I.SOLAR, Fenella at the Hug and Pint, 28/4/17

Whatever you’re listening to; whatever you’re thinking of listening to – disregard it; right now, I.SOLAR are the only thing that need to be anywhere near your ears.

That’s the only conclusion one can reasonably come to after watching the band’s debut performance at The Hug and Pint, a basement sweatbox that can barely contain this heady cocktail of analog synths, drum machine racket, and plastic captain’s caps from Tam Shepherds.


Sailing across a veritable River Styx of Berlin-era Bowie, vintage New Order and acid techno, Sam Smith (ex of Mother & the Addicts and Casual Sex) and Gemma Dagger are your demented guides on this raucous, yet educational, musical journey.

Most immediately striking is Dagger, who reprises her Lee Bowery-esque character from the band’s ‘Concubine’ video: ghost-white makeup, blood-red lipstick and a precarious, saucer-shaped headpiece.

She cuts an unsettlingly motionless figure – quite the opposite of captain Smith, who gesticulates at the helm as jerkily as ever, barely breaking a sweat despite his black turtleneck soaking up all the heat from the stage lights.

While I.SOLAR’s forthcoming material has been recorded with full band – including drums from Chris McCrory of Catholic Action – tonight Smith and Dagger perform to a backing track.

But while less exacting musicians might simply dump their beats on a laptop and have done with it, I.SOLAR run a single, continuous set off a reel-to-reel tape deck centre-stage (which any local musicians in the audience may recognise as belonging to Green Door Studios, where Smith works as an producer and engineer).

This setup works perfectly; not only does the band’s set flow seamlessly without any forced pause-for-applause, but sonically, the warmth and glue of tape playback means all sound from the stage – both live and pre-recorded – sounds organic, sidestepping the pitfall of their beats sounding cold or overly processed.

With only ‘Concubine’ in the public domain at the moment, much of I.SOLAR’s set tonight remains a mystery, at least for now.

However, there are some exquisite moments around the halfway point channeling prime Power, Corruption & Lies-era New Order, and a particularly rousing number towards the end returns Magazine’s classic ‘Shot By Both Sides’ firmly to my mind.

New track ‘Manchester 1977’ is forthcoming from I.SOLAR on Little Tiger Records – keep your creepy peepers peeled for that, and for the next public appearance from these elusive creatures.

In support, Little Tiger labelmate Fenella is fantastic: she’s a consummate singer-songwriter capable of maintaining a smoky, gothic aura from first song to last.

Her powerful, tempestuous voice fits neatly into the esteemed lineage of PJ Harvey and Anna Calvi, and with striking tracks like ‘I Will Not Win’ and her cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Over You’, I can’t help but feel that she’ll never fail to win over a room.

Words: Graham Neil Gillespie


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