Villa Nah – Metal Works, Islington, 7th May

by MV

On Friday I went to see Finnish synthpop band Villa Nah’s first UK gig. Here’s the review…

Think of Finland, and a few things immediately spring to mind: moomins (cute, but also pretty dark), preposterous black metal bands (daft, but also pretty dark) and long winters (definitely very dark). Musically, its record as a producer of high quality pop doesn’t quite stand up to that of its illustrious neighbour Sweden. One might argue for the pop value of the likes of HIM and (let’s say) Lordi, but celebratory, carefree music doesn’t seem to be top of the agenda.

The music of Villa Nah isn’t likely to change that overnight, but their lush electropop anthems in waiting bring a little welcome freshness to the Finnish pop party. In the style of any number of classic 80s pop acts, the duo consist of a dance music savvy synth geek (Juho) and a frontman with a melodic pop leaning. Behind them is the guiding hand of one of Finland’s most respected dance producers, Jori Hulkonnen (best known for his seminal electroclash collaboration with Tiga, ‘Sunglasses at Night’).

Playing in London for their first time, Tomi and Juho introduce themselves to the UK with a late night show at the recently revised Metalwerks club in Islington. It’s a shabby-chic quirk-fest of a venue, featuring a tube carriage (with added decorative elk antlers) as a DJ booth and an indoor barbeque which lends a slightly incongrous intense meat odour to proceedings.

Emerging on stage to little fanfare, Villa Nah ease themselves slowly into their set, rather than racing out of the traps. Kicking off with a few particuarly downbeat tracks from their upcoming debut Origins, there’s little attempt to engage the sparse but expectant crowd, and initially it seems that it’ll be a somewhat uncomfortable welcome for the Finns.

Things take a turn for the better with the early-set appearance of ‘Daylight’, a laid-back pop gem from last year’s introductory Villa Nah EP. It’s the sort of track that, given the right push, could herald big things for them over here. While undoubtedly more cerebral on the outside than the straightforward synth-led pop peddled by the likes of Delphic, at its heart is a brooding romantic sensibility that makes it a much more enticing long-term prospect.

The rest of the set is a slow-burner, and while remaining distinctly aloof, the band reach out to the audience a little more with every new track, reaching their peak with a final brace that includes the early- Human League channelling ‘Ways To Be’. The real love, though, is saved for current single ‘Running On’, which is given a massive boost from its recorded state, transformed from a downbeat-disco bedroom classic into a thundering synth-heavy dancefloor beast.

Villa Nah’s contribution to the current (and seemingly never-ending) everything-80s revival is timely. They haven’t yet shaken off that intrinsic Finnish darkness, but their ultimately hopeful humanised electronica seems a particularly apt soundtrack to our impending age of austerity. While their output so far is quietly seductive rather than brashly attention-demanding (reminiscent of pre-mainstream Hot Chip), and lacks the flamboyance that marks out any truly great synth band, there are enough building blocks in place to expect bigger things in future from Finland’s latest export.

For more information: Myspace.

Free MP3 download of ‘Daylight’ here.

This review was originally published by Glasswerk.