Monarchy @ Xoyo – Live review

by MV

“Mysterious” synth-popsters Monarchy played in the otherwise fairly shambolic opening week of new London venue Xoyo. Here’s a review of it that I did for someone else. Click below to read…

In a week in which we saw a major sporting event’s future put into doubt by collapsing bridges and ceilings, it was fitting that London’s latest venue should have its own petit-shambles. With a flurry of opening events postponed due to the venue not being finished, and then wet paint and power cuts on the delayed opening night, whether or not we were going to see a show tonight or not was always in a degree of doubt.

Thankfully, Shoreditch’s trendy Xoyo (from the creators of Field Day – make of that what you will) got its act together in time to host one of the week’s biggest buzz events. Everything seemed to be functioning correctly, aside from the draught lager taps (funny that): the sound system is decent, and it’s a nice enough space – if your vibe is sparse, recently vacated laundrette basement. It’s a reasonable addition to the already crowded Hoxton/Shoreditch venue scene, but not one you could accuse of being full of character.

Moving away from the sideshow and onto the main attraction, the reason we’re standing here (for there is not a single seat in venue) drinking warm overpriced bottled lager (never acceptable) is to see London-based Aussies Monarchy performing some pop music.

Monarchy have been getting the blogs buzzing for coming up to a year now, first with their Burial-esque ‘who they?’ mystery. With the duo swanning around in elaborate masks and claiming to be called things like Edward Nigma (reported with a straight face in most quarters), the press got themselves into a lather about who they may or not be: a few moonlighting Hot Chippers? Stuart Price and someone else? Or was the reality, as with Burial, somewhat more mundane? In short: yes. Monarchy had been plugging away to very limited success for a couple of years under the name of Milke. The buzz had died. Enter the silly masks and silly names and – hey presto – the buzz was back.

Thankfully, in the past nine months or so, they’ve started releasing tunes (some of which sound somewhat familiar from the Milke days) and the attention has thankfully drifted from the non-event that was their identity puzzle. And they’re rather good actually. So tonight anticipation is high, and rightly so.

They enter the stage to little fanfare, still wearing masks (on this occasion, a kind of peaked fashionista take on a beekeeper’s grille – possibly unwise) and resplendent in tailored suits and those buttoned up to the neck white shirts that everyone seems to be rocking in 2010. Which brings us to an obvious point of comparison – while Monarchy have spent 2010 faffing around trying to be enigmatic, another band – Hurts, if we’re naming names – have been buddying up to Kylie and climbing the pop charts. The similarities go beyond the Bros-dressed-as-Ultravox 80s cabaret. In both cases, there’s a heavy does of icy synth action, and in both cases you occasionally hear stray elements of 90s boy band slickness creeping into the mix. There’s nothing wrong with a few similar bands existing – once upon a time we might have called it a scene – but there’s the nagging doubt that Hurts might have somewhat stolen Monarchy’s thunder.

One thing Hurts don’t have (aside from the chicken-wire bee masks) is a pair of gorgeous see-through guitars, and synths that are on little pivots so they can be ‘rocked’ at appropriate moments. As such, if you want to play with fun toys, Monarchy is the band you want to join. The musical toys, and the subtle but pretty light show are pretty much all that happens on stage, but the music, to a large degree, speaks for itself.

Kicking off with a bit of downbeat melodrama, things soon get going with early single The Phoenix Alive. It pulses along nicely, keeping its buttoned-up 80s synthpop cool until the brilliant boyband hysterics of the chorus kick in. The pattern is then repeated on lesser twin single Gold in the Fire. What follows is what any regular gig-goer will recognise as that mid-set lull where a new-ish band doesn’t really have enough songs to fill a set. It’s all perfectly pleasant, but there are moments where it all threatens to lift off into an arm-waving trancetacular rave-up, but then either fizzles out or, frustratingly, does so for about 5 seconds before the song ends. Miike Snow, who some would call the John the Baptists of this particular synthpop mini-revival, have this sort of thing nailed, and Monarchy could probably take a few lessons from them.

Happily though, things come together rather nicely towards the end, with a belting run through latest single (and former Milke demo) Love Get Out of my Way, which spirals and frolics its way to places the rest of the set has yet to touch. And then we get a sign of where things might be going for Monarchy as they refine their pop-art. Their closing track sounds massive, a burst of colour where perhaps they’ve so far existed only in a rather fetching monochrome. The vocals take a turn for the Robbie Williams, almost from nowhere, and they’re backed up by a pop tune that the Scissor Sisters would envy. Suddenly you feel like you’ve got a genuine pop prospect on your hands. Best of all, it sounds absolutely nothing like Hurts. As a way of building anticipation for further material, it works a treat. More Monarchy, please.

Review originally posted on Glasswerk.co.uk.

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