Yesterday (May 23rd) marked what would have been the 78th birthday of inventor Robert Moog, creator of arguably the most important instrument in pop music since the electric guitar- the Moog synthesiser. So what better way to celebrate that going to see one of the true masters of electronic music- Martin Rev- one half of the incredibly influential New York punk band Suicide.
First up were the support band- the two-man performance artists Woodcraft Folk. Armed with a stack of vintage keyboards (above), a minimal drum set and a video projector, the aim of Woodcraft Folk appeared to be the emphasis on the audiovisual- no stage lights were used, keeping the band in darkness. The set-up, although fairly minimal, made for a genuinely brilliant show- reminding me greatly of very early Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, or even the second side of Autobahn. But yeah, a brilliant start to the night.
Under harsh LED spotlights, Martin Rev took the stage, flanked by a set of samplers and sequencers. Clad in black leather, Rev certainly looked the part- complete with sunglasses with blue LED lights- certainly a fry cry from his early days with Suicide, where he and singer Alan Vega would utilise cheap yet effective organs and beatboxes for their music- the electronic version of the punk aesthetic. Suicide were
deeply unpopular hated at the time- tours with The Clash and Elvis Costello in the UK and Europe invariably ended with crowd trouble- often antagonised by Vega on-stage (the bootleg 23 Minutes Over Brussels shows this better than any anecdote or quote could- while supporting Elvis Costello, Suicide played to a confused, angry Belgian crowd. Booed and jeered at throughout, Vega’s microphone is stolen midway through the song ‘Frankie Teardrop’. One thing led to another, and after Costello played a very short set, the crowd rioted. 23 Minutes Over Brussels documents this.)
Beginning with some harsh industrial drum n’ bass, there was one word to cover what most of the night would be- intense. Rev also manged to transcend genres massively- going from drum n’ bass, through to heavy noise-pop, 50’s rock n’ roll and, a little weirder, samba and doo-wop, both of which built from sampling and sequencing. The latter two were when Rev really came into his own, adding various Eddie Cochran-esque whoops and screams, layered in echo (a notably style from Suicide’s first album), on top of the sonic experiments his various boxes and switches were producing throughout.
It’s such a shame it didn’t last. About half an hour into his set, the transformer (allowing his US equipment- running on 110 volts, to work in the UK’s 240v system) blew, resulting in a total loss of power. After several minutes of back-and-forth to the sound desk and repair attempts, there was no choice but to stop the gig completely. Rev appeared genuinely annoyed and a little upset due to this- he rarely tours anyway, and the Preston show was one of a handful of UK dates he’s playing this year. But with no alternative power supply (there was a lot of equipment onstage, and with hindsight it’s possible to say that he was lucky to have lasted as long as he did), there was no way to continue. But if nothing else, it showed that Martin Rev is still a formidable live show, and that there is still a want for minimal, claustrophobic industrial synth music.
So in conclusion- would go see Martin Rev again, wholly recommend checking out Woodcraft Folk. Happy birthday, Dr. Moog- I would ask for a minute’s silence, but a minute’s worth of white noise seems more apt.