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Goldfrapp / Sparks / Future Islands

at Academy Glasgow

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A mixed bag from pop’s outsiders at BBC 6 Music Festival in Glasgow

Image of Goldfrapp / Sparks / Future Islands

Glasgow is renowned for its legendary music scene. It was little surprise then, when the annual BBC Radio 6 Music Festival was announced to be coming to the city, with a host of big names performing at Glasgow’s biggest venues over the course of the festival weekend. The Barrowlands stage was headed up on the opening night by The Jesus and Mary Chain whilst Cate Le Bon topped the bill at Saint Luke’s. On stage at the O2 Academy in the city’s Southside were Future Islands, Sparks and Goldfrapp, a mixed bag of acts united by synthesisers and a sense of being outsiders on the music scene.

First on stage are Future Islands. The Baltimore band are certainly crowd pleasers, whipping their fans into an “end of the night” kind of frenzy from the word go. Frontman Samuel Herring may look more like a middleweight boxer than the frontman of an indie band, but his onstage theatrics and idiosyncratic style of singing – all growls and whoops and goblinesque throatiness – draw loud cheers from the audience, who document his chest-pummelling, leaping and lunging stage antics through a sea of luminescent smartphone screens. Musically, they fall a little flat: their synthy soundscapes evoke early Killers and festival headliners Depeche Mode, but they lack the catchy melodies and charisma that catapulted those bands to stardom. Whilst the soaring synths of ‘Ran’ are a highlight and you can’t accuse Herring of low energy, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between songs which disappear into overly heavy squalls of synth.

Around 45 minutes later, and following a DJ set from filmmaker and Radio 6 DJ Don Letts, Sparks skip onto a stage bedecked with a cartoon hippopotamus and fronted by Ron Mael’s legendary ‘Ronald’ keyboard. Morrissey once said of Russell Mael that upon first hearing the LA duo he thought he was listening to a French woman rather than an American man. Fresh from 2015’s FFS collaboration with Glaswegian art-pop band Franz Ferdinand, this latest incarnation of Sparks do evoke a certain Franco-cool. The musicians Sparks are currently touring with (including several members of LA band Mini Mansions) are uniformly Breton-clad, with Russell Mael heading up the look in a thick-striped jumper and jauntily-tied black scarf. Ron, of course, is characteristically clad in white shirt and tie. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine him in much else: he’s been the po-faced keyboard mastermind in a cardigan behind some of pop’s most innovative pieces since the band’s earliest television performances in the 1970s.

It’s hard to overstate the sheer eclectic genius of the Mael brothers who have spent an entire career being continuously underrated. The new material shines, fitting effortlessly into place in their canon: the intelligent, humorous and ironic lyrics as sharp as ever. A particular highlight is ‘Hippopotamus’, the title track from their new album (out September 2017) which somehow manages the impressive feat of including references to Titus Andronicus, Hieronymous Bosch, a “book by Anonymous” and a Volkswagen Microbus, without sounding remotely forced.

Alison Goldfrapp is, by all accounts, a stunning performer and, in terms of sheer feel good danceability, Goldfrapp don’t disappoint. Emerging from a cloud of dry ice in a red latex suit with a bat-winged red jumper seemingly sewn into the same outfit, she both looks and sounds unearthly. Effortlessly switching from the soaring sensuousness of songs such as ‘Black Cherry’ to the sleazy disco stomp of ‘Ride A White Horse’, it is like going to see Madama Butterfly and Marc Bolan coming on half way through with a stack Marshall amp and a satin jacket. It’s still strange to see them pegged as a headline act in 2017, but they are very strong and material from their brand new album ‘Silver Eye’ (out 31 March) sounds fresh and relevant. At times the set is perhaps a little slow: Goldfrapp do cinematic very well, but in some ways that works against them in a live setting. They’re almost too perfect to be truly enjoyable as a live act. Close your eyes and you could be listening to a studio performance. Still, the electric double encore of ‘Ooh La La’ followed by a vamped up ‘Strict Machine’ brings the house down and is a fitting end to the opening night of Glasgow’s Radio 6 Festival.