Finally, finally myself & Slate the Disco catches up with Bury St Edmund trio The Soft, long-standing favourites who’ve been making the kind of impact in their nightlife that’s bound to interfere with their A-Levels. Is it so selfish to be indifferent to their education so long as they keep sounding this good? The Portland was as busy as I’ve seen it tonight for both acts, so if one thing’s clear it’s that next time we’re gonna need a bigger venue.
It’s impossible to talk about The Soft without a thousand redundant clichés tumbling out first, and I can feel myself dangerously close to sounding like some faux-Pitchfork self parody. It’s only a matter of time before I start using words like ‘chillwave’ legitimately. What we see on stage is three modest and diligent musicians, clearly unused to the spotlight but equally deserving of it. Tonight’s set was a thing of grace, beginning with processed guitar arcs and ambient fuzz, the band gradually added beats until the sound became all enveloping. Warm waves of electronica spilled out unbroken over the crowd, leaving us adrift in an ambient sea. It took the band 10 minutes to break the spell and introduce themselves; either side of that interlude, their seamlessly woven set just flew by. Nobody seemed to know at which point to clap, but it was not for lack of want.
Aside from shoegaze duties, guitarist Henry could be seen tweaking something undisclosed on the Apple Mac and tapping out jittery rhythms to compliment the house beats. Casual singer Zander could be seen playing something that looked like a combination of iPad and Gameboy yet sounded like neither. For all this, the music was eminently human; ambient house mobilized into a semblance of pop. They received attention without demanding it, filled the space without dominating it. A complete breath of fresh air.
The crowds swell to alarming numbers prior to Clock Opera’s entrance, so much so it’s a surprise they make it to the stage. Taking their places amidst cheers, applause, and a backing track built from mechanical clock sounds, the bearded frontman smiles benevolently through the noise before launching into a set that’s a tribute to the glory of weird, avant pop.
Any allegations that electronic music lacks humanity has been thoroughly overruled tonight. Nothing about their performance was static, leaping alive from the laptop whence it came into a room full of appreciative fans. Guided by pop structure and the singer’s implacably familiar falsetto (David Bowie? TV on the Radio? The Cure?), Clock Opera turn the complexities behind their latest album into a great live show, with songs like Once And For All becoming unashamedly anthemic. It’s clear someone had a lot of fun writing these songs; tightly wound electronics open up into glittering, stuttering, shimmering pop vistas, and in the flesh became even more tactile. One song was introduced by way of a ramshackle tin orchestra, each member clanging some found metal object by way of percussion; another literally included the audience, encouraging our applause and cheers then looping it back at us to form the intro to 11th Hour. Single Man Made probably forms the most danceable moment, though I was sad to hear the guitars somewhat more muted live than on record. Elsewhere, the reverse is true; the live setting being an optimum place to underline the rockier moments behind the shifting, synthesized shapes.
For a band so new they’ve clearly covered a fantastic length already, with the album free to stream online and ready to drop commercially on April 23rd (more info). Judging from tonight, they only have great things ahead of them.