February 18th | Old England
Synth-punk rears its head when society is at its most confused. The late 70s malaise that birthed its original wave of artists like Devo, The Units and The Screamers now feels all too current. As the unforgiving demands of late-stage capitalism continue to grind unmercifully, the miasma of precarious employment, environmental anxiety and dwindling prospects for anybody have borne a new rush of alienated misfits, set on dissecting our pent-up existential crisis like a mad scientist’s autopsy.
Making a name for themselves by bringing left-field acts like Apostille, Happyness, and Shopping to the South West, it was entirely appropriate that Bristol promoters, 1% of One extended their reach to Melbourne, nabbing bizarro glam outfit U-Bahn, who by their own admission describe their synth-soaked signal hijack as ‘‘nostalgia for futures that never came to pass; suburban boredom and sexual dystopias.” The electric blue light that flooded The Old England’s stage slowly drew in the crowd, like flies to a fly-zapper.
Entering the cold hue first was Brighton trio ELLiS⋆D, who tore through an expert set of melodic indie with an authentic core of sincerely passionate lyrical delivery. Veering between psychedelic jangle and taut punk attack, the band’s frontman cut through tracks like ‘Homecoming Queen’ with unashamed sincerity, rousing the room with his Tom Verlaine-style vocals and stirring songcraft. Welcome moments of tightly-wound post-punk energy infected the crowd just when it needed to, the frantic spirit of ‘Electric’ filling out the initially thin crowd.
From the raw and personal to the staid and disconnected. U-Bahn announced their arrival with the ominous throb of a synth pulsating out of singer Lachlan Kenny’s keyboard. Mute and restrained, both he and fellow synth player Zoe Meek, decked in matching white shirts and slicked-back hair, stared the audience down in a dispassionate gaze. The off-kilter drums to ‘Beta Boyz’ opened their set, a nervous groove of brittle guitar and atonal synths which the band performed effortlessly while maintaining their cool disposition.
Confidently presenting a setlist that contained four songs not featured on their debut LP, their penchant for prog jams, musique concrète and alien collages collided in suitably mad fashion. The angular and jerky rhythms demanded a tight unit, which U-Bahn met with ease, performing the heavily Devo-inspired ‘Turbulent Love’ or the hazy ‘Right Swipe’ deftly, the crowd bopping to every bleep and synth whoosh.
Their more conceptual compositions, like ‘Time Warps Make the Sweetest Sound’, showcased just how proficient the band were at complexity, jumping from sci-fi surfer rock to fuzzy lullaby music without breaking a sweat. After a demand for an encore, U-Bahn left the taste of bad VHS porn on everyone’s lips, performing the sordid ‘Damp Sheet’ amid cod-reggae vibes and a montage of fake moans and dodgy dialogue. Nervous sex underneath demure reticence was a perfect parting sentiment and image from the kids obsessed with ‘sexual dystopias’.
We’re a confused bunch in confusing times. U-Bahn’s eccentric set of buttoned-up subversion and spiky dissonance seemed to tap into the ‘weird’ that currently hangs in the air, felt by all.
See the video for ‘Right Swipe’ here: