Historically, pop music has been intrinsically linked with geographics- every few years, a different city will rise to prominence within certain scenes and circles (New York City, Detroit, Manchester, Seattle) and become synonymous with a sound.
However over the past decade thanks to the internet, the ability to create and maintain a loose network of like-minded artists all over the world has overtaken the idea of a regional scene, although these still exist from time to time. In particular, the revival and resurgence of coldwave- a dark, introspective brand of synthpop pioneered by the likes of Depeche Mode and Gary Numan before adding industrial influences later on- has burst out of creative hubs worldwide but centred on Los Angeles in particular- the glimmering neon background contrasting with the forgotten undergrowth, the cynical consumerism within- life reduced to zeroes and ones, love lost and found at the click of a button, the swipe of a screen. This is the future, but not quite as imagined- not worse per se, just different- Bret Easton Ellis writing Neuromancer. This stylish mixture- cold-minded yet nostalgia-soaked, reliant on obsolete technology brought back from the dead and defiantly analogue in a digital world has attracted and maintained cult followings worldwide, as the sold-out Soup Kitchen can attest.
Darkness envelopes the venue as a solitary figure, barely visible, makes their way onto stage while a solitary drone pierces through the black, growing in intensity and menace. A sudden burst of kaleidoscopic lasers fire out into the crowd, silhouetting Panther Modern. An offshoot to underground heroes Sextile, Brady Keehn’s new solo project takes Sextile’s sound and pushes it further into the domain of cyberdancepunk, William Gibson represented by Warp Records.
Playing material from debut EP Los Angeles 2020, Panther Modern deploys rapid bursts of processed beats and snaking melodies pummelling out into the floor as Brady stalks the stage, moving in and out of the solitary light source- his delivery taut and tense, barking with ferocity as his voice is wrapped in echo and distortion atop the pounding-yet-smooth rhythm tracks. Shades of fellow synthwavers Boy Harsher come to surface during the icy ‘Body//Reaction’, the elastic acid techno-inspired bass ebbing and flowing around the perpetual motion drum loop, a nu-disco swagger running through everything- groovy in spite of the robotic precision (in fact, accentuated by it) with barely an acknowledgement to the capacity crowd. With only a handful of tracks to the Panther Modern name but already bolstered by his former bands’ reputation, Brady’s tech-noir dreamscape will rightfully continue to ensnare new fans.
In a total mirror of Panther Modern, Black Marble are bathed in light as they skip over any introductions and go straight into the breezy, summery “Bigger Than Life“, the title track from their new album that immediately brings to mind the much-lauded OutRun soundtrack, mental visions of red convertibles roaring their way along the Pacific Coast Highway play amongst jangling guitars and BM mastermind Chris Stewart’s breathy delivery. Drum patterns and synth loops free up Stewart’s bass guitar to create and pick out ethereal melodies- a ghostly Peter Hook, fragile and almost serene, kept tangible by the unseen accompaniment- man and machine in perfect harmony.
There is a warm nostalgic facsimile of 1980s new wave- especially Movement-era New Order, A Flock Of Seagulls and mid-80s Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark: the gated snares and glimmering guitar create a sense of yearning for a time and place purely imagined but vividly real, the soundtrack to a long-lost teen movie where we learn that deep down we’re all the same on the inside, and those dumb teachers and square parents just don’t get it.
A similar feeling to fellow Angelenos Drab Majesty, with similar influential touchstones yet simultaneously the opposite in output- the Technicolor print to their darkroom negative, but the same object framed in shot. Perhaps ‘coldwave’ is the wrong label? Black Marble are also, crucially, danceable- infectiously so. “Private Show” in particular locks into a sequence that almost defies the crowd not to start moving in a Bizarro Dancing In The Dark lockstep, and the duo are able to ride this momentum through the rest of the set, the Soup Kitchen showing nothing short of adoration.
The future may be bright after all.
Photography and words by Liam Moody.