Two’s Company — Top Ten Synth-Drum Duos (A ‘Notes From The Keybed’ Special)

If you’re a regular TBO reader, you’ll know that two of my favourite things in this world are two-piece bands and badass synthesiser-driven music. In my opinion, the limitations of a duo seem to swell the creative juices of such units; without the safety net of a larger band, it takes a lot of thought, energy and downright determination to present a wall of sound greater than the sum of its parts. So for this special feature I’ve decided to round up a list of my favourite synth and drum duos who push the boundaries of musical style and technology to make a big noise that will still fit in the back of a Smart Car after the gig. Crossing a range of genres from electronica to indie rock, each band’s approach is distinct from the others and demonstrates the huge potential of this deceptively unrestrictive line-up. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top ten synth-drum duos…

Shy Child

The original keytar and drumkit duo of frontman Pete Cafarella and tub-thumper Nate Smith, New York’s Shy Child emerged from the new rave scene that also gave birth to the likes of Klaxons and New Young Pony Club. In the mid-noughties this pair cracked out indie rock songs over pounding dance beats and distorted synth hooks, whilst managing the seemingly impossible task of making the keytar cool. Releasing two full-length albums before breaking the mainstream with 2007’s Noise Won’t Stop, which featured singles ‘Drop The Phone’ and ‘Summer’ as well as the title track, the two-piece were equally at home on rock festival stages and indie-disco clubs.

Matt and Kim

Matt and Kim are the ultimate boy-girl band for a myriad of reasons. Not only are they a legit couple, they make cutesy pop songs that are utterly irresistible whether you are five or thirty-five. Matt plays keys, Kim plays drums, and between them they create a two-piece symphony of singable choruses and danceable beats. A quick scout of YouTube reveals them to also be contenders to the throne of ‘most fun live band ever’, as this video for recent single ‘Get It’ demonstrates…

Galaxians

Taking their name from the cult arcade game, Galaxians make music as retro as their moniker suggests. The Leeds two-piece create party-starting live disco inspired by classic New York boogie and funk. Delivered live with authentic analogue keyboards and raw drum grooves, you’d be foolish to resist a Galaxians disco invasion.

Woodhands

Another duo proving that the keytar didn’t die with prog rock, Woodhands exist to merge the rigidness of electronica with the organic realness of indie rock. Taking a full arsenal of gear onstage including classic synthesisers and Dan Werb’s trademark Roland keytar the duo’s 2008 album ‘Heart Attack’ mixed garage rock sensibilities with dirty synths and a delicious smattering of vocoder.

Soccer96

Whereas the majority of bands in this list are indebted to technology to be able to recreate their layered recordings in a live setting, Soccer96 leave the laptops and sequencers at home, instead relying on Danalogue’s keyboards played through Marshall stacks and looped in realtime alongside Betamax’s jazzy drumbeats. Ditching the sync button lends an impressive authenticity and sense of ‘shit could actually go wrong’ to the duo’s live shows, with psychedelic soundscapes and complex drum rhythms bouncing off every wall.

I Was A Cub Scout

Ok, so I’m kind of breaking the rules with this one as keyboard-totting frontman Todd Marriott also played guitar, but no list of synthtasic duos would be complete without emotronica twosome I Was A Cub Scout. With the perfect blend of charming synth melodies, intricate drumming, and lyrics about girls, they were every indie kid’s wet dream back in 2008. Their one and only album was called I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope, which says it all really. Drummer William Bowerman now splits his time between playing complex instrumental prog rock with Brontide and backing synth popster La Roux, which makes a surprising amount of sense when listening back to the likes of ‘Pink Squares’ and ‘Echoes’.

The Presets

Australian duo The Presets are the most traditionally electronic group on this list, with their hard-hitting electro-house soundtracking dancefloors since 2003. Singles such as ‘Talk Like That’ and ‘This Boy’s In Love’ place Julian Hamilton’s 80’s new wave drawl and electroclash bass riffs over drummer Kim Moye’s club beats, whilst live the duo take on a whole new energy as cymbals are smashed and synth filters are tweaked up to breaking point. They’re also fond of salt and vinegar crisps and freestyle dancing for inevitable extra bonus points.

Mates Of State

As Mates Of State, the husband-and-wife pairing of keyboardist Kori Gardner and drummer Jason Hammel create classic indie-americana, singing love songs to each other with gorgeous harmonies dispersed over distorted organ chords. Unashamedly pop, latest EP You’re Going To Make It is basically the Taylor Swift you’re allowed to like.

I <3 MCHN DRM

Sweden’s I Love Machine Drum, styled I <3 MCHN DRM, are another band who pack in a formidable amount of gear for two people, as demonstrated by their live YouTube videos, with kaoss pads, laptops and synths all rigged up and controlled by the impressively mustachioed Trygve Stakkeland, whilst Geir Strandenæs Larsen brings his tight drumbeats to the fray.

Slingshot Dakota

The ultimate boy-girl emo duo Slingshot Dakota create a glorious noise for only two people. From the early beginnings on Their Dreams are Dead, but Ours is the Golden Ghost to 2012’s Dark Hearts, the pairing of Carly Comando and Tom Patterson make songs that pull at your heartstrings one minute and then make you want to dance the next. With distorted keyboards and power-pop drums they create anthems from the simplest of set-ups, which is surely what this whole two-piece band thing is all about.

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