Joe went to see Liverpool electronic duo VENUSIAN at The Peer Hat in Manchester, this is what went down.
It’s odd the way gigs can make you reconsider the basic fundamentals of stagecraft. Up until now I’d always assumed the reason synth-pop duos from Soft Cell right through to First Hate set up with the singer at the front and had the keyboard/ laptop/ whatever player off to one side was kind of self evident; more space for the singer to move around, the visually un-breathtaking nature of drum machine work, the singer tending to be the better looking one et cetera. But it was at this VENUSIAN (formerly a four piece, now a duo) show that the main reason it has become such a rule became clear. It’s cause the opposite approach looks really fucking daft. With one guy sat behind banks of synths, laptops and drum machines centre stage, and with the singer stood behind him they look less like a band and more like an office worker impatiently waiting on the I.T. guy to sort out excel.
That being said, the music is great. The production takes downtempo and trip-hop beats as starting points but uses them as a skeleton to create bass heavy soundscapes around, which on record lean towards paranoid malevolence, but live reach towards something more hopeful and transcendent.
There are Burial indebted waves of hiss, and snares that sound like shutters closing in empty shopping centres but the key tonal similarity to me is The Caretaker’s evocation of landscapes forgotten by time. But whereas The Caretaker’s evokes images of ballrooms of waltzing ghosts, VENUSIAN’s landscape is an imagined one, a kind of half forgotten memory of Ballard’s vision of the future.
It is all wound together by Yashashwi Sharma’s astonishing voice. For a performer who, in performing near motionless in total darkness save for back projections, seems intent on being unseen, only there to sing and serve the song, she has as arresting a vocal style as I’ve heard for some time. She operates in a vocal space similar to Homogenic era Bjork, powerful but restrained, where every inhaled breath feels like a lead up to a volcanic outburst of emotion. But when these outbursts come they are strikingly raw, verging on Diamanda Galás-esque shriek.
It’s a frankly astonishing set that transforms songs from an already strong record into something simultaneously rawer and, without going so far as to say optimistic, more hopeful.
By Joe Creely