Synth Resistance Is Futile

Think Of The Lie by Home Front / Glass Blocks by Optic Sink / Over The Hills And Far Away by Subdued / Becoming Undone by Adult / Tangled In Transition by Tulips

So, a couple of weekends back, I was confronted with something of a dilemma, with two very enticing gigs on the Friday (Stingray / T.S. Warspite) and Saturday (Home Front / Subdued).  Back-to-backs are quite difficult to engineer these days (yep, Londoner complaining about there being too many great gigs to go to…), so a choice was going to have to be made.  All things being equal, I would most probably have leaned towards catching Stingray on the back of their quite brilliant new LP, Fortress Britain, but then the flyer language caught my eye: Fancy Dress Mandatory.  And if there is one thing that I hold a deep, unyielding aversion to beyond all things, it is fancy dress.  Decision made, and let’s face it Home Front and Subdued is no bad back-up is it?

Anyway, I got down to New River Studios (loving the new layout), unfortunately, just as Rifle concluded their set but was well ensconced by the time Subdued hit the stage.  Now you would be unlikely to claim that Subdued have quite the stage presence of some of their more energetic peers, but every time I have caught them over the last year, the sheer intensity of their bristling anarcho-punk delivery has gone up yet another impressive notch.  Central to this I suspect is their guitarist (who was also in the fabulous Permission) who never fails to conjure a seemingly instinctual onslaught that is equal parts subtlety and ferocity, fiercely disciplined yet also boldly pushing the limits.

And so, to the headliners, Home Front.  Now I must confess that I can sometimes be rather slow in adopting new forms of instrumentation into my punk palette.  I remember feeling rather uneasy when first entranced by the shuddering drum machines of the early industrial pioneers of Godflesh and Pitchshifter, a sense that took me some years to fully shed.  And while for some reason a spot of violin or cello never worried, the appearance of keyboards was rarely welcomed.  It just didn’t seem to fit, well, with my preconceptions anyway.  Because let’s face it, how is a keyboard more ‘artificial’ than an electric guitar and a battery of effects pedals?  Although to be fair, my earliest encounters with synths in hardcore punk often seemed a touch inorganic, flirting with an idea, rather than exploring it with conviction.

However, the sheer weight of great new electronic-led punk that has been released over the past few years has undeniably swept away any last vestiges of reluctance on my part.  Indeed, the term synth-punk feels increasingly reductive (although it is a shorthand I will no doubt continue to employ liberally!) bearing in mind the diversity of where this form of punk is being taken – from the dance-orientated dark wave of Adult’s Becoming Undone (2022) and the elegiac beauty of Tulips’ Tangled In Transition (2023), to the wonderfully understated textures of Optic Sink’s Glass Blocks (2023), that has seeped irresistibly into a position of almost constant rotation on my turntable.

But the release that perhaps terminally broke the dam for me was Home Front’s cracking debut LP, Think Of The Lie (2021).  I found its euphoric melancholy pretty hard to resist as they took some vivid 1980s’ influences from The Cure to Echo And The Bunnymen via The Eurythmics and reanimated them with a vibrant electronic punk twist.  And this year’s Games of Power took things into even more expansive directions.

And Home Front’s recipe is also particularly well suited to the live setting, which can pose challenges to some of the more electronic-orientated bands.  Firstly, their sound is imbued with a punk energy and sheer danceability that translates well to the stage.  Secondly, keyboardist / drummer Clint Frazier sheds his instruments to take on the role of frontperson, and clearly revels in doing so, ensuring a pronounced physicality to the band’s performance.  And, finally, the touring band (Home Front record as a duo) are not only accomplished musicians, but clearly throw themselves into proceedings with impressive abandon from the pounding drummer and sweat-drenched keyboardist to the swirling bassist, who spent a considerable portion of the night swamped in the stage’s cobweb decorations.

Well, it proved quite the show and thankfully, for this miserable killjoy at least, there was barely any fancy dress on display at all…