Closing the annual and primarily student organized SMILEfest, a quaint multi-venue arts festival in the South coast city of Southampton, Spectral Park takes to the stage in a unique one-off hometown show in a veritable multi-sensory feast. Those gathered in Lennon’s- the city’s prime after-hours indie-kid haunt, are treated to a miasmic selection of vintage sounds reconstituted in a contemporary context. Both of tonight’s bands possess similarities in their mining of distinctly different eras for their respective re-imagining of archetypal styles and genres, whose original tenure ended long before any of tonight’s band members plonked away on their first Fisher Price keyboards.
Those who braved their way through streets of rollicking Friday night revellers are rewarded with venerable treat in the guise of the supremely talented local export Spectral Park, aka multi-instrumentalist Luke Donovan and his gaggle of assembled musicians. His eponymous debut album, released last year on esteemed indie label Mexican Summer, has been almost unanimously feted with praise for its daring ambition and sheer wealth of ideas that collide and contort themselves around each other in a psychedelic maelstrom, described most concisely as an explicitly kaleidoscopic and idiosyncratic musical vision.
Taking to the stage in front of a steadily burgeoning early doors crowd, Brighton-via-Jersey quartet The Art Club offer a convincing pastiche of a varied 80’s indie repertoire. Elements of Joy Division’s nihilistic and despondent gloom, Echo and The Bunnymen’s shadowy pop and quintessential Smiths jingle-jangle are all plied and suffused with the overt pop outings of such synth-totting walking haircuts as A Flock Of Seagulls and The Teardrop Explodes. The melodic simplicity of the synth lines burrow into the inner consciousness whilst the central concern of each song seems to be a relentless drive towards reaching that elusive two and a half minutes of sheer pop perfection. With each track busying itself in extolling the virtues of a snappy pop nugget, they seem to be caught in a formulaic rut. As such, a little variation and extended scope certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
Any fan or casual listener of Spectral Park’s music will be aware that the task of translating the somewhat schizophrenic approach to song construction to the live sphere seems fraught with difficulty. Endless technical complications are sure to abound, and the stage is littered with a selection of samplers and other gadgets geared towards sound manipulation and mimicry of nuance on the recorded tracks. Whilst Donovan himself admits that such an interpretation is still very much a work in progress, tonight’s performance seems considerably well-rounded, his vision surely nearing its full realization. With his band members aiding in offsetting the miasmic interjection of samples and sudden aural deviations, Donovan and his cohorts appear very much a well-oiled live act, bolstered further by the surprising clarity of the tiny club’s sound system. A surrealist visual backdrop exacerbates the skewed nature of the tracks themselves which dart hither and thither and fervently eschew flowing and linear structures in favour of a cut and paste effect that is just as likely to discombobulate as it is to enthral. With crowd interaction defiantly absent, it is left entirely to the songs to offer a connection and it is such a captivating connection that Spectral Park deftly provides. Album and set opener “L’appel du Vide” is a particular highlight and perfect signifier of just how well Donovan has managed to craft an engaging live show that stays true to the nature of his record. Warped fairground organs form the backdrop to Donovan’s lyrical discontent as an array of samples and aural tics rain down, Donovan and his guitarist sharing responsibility in activating their pre-recorded tit-bits.
As the concise set reaches its apex, it’s perfectly clear that Spectral Park has more than matched his on-record magic with his commendably tight and rather slick live setup. His enthralling wall of sound ensures that this year’s SMILEfest ends on an emphatic high.