed, When You're Not There

[Battery Operated Orchestra]    [Battery Operated Orchestra]    [Battery Operated Orchestra]

Photos [L-R]: Battery Operated Orchestra x 3

Battery Operated Orchestra were largely new to my ears. I knew only a couple of tracks but had heard only good things about them live so was looking forward to this baptism. Their stylish videos impressed and demonstrated that attention to detail in presentation was important to them. It's not surprising that they've been given airplay on BBC Radio 6. On songs like Diamond Feelings they neatly straddle the gap between the underground and the more mass potential of the likes of La Roux.

Unfortunately, both for the band and the audience, the in-house sound engineer at the Hope and Anchor was clearly having difficulties. The net result must have been irritating for the band, they had to acknowledge the issue and apologised for any negative impact, which there undoubtedly was. But that did not affect the impression they made, which was positive.

That visual aspect from their videos was present live both in the backing videos used throughout their set to the wrap-around synth stand, and BOO branded ghost figure lighting around the stage. Everything said professional. So, gutting then that only weakness, again through no fault of the band themselves, was with the sound. Even so, the merit of the songs (check out some of those titles) was still apparent beyond the technical issues.

Battery Operated Orchestra setlist: Queen Mary's Funeral March, Fluoro Sushi, New Town, Radiation, The Sea, Diamond Feelings, Wish List, Tin Can Telephone, Fairy Tale, Unjustifiable Transfer

Last on stage tonight were Jan Doyle Band. Which, if you're not already familiar with them, you could be forgiven for thinking that they were some god-awful local pub rock act. The reality couldn't be further removed. Brainchild (for indeed JDB is a brainchild) of one Derek Anthony Williams who resides in Doncaster, where he fosters the regional electronic scene via his ironically-entitled Doncaster Electronic Foundation or DEF, putting on gigs and running his own radio show.

I recall receiving links to demo material by JDB a couple of years back. I cheekily quizzed Williams on the band name – explaining that I'd never clicked beyond the name to explore the sound on account of the name being terrible. Williams explained that it comes from a far greater concept, where the Jan Doyle Band feature in an entire fictional SF universe. Unusual indeed. Having then 'got' the concept behind the name, I'd only heard them online. So, this too, was my first opportunity experiencing them live.

[Jan Doyle Band]   [Jan Doyle band]   [Jan Doyle Band]

Photos [L-R]: Jan Doyle Band x 3

As good as some of the recorded writing was, kinda proto-EBM, made with minimal and minimalist analogue synths, the live incarnations took the music to another level. Having Williams as your front man helps. Looking like a wasted teenager who barely gets out in the daylight, possibly on account of reading way too many 2000AD comics in a dingy and grim bedroom. On stage, he properly inhabits a character which may, or may not, come from the fictional universe in which Jan Doyle Band also reside.

Aside from the occasional synth slaps, knob twiddling and mischievous noise generation, Williams prowls around the stage and out into the audience, rarely looking at anyone directly, instead being wrapped up in his own inner universe where Jan Doyle Band has a significance beyond the mortal coil the rest of us were watching from. Lurking in the shadows was Michael Stokes on keyboards, ensuring there was a decent amount of music being performed live whilst Wiliams was out doing his thing.

My weakness for the JDB was due in no small part to some proper, old school, full analogue synth triggering going on. This was art-concept, minimal synth music, yet never sounded pretentious. There's little concern about 'winning over' audiences at a JDB gig. But neither was it the disregarding of them that you sometimes get with bands. (Those that appear to have nothing but disdain for their audiences – as if they were a necessary evil of performing live.) Rather JDB present their concept as much as theatre as they do a 'band playing a gig'.

Sadly, once again due to limited train options, I had to bail merely twenty minutes into JDB's set (meaning I never did get to hear their cover version of Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip's I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper.) But the 20 minutes I did get was all I needed to hear to know that it was mistake to have left it so long seeing them live. I hope I don't have to wait much longer before I can spend a full evening in their deliriously weird company.

Jan Doyle Band setlist: Ron, My Life With Her, Newsreel Cities/Ghost Rider (Suicide cover), Oblivion/Burn You, The Within, Noble, Fighters, I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper (Sarah Brightmand and Hot Gossip cover)

From start to finish, this was an eclectic and really rewarding night of new electronic music. 8/10

Rob Dyer

Review: Rob Dyer
Photos: Tanya Rafferty