Notes from the Keybed – This Month In Synths [February 2015]

February… a month of romance for some, regret for others, and raging synth riffage for the rest of us!

This month saw the release of a new single from West Midlands four-piece Shatter Effect. We’ve been keeping an eye on these dance-rockers for the past couple of years following ace tracks such as ‘Rebecca’ (check out the incredible video, indie bands – that’s how it’s done!) and ‘Find What You Love’. Their latest single ‘Make Me Hate You’ continues the trend of dark lyrical content, ice cold keyboard textures, and fuzzed up guitar riffs. A more industrial affair than before, with synth arpeggios straight out of the 80’s, matched with tom-heavy drums and the twin vocal attack of Rebecca and Robin Davies. The single is the first offering from the band’s debut album ‘We Are Warriors’, which will undoubtedly be a banger – we can’t wait!

If there is one unfortunate musical trend we’ve noticed lately it’s that keyboard players seem to be disappearing, only to be replaced by a laptop, audio player, or even (sorry soundmen) a phone. There’s a whole article to be written about this, starting with Black Sabbath hiding their keyboardist under the stage, but as live music gets more polished and accurate to the record, it runs the risk of losing character. Who cares if there are six-part vocal harmonies and a string section on your indie trio’s EP? The live experience is supposed to be different, to be raw, and, above all else, ‘live’. So here’s a heartfelt plea to bin the backing, chuck out the click, and go off the track!

Given the above, it is always a joy when a band bucks this unnerving trend, especially in unexpected circumstances like the one we found ourselves in recently. To set the scene, it’s your standard five-band punk rock / indie night at Cheltenham music’s local hangout The Frog & Fiddle, with the usual mix of local and touring bands. Mary Fields were a last minute addition to the bill, coming all the way from the Netherlands, which immediately peaked interest. So when they cracked out not just a keyboard but also an entire organ (how the hell do you transport that overseas?! – answers on a postcard please) it was clear that this wasn’t going to be your average noise-rock spaz-core band… if there is such a thing. With half the group setting up off-stage amongst the audience, they proceeded to launch from a quick line-check into an a capella version of Whitney’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ before shifting straight into full on Rolo Tomassi / Dillinger Escape Plan-style math-outs! Keyboardist Chris Greevink went from surprisingly proficient jazz piano playing to rolling about screaming in the space of a single song, peppered with some creative effects trickery throughout. Their short but sweaty set surely left everyone watching gobsmacked. Definitely a ‘marmite’ band, as with any noise band, but you owe it to your badass self to check them out if they roll that organ up your way in the future. You can also download their mini album ‘Flawless Victory Over Movement’ from Bandcamp, where you’ll find intricate song structures, strong vocals, and impressive musicianship on display amongst the chaos.

From one bizarre occurrence to another, the Internet was well and truly won for me this month by the appearance of a Vine featuring a headband-wearing busker with a seemingly limited vocabulary and some sweet keyboard dancing skills. Stephen Paul Taylor, or to use his nom-de-artiste SPT, is a 40-year old Canadian musician who entertains / terrorises – depending on your point of view – the streets of Berlin with his one-man keyboard band. The Vine in question is his song ‘Everybody Knows Shit’s Fucked’, a synth-pop protest about how everything is, like, totally screwed maaan. Once you get over the initial hilarity of the chorus it’s a genuinely catchy song, with more interesting lyrics than the Vine gives him credit for, and a cracking keyboard hook! If you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering which 80’s anthem it was lifted from before realising that it’s entirely his own work and that his album ‘People Tonight’ is full of similarly catchy tunes. It won’t win any prizes for production as the overall aesthetic is charmingly DIY, with the sort of cheesy midi drums you might remember from school music classes (you know, those keyboards with the DJ button… hours of fun). It reminds this listener of not just 80’s pop masters like Eurythmics and Human League, but also the oddness of Talking Heads and an inevitable German dose of Kraftwerk. It might not be everyday listening, but if you like your synth pop to come with a side order of silly and a smattering of expletives, or just fancy something you won’t find elsewhere in your music library, then it is worth heading over to his Bandcamp for a listen. Whilst you’re there you might as well chuck him a quid for the ‘shit fuck’ song at least!

To finish, I want to award SPT with this month’s Keytar Hero title, despite not being able to find a picture online of him with one, you just know he has one in his closet… all together now, ‘everybody knows shit! fuck!’