The Pink Diamond Revue/LegPuppy/Dicepeople/AkA

Hope and Anchor, London - 31 August 2019

"If anyone tells you electronic music is boring live then you should tell them to come out to nights like this"

I was born in 1967, so just about the right time to go and see many of the pioneers of the electronic scene (both big and small names) that exploded in the UK at the start of the 1980s. I took photos at pretty much every gig I went to back then, and realise now, decades later, how much some of those far from professional, but rare shots mean to me.

Sorting through the stacks of prints from that era also reminds me how fortunate I am to have seen so many acts, often in their prime, so up close in small venues especially in London. I remember going to a 4AD night at the ULU (University of London Union) in 1985 that had Clan of Xymox, Dif Juz and Wolfgang Press all on the same bill. As if that weren't enough, that same evening, a very young Beloved performed in the bar for free!

A one-off and unforgettable experience that will never be repeated.

That's why I went to so many gigs back in those days. And I have many such examples of what made (and still make) going to see live bands in small venues still such a thrill.

Curiously, as far as I can remember, I never went to any gigs at the legendary Hope and Anchor pub in the London borough of Islington. 'Curiously' as it has long been a key live circuit venue for bands on the rise. Joy Division, The Cure, U2, The Stranglers, The Clash and Ramones all played in the small basement room here early in their careers.

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Photos [L-R]: AkA
Credit: Rob Dyer #1 + #3, Mark Smith #2

They layout down there may have changed around a few times down the years, but the energy, excitement and discovery of new music possible there remains as persistent as it ever was.

Billed as a night of 'Random Lunacy', and organised primarily by Matt Brock of Dicepeople, this mirrored a number of gigs I've attended here in the last few years. Several of those were promoted by Mark Smith (a frequent contributor to this publication) under his Eclectic Electric banner. A showcase for little-known but often creatively enticing acts that frequently delivered impressive lineups.

And that tradition was perfectly captured and continued tonight.

The four artists on the final bill (the lineup shifted slightly from when first announced) were all ones I'd gladly go an see individually. So to have all four together, in such an intimate and historically significant venue, on a single evening felt positively indulgent.

I'd seen all the acts before. For me, one of the main reasons I come out to smaller gigs like this one, is to discover previously unknown music, or to catch live for the first time artists I've listened to but never seen on stage. it is rare that such a 'seen them all before' list of bands would compel me to attend. That's no slight on any of the bands on tonight's bill, but rather an indication of my never-ending desire to hear great new music live.

First up was Henri Sizaret's minimalist, purely electronic project AkA which has captivated my attention for five years now. Sizaret brings as much dry wit to his presentation as he is meticulous about his sound composition. The more I hear this project develop, the more I like it. Thankfully, making no concessions whatsoever to popular appeal, AkA is steadily (and through a prolific, but consistently high standard set of releases) defining its unique sound.

Tonight, branded as 'Dataism Alive' by Sizaret, focused on his latest (and best) album so far Dataism. Because Sizaret doesn't sing, the album features a smattering of abstract, treated vocals by Pedro Penas y Robles of electro industrial project HIV+ on a couple of tracks: Body Bang, Gone, both of which were performed tonight.

Working from a (suitably) minimalist equipment setup for live performance, AkA go further than most with their presentation. Whether it's the impressive intricacies of his kaleidoscopic back projections, or his emerging stage costume of shorts and crisp check shirts, everything about an AkA live performance demonstrates a rare attention to the details. Until recently, that has also been reflected (to an extent) in some of AkA's writing. It occasionally worked on a detailed level but was less successful when listened to as a whole.

AkA certainly doesn't do 'songs' in any conventional sense. But on Dataism, and throughout tonight's set drawing heavily from those new works, there's a feeling that the compositions are more compelling as a whole than much of the earlier releases.

I've been fortunate to have seen AkA a few times now (include the project's live debut) and this was undoubtedly the best it has yet been on stage. The performance triumvirate of Sizaret's witty sense of humour, incredible visuals and pristine audio is a powerful thing to experience and enjoy.

