There are few artists these days that you can call innovative, but if I were to heedlessly give this description to any band at the moment, it would probably be Public Service Broadcasting. Multi-instrumentalists with deadpan stage personas and a preference for samples over live vocals, Public Service Broadcasting’s cult following has been largely due to the fact that they are, in some ways, the antithesis of rock stardom. Sporting floppy hair and bow ties a la Matt Smith’s Doctor and casually switching between synth and banjo like it ain’t no thang, the aura of their shows tend not to be driven by their on-stage personalities, but rather their fantastic light shows complete with neon mast and retro TV sets, as well as two backing screens of black-and-white montages making them look like a bizarre combination of Lonnie Donegan and Kraftwerk.
Indeed, they opened with a fake old-fashioned public information film, warning audiences of the dangers of WMPCVD – or Wafty Mobile Phone Camera Video Disorder, satirising the bizarre modern phenomenon of music audience’s fixation on filming as much of a gig as possible with their smartphone. Right through the show, any audience interaction was reduced to monotone computer voice recordings – “It’s great to be here at… [pause to select new recording] East Village Arts Club!… How you doing?… Oh dear.” Public Service Broadcasting’s music is hard to pigeonhole. As their latest album, Inform Educate Entertain shows, it both stylistically and thematically straddles space and time, effortlessly meshing the bleakness of World War II and the superficiality of post-war pop culture. The hypnotic and paranoid opener, ‘London Can Take It’ concerned London’s vulnerable position in war time. Following this was the starkly different ‘The Now Generation’, a rhythmic and bouncy track backed by an electro beat which comments on post-war Britain’s trivial obsession with image; “How do I look?” “Good enough in that outfit” say a couple of vacant RP voices.
But mumbo jumbo context aside, PSB are consummate performers. Most of their live tracks, most of all ‘Everest’, sound much crisper than their studio versions. As well as this, their light shows compliment their music. Notable examples of this included the flashing red lights (like that of a bomb) which accompanied ‘If War Should Come’ and the white, circular lights of their most cosy and palatable track, ‘Night Mail’, which travelled across the audience.
My main gripe is that most of the audience were a good 10-20 years older than I am. Good for them, but a group this exciting should really be attracting a younger audience as well.