The Orbit tent is heaving. Yorkshire’s Working Men’s Club seem to be building a real head of steam with press and public alike, and there’s a clear sense of anticipation here – necks craning, excited chatter – waiting for them to appear. Following up their acclaimed self-titled 2020 debut, WMC’s new album ‘Fear Fear’ feels not only like a significant leap forward but also a massive statement of intent. Made for “agitating and dancing”, it finds frontman Syd Minsky-Sargent and co fully embracing big, 80s-hued electronics to glorious effect. The word is clearly out.
On a live footing, WMC are even more of a potent – if somewhat enigmatic – force. The stage lights darken and they appear without words or warning as crashing beats and sequenced machine rhythms hit. Heirs apparent to the likes of New Order, The Human League and Cabaret Voltaire, careening tracks like ‘19’ and ‘Ploys’ employ nagging, crepuscular synths and synthetic handclaps with a distinctly house-y, peak-era Haçienda edge. Searchlights flicker and strobe over us, accentuating the vibe.
For a band so young, WMC are supremely comfortable in their own skin, and Minsky-Sargent has real charisma and stage presence. “Ya, ya, ya / Blah, blah, blah,” he yells amid the wailing sirens of ‘Fear Fear’, like a deadpan Mark E Smith, squirming and wiggling right in the faces of the audience lapping it all up in front of him. On ‘Circumference’, he’s like a menacing, youthful Phil Oakey, wise beyond his years, as he sings “These days, this fucking time / A blissful circumference of a broken life”.
The pace just never lets up, and every track’s a killer. There’s the filthy, rasping chug of ‘Money Is Mine’, like a lo-fi Yello. ‘Heart Attack’ is prime Orbital, albeit very much on WMC’s terms. And we get the bleepy stomp of belting signature cut ‘John Cooper Clarke’, all lissom bass, swirling synths and urgent blasts of post-punk guitar, super-tight and accomplished. “We dance and we smile,” sings Minsky-Sargent, reflecting the discernible energy of an increasingly boisterous crowd. People sit on their friends’ shoulders, arms aloft. Others tumble around, lost in their own abandonment. It feels like the sort of epochal moment that’ll be talked about for years to come.
Before we know it, Minsky-Sargent and chums exit stage-right, with not a word uttered throughout. “Take us how you find us,” they seem to be saying. But it seems they’re already preaching to the converted. “They’re gonna get bigger and bigger, this lot,” bellows a punter into his mate’s ear as he leaves the tent. Short, sharp and very, very sweet.
Fuelled by a late-night double shot of caffeine, I’m back at Orbit for late-night headliner Squarepusher, aka Tom Jenkinson. Nothing quite prepares you for Jenkinson’s fractured, hyperactive sonics, ricocheting furiously between hardcore drill ’n’ bass, jungle, brain-melting avant-techno, gabba, jazz skronk and seemingly everything in-between, with glitchy visuals to match.
It’s like an unfiltered stream of consciousness, bpm upped to the max. The crowd is on board and the glow sticks are out. Housed in a huge booth that looks like the repurposed bottom half of a giant Dalek, Jenkinson is like a frenzied Davros. Yielding his guitar like a weapon, he fires off juddering beats, breaks and riffage like missiles.
On the big screen, distorted numbers, corrupted computer code and a riot of colourful patterns pixelate and flutter behind him, frying millions of brain cells in the process. The projections get more intense and way-out, decomposing and pulling themselves inside-out while they fuck with your whole concept of time and space. Track titles become irrelevant, as they fuse and meld into each other. Trance fuses with noodly jazz. Complex arrangements mess with your head as only the likes of Jenkinson, Aphex and Venetian Snares can – mad professors, all. It’s relentless. The whole thing feels like an illusion, a hall of mirrors where you’re not quite sure what’s real and what isn’t. In the distance, I spy a large pair of bunny ears waggling and grooving. It feels like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.
Echoing Jenkinson’s own album title, ‘Music Is Rotted One Note’, this is like a test of endurance, but one to which you can’t help being strangely drawn. The skittering assault continues – cut-ups, apocalyptic electronics and the feeling that we’re at the epicentre of a decaying world collapsing in on itself, with Jenkinson gleefully orchestrating. Wait, something’s happ… brr, doot%^£%@@@%, ksss, fzzzz… sorry, not sure what’s going on – must be interference.
Somewhere underneath the chaos and cacophony, I suddenly detect a layer of glacial synth, but it’s fleeting and never quite makes it to the surface. Strobes and strafing lights get so intense that I have to admit defeat and look away. Am I in a fever dream? People frug, jerk and buzz like angry wasps, lost to it all. Disorientated, mind blown – literally – and beaten into submission, I think I need a sugary tea and a lie-down in a darkened room. Sensory overload is imm… rrr##phut!!//@@frpra$$, gzzzzah [ERROR_INVALID_FUNCTION].
Tickets for Bluedot 2023 are on sale now at www.discoverthebluedot.com/