Synthwave has a long history dating all the way back to the German Krautrock of the ’70s, but its newfound renaissance is definitively modern. Every since the 2011 neo-noir film Drive brought the heavily synthed-up sounds of Kavinsky to the mainstream, digital music has never been the same. Within the next two years, we’d see releases like Com Truise’s Galactic Melt and Perturbator’s We Are the Night become hugely successful, building upon the French electro explosion of the late 2000s to create a nostalgic analog sound that resonated with a largely digital audience — many of whom weren’t even alive to experience the era it emulates.
Years later this scene has exploded into an array of killer independent music and culture, all merging the best parts of our collective nostalgia with contemporary production. Carpenter Brut is a prime example of this phenomenon. With several appearances in breakthrough indie video games like Hotline Miami and Furi, a series of spectacular music videos, and even a film in the works, Franck Hueso’s music has quickly become synonymous with the entire genre. For an idea of his sound, check out the “Trilogy” compilation, which showcases what he does better than anyone else: aggressive heavy beats, dreary atmospheric synths, and epic chord progressions.
Le Matos started off the evening with a perfectly fine set of inoffensive, if slightly subdued, instrumental synth pop. While it’s always nice to see sets where musicians actually play their songs using synths and midi controllers instead of more typical laptop DJ sets, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by what Le Matos had to offer musically. Warm analog synths and drum machines can only do so much when paired with uninspired chord progressions and bland arrangements. It’s the problem of having the means to create but no particular reason for creating, resulting in several upbeat dance tracks that did nothing for me.
After a brief intermission, the audience was treated to nonsensical MTV clips before three men walked onstage in the dark without saying a word. While Carpenter Brut is but one man, he enlists the help of a drummer and guitarist for his live shows. After a soft (and somewhat weak) opener, the trio immediately launched into their distinct hard-hitting electro-rock, whipping the audience into a frenzy. Following up on “Roller Mobster,” we got some slight Daft Punk emulation before being thrust back into more sonic brutality. In a way, Carpenter Brut takes the aesthetics of “Robot Rock” and pushes it to its logical extreme. Additional live guitars with feedback and pinch harmonics plus some very sexy octo-drums enhanced the vibe, although this reviewer had hoped for more re-arrangements and mashups instead of the more straightforward set of album tracks that we actually got.
Visuals were also a key part of the show, as ’80s horror flick cliches were projected over the trio through a stream of flashing red and purple lights. After several powerful movements the tempo eventually slowed, the distortion died down, and the dissonant electro transitioned to mid-tempo dance tracks. It was these songs that managed to really shine through as standout tracks, including “Looking for Tracy Tzu” and “Paradise Warfare.” The atmosphere was contagious, with plenty of crowdsurfing and pumped audience. The band’s expressionless faces had melted into smiles by the end when they saw that even the metal fans, who had purchased tickets just to sulk in back corners, were busting out dance moves. Nothing compares to the live experience of a club drenched in neon that this music evokes. And before we knew it, there was over a thousand people singing along to the karaoke-style subtitled video for Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” to close out their set.
That an instrumental electronic artist as eclectic as Carpenter Brut can sell out theatres all over North America, despite the lack of local scenes highlighting this kind of sound, is a fantastic result of the internet’s democratization of music. It’s refreshing to see this project succeed and, based on the pure quality of their live show, Carpenter Brut deserves all the success he is getting.
With such a phenomenal performance, my review should end here reiterating a strong recommendation for all fans of heavy electronic music. Unfortunately, because of an understaffed coat check and heavy-handed security, most fans were forced to wait well over an hour before being allowed to leave. Guests being threatened, emergency exists being blocked, and loud boos from a rowdy and angry detained crowd had a way of souring what should have been a pleasant conclusion to a stellar performance.
– Review by Noah Baxter