Saturday, May 14, 2005

Sunday Synthpop Brunch: Performance

After spending the last couple of months talking exclusively about electropop acts from the 1980s, I think it's time for the Synthpop Sunday Brunch to try a change of venue ... at least in a temporal sense.

Everything is cyclical in the music biz, and with the high profile re-emergence of danceably melodic post-punk rock (Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Stellastarr, Hot Hot Heat) over the last couple of years, it would seem to follow that it must only be a matter of time before synthpop (post-punk's pretty-boy younger brother, if you will) reclaims the spotlight once centered on the likes of The Human League, Soft Cell, Thomas Dolby and Berlin. Should another moment of mass-appeal glory for the genre come around again, the English foursome Performance is definitely the band most suited to be standing at the front of the stage.

Cursed with a band name that twists the simple act of Google searching into a bloody nightmare, Performance owes their existence to a happy accident. Longtime friends Joe Cross (electronic percussion) and Joe Stretch (lead vox) would show up and perform their own compositions in front of Manchester's Café Pop. Apparently, the owners of the establishment had finally had enough of the duo and were throwing them off the premises just as Billie Marsden (synths) and her sister Laura (guitars/backing vox) came walking by. Following this fortuitous meeting (and the subsequent purchase of a sequencer), Performance was born and their debut single, the braying electro-punk missive "Dotted Line," was issued at the end of 2003.

Now the current toast of the Manchester electropop scene, Performance inhabits the middle ground between ultramodern and anachronism. By utilizing some classic punk attitude, the invasive analog synth textures of modern electroclash, melodic old-school synthpop arrangements (think Japanese Whispers-era Cure or early New Order), and Stretch's occasionally glam-foppish delivery/stage presence, Performance raise the genre above its fey, withdrawn anti-image of recent years and restore some of its fashionable swagger and sass. Luckily, they also pack some killer tunes, the best of which became their second single.

A sublime exercise in criminally addictive electropop, "Love Life" is one of the catchiest damn singles I've heard in a very long time. Ever since I first stumbled across this track a couple of months ago**, "Love Life" became one of those songs that became a bit of an obsession for me, occupying my head for hours at a time whenever I'd think of it (this pleasantly persistent brain itch that was only scratched by landing a physical copy from here this past week).

For those who enjoyed the above track, several other songs by Performance - in complete and demo form - are available for streaming on their website. At last check, an full-length album is currently in the works and should be released in the UK this summer on Polydor. Woohoo!

** I first came across this song when a friend pointed me to a site hosting its promotional video, which apparently ran on British MTV around the time of the single's release at the end of November 2004. This rather strikingly iconic clip (the band calls it "a three minute meditation on the escalating levels of militancy in the generation below us") is available for viewing here.

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