Tag Archives: cabaret voltaire

Metronomy @ Cabaret Voltaire, 29 Oct


(Image: Markus Thorsen)


Metronomy belong to that new breed of band: the band who love synthesizers; who make music with the party in mind; who do remixes; who probably started as one teenager in his bedroom geeking about with loops on a computer. The danger with such bands is that, so often, they don’t cut it live: even the most inspired knob-twiddling can fall flat as a performance. But, in a Cabaret Voltaire so filled with scenesters it resembles a promo for Skins, Metronomy manage to recreate the wonky, over-egged electro-pop flavour of their second album Nights Out – mostly. Without a drummer, they rely heavily on programmed beats and sequencers, and some of the album’s most sublime touches – such as the door hinge effect on ‘Heartbreaker’ or the guttural synth of ‘A Thing For Me’ – are lacking. But a mixture of tight basslines, chest-mounted push-button lights, (very) amateur choreography and actual songs (yep, ones with verses and choruses) justify their status as one of the most hyped of ‘new bands’.


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Shout Out Louds @ Cabaret Voltaire, 7 Aug

Shout Out Louds @ Cabaret Voltaire

Rating: 2/5

If, as popular conception dictates, Swedes really do only follow one of two musical extremes – church-burning black metal or polyphonic, wide-eyed pop – then Shout Out Louds have definitely chosen the latter. The Stockholm quintet combine the dreamy ambience of The Cure with the resonant guitar of U2, adding their own lush harmonies and tropicana beats. It’s the sort of harmless, sugary indie-pop that American film and TV studios dribble over, and in person, Shout Out Louds have the look to match their mass-market appeal, with pretty-boy singer Adam Olenius and elfin blonde Bebban Stenborg on keyboards. But it’s precisely this clean-cut image that detracts further from their limited musical excitement, especially in a live setting. Tracks from latest LP Our Ill Wills – particularly ‘Tonight I Have To Leave It’ – do manage to perforate the general flatness, but these are exceptions to the humdrum rule.

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Ratatat @ Cabaret Voltaire, 1 Aug

Ratatat @ Cabaret Voltaire, photographed by myself

Rating: 4/5

A post-gig Google of the name of the support act I’ve been provided with (Dead Boy Robotics anyone?) returns no MySpace, but maybe it’s better that this emo-tronica duo remain anonymous. Their oh-so-ironic yelping and synth-prodding wankery is head-splitting to say the least.

So how especially welcome it is to see the professionals arrive on stage in the skinny, excessively hairy forms of Brooklyn trio Ratatat. A tightly crammed Cab Vol crowd is soon nodding as one in appreciation of the thumping drum loops and outlandish guitar solos, and the excited reaction reaches a peak in the awesome ‘Lex’. Ratatat really are a band who belie their electronica tag in a live setting, and even unassuming tracks from the recent LP3 like ‘Mi Viejo’ and ‘Bird Priest’ are transformed into propulsive, hypnotic attention-grabbers, thanks largely to Mike Stroud’s singular slide guitar.

A tired two-song encore is probably unnecessary, but – to be fair – if they hadn’t appeased the baying one-more-tune mob, the euphoria may have soured.

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Interview: Ratatat

Stroud (left) and Mast

Ratatat may still be a lesser-known name on this side of the Atlantic, but it’s a name you’re unlikely to forget after a first introduction. That introduction may have arrived via a whimsical purchase of their 2004 self-titled debut, or 2006’s superior follow-up Classics, or their warm-up show for CSS at last year’s Triptych. Perhaps this is your introduction, as they’re set to release LP3 (that’ll be their third album then). Wherever your starting point though, it’s difficult to harness exactly what it is that makes their music so infectious. Their distinctive blend of pumping electro, multi-layered slide guitar and programmed beats defies genre-fication, but I asked Evan Mast, the producer/synth half of the Brooklyn band, to define it anyway. Predictably, all he gave me was this: “We don’t define it. We just make the music that we want to hear.”

Despite the perceived reticence, Mast is brimming with pride over LP3 – which expands the Ratatat formula yet further with more textured beats, more stylistic pilfering, a harpsichord here, a mellotron there – as he recalls its creation: “The process of making the record was such a great experience. We were in this big house full of instruments for 40 days and 40 nights just making tons of music, discovering so many new sounds and exploring so many different ideas. We’d make songs all day and then cook these amazing dinners and drink some beer and listen to the tracks at night. All the songs are attached to good memories, so it makes me happy to listen to them.”

Despite often being tagged as an electronic act, Mast and his Ratatat partner Mike Stroud are first and foremost instrumental musicians, and parts of LP3 come across like some post-modern rock concerto. It’s tempting to surmise the kind of classical education that fellow New Yorkers like Vampire Weekend have been touting, but Mast reveals that his teaching wasn’t quite so: “I took guitar lessons for about two years when I was around 11 or 12. My teacher was an old blues guitarist by the name of Robert Reese. He was a big guy with greasy Jerri Curled hair and his day job was working at the Ford car factory. He played a big hollow-bodied guitar and he mainly taught me how to improvise blues stuff. Occasionally I read up on music theory but I don’t have much patience for it.”

Mast doesn’t have much patience for lyrics either. The only words on Ratatat’s first album came in the fleeting form of rap samples [both Mast and Stroud are big hip hop fans, as you can hear on their two official mixtapes, available as free downloads from their website]. On Classics the verbal input was reduced to a cat’s howl on ‘Wildcat’, and LP3 is entirely instrumental. “I don’t have much of a voice and I find that words are often a very clumsy medium for communication. I don’t think I was ever really happy with the music I was making until I realized that I could do it without words.”

Ratatat playing at Summercase in 2007, photographed by meHaving witnessed Ratatat live once so far, I can guarantee that nothing you hear on record will prepare you for just how good they are live. Stroud is a wickedly talented guitarist, and partial to shameless Hendrix-style showboating; Mast grooves away on bass, while extra member Jacob Morris on keyboards pulls focus by headbanging a truly astounding afro. Do people often react with surprise to Ratatat shows? “We get all kinds of reactions when we play live but yes, some people seem to expect us to just do a DJ set or something like that. We just try to keep ourselves entertained and hope the audience will follow suit.”

With an opening night set at The Edge Festival on the horizon, I tell Mast that the venue, Cabaret Voltaire, is a small, sweaty, subterranean club.

“Sounds perfect,” he says.

A version of this article appears in this month’s Skinny.

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The Mae Shi @ Cabaret Voltaire, 18 May

The Mae Shi @ Cab Vol

Talking Heads and Pavement comparisons are ten-a-penny in the blogosphere, and Edinburgh’s Jesus H Foxx must be getting sick of ’em; if it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve clearly paid close attention to both indie supergroups. But the Foxx also have a madcap, unhinged sound that is all their own, and surfaces in the nervy post-punk of Tightt Ideas and This Is Not A Rentalcar.

You haven’t really experienced unhinged spazz-rock until you’ve seen The Mae Shi, however. The Los Angeles band, known for their warpspeed prog insanity and ludicrously compressed mixtapes, are a torrent of joyous, offbeat energy. They stumble from cheap-sounding toy keyboard beats to shredding power-punk riffs to whispered incantations and handclaps. At one point the guitarist unfurls a white sheet over the heads of the audience, for no reason other than the act itself, before they rip into their most normal song to date, Run To Your Grave. They leave the Cab Vol crowd shaken, confused, and just a wee bit happier than before.

(Gig review for The Skinny)

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