Musical performance has become a circus. Massive acts now perform in even more massive arenas in a kind of futuristic sport, where each band or artist tries to outdo the others with the most elaborate light show, or the gaudiest stage design, or the most fancily costumed, meticulously choreographed dance routine, or the most fantastical space invading inflatable donkey, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum.
The downstairs live venue of Broadcast is small, dank, low ceilinged and claustrophobic. Bands come here and play very loudly, some well, some not so well. Ultimately, this is one of those places that an act comes to show that they are a good band – good at playing, good at singing, good at performing, with no frills, no bells and no whistles…most of the time.
On this particular night, the stage was strewn with guitars, a drum kit, usual live performance fair. However, at the front of the stage stood four or five keyboards, synthesisers, purveyors of electronic noise, seemingly interconnected, standing and waiting silently, like some musical army readying for their audio assault on the senses. The band, hailing from Paris, who I had come to see were mysterious – I knew little about them other than that they had been described (somewhat lazily, I feel) as a kind of “Velvet Underground meets Kraftwerk” psychedelic synth pop band. A shadowy figure dressed in black appeared from the back, picked up his bass and proceeded to fire rumbling deep, machine gun notes out into the crowd as a smoke machine emitted a room engulfing mist. The band took their positions behind their weapons and rallied into “Amour Dans Le Motu”, a highlight from their debut album Psycho Tropical Berlin. The smokescreen cleared as multicoloured lights atmospherically filled this small, cramped space. They introduced themselves simply: “Tonight La Femme is here to give you pleasure”.
And they made good on their promise. The dancing didn’t stop. I was taken aback early on in their set by how consistently high energy they were. They have a very melodic and bright style – bright in the sense that is entirely up-tempo and relentless. I thought of them a little like Glasgow electronic act Chvrches but a lot darker, a lot sexier, and very French. Frankly, their “French-ness” was of great appeal to me – they clearly take an influence from early Daft Punk. And French bands are not strangers to high tempo rock-infused dance music à la Phoenix. They also punctuate their songs with noir-ish guitar lines. Their songs wouldn’t feel out of place in a Wes Anderson film, if Wes Anderson turned from eccentric, quirky and kooky, to dark, bitter and twisted.
As if what the band themselves were doing wasn’t cause enough for celebration, it was fascinating how they used the space in a visual sense. With just a smoke machine and a rainbow of lights, they turned an extraordinary technical performance into something even more fun and engaging. They played a set which felt concise – they neither played for so long that I felt saturated, nor did they play for so short a time that I was left feeling unsatisfied. In fact, they played an 18 song set which seemed like one continuous piece of flowing and interlinking music. Songs either drifted into one another or jolted from one mental, electronic blast to the next. They had a real punk aesthetic, tearing from one end of the stage to the other, sometimes even onto the audience floor. A certain portion of tracks shone with this stylistic aesthetic too, such as the highlight “Antitaxi” which had the crowd, whether La Femme were familiar to them or not, nodding or bouncing or shaking all around.
Going to a show, no matter how large or small, without much knowledge of what to expect is often the best attitude to have in order to get the most out of it. This group of Gallic electronic rockers were a relative mystery to me going in, seemed like long lost best friends as they performed, and then vanished in the spooky smoke that seemed to bring them to Glasgow. The final track of their set, an unfamiliar one to me, which they called “Marie Marie”, seemed to be about a girl called Marie who smelled of sex (I’m not overly sure, my French is comme ci comme ça), ended with the smoke reappearing, the band frozen once again behind their arsenal of musical instruments, filling the room, only to once more disperse and reveal the stage as it was in the beginning – devoid of human life, with a ghostly trail of keyboards and synthesisers left behind. They came. They conquered. They vanished.