Set list: Algorythm ON, Dataism, Body Bang, CMYK, Needle, Artificial, Gone, The Three Graces, Humanism, Algorythm OFF

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Photos [L-R]: Dicepeople
Credit: Mark Smith #1 + #2,
Rob Dyer #3

I'm a little surprised this is my first write up of a Dicepeople gig, because I've seen them multiple times and liked them all. Like many acts you come to first time with no fore-knowledge, but are naturally attuned to, Dicepeople have steadily grown on me over the past couple of years. I think that's in part due to their sound gradually evolving from what they themselves describe as electronica roots to a more defined dark electro sound.

It's a move that has worked for them, both in their recorded output, such as last year's impressive One From Many album, but also live as they've emerged further from their influences with a more confident sound of their own. The line up has also shifted during this period. Former lead vocalist Atashi has moved on, her role taken up by Zmora. Their respective vocal styles are quite different (Atashi's the more 'melodic', whereas Zmora's are more 'visceral'). But it's a change that as worked well. Possibly due to the nature of the newer material being written with Zmora's delivery in mind.

The constant is Matt Brock who writes and performs all the music. I've been listening to One From Many a lot recently and there's no question in my mind that Brock has a deft touch in the studio when it comes to production. Tonight's set included Morphia Melancholia (from their previous End Of Line album) which had never been performed live before, and Empress and Don't Save Me - two completely new tracks not heard before at all before this evening.

Zmora is an intense performer on stage. She reads from a Dicepeople book, covers her head in wire then slowly strips it away, kneels before Brock and gradually undresses down to a skeleton print body stocking. She inhabits a persona on stage, looking off, into the middle distance, rather than looking members of the audience in the eyes. For the duration of their set she operates on another plane. 

There's detail and subtlety to the recorded music that rewards many repeat listens. Inevitably, some of that is lost live, but it doesn't much matter as the combination of the strong songwriting, Zmora's stage performance, and the attention to visuals results in an immersive and intense live experience. Dicepeople tackle some dark subjects and do so without shying away from the fact. Indeed, it's because they face our collective dark side face on and give it as good as it gets that contributes to making them such a compelling live act. 

Set list: Bruised, Time To Play, Empress, Morphia Melancholia, Synthetic (Pneumatic Mix), Ghost, Don't Save Me

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Photos [L-R]: LegPuppy
Credit: Mark Smith

It's not for nothing that LegPuppy are categorised under 'Visual Arts' on their Facebook page rather than 'Musician/Band'. Main instigator Darren Laurence is also an artist, and brings something of a Renaissance attitude to all his satirically-driven creativity.

Like all four acts on tonight's bill, the Puppy collective bring a distinctive voice and attitude to the proceedings, having built up something of a 'reputation' for their on stage antics. Only the recurring motif of somewhat sinister neon clown masks is to be expected from this lot. Anything else might as well be at the whim of the art performance gods.

But those antics, like their songwriting, are fueled by a desperate frustration with the ills of the modern world. Their unpredictable stage shows aren't simply a gimmick, but rather part of an entire artist philosophy one experiences whenever they perform. Which, although it wasn't meant to, is all beginning to sound a bit pretentious! Point is, there is a lot more going on with LegPuppy than your average 'band'.

The motorik drive of a song like Twit Machine perfectly sums up the best of LegPuppy's proposition. Its head-bobbingly infectious thumping percussion, carried along by a looping bass drone rapidly becomes seductively hypnotic. More acerbic than The Prodigy. Throughout all of this, standing stoically front and centre of the stage was the artist Alice Mania. It takes some resolve to remain as motionless and expressionless as she did during their set. Despite the multifarious distractions surrounding her, I couldn't take my eyes off her. Something about her 'non-performance' performance was absolutely captivating.     

There's something intensely rewarding about their impassioned, sarcastic, even angry delivery that takes me back to those days of the early 80s - but shares more with the guitar-driven Leftist protest pop of the time than the far less political synthpop it was vying for chart position with. The irony of me filming songs like Twit Machine on my mobile phone (at the request of the promoter I hasten to add) was not lost on me. Indeed, I smiled broadly as I was knowingly doing so, and mirroring the band members themselves who pull out their 'smart' phones on cue to deliver the chorus refrain: "Tap, tap, swipe. Thumbs up, like. Tap, tap, swipe. Thumbs up, like".

