I went back to the Hi-Dive again Monday night, this time to catch some local, national and international electronic music acts. This concert had been on my calendar for a while, and when the time finally came I figured some chillwave and dreampop on the more mellow side would be a good way to usher in a new week and spend an early autumn night. I wasn't sure what the turnout would be on a Monday night, but it was pretty good, as plenty of people chose to come out and see the show, even from the very beginning.
Local experimental electro-pop group King Mob had the honors of opening up the night. I hadn't really heard their music beforehand, but I was excited to hear them based on their pedigree. The trio of Ben Martin, Sam Martin (of Flashlights) and Charles Kern (of Woodrose) form King Mob, and together they perform an eclectic mix of danceable yet dark electro synthpop that draws from a variety of different genres. Ben Martin handles the vocal duties, and his vocal style reminds me of '80s new wave frontmen (like Marc Almond of Soft Cell), but perhaps with a little more pleasant ghostliness. All three in the group split duties handling the instrumentals, and through various synths, filters and computer controllers, they create sounds that range from driving, synth-laden electro new wave, to glitchy, wompy, hard-hitting slow tempo industrial tech-step, to airy and atmospheric soundscapes matched with thumping syncopated rhythms and fluid bass.
|Ben Martin of King Mob|
On stage, it all came together in a package that could only be definitively described as King Mob. They started the show with an untitled work-in-progress introductory song that began with Ben Martin eerily oohing into the microphone. The peculiarity of the haunting sounds had the audience attentively listening in wonder, just in time for King Mob to pounce on the crowd's unexpectant ears with a filthy bass heavy beat. From there, King Mob performed "Take My Hand, I'm Changing", a song with an '80s inspired chillwave-esque beat and vocals to match, but mixed with synth lines that reminded me of Daft Punk's Discovery. "The Wasp" was another song with a delightfully bizarre beginning that became oh so awesome when the 2-step meets dubstep beat dropped in. "Moonchild" had the perfect balance of moodiness and attitude, giving the song an atmospherically epic quality.
|Charles Kern and Sam Martin of King Mob|
To wrap up their set, King Mob performed a new, untitled song that required crowd participation in the form of stomps. As the crowd stomped to the beat, Ben Martin would sing while stomping and clapping to the off beat, creating a final song that was a pleasure to see, hear and feel. King Mob's performance was great, and their style of music is quite unique - an unconventional blend of chillwave, gloomy electro, and synthpop. Their darkpop style is a fresh take on electronic music, and I found it exciting and catchy. It may not be for everyone, but I can't wait to see and hear it again.
Next up was international chillwave artist Chad Valley, who came to us from Oxford, England. I am a really big fan of Chad Valley's music. I've listened to every single song and remix I could find, and I've had his new album Equatorial Ultravox on heavy repeat since it was released this summer. His recordings are a prime example of what defines the chillwave movement - danceable retro styled new wave rhythms, airy synths with simple yet catchy melodies, and lofty reverberated vocals. I had high expectations for his performance, so it pains me to say that they weren't met, and it wasn't even close.
Chad Valley is a talented producer, and the quality of his instrumentals didn't disappoint. Each song had that definitive laid back chillwave dance beat I was looking for. All his songs were sequenced well and whenever it came time to play sections on the keyboard, he performed them just fine. But when it came to performing the vocals, it seemed like he just wasn't all there. I don't know if he was already tired from touring, or that he just didn't expect people here to really know about him yet, but I could read on his face that he seemed reluctant to be performing, as if he didn't think anyone cared about him being there one way or the other.
He did have his moments; his performance of "Up and Down" had plenty of passion and energy, and that transferred well to the crowd. As for everything else, he seemed to be holding back, and no matter how solid his instrumentals were, it kept the crowd tentative because Chad Valley was unable to project any sort of captivating energy. When it came to my favorite song, "Now That I'm Real (How Does It Feel?)", he performed it an octave lower (and sometimes a bit flat), and it just completely shattered the feel of the song, like watching someone sing a bad karaoke version. He seemed to be in a hurry to get off stage and his performance was very short. He left out many songs from Equatorial Ultravox, like "Shell Suite", "Reach Lines" and "Acker Bilk" - three of the songs I wanted to hear the most.
I'm still a huge fan of Chad Valley's music, but as of now, I can't quite recommend anyone to go see one of his live sets. I think he needs to work on his stage presence and on owning his role as a singer if he wants to do live performance. If he can do that, he'll be able to capture audiences with his awesome synthpop meets R&B style of chillwave. Otherwise, he may want to consider staying in a producer role and recruiting other musicians to help perform his music live, or he can perform his music as DJ sets, because he has a lot of awesome remixes under his belt too. Hopefully it was just an off night for Chad Valley and that isn't the norm, but I can only go with what I saw and felt in my gut.
Finally, it was time for the headlining act, Active Child. Active Child's music is the product of Patrick Grossi, but he had the assistance of a live drummer and another person on keyboards/bass/backing vocals. Grossi was responsible for lead vocals, keyboard, and harp. Yes, you read correctly - harp - and I must admit, he certainly made playing the harp look badass. Together with these tools, Active Child creates their self-described "hymntronic" sound; a blend of choral vocals and atmospheric instrumentals that sound like they originated from a cathedral, matched with epic and explosive drumming reminiscent of Phil Collin's "In the Air Tonight".
|Patrick Grossi of Active Child|
I did enjoy Active Child's performance, although the songs I enjoyed most were the songs that strayed a little bit away from the hymntronic style. The Active Child songs I like best are the ones that have a little R&B influence in them; "Hanging On", "Playing House" and "When Your Love Is Safe" to me have that hymtronic framework but with more soulful slow jam beats - like music for bumping and grinding in the clouds. The thing is, Active Child performed all those songs in the first half of his set, so I kind of feel like he went through all the good stuff too soon.
As for the rest of Active Child's songs, I think they are clever, I think they are different in a good way, but I don't think they are exactly anything I'd listen to regularly. But I think Active Child is completely fine with that, because judging by the makeup of the crowd, I don't think I'm Active Child's target demographic. Active Child had a good sized and passionate crowd, but it was made up mostly of young females, making me almost feel like I was at a boy band concert for hipster girls for the majority of the performance. From what I could tell, that hymntronic sound Active Child has played right into each and every one of those girls' hearts.
|Patrick Grossi of Active Child|
As long as Active Child makes more music in the vein that I like, I'd definitely check out one of his shows again. I can't imagine he'd abandon making songs that have that R&B twist considering "Playing House" is Active Child's first single. It was refreshing to hear a unique style of music, and it was performed with powerful conviction. Active Child's choral falsetto voice is quite amazing to witness live, and I think Active Child did a good job of convincing people they should learn how to play the harp. Give his new album, You Are All I See a listen, and if you like it, check out a live show, it won't disappoint. But if you are looking for something more like the danceable single "Playing House", you may come away from the experience like it was a mixed bag.
Overall, I'm glad I went to this concert. King Mob was refreshing and exciting and I can't wait to see what more they will do in the future. Plus, they pretty much made it onto every Halloween mix/playlist I will make this year. As disappointed as I was in Chad Valley's performance, I'm still glad I got to check it out. Most of my disappointment was because I felt he had the potential to be so much better of a performer but perhaps sold himself short. Plus, I don't think Chad Valley realized there are actually people on this side of the pond that dig his music. Active Child really was amazing to see but to get the most out of the experience, you have to like his whole repertoire, and most of it doesn't have the same feel as his single. But in the end, it was still a great concert experience as a whole.
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