I had wanted to see The Soft Moon several years ago, following their triumphant co-write of my favorite John Foxx song, “Evidence” from the 2012 album of the same name. They were set to show up in town soon afterward, but during a freak period where all airline flights were grounded due to atmospheric conditions, that scuttled the tour. It was until this year, when I saw that The Mothlight, which sprang out of nowhere in the last two years to become my favorite local venue, was hosting The Soft Moon on April 28th, with Boy Harsher and Via opening. Doors at 8:00 and show at 9:00. I had just enough time to eat dinner with my wife, who had arrived home that evening from a trip, and head out the door to arrive at the venue by 9:05 or so.
Asheville’s own Via opened playing at the front of the dance floor in near darkness, save for the occasional lighthouse sweep of a spotlight. As I entered the band had already been playing; their tech-goth swell filling the night air every time the door opened enough to let the sound out. I assumed that they had just played maybe one song thus far. The guitarist (homme) was playing swirling, cascading riffs of great beauty while his bandmate (femme) sang and played the keys/machines. The sound was loud and reverberant so she was almost inaudible against the music bed. It was not punishingly loud, thankfully. Since they were playing in the audience, for all intents and purposes, it was difficult seeing them. The spartan lighting accents only served to make the view darker.
At first blush, I didn’t know that they were local, but that was a good thing, because about 2-3 songs later, their set came to an end. Maybe 10 minutes after my arrival five minutes after showtime. The Mothlight is a fairly tight ship, but who ever expects a show to begin ahead of schedule? Since they are local, I can now keep an eye out for them. What little I caught of their set was right up my alley. In my perfect world, one would never have synths without also having guitars. Together, they rule, and this player was coaxing some lovely sound out of his instrument. I would have liked to have heard the vocalist but the mix did her no favors. Maybe next time.
Boy HarsherGood lord, living as I did, in the sticks of Orlando, Florida, I spent 1982 listening to Chris + Cosey but I never heard anything like them live. Until now. Better late than never since Boy Harsher were the 1982 band of my dreams, sounding like Chris + Cosey vs DAF… in dub! I knew I was in good hands when Muller began the music on a wind controller. Now that’s something that you rarely see. Glorious EBM analog waveforms were being controlled by Muller while Ms. Matthews offered occasionally feral dub chant with both of them singing occasionally into a distorted CB mike and being shot through with awesome dub filters that kept the energy in the edge of trancelike delirium for almost the entire set. Most impressively, I did not see a laptop anywhere. What I did see was what looked like a homemade MIDI controller that looked like it might have been made with a series of steel cans that had seen better days that has a cable attached to one end. He or she would grab it at various times, and shake it; distorting the sound with every shake. The more vigorous the shake, the wilder the distortion. Bliss! We need more of this electric chaos!
I was fascinated by the groove here and most impressively, the music only changed when the gent actually touched something. The DAF quality beats dropped in and out of the mix to keep us on our toes the whole time. A perfect blend of machine order and animal chaos. The clean, hard, ecstatic vibe was infectious. Ms. Matthews was dancing across the stage, often smiling with joy as she sang. This band were the furthest thing from lemon-sucking hipsters. This was a vibrant and powerful, yet ultimately joyous sound. I thanked my lucky stars that I could finally experience something like this, even 36 years too late. After their set I made a bee-line for the merch to secure some of this fine, fine music, but pronto! I told Ms. Matthews that they made me feel like it was 1982 again and that they could have been on Celluloid Records. I had already gotten more than my money’s worth, and The Soft Moon were yet to come.
The Soft Moon
As the techs quickly broke down Boy Harsher’s equipment, the stage for The Soft Moon was revealing two drum sets; one acoustic [front] as well as electronic [back]. And a Moog Little Phatty right up front with an Ovation synth next to the…congas? Then they brought a galvanized trash can and a pair of drumsticks upstage. This would prove interesting as much of this percussive force was not usually connected to synth music. But then the evening was more rounded than that. I had never heard The Soft Moon outside of their contribution to the John Foxx + The Maths album, but I’ve noticed that the scuttlebutt for their latest album was moving in a harder direction. Top commenter Echorich has deemed the results as being in the vein of early Killing Joke and I certainly get that.
The vibe of the show was like that perfect blend of The Joke and Tubeway Army. Synths were there, but probably played a bigger role on the older material in the set. Luigi Pianezzola swapped between bass guitar and Ovation synth while drummer Matteo Vallicelli mostly played the hell out of an acoustic set with Krautrocklike precision; only occasionally retreating to the digital drums at rear stage left. This left Vasquez mostly playing guitar that had been flanged from here to Neptune and back; surely the quintessence of Post-Punk? Occasionally he would hunch in front of the Phatty to grind out some synth chords, but his least conventional playing was reserved for the galvanized garbage can. He took the sticks to this with tattoos of clattering rimshots punctuating the solid beat of Mr. Valllicelli.
It was a vibrant, pre-1983 sound and having not heard any of this music prior, I respected the fact that each song played seemed to be the soul of leave-em-wanting-more brevity. There could not have been more than three songs that crossed the four minute mark here. That, coupled with the bimodal diversity between the older synth rock material and the newer guitar based sound meant that we could never get bored here. My two favorite bases were covered. The band played about an hour; the mix issues that had plagued the first act’s vocals were conquered and the engineers [possibly FOH traveling with The Soft Moon] delivered an immersive and robust sound without any harsh edge of distortion. Everything sounded just right for the Boy Harsher and The Soft Moon sets. By midnight, the band left the stage for a minute or two before coming back for an encore.
By 12:15 the night was over and I had certainly enjoyed all of the music; but I have to say that I was fairly enraptured by Boy Harsher and eagerly await another chance to dip into their dark, delirious pool. I had briefly sampled both opener’s Bandcamp pages to see if they would be to my liking and they certainly were, though I could not have imagined how much more of a prospect that Boy Harsher would prove to be in the live arena. I can’t stress enough how I had been waiting for music with this level of excitement to enter into my life for almost 35 years, and I say better late than never. There were heavy whiffs of Chris + Cosey, DAF, Bill Laswell, Celluloid Records, and steamy New York clubs I would never visit combined with the band’s own rogue DNA [and creativity in handmade MIDI contollers] to take me somewhere I had never quite known of, but always wanted to visit.
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I have said similar recently but I really enjoy reading about a band here and then looking them up on Apple Music (in my case) and being able to instantly sample from across their body of work. I was slightly familiar with Soft Moon due to the Foxx collaboration you mentioned, O Monk, but had never heard of Boy Harsher. Both sound terrific and I plan or perusing more of their output in the near future. Thanks for the report, I love discovering new music that sits well with the stuff I already love.
chasinvicitoria – The BH studio stuff is merely good. Live, they were on a completely different level!! I need to tell them to make a live recording for Bandcamp.
Never heard of Boy Harsher but based upon the Monk review,went and listened.Enjoyed it enough to purchase an EP.Very much in the Chris & Cosey universe.Glad to see that the DIY approach is still alive in music.
Jordan – Glad to be of service but should you get the chance to see them live? Pounce, my friend! I just dropped them a note from Bandcamp begging for a live album. They are apparently a “thing” with many a sold out pressing commanding crazy money, but I never heard of them before, either.