Bill Cummings 29/08/2006
It's been quite a few years since I stumbled upon the dark electro indie clash of Scarlet Soho; tonight I was to finally witness them in a live setting.
The trek to 93 Feet East was fraught with interest, from the scenic train journey to my aimless walk down Brick Lane past the numerous street curry salesmen trying to literally drag me into their establishments.
Once inside the venue I took a wrong turn into the back bar area, finally working my way past a humorous Bruno-esque Bouncer who put on a deep scary low voice and into the main stage area.
What's clear about Scarlet Soho is that, like their records, live they are a well oiled, well season machine. Indeed the title to the stompy rock of one of their songs “Programmed For Perfection” is perhaps apt. Under sickening neon lights, they produce sleek glam lines, fuzzy guitar riffs, and in Jim Soho they have a frontman with an appreciation of stagecraft. At one moment he possess the kinetic energy of a young Nicky Wire, at others he removes his guitar and with microphone in hand he prowls the stage ala Bowie in his Thin White Duke era (only Jim is more Thin Black Suit). The truth is he can really nail a live show, the tenor of his notes arching and swooping with a real well-honed passion. The best way to describe the SS aesthetic is dark, seductive, occasionally angsty electro clash, the vocal and lyrical dramatics of Mansun, married to the beats of Depeche Mode and the distant echoes of the Pet Shop Boys. The best moment comes with last years single “Modern Radio”, a Duran Duran Girls On Film melody line meeting clicking squelching electro salvos fired off from Scarlet on keys.
Some of the newer tracks do lack something, but it's hard to put my finger on what, maybe the lack of instant recognition, or the fact that they lack a killer lick or keyboard line that leaves them feeling a bit unmemorable, because as always they are executed with real aplomb. There's a sense that SS are moving in more of an electro direction, increasingly taking their quos from the New Romantic era. This is no bad thing as one new track “Speak your mind” proves that some of the new material shows real promise but they must watch that they don't fall into the trap of putting their guitars away for good: SS's strength lies in the balance between metal and machine. Their best songs mix it up with guitars, the blinding beats and swirls of the 1984-flecked “Skin Trade” the frenetic distortion of “Isolation” or the alienated lyrics (“Can you see what it means/Victims of society/City behaviour”) and clever suss of poppy closer “City Behaviour.”
So after all that time, what was the verdict? Did the SS live experience live up their recorded output? Yep, SS are the great soundtrack to any night out in London's darkest depths.