Outland’s triple header that had the Queen of synthwave ruling the night.
Thursday night in London. It ushered in a long 4-day weekend -Long overdue for 2019. It brought a warm summer-like evening – Long overdue for 2019. Most importantly however, it brought the return of Dana Jean Phoenix to the capital – Long overdue for 2019.
Outland, the UK kings of live synthwave had a triple bill at Zigfrid Von Underbelly last night that saw Dana being joined by Synth act Lebrock, fresh from their epic tour with Dance with the Dead, and Kalax, who’s new album ‘III’ has been making column inches in the past few weeks since it’s release.
Outland have previously used the venue to present the excellent Morgan Willis in 2018 so it was a given that the location would be ideal. Split level, soaked in neon and with a stage that literally comes to the audience, it filled quickly as synth enthusiasts (and quite a few newbies that I met) were flocking down the stairs throughout the entire evening.
First up were Lebrock, now live specialists after their huge supporting role to Dance with the Dead. The early packing out of the venue and the sea of Lebrock merch adorning a large number of people made it clear that Lebrock were as much of a pull as DJP. Now i’ve seen Lebrock a few times over the years and in terms of stage craft, they have taken it up a significant notch. The duo’s interaction with the crowd was infectious and made up for a couple of minor technical faults with the equipment. Shaun and Michael have not only honed their performance, but the classic songs from their debut album were also presented with what seemed like new life and freshness. Much like the recent re-release of that exact same album to the FiXT Neon label in early 2019. The 45 min set floated by on a cloud of strong vocal talent and a really interactive working of the crowd.
I was really impressed with how far they seem to have come in the past 12 months and whisperings if a new album on the horizon set the duo up for more positive work on the future. Surely they are owed a bit of a rest now though?!!
Next up was, for me, the star of the evening’s line up. Dana Jean Phoenix has been making her way around Europe over the past 2 weeks as part of her PixelDust tour, promoting her new album and ongoing work. I’ve been lucky enough to see DJP 2 times prior to this (one of which was just last week in Germany) and after a 4-night rest it seems that Dana was fired up and ready to put on a fantastically energetic performance. The Torontonian (is that even a thing?) conducted her work across 3 keyboards, including the keytar, with precision and did not stop for even a moment during her hour set. Whilst creating loops and masterfully balancing her samples, DJP was also singing live and pulling off some enviable dance moves. As an artist she oozes a professionalism that is so often missing from some of the live synthwave acts that have graced London’s stages in the recent years. Playing her original material and that of other artists for whom she has been a guest vocalist, the set was consistently upbeat and amazingly fun.
I tend to spend a lot of time at gigs watching crowd reactions and DJP had each of us moving and glued to the stage. As one of the hardest working artists in the scene, it was a pleasure to once again see her doing what she does best for the second time in a week. May the rest of 2019 and beyond give Dana Jean all the ongoing success that she deserves.
Last up was Liverpool’s Kalax. Having last been in London as part of the first Retro Future Fest, I was keen to see what developments had taken place for Kalax’s performance since a successful new album release.
Naturally – coming off the back of a very energetic set from DJP, Kalax was always going to have to start strong, and he did, throwing out his biggest hit ‘Time Lapse’ to get the crowd going. As the synthy loops of the track kicked in the crowd did surge and that familiar baseline felt very comfortable.
The nature of Kalax’s music does lend itself towards being a later act during a night of synthwave however I do wonder what would have happened if he had played second with DJP at the end? The crowd clearly loved Lee’s work however there was something about Dana Jean leaving it all on the stage that truly made the final set of the night a tough one for anyone following her.
Kalax is a cool guy, understated guy. He commands the keyboard and effortlessly brings his work to the crowd in a very minimalist fashion. It was that total contrast which took a few tracks for everyone to adjust to.
I haven’t given his new album enough time to digest and listen to enough to make comment however Kalax and his work has been pivotal in the scene of the years and it was great to see him back on the stage.
The Outland team of Stu and Brett have proven that they can take their formula for a great synthwave night (on land or sea!) and flex it to fit any venue, country or combination of artists. They have a very exciting venture in Toronto in July which is going to be quite an event, attended by pretty much every who’s who of the scene in the US and Canada. It’s going to be quite an experience. But for now we had an immersive and inclusive night of synth that was the perfect start to a long Easter weekend.
You can follow Outland and their events here.
Now you’ll need to excuse me. I have to return some videotapes.