Chvrches – review

ICA, London

Their name seems forbidding. "Chvrches" suggests some austere electronic cult who will have no truck with the culturally bankrupt spellings of the mainstream. Indeed, when this up'n'coming Glaswegian outfit first posted a track – the arresting Lies – on the internet last summer, it came without fanfare or biography, helping the myth along. In the 21st century, where everything seems instantly knowable, credible new acts often arrive with some level of cloak and dagger – the better to foster the impression of separation from the over-mediated herd.

Since then, Chvrches have come fifth in the BBC's new year's poll for tune-makers; Canadian electronic maven Grimes, whom they sometimes resemble, has tweeted that they sound like "DIY dreampop Ellie Goulding or something". Tonight, Chvrches' lights glow deeply purple, and their references are overt.

"Dearly beloved," begins the ominous, pitch-shifted voice of Prince reciting the intro to his 1984 hit, Let's Go Crazy, "we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…" Beats crash in suddenly, as though stolen, which they are – most obviously from Dizzee Rascal's 2003 track Fix Up Look Sharp. But you suspect that, in their fondness for the 1980s, Chvrches might know they originally hail from The Stroke (1981) by Billy Squier. This is Lies – a stuttering top hook, ravey stabs and big fat production, all topped off by Lauren Mayberry's vocals, ice queen by way of Glasgow wit. "We almost didn't make it," she notes of this sold-out show, breaking the spell a little with an anecdote about accidentally knocking a motorcyclist off his bike.

The tunes that follow stick close to this template – two men unleashing synthesised sounds, old and new, while between them the lilting Mayberry makes it all into accessible pop music. The appealing Science and Vision boasts a burbling Giorgio Moroder bassline, high drama every few bars, and Mayberry is at her most elegantly glassy.

Until recently, the idea of Scotland producing a contemporary, world-class synth-pop proposition seemed fairly unlikely. Glasgow, which Chvrches call home, is an indie mecca, twinned in spirit with Olympia, Washington, where the pop meek rule the Earth. The greater Glasgow area has produced niche titans such as the Pastels; in the 90s, instrumental apocalypse-mongers Mogwai sent down a deep taproot; the sharp guitar pop of Franz Ferdinand lit up the Noughties.

Chvrches themselves are part of this timeline, having been repurposed from rather earnest raw materials. At 38, keyboard player Iain Cook cut his teeth as the guitarist in Aereogramme, a brooding post-rock outfit who never quite sloughed off the influence of the aforementioned Mogwai. Martin Doherty has played keyboards for the Twilight Sad, another brooding outfit whose defiantly Scottish vocalisations never quite outpaced their debt to Editors. At 25, singer Lauren Mayberry has sung with pleasant indie-folk types Blue Sky Archives, as well as earning a degree in law and a postgraduate qualification as a journalist.

Pulling against type, Chvrches came together to make pop music people would dance to. They are almost terrific. Chvrches' shortcomings tonight have something to do with the venue's PA, or the sound man, who struggles initially to frame Mayberry's vocals; she is still easily overwhelmed by the boys' noise, which hits club frequencies. On their latest track, the nagging Recover (due out 25 March), the bass actually makes your vision blur, as though Chvrches were a power-pop take on Sleigh Bells, the Brooklyn boy-girl duo who channel aggressive riffs and female equanimity. Their patter is down-to-earth, denting Chvrches' mystique somewhat. But it doesn't really matter, as charm does just as well.

Since Scotland's indie heyday, Dumfries's Calvin Harris has emerged as a world-class pop beatmaker and Glasgow-based Rustie heads a cadre of electronic talent. There really is no reason why, on the eve of their first American tour, Chvrches shouldn't emerge as one of the UK's most promising new electro-pop exports. They are so much more than the sum of their pasts.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Chvrches: The Bones of What You Believe – review
Chvrches' hooky take on electropop stands up to any accusations of hype, writes Ally Carnwath

Ally Carnwath

21, Sep, 2013 @11:05 PM

Article image
Chvrches: Screen Violence review – full of fighting spirit
The Glaswegian trio use horror film tropes to explore fame, double standards and battles closer to home on their intense fourth album

Kitty Empire

28, Aug, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
Chvrches: Every Open Eye review – bittersweet second album
The Glaswegian trio add a defiant edge to their bouncy electropop

Corinne Jones

04, Oct, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
Chvrches: Love Is Dead review – their most seductive package yet

Emily Mackay

27, May, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
Chvrches – review

Eighties retro meets modern digital roar in this live assault on the senses, writes Caroline Sullivan

Caroline Sullivan

01, May, 2013 @5:09 PM

Article image
Chvrches: ‘It only takes two seconds to say: I don’t agree with white supremacy’
The Glaswegian synth-pop trio have risen to fame on the back of two lauded LPs and relentless touring, even as frontwoman Lauren Mayberry has fended off online abuse. Their new record finds them aiming for the top

Kate Mossman

20, May, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
One to watch: Chvrches

Already causing a massive stir online, Glasgow electro-pop trio Chvrches are determined to keep their rough edges on record, writes Kate Mossman

Kate Mossman

27, Oct, 2012 @11:09 PM

Article image
Disclosure – review

An emphasis on musicality distinguishes fresh-faced revivalists Disclosure from the dance pack, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

01, Dec, 2013 @12:07 AM

VCMG: Ssss – review
Vince Clarke and Martin Gore reunite after 30 years for an album of techno that's pleasingly cohesive, writes Killian Fox

Killian Fox

11, Mar, 2012 @12:05 AM

Emika: Emika – review
Killian Fox is seduced by an atmospheric debut that doffs its cap to Portishead and Berlin techno

Killian Fox

01, Oct, 2011 @11:05 PM