Photos by Neil Van
If the recently renamed and renovated REBEL (née Sound Academy) wanted an effective litmus test, it’d be hard to find a better candidate than M83. The French electronic band isn’t known for half measures, with a sound that’s cinematic in scope and a zealous stage presence drowned in light. Sound Academy was always a much maligned venue, distant and cramped with lacklustre sound, whereas M83’s live shows are often spoke of in reverent tones. The outcome was anyone’s guess.
M83 bolted straight out of the gate with 2012’s “Reunion” and the crowd collectively lost its shit. An anthemic audience favourite, its scale was matched perfectly by the floodlights illuminating the room. Mounted beams of light were scattered throughout the stage, pulsing and rotating as the band let rip. Showmanship was in abundance, whether it was lead singer Anthony Gonzalez emphatically posing as massive beats hit, or multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lawlor bounding around the stage, leaping from the drummer’s platform. Joe Berry earned an ovation every time he strutted out for a saxophone solo, while new addition Kaela Sinclair stepped away from her keys and showcased her stunning vocal range in “Oblivion”.
The setlist ranged across their discography, which raised a question of its own. Junk, M83’s most recent album, is a significant stylistic departure from their others. How they were gonna meld the laden, atmospheric shoegaze tracks with their new irreverent French electropop vibe? In all honesty, it wasn’t seamless, but it was altogether too much fun to care. If the tone wasn’t obvious enough, the visual distinction was marked. The headier songs were bathed in cohesively coloured solemn lighting. The newer tracks eschewed balance for flashy, saturated tints, with a general sense of ‘fuck it, just dance’. The addition of vocalist Mai Lan cavorting about the stage brought a renewed playful ambience. Hell, she kicked above her head at least once.
So that’s M83, how did REBEL do? For the most part, pretty damn well. The stage is expansive, showcased by sublime mid-set surprise “Sitting” from the M83’s self-titled debut. Purely instrumental, the song saw the band working the stage while Lawlor danced about, bashing away at a toy drum. The venue is no longer a sardined sweatbox, with at least breathing room in lieu of the old to shoulder-to-shoulder space. The sound is… better than it was. The peaks and troughs were all clear, but while M83 were giving it all they had, the presence of the sound was slightly lacking. You could hear it, but not 100% feel it. The lights, on the other hand, were where they brought their A-Game. Top to bottom splendour. Altogether, the renovations were much better than the cringeworthy name REBEL suggested.
M83 on the other hand were a spectacle to watch. Their joy in performance was effortlessly evident and lifted the crowd with it. The band bowed for a curtain call before walking off, glistening with sweat, waving and smiling. I can’t be the only one counting down the days till they return. But, y’know (maybe at some other venue?)…