Synthwave fascinates me. It’s a genre of electronic music that sprung up around a deep love and fascination with 80s soundtrack music and its surrounding culture. The music video for the song ‘Turbo Killer‘ sort of sums the genre up. And yet if you look into the backgrounds of almost any of the biggest musicians in the genre right now – Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, GosT, etc. – they’re all either in metal bands or huge metalheads. The genre has displayed a curious and powerful crossover with metal fans in a way almost no other genre has been able to, particularly electronic music.
Sure enough, on arriving at The Key Club in Leeds for Perturbator, GosT, and Horskh, almost every single audience member was clearly a metal head. Black band t-shirts, leather jackets, denim vests – the lot. That just fascinates me, and it’s something I’d like to write about in the future. But enough of that background, let’s get into the bands themselves.
French industrial/EBM group Horskh were the surprise of the show for me. I’d vaguely heard of the band but never listened to their music, and decided that it would be an interesting experience to go in blind (or deaf?) and just experience the show. And what a show. Comprised of just a drummer and multi-instrumentalist, Horskh sounded massive. Their huge sound brought together heavy industrial beats, loud percussion, and a harsh, raspy singing, as well as heavy guitar passages. The vocalist threw himself around the stage in abandon in an almost psychotic state, drawing the crowd in and getting the blood pumping. It’s dark, unsettling music that gets under your skin, that’s as happy to bludgeon you over the head as it is to make you want to dance. Sometimes at the same time. It also sounds way heavier live, so I hope they capture something of that raw energy on their next release. One of the best surprises of an opening act I’ve ever experienced.
One of the biggest names in synthwave. His identity hidden behind a skull mask, GosT is known for creating some of the most absurdly heavy electronic music out there. Huge waves of bass wash over the crowd, distorted and mangled not quite beyond recognition. But the performance itself is a more subdued affair than Horskh, with just one figure on stage moving about behind the laptop. At times it did feel a bit rehearsed, like the album was simply being played over some very good speakers, but his stage act kept the audience engaged nonetheless, and the sheer intensity of his music kept things exciting. And the setlist was a very strong one. It mostly featured songs from his 2014 album Behemoth, but also a few from his newest album Non Paradisi as well as a remixed, bass-heavy version of I Need A Hero, which the crowd loved. All in all, a very solid show.
The highlight of the night by some margin was Perturbator, which is the project of French musician James Kent (formerly a guitarist in a variety of black metal bands). Perturbator has long been regarded as one of the most important artists in terms of broadening the appeal of the synthwave scene, and the release earlier this year of his fourth full-length album The Uncanny Valley on Blood Music solidified that. His performance was nothing short of stunning, and it was by far one of the best shows I’ve ever attended. From behind his complex arrangements of synthesizers and other equipment, and donning a leather jacket, his face mostly obscured below his hood, Kent cast a solitary figure on stage. But his music dominated the room from start to finish, transporting the crowd to the hazy neon lights of a terrifying future urban sprawl. The sound mix accentuated the brutally heavy bass which made the whole sound even more powerful than on record, while the melodies carried perfectly. And there was never any sense in which he was just hitting play and leaving things to run themselves – Kent was constantly moving around his kit, frequently remixing and editing his own songs on the fly. The setlist featured hit after hit from his entire catalog, including ‘Neo Tokyo’, ‘She Is Young, She Is Beautiful, She Is Next’, ‘Technoir’, ‘Sexualizer’, and even the fan-favourite ‘Perturbator’s Theme’, complete with the intro track ‘Welcome Back’. It was one of the most gripping, exhilarating shows I’ve ever experienced. All this to say: If you get the chance to see Perturbator live, don’t miss out.
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