Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Matias Aguayo & The Desdemonas - Sofarnopolis

Still from Cold Fever video, by Matías Aguayo and Céline Keller.

It's the 14th of September 2016, an unwelcoming Wednesday night in Edinburgh, and I've forced myself up from the comfort of my sofa to go and see Berlin's Matias Aguayo and The Desdemonas at Sneaky Pete's. "Is this how you dreamt it would be?" asks Aguayo at one point, between songs. It turns out to be the central lyric of the next number, in which he's seemingly talking about the dystopian future-present our childhood selves would find themselves living in today, but the question could equally apply to our expectations of the gig. Best known as figurehead of the flawlessly-cool Cómeme label, and as a producer making infectious, highly-imaginative, personality-filled house music, what drew me out tonight was the promise of hearing that creativity translated to a traditional rock band line-up. But in truth his band, The Desdemonas, create an even fuller, more complex sound than I had expected. The noirish edge I had anticipated is there, in the heavy b-movie creep of the basslines, and a guitarist ringing out reverb-spooked tremolo strums that would make Robert Rodriguez weep. As well as singing, Aguayo sometimes plays a bizarre-looking homemade keytar, or percussion. Another guy plays synths. Did I mention the synths. The unexpected element for me are the occasionally epic, teutonic synths, creating a collision between a cold wave front from Berlin, and the warmer atmospheres of Aguayo's Chilean heritage, the latin dance rhythms underpinning it all (the drummer is kept very busy).

Aesthetics aside, from track to track we're treated to a bewildering array of song types, from seductive sex jams to apocalyptic synth pop; it's hard to categorise at all. Fortunately this is not a weakness, as Aguayo himself is a natural performer, with the personality to hold something so potentially chaotic together. The venue is not very busy, and I find myself at the front of the stage, Aguayo, who has been dancing throughout, undulating sensuously before me. In tight trousers, smartly-heeled boots and a polkadot blouse, he looks for all the world like a ghost from the heyday of '80s or early-'90s indie. Entranced by his dancing, all of my feeble hetero passcodes are unlocked one by one, and within no time, I'm his. I'm by myself and he's close enough that it feels like he's dancing for me, with me. Fortunately, at this stage I've only had one beer.

Later, whilst performing the previously mentioned song about our dystopian present, he will body pop and footslide with some of the best dance moves I may have ever seen from a live performer. Admittedly, I've never seen Justin Timberlake live. Perhaps he would have been better. But in a small, intimate club on the Cowgate, in the gutter of the city, to watch something like this is just joyously incongruous and fantastical. I think these might really be some of the moments I live for: in a small, unassuming venue, seeing something genuinely not quite like anything I've seen before - the true wonder of pop music. It's still out there, somewhere, as we once dreamt of it, in naive childhood wonder, FM dreams beamed beneath duvets via walkman radios. In a gig that feels, at different times, like a bar band from an unknown, superior South American remake of The Lost Boys, or the first genuinely good band to play at the Bronze (apart from Cibo Matto, obvs), or Chris Isaak's little-known midlife breakdown post-punk vampire-biker-themed jam band, we find, finally, simply, transcendent pop wonder.

Fast forward to November 2017, and the album the Desdemonas were teasing last year (they toured it across Europe, without any of the material having been released) has now finally arrived. Is it how I had dreamt it would be? Not entirely - it features some mellower numbers, and ambient interludes, and perhaps more smoke machine than the gig did. It's dreamier, and darker, whlst simultaneously lighter in other places. If anything, it seems to show an even broader collision of influences, is even harder to adequately describe. And the song about the dreamt-of future seems to be missing. Perhaps it was me who dreamt it? Much like the gig, the album is entirely its own thing, not quite like anything else out there. Titled Sofarnopolis, it's apparently a conceptual narrative, with clues filled in by Aguayo's accompanying comic strip art. Perhaps it was never about what we dreamt it would be after all, but about Aguayo's dreams; and they seem to be wild, intriguing, oblique fantasies of a different, more exciting time. In this parallel world, perhaps a young Aguayo is laughing to himself as he foresees his future self on the cover of the NME and Melody Maker, the biggest latin-indie-synth-goth pop star of a decade that never was... whoever's dream it is, it's a future past that's a joy to visit.

Sofarnopolis by Matias Aguayo is out now, via Crammed Discs.

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