Better late than never, College finally hit up Leaf Tea Shop, Getintothis’ Michael Booth was there to witness a sonic, visual spectacular.
Almost a year to the day that the original gig was cancelled, Dave Grellier, aka College finally made it to Liverpool to perform at Leaf. Grellier enjoyed a surge of interest following the success of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive movie which featured College’s A Real Hero track among its score highlights. Would this interest be sustained a year down the line?
Very happily we can say a resounding ‘yes’. Indeed the sound and associated aesthetic has only grown in popularity during the intervening time with last month seeing the release of another critically acclaimed movie, The Guest, dripping with pink neon retro-synth appeal.
To say the previous gig was cancelled is not entirely true. Grellier was unable to attend, but the support act, Kalax, raised everyone’s spirits with a mesmerising debut live performance which ensured the crowd would still leave the venue stoked. Once again Kalax was in the support slot so there was an equal amount of anticipation in seeing how this synth wunderkind has been progressing.
What we witnessed is an artist who has truly grown in stature and taken on the aura of greatness. Kalax was a revelation, once again enchanting the crowd with blazing synth scapes, scudding bass lines and cacophonous melodies imploring us from one high to the next. There is so much warmth in this music with its wistful sense of passing youth and lament for the decline of optimism. The accompanying video images conveyed the well of affection for obsolete popular culture and a desire to reanimate an abandoned world through sheer force of will.
The ethereal track Journey featured footage from the 80s childhood favourite, Flight Of The Navigator, the music in perfect synergy with the graceful flight across the topography of the earth, cocooned in a self-contained world of shimmering silver.
The high-point of the set was undoubtedly Kalax’s forthcoming single Take Me Back, an all out barnstormer which perfectly distils Kalax’s DNA into 4 minutes of pop magic. It features an inspirational vocal by Australian vocalist World Wild backed up by some of the most serotonin stimulating synth lines we’ve heard in a while. The 80s pop-culture video montage that played alongside was a joy to watch, somehow translating the ephemeral into something enduring.
When Grellier took to the stage shortly after he had a tough act to follow. One imagines it was a difficult set to calibrate. College was thrust into the limelight by a song which featured a warm synth refrain and a pop vocal by Electric Youth’s Bronwyn Griffin so a set featuring pared down instrumentals was likely to confound the expectations of many. It was a brave choice for Grellier to shun guest vocals on his latest album given the success of A Real Hero and stay true to the kind of music he has been producing since the release of debut LP Secret Diary in 2008.
He opened up with selections from the new album, Heritage. Still basking in the afterglow of Kalax’s set served to underline the colder minimal edge to College’s material, with stark sequencer patterns and tough beats combining to create a hypnotic abstract disco vibe.
Grellier had a wealth of material to draw upon, going back to the early days when College was part of a collective known as Valerie which he created for like-minded artists. He performed tracks from his original EP, Teenage Color in addition to a clutch from the Secret Diary album. Retro vector-graphic imagery played out in the background for much of the set which later gave way to a haunting video featuring morphing photos of female stars from the late 70s/early 80s.
There is a deep vein of nostalgia that infuses College’s music and yet it is never less than modern, deploying cold war synths and drum machines in ways never utilised first time round, almost creating an alternative history. The limited palette Grellier uses and the repetitive nature of the tracks will naturally deter those of a pop persuasion and certainly when A Real Hero finally played at the end of the night one senses a certain portion of the crowd were relived to be flung a pop hook to latch on to.
For fans of the analogue renaissance this gig was a rare delight, with Kalax going a long way in upstaging College. Here at Getintothis we can recommend the new material from both these trailblazers without any hesitation.
Pictures by Getintothis‘ Keith Ainsworth