M83 @ Brixton Academy

Photo credit: Matt Wash

Being in a band requires a little more than just standing around playing your instruments. Beyond talent, skill and enthusiasm it demands a little showmanship.

French electro-shoegazers M83 are aware of this. The show at a packed-out Academy opens with singer-keyboardist Morgan Kibby plucked from the darkness by a spotlight wearing billowing robes, furry claws and the freaky animal/insect mask last seen gracing the cover of the ‘Midnight City’ single. Like a snorkel-nosed Wolverine she then fires green lasers from her claws into the crowd, which – as the rest of the band launch into the deafening drums and bass of appropriately named ‘Intro’ – goes batshit crazy.

Jordan Lawlor, the fresh-faced, mop-haired newcomer who won a YouTube competition to join the band, gets stuck in to overt acts of musical expression by occasionally battering two synth pads opposite Kibby at the front of the stage while kicking his legs back behind him, giving the impression of a man caught on a drum-powered treadmill.

Singer, songwriter and chief creative force Anthony Gonzalez and his brother Yann take things comparatively easy, while above them the Academy’s vast backdrop breaks out into a sea of starlight – as befitting a band named after a distant galaxy.

In fact with lasers and lights and an incredible, leg-shakingly heavy sound – ten rows from the front we can feel the air forced out of the bass bins – it’s an assault on the senses.

Gonzalez’s vision is a wide open interplanetary soundscape of reverb-washed guitar, and rocket-fuelled-beats that build and burst behind competing tides of synthesis. Tracks like the lo-fi fuzz choir of ‘Teen Angst’ or the thrashy shoegaze of ‘The Bright Flash’ come sandwiched between trilling dance-pop anthems like ‘Midnight City’ and ‘Reunion’. And anthemic they are, to the point that it’s hard to tell if you’re familiar with the track or if it’s just that you’ve heard those synth lines for years from the likes of MSTRKRFT or MGMT or even ‘Disintegration’-era Cure.

With all the leaping about, the fancy dress, the flowing locks, and the nine-minute track prog self-belief, M83 could be a 21st century Hawkwind. At their most noodly, they could be an electro-Coldplay. But whacked out at 150dB there’s a five-thousand-strong crowd here that dances along heedless.

It strikes us this is music for teenage-hood, for teenagers love-struck-dumb by first time sensations for which they have no words. Gonzalez’s videos are filled with wonder, escape, visitations from the sky, aliens, magical powers. And oh how glorious it is to feel so special, so unique. But – is it so cynical to say so? – in time the youth, like this music, will age. Now it’s a soundtrack for wide-eyes and trembling lips, emotional stuff at its best. But given time and whiskers, will they with older eyes still look back as fondly on M83’s ultimately formulaic musical charms?

Originally published at Clashmusic.com.

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