M83 / PORCELAIN RAFT, 24TH JANUARY 2012, OXFORD ACADEMY
Walking into a sold-out Academy tonight is like walking onto the set of Skins. Those in the audience closest to me in age are only there to chaperone their kids. Trying to rid myself of the grumpiness that results, I reflect on the truth of Bill Wells' and Aidan Moffat's observation that everything's getting older. I certainly am - it's just annoying that The Youth Of Today aren't.
Any hopes that Mauro Remiddi aka Porcelain Raft will improve my mood much are soon dashed. His sample-laden dream-pop is definitely dreamy, but like most dreams the songs are insubstantial and hard to recall as soon as they're over. The high-pitched vocals and processed sound serve to pave the way for the headliners, but, while Remiddi and his accomplice are better when the drums are abandoned in favour of electronic beats, they're never anything much more than vaguely pleasant and certainly no match for the likes of Youth Lagoon.
M83 are, essentially, Porcelain Raft writ larger. Much, much larger. I'm here - as, I imagine, are most people - on account of their breakthrough LP, Saturdays = Youth, but they're touring the follow-up, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, a double album inspired by Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. Not a band likely to know the value of restraint, then. Add to that the facts that they're named after a galaxy and that they've worked with Ken Thomas, the man behind records by both Sigur Ros and Cocteau Twins, and you'd be right in surmising that they rarely (if ever) have their feet in contact with terra firma.
First impressions (allied to the environment) are not good. The experience is what I imagine it's like to drive down the strip in Las Vegas - briefly marvelling at the huge, shiny, glittering creations before realising they're vacuous, soulless and synthetic. At times they remind me of Vegas' own Killers (in their original incarnation) - never a good thing. Anthony Gonzalez has admitted that Saturdays = Youth was a self-conscious homage to the 80s, and certainly whoever soundtracked Miami Vice would have been falling over themselves to incorporate M83's music. Barely 15 minutes into the set, there's a hiatus that lasts more than five minutes - at which point I'm inclined to invoke the Three Song Rule and scarper.
I don't, though, and in the end I'm glad to have persevered, as when they get it right - marrying shoegaze and synths in a way that approximates a cyborg's vision of what celestial music might sound like, such as on 'We Own The Sky' - the results are arresting. The pop hits - and the so-80s-it-hurts 'Kim & Jessie' in particular - might be lapped up by a crowd busy giving the Academy its own weather system (the elixir of youth aka teen sweat drips off the ceiling), but it's when M83 venture into more abstract electro territory that things get more interesting.
By the end, they've found a groove and are riding it for all it's worth. Nevertheless, once back home I can't help but conclude that the songs are more suited to private consumption via a good-quality pair of headphones than to public performance.