Synthpop's Chromatics Journey Through a Stellar Discography in Manchester

Photo: Radka / Courtesy of Stereo Sanctity

For their Double Exposure tour, Chromatics travel through their endless gems in a masterful performance in Manchester.

This was, in many ways, a very strange gig for Chromatics. Having just released a new record in Closer to Grey, the band instead opted to make the Double Exposure tour a trip down memory lane. So, instead, we get to witness a journey through Chromatics' rich history and their favorite songs. Even though I very much like Closer to Grey, I can't say that the idea behind Double Exposure was something anyone would pass on. So I ventured into one of the nicest venues in Manchester, the converted Methodist central hall that is known as Albert Hall.

This tour was an Italians Do It Better business, with a very new act opening the night in Double Mixte. The duo of producers Thomas Maan and Clara Apolit has the backing of Johnny Jewel, who produced their debut EP. In a fairly minimalistic setting, Maan and Apolit come to the stage, prepared to give us a tour through their noir-esque worldview. Sometimes, less is more, and Double Mixte appear to grasp that concept and all its implications. The waves of electronica fill the venue, providing the movement and progression, while the fleeting images that constantly alter in the screen behind them provide another layer to the overall atmosphere.

The duo's music is immediate, but without being hard-hitting. Instead, what shines through their performance is this subtle romanticized essence of noir, with Apolit and Maan alternating on vocal duties, constructing different characters, sceneries, and stories for us to follow. In just under 25 minutes, they were able to project the richness that defines their debut EP, Romance Noire in the best possible way, before bidding us farewell.

Photo: Radka / Courtesy of Stereo Sanctity

Next, it is Desire who take the stage, and that is when we get the first glimpse of Chromatics, with Johnny Jewel on the synthesizers and Nat Walker behind the drums. The setting suddenly changes from the fast-paced, romantic noir of Double Mixte to an overtly poppy synth-wave infused disco recital.

Desire has been flying under the radar for most of their career, sporadically putting out new music. But they always displayed an excellent grasp of the more obscure disco-inspired edge of electronica. Having released their debut record II back in 2009, the band has since produced a very interesting series of EPs in 2015's Under the Spell and especially Tears from Heaven, released in 2018.

The setting on stage is spectacular with a look like someone that came out of the Roadhouse venue in Twin Peaks. Vocalist Megan Louise arrives at the stage in full swagger, with a cocktail in hand wishing everyone a great time, and for the following 30 minutes, that is what we got. And Desire traversed through it all, from their more extravagant and uplifting moments, down to the melancholy of their disco soul, even treating Manchester to a cover of New Order's "Confusion" as the cherry on top.

The finale of Desire's performance was also spectacular with a synthesizer battle of wills waging on. Supposedly the band has fully reunited and intend to release a new full-length in 2019. Well, that was the perfect appetizer.

Photo: Radka / Courtesy of Stereo Sanctity

And finally, it is time. Chromatics, one of the pioneering acts of the past two decades, are about to take the stage with "Tick of the Clock", causing the anticipation to rise. At last, the four members are on stage, and the show sets off in the most spectacular way possible. The delayed guitar melodies of "Lady" creep in, with the bouncy bassline and the fleeting effects soon joining. Eventually, Ruth Radelet's voice echoes through the venue as she continuously sings, "I was always looking for a lady, but baby, you're so far away".

The dreamy essence of Kill For Love carries on immediately with the synth induced and equally otherworldly title track setting off. Johnny Jewel is switching between synthesizers and bass, while Nat Walker provides the repetitive electronically influenced backbone of the track. Images constantly switch in the background, some are from video clips of the band, some from Ryan Gosling's directorial debut Lost River, but they all somehow come together to narrate the story of this iconoclastic act.

Since this is the Double Exposure tour, the band perform a further tour of their discography returning to their seminal Night Drive record. Through Italo-disco motifs and synthpop pathways, they unleash the title track in all its hazy majesty and the captivating "I Want Your Love", as well as resuming the Kill For Love marathon with "Birds of Paradise" and "Back from the Grave".

Photo: Radka / Courtesy of Stereo Sanctity

Another highlight is, of course, the moment Radelet introduces the next song, this time to be sung by guitarist Adam Miller. It is "These Streets Will Never Look the Same", setting off again from a cinematic origin, and with Chromatics' always elusive, ethereal touch. Miller's processed vocals are haunting through the performance, with the overall energy at a high when the final part of the song kicks in.

The singles also get their fair share of the spotlight, with the electrifying "I Can Never Be Myself When You Are Around" exploding through its heavier distortion, while the stoic and intoxicating "Time Rider" induces a trance-like state over the performance. The red and white lightning show is the perfect accompaniment as this almost road movie-esque soundtrack unfolds through its minimal dance-informed roots, all the way to its fantastical hook chorus.

Keeping some of the best for last, the moving melodies of "Cherry" set upon us with the old-school bassline converging with the ethereal spirit of the '80s and the disco ethos. And all this tour de force closes with one of the most spot-on covers ever produced in Neil Young's "Into the Black" as the band bid everyone farewell. Thankfully it doesn't last long, and now it is the time for the show's second cover with Radelet appearing solo on stage, giving a delicate and graceful performance of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire".

The full band slowly return to pay homage to their darker and more obscure pop sense with "Shadow", before the piercing leads of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" make an appearance with the entire venue erupting. And so is the nostalgia of Double Exposure set to a crumbling finale. It is the most fitting way to finish a seminal performance by one of the most important acts of this generation.

Photo: Radka / Courtesy of Stereo Sanctity






The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.