Cracking Orbit Stage line-up
We’re in a packed Orbit tent, caught up in the sonic whirlwind of MADMADMAD. Rooted in “mutant disco, post-punk and experimental electronics” and “techno-dystopian freakouts”, the London trio craft skittering instrumentals imbued with rubbery bass, electro parps and random samples. It might only be 4pm, but everyone’s jumping and the party vibes are strong.
We get our breath back and await the arrival of Creep Show, aka John Grant and Wrangler (ex-Cabaret Voltaire man Stephen Mallinder, Tunng’s Phil Winter and producer/modular maestro, Benge). Pre-performance, they’re all pottering around on stage, just four middle-aged synth geeks twiddling with an array of kit. They go off, but it’s not long before they’re back, preceded by a cursory blast of dry ice. Grant wears his customary trucker’s cap and shades, and the foursome take their places behind their desktop/laptop rig.
They might look unassuming but the sounds they produce are immense. Big, edgy electro made on vintage synths, with Grant’s “madcap vocals” and more than a nod to the Cabs’ distorted industrial funk, Detroit electro gods Cybotron and a hint of Add N To (X). Every track is killer. The resounding synthetic sweeps, crackles and pops of ‘Endangered Species’, with Grant’s rich, varied baritone in fine fettle. “Computers are such strange bedfellows,” he sings on the Kraftwerkian ‘The Bellows’, vocoded to the max, as Mal jabs at buttons and Benge thrapes the life out of his electronic pads. It’s a neat summation of Creep Show’s infectious left-field aesthetic.
Amid the burbling synths of ‘Matinee’, Grant and Mal trade more vocoded vocals – Creep Show and vocoders go together like peanut butter and jelly – before Grant introduces them all, cupping his heart for Mal. A huge fan of the Cabs, Grant still can’t quite believe he’s sharing a stage with his electronic hero.
And so it continues. ‘Yahtzee!’ is deliciously, deliriously unhinged (“Let’s play Yahtzee! Let’s play Twister!”), while the clattering, crashing funk of ‘Moneyback’ is like Art Of Noise on speed. The crowning glory is ‘Yawning Abyss’ – “like ‘Axel F’ covered by Vangelis” – the title track of their latest album and a proper earworm, to boot. All eminently danceable, too. Creep Show deserve your attention. Jump into the void…
Welsh/Cornish singer Gwenno is next, looking like she’s stepped straight out of the pages of Vogue in a striking green silk dress. Backed by a full band, her psych/folk/dreampop hues shine bright – ‘Tir Ha Mor’ (from 2018’s ‘Le Kov’ album) twinkles, soars and swoops. And introducing ‘Eus Keus?’ (Cornish for ‘Is There Cheese?’), she gives us an impromptu call-and-response Cornish language lesson, exclaiming “Let’s call in the cheese gods!”. A restless ball of energy, she sashays around, arms aloft, before finishing up with the hypnotic and rather lovely ‘Chwyldro’ – sung in Welsh but with woozy krautrock vibes. Wonderful.
Beak>, meanwhile, occupy the fuzzier, grittier end of the krautrock/psych spectrum. The Bristol power trio surge through their wonky motorik groove, all vintage synth, trippy reverb and Geoff Barrow’s crisp, tricksy drum fills. Barrow is as typically belligerent as ever, moaning about sounds creeping in from a nearby stage (“Looks like we’re gonna have to fry that shit disco”), but they’re on rollicking good form.
After dark, the Orbit tent is rammed. It feels like everyone has legged over from Roisin Murphy to watch Leftfield, as Neil Barnes and co keep the phat beats going, bludgeoning our senses in the process. There’s a euphoric late night aura, a mass of heads locked into the booming electro/techno-ish groove, bobbing up and down like rolling waves. We’re treated to banger after banger. A barnstorming version of ‘Release The Pressure’. ‘Afrika Shox’, propulsive and gloriously heavy on vocoder and bass. And a toweringly good ‘Accumulator’ that feels like peak hour at Berghain. Just as it says on the tin of their latest album, ‘This Is What We Do’. Let’s get electrify!