See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's gallery, "Legends of Synthpop with De/Vision, Mesh and Iris @ The Echoplex."
Calling a tour Legends of Synthpop when the bands aren't quite as easily recognizable names as Depeche Mode and Erasure may seem a bit bold. Some might even consider it inaccurate. But if you caught the touring triple-bill of De/Vision, Mesh and Iris Thursday night at The Echoplex, you would understand that the proclamation does make sense.
Consider that all three bands began releasing music in the 1990s, perhaps the worst time in post-punk musical history to favor the synthesizer. Despite the fact that their sound was derived from the then-horribly uncool 1980s, they found followings, hardcore ones in fact. A synthpop community emerged in the midst of grunge, overlapping just a bit with industrial and EBM. By the dawn of the new century, it was suddenly critically okay to start messing around with synths again. This time, however, the bands that rose to popularity were the ones who had some sort of indie rock cred (Le Tigre, Postal Service). But those synthpop bands who formed too close to the release of Violator to be considered revivalists are still going strong and, last night, it was all about them.
The L.A. stop on this tour, which was presented by weekly industrial party Das Bunker, drew a long enough line outside of the venue that many of us were still standing in it when local openers Gentlemen Junkie played. Inside, the venue was comfortably full. The area directly in front of the stage looked to be a bit of a sweatbox. Towards the back of the club, there was enough room for people to bust out their best industrial club dance moves. (Props to the girl who could turn graceful pirouettes to stomping beats.)
The vibe at the show was kind of scene-y, but not in the sense that there were people standing around and posing. Rather, it appeared as though a large portion of the audience already knew each other. We recognized a lot of faces from clubs like Das Bunker and Malediction Society and even ran into a few friends that we hadn't seen in a very long time. Of course, this makes sense. These are bands who really don't get much press in the States. If you know about them, it's likely because at some point you heard a DJ spin their tracks at clubs. With that in mind, Legends of Synthpop became more of a party helmed by the bands and marked by a level of friendliness that you don't always see at shows.
The placement of bands on the bill gave the night a nice sense of flow. Iris had the second slot of the night. The band, who burst onto the club scene in the late-1990s with the hit "Annie Would I Lie to You," is perhaps the mellowest of the groups with a sound that's less dance-oriented.
Despite a history dating back to the mid-1990s, British band Mesh hadn't toured the U.S. before now. Their sound is a little harder than one might expect from a synthpop group, a little closer to the EBM side of the electronic music. The combination of the anticipation surrounding the performance and the band's heavy-hitting dance beats brought the already great energy in the room up another notch.
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It was De/Vision, though, who brought the crowd to a frenzied peak last night. We saw a handful of people rush towards the front almost immediately after Mesh got off stage and their crowd dispersed. By the time the band took to the stage, it looked as though the crowd was packed tighter than during the prior acts.
De/Vision came to the Echoplex with a solid reputation beforehand. This wasn't their first time playing L.A. and they have a string of releases to their credit going back to 1992. But, if we had to give one reason as to why the German band stood out last night, it has to be Steffen Keth's dancing. The De/Vision vocalist moves constantly throughout the performance in a sinewy, never-off-beat fashion that could rival the best dancers you've seen at a club. His style isn't precisely like what you would typically see on the floor, but it's similar enough where it felt as though he were leading the crowd not just in song, but in dance. The more he moved, the more we could see the audience members following suit. It was a powerful thing, particularly when it became obvious that we couldn't stop dancing either.
So were the bands who played the Echoplex last night legends? For a particularly group, the answer could probably be yes. Where others may consider synthpop to be a passing trend with occasional revivals, the crowd in this knows otherwise and bands like De/Vision, Mesh and Iris will most certainly continue to hold spots close to the hearts of these fans.
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