Set list: Lucid, Nominate, Twit Machine, Kinky Emoji, Tears, Selfie Stick

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Photos [L-R]: The Pink Diamond Revue
Credit: Rob Dyer #1, Mark Smith #2 + #3

Any act that could follow what we had already witnessed so far this evening and not only hold our attention, but somehow manage to take it up yet another level, surely deserves some kind of national award. I don't think such an award exists. So, someone needs to make one and hand it to The Pink Diamond Revue.

I'd only seen TPDR once before at The Water Rats in London, again on a bill with LegPuppy. I was simultaneously mesmerised and blown away by their talent. So, I did not expect it to be almost exactly two years before seeing them again, but date clashes meant I managed to miss at least three other gigs they'd played in London since. So I was very up for this.

The Pink Diamond Revue operate in a surreal psyche world where John Barry's theme to The Persuaders rubs repeatedly up against the thigh of samples from Russ Meyer films. The latter giving an unexpected but genuine connection to AkA who is also partial to the raw allure of the shimmering hips of a curvy go go girl. Co-incidentally, there was also a presentational connection to LegPuppy, in that TPDR are fronted by Acid Dol - the top half of a female mannequin who is (understandably) as immobile as Alice Mania was earlier. The sudden short, but frequent, bursts of domestic violence metered out by lead guitarist Tim Lane on Dol being the only time we see her move.

I'd never heard, let alone conceived of, vicious psychedelia as a genre before seeing TPDR in 2017. But no sooner had I witnessed the opening few bars of their set back then, than I knew this was a thing and found myself immediately immersed in their edgy, slightly disturbing, hallucinogenic netherworld of kaleidoscopic oil bubble projections, nightclub glitterballs, spangly gold two-piece suits, late 1950s LSD-inspired tripadelica.

Also like AkA earlier, essentially an instrumental outfit, what few 'vocals' The Pink Diamond Revue do feature come mainly from the characters' mouths of the aforementioned Meyer movies and the like. They're not a rock n roll band, but purveyors of a electro/psyche/twang from a parallel universe. Live instrumentation is pared back to a guitar and drums. Everything else, and it often revolves around keys of various kinds, is on backing track.

Acid Dol, may only be the top half of a model from another dimension and doesn't do a great deal, but she remains a command presence. She's also one of the best-dressed front women out there, receive continual costume changes courtesy of an unnamed dresser. He steps in throughout the set, switching her from silver bikini tops to leopard skin print scarves, an array of hats, sunglasses, floral dresses, belts, necklaces, jackets and stylish overcoats. She easily outdoes the much-lauded costume changes of this year's pop princess, and will no doubt outlast them all.     

Rob, the Henri Rollins look-a-like drummer lays down a mean, rock solid beat, whether using sticks or brushes. No superfluous Keith Moon distractions from this guy. The main protagonist, guitarist Tim, with his slicked back hair, black tattoos creeping up his neck and onto his knuckles, retro-styled suit, big collar shirt, and vicious stare, looks every bit like he's on the run from Pinkie Brown's gang in Brighton Rock, and would cut anyone with his flick knife who threatened to give away his current whereabouts to those stinking coppers.   

No one puts on a show quite like The Pink Diamond Revue do. 

Set List: Microdot, Final Meal Request, Blink, Acid Dol, Lux, Weird Love, Miss Lonely Hearts, At The Discotheque, Go Go Girl

If anyone tells you electronic music is boring live then you should tell them to come out to nights like this. I urge you to see each and every one of the acts on tonight's bill whenever the chance arises.

Tonight's 'random lunacy' was actually anything but. It was a carefully-curated revue of some of the best live performers currently active, delivering pretty much everything you could ask of a gig. Rarely do you get four such impressive live performers on the same bill. The bonus of seeing them all in such intimate and historically significant live music venue as The Hope and Anchor was simply icing on an already wonderful night of tasty musical cake.

On nights like this (and that 4AD night in 1985), it's too easy to not to pause for a moment, and take stock of what of what one has experienced. I can only hope that in another 35 years from now, I'll still be around to look back with more cherished memories and realise just how fortunate I have been in my gig going life. 8/10

Review: Rob Dyer
Photos: Rob Dyer + Mark Smith