LIVE REVIEW: What We Call Progress, Emile’s Telegraphic Transmission Device, therunningchelsea, Worry Party @ Head of Steam Newcastle (18.04.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s not often you get a relatively large collection of the region’s alternative electronic acts playing in a room together, so the chance to see four of them together was too good of an opportunity to pass up. As all four bands on the night were purveyors of distinctly different electro-infused sounds, it was gearing up to be a showcase of the range of sub-genres that make up the massive field.

Despite this, a running theme of the night appeared to be found sounds (or, at least, sounds that have been chopped from news broadcasts and films). There was a very Public Service Broadcasting vibe enveloping at least three of the sets, with Worry Party commencing the trend by layering the recognisable old-timey voices over electro bleeps. The man behind Worry Party, Steven Chell, also of electro-goths Fractions, loves his video games, and it shows: most of his set could easily soundtrack some of the best platform and adventure games of yore thanks to their high-energy beats and grandiose synths. While it’s still clearly all a work in progress, the miniature collection of tunes marked him out as one to watch.

The most classically “acoustic” set of the night came from Tom Hollingworth, otherwise known as therunningchelsea. Hollingworth commands the stage with an affable manner and just a touch of quirk, covering his face with a sequinned mask and sporting some nifty neon-yellow nails. I’ll admit I was jealous; Hollingworth has better nails than me, which is a miracle considering some of the semi-abuse he puts his guitar through. He goes from strumming casually to beating its wooden sides and gliding his nails along the strings to create all the sounds under the sun. There’s the occasional use of loop pedals, which lend an added layer of musical depth, particularly to his vocal antics. Combined with a supreme songwriting skill, that tows the line between the social commentary of Billy Bragg and the cheeky wit of Jake Thackeray, it’s an all-round intriguing, if a little short, set.

Emile’s Telegraphic Transmission Device bring things back round to the distinctly more electro-pop side (emphasis on the “pop”). After a few technical troubles – one of the many pitfalls of using otherwise beautiful machines to help create your sound – they kicked off their set with a drum beat that sounded almost directly lifted from Blue Monday. While I do love a bit of New Order, most of ETTD’s set felt like a somewhat unnecessary and slightly self-indulgent throwback to the 1980s. They bring out a song about being proud of the region’s mining heritage which sounded like a mash up between OMD’s Enola Gay and pretty much any of the pop bangers the Pet Shop Boys produced at the peak of their powers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s difficult not to enjoy a bit of a sparkly and OTT throwback – but it’s s shame there wasn’t anything more innovative and contemporary lying underneath the 80s sheen.

After that in-your-face diversion, What We Call Progress could have been seen as rather sullen. It’s true that for the most part the duo perform rather downbeat songs, but between them John and David show a keen musical sensibility and know what makes a good electronic tune. The beats are simple but not boring, the synths brooding and melancholic and John’s electric guitar adds another, almost indie dimension that separates them slightly from the masses. With a clutch of impressive and well-crafted songs under their belt, including recent single Pack of Cards, it wouldn’t be surprising if the pair were one of the bands to break through at this year’s Evo Emerging festival. Although they were basically playing in a room to a handful of friends and intrigued punters, they might not be stuck that way for long.

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