Chvrches – review

Village Underground, London

Seeing Chvrches (pronounced "churches") live is akin to discovering a 1980s edition of Top of the Pops, in which Clare Grogan of Altered Images has teamed up with a Pet Shop Boys consisting of two Chris Lowes. The male components of the group mirthlessly poke synths, the female singer bubbles over with Glasgow-accented whimsy and the whole thing couldn't look more retro if David "Kid" Jensen were counting down the Top 10 alongside them.

Yet this Scottish electro-trio, who were shortlisted in the BBC Sound of 2013 poll, are also unmistakably modern: when Martin Doherty and Iain Cook prod their keyboards, what emerges is a 21st-century digital roar. The contrast between this noise – so bassy it makes your hair vibrate – and Lauren Mayberry's small, valiant vocals is marked enough to make them an interesting live act. And "live" is the operative word – the handful of tracks online don't prepare you for tonight's laser-strafing sensory assault.

While it takes fully half an hour for Chvrches to hit their stride, by the time they do, all preconceptions have been thoroughly trampled underfoot. The recorded version of Lies may be a tinny, Tubeway Army homage, but as tonight's opener, it's a bottom-heavy rave track. The melancholy at the core of Now Is Not the Time does battle with synth-distortion, and Science is an Ibiza-in-east-London extravaganza, with searchlights blinding the audience. Mayberry suggests we sing along to Recover, but its jagged synth-and-bass topography makes it too tall an order.

"I'm reliably informed that a member of a prestigious boy band is in the house," she says. So what does Take That's Mark Owen make of all this? Perhaps he's thinking Chvrches could turn into something properly interesting.

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Contributor

Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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