In the interest of full-disclosure, I’ll get this out in the open; I really don’t like synth-pop. At all.
I don’t like the way it sounds, I don’t like the way it looks, I don’t like that it is a genre populated mostly by talentless twinks who spent more time on their hair than their E.P. and hide their depthless, empty music behind a film of glitter, and a contrived stage-show built around pouting, posing and aping Ziggy Stardust. So you will understand the confusion I felt when I found myself watching visual artist, producer and vocalist Michelle Xen’s most recent project Michelle Xen + the Neon Wild at Melbourne’s infamous Revolver Bandroom and loving every second of it.
Picture if you can, the tableaux that blends visual art, fashion, music and performance; Xen standing centre stage in a shimmering baby-doll dress that looks like something Jeremy Scott would craft out of of melted stars and black latex frog-skin if he were a character in a Douglas Adams novel. Surrounding her are the Neon Wild, all wearing executioner’s hoods made of fluorescent yellow, and black mesh, Blade runner make-up or feather headdresses that could have been stolen from some kind of phase-walking Aztec blood-priest, all holding their instruments with the confident ease of accomplished musicians, exuding competence and reassuring presence without a hint of contrived pretence. They launched into flawless, 80’s inspired, heavy bass, dark-house, disco-synth pop and the most high-energy, maximum fun set I’ve seen in a very long time.
Of the instruments I recognise a keytar, a cyborg drum kit that is equal parts crackling, popping digital effects pads, primal, acoustic snares, heavy, house-y bass beat, some kind of esoteric digital bass/guitar/sonic shovel that probably also shoots lasers as well as it does music, an enormous synth played by a bull-necked, broad shouldered blacksmith of a man who is by far the most enthusiastic, energetic key tickler I’ve ever seen, swinging his instrument from side to side on its legs, hefting it off the ground, dancing and jumping about in a way that could be most readily be described as ‘zealous’ and ‘unselfconscious’ without ever missing a note.
Xen’s operatic, emotion-laden voice floats, bounces and dives, tastefully making use of electronic, ‘robot voice’ effects without ever hiding behind them, combined with an engrossing stage presence, unpretentious dance moves that you feel like you should be able to copy but somehow know you couldn’t pull off and multiple costume changes to produce a complete visual and aural experience that is extremely polished and expertly performed but prevented from ever feeling contrived or over-done by the high-calibre songwriting and honesty of the entire groups performance.
So while you may think you don’t like electro-pop, if you haven’t had the Michelle Xen + the Neon Wild experience, you really don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. If you’re a fan of the genre, then you need to buy their E.P. ASAP; there is nobody doing this kind of music half as capably, creatively or excitingly and you need it in your life.
Words by Skinny Longlegs | Snaps by Laura Semple