Last night, after a surprisingly backing track-dependent opening set from Northampton-based Maps, London’s KOKO was privileged to host M83, the critically acclaimed French electronic/shoegaze act masterminded by Anthony Gonzalez (and formerly Nicholas Fromageau). Taking to a stage cloaked in dramatic lighting and decorated with two sizeable keyboard rigs and a perspex-shielded drum kit, Gonzalez treated the suitably blissed-out crowd to a substantial twenty-minute opening solo set, weaving intricate melodies and emotive washes of noise from his custom analog synthesiser, which one member of the crowd compared to an aquarium. Drum machine rhythms skidded and burbled, and Gonzalez occasionally looked up from his toys to greet and thank the audience, which, in true KOKO style, rose up to the rafters of this beautiful converted theatre.
Then, just as our attention may have begun to lapse, to a riotous reception, Gonzalez was joined onstage by his two current band-mates: on keyboards and vocals, Morgan Kibby (which I always thought was a boy’s name, but there you go); on drums, an unnamed musician who looked like he’d jumped out of an 80s synth pop group, and had colossal drumming technique to match. Breaking immediately into Saturdays=Youth anthem, “We Own The Sky”, the three-piece then proceeded to deliver a perfectly paced set incorporating new songs, old songs and songs that didn’t sound like songs that anybody knew. Gonzalez, now a certifiably talented musician, alternated between carving out backing chords on his keyboards, and unleashing a wall of shimmering, keening noise from his white Les Paul, simultaneously singing lyrics that veered between John Hughes and Philip K Dick. Kibby, dazzling in a sparkly blue outfit, made light work of the breathy, cooing vocals on newer songs, and also impressed on the keys.
From a series of 80s-indebted synth-pop songs, such as “Graveyard Girl” and “Kim and Jessie”, the band then moved on to a more chilled-out segment, with songs like “Skin Of The Night” (with its straight outta Phil Collins drums) invoking gentle swaying from the crowd. Then, the band took on a more clubby vibe, employing tasteful dance-punk percussion and searing synths on various unidentifiable songs. Finally, after bowing out rather prematurely, the band returned to delight the crowd with a wonderfully extended, gloriously uplifting performance of “Couleurs”, the centrepiece of Saturdays=Youth. Most of the audience clearly wanted more; the time on the clock suggested otherwise. Though M83 played nothing from their landmark 2003 album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, the manner in which they eked every last drop of emotion from their songs left every one of us with enormous ear-to-ear grins. M83 are an extraordinarily enchanting proposition on record; live, twice as much.