THERE are musicians who believe in a strong aesthetic, and then there’s Johnny Jewel. The analogue synth-prodding auteur American producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist has built a retro electro-goth-pop mini-empire surrounding his Portland, Oregon label Italians Do It Better, and its dense knot of interconnected bands. Most of which he is a member of, all of them united in their passion for doomy Italo-disco, icy female vocals, leather, eyeliner and darkly glamorous psychedelic video visuals. Think Tron meets ABBA meets Twin Peaks.
Chromatics, SWG3, Glasgow ****
The “queen bee of our f***ed up hive,” as Jewel charmingly introduced his Chromatics bandmate and ex-wife Ruth Radelet to the Glasgow audience, leads the most successful creature of their swarm – a band whose breakout 2012 album Kill For Love remains one of the greatest records of the 21st century so far. They’ve featured on various film and TV soundtracks, most notably Nicolas Winding Refn’s seminal Drive, while Jewel has collaborated extensively with David Lynch (Chromatics even briefly appeared in an episode of the revived Twin Peaks.)
Chromatics’ first tour in years has offered opportunity for something of an Italians Do It Better showcase – they were supported by labelmates Desire, as part of a tightly curated night where the house lights scarcely came up once and the room hung heavy with atmosphere. The pulsing Tick of the Clock, shimmering Back From The Grave and sweeping Shadow together conjured their own crepuscular cinematic soundscape. But it was Chromatics’ unique way with a cover version that gave their set it’s most spine-prickling moments. Be it Bruce Springsteen’s I’m On Fire stripped bare by Radelet solo to a raw, lustful, moonlit howl, or Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill amped-up into a shuddering blast of black-hearted machine music.