Fenech-Soler, Koko, London
Thursday 13 October 2011
Over the past five years, electro-pop has gradually moved up the musical food chain. Through the popular successes of acts like Calvin Harris and the critical ones of groups like Cut Copy, the genre has entered the mainstream seamlessly, its influences now audible in work by artists from Lady Gaga to Tinie Tempah. Glossy, slick and powerful, Fenech-Soler's particular brand of synth-laden pop music lends itself as well to a club dancefloor as it does to Koko's baroque interiors, and plants them squarely in a genre that is often aped, but seldom perfected.
Playing to one of the most eclectic crowds assembled this year – where teenage ravers dance next to fresh-from-the-office businessmen – the Northamptonshire quartet open with a layered, harmonised vocal line straight from the Friendly Fires playbook, building a budding atmosphere of anticipation before the hammer thunders down and opener "Battlefields" enters full swing. Frontman Ben Duffy leaps about the stage and rouses the entire venue, his energy made all the more astonishing by the fact that he underwent chemotherapy earlier this year. Oozing enthusiasm as the group slides into the pugnacious, distorted basslines of "LA Love", Duffy offers one of his many gracious "thank yous" to the wound-up audience, and is rightly rewarded with cacophonous applause.
Then follows "Demons", the second single from the group's 2010 debut album, which launches the show on to another plateau, its irresistible backbeat and Duffy's impressive vocals demanding a rabid response. It's in this gear that F-S are at their finest, channelling everyone from The Killers to The Knife as they pulverise the Camden venue's speakers with insistent verses and anthemic choruses. "Lies" and closer "Stop and Stare" are full-tilt masterclasses in pop with an electronic edge.
Yet the power of these scattered high-points mutes the impact of the rest of the show. "Contender" is played brilliantly but tepidly received, while "Stonebridge", for all its tender delivery, lacks the punch or lyrical dexterity it needs to get its point across. There are also moments where the desire to sound unique leads to arch arrangements, notably in the wailing "Airbrushed", which sounds too forced to offer much appeal, and substitutes noise for nuance to poor effect.
In the triumphant, deafening throes of its finest songs, tonight's show offers enjoyable, energetic music to tap your feet to, but its momentum sputters too often to fully blow you away.
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