18 Jan 2022
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Gig Review: Star Control & PolarisRadio @ The Wine Cellar, Auckland - 03/07/2021

05 Jul 2021 // A review by Kev Rowland

Yet again I find myself heading into central Auckland for the second consecutive night on my way to a gig, this time to a two-band bill at The Wine Cellar featuring Star Control and PolarisRadio. A few months ago, I bumped into Felix Lun at a gig where he was guesting, and while our discussion of course concentrated on the mighty and much-missed Shepherds of Cassini (where he played violin), he told me that he and drummer Omar Al-Hashimi were now two thirds of a totally different outfit called Star Control. I promised to see them when next they played, so it was back to K Road again to see what promised to be something of an interesting evening.

Since we last met, Felix had sent me a copy of their album, which was available at the gig tonight. Nothing really unusual in that I hear you say, but this one is only available on a Star Control USB drive which also includes a load of old shareware PC games, and of course a colouring book! Yes, there is an honest to god colouring book as part of this release, and after reviewing thousands of albums over the last 30+ years I have to say this is a first for me.

I caught up with Felix and David Somervell before the gig, and learned something about their line-up, which is also somewhat unusual in that they are a twin keytar outfit with real drums. I am having a hard time remembering the last time I saw one keytar, let alone two in the same band, so I was somewhat intrigued. When it came time for them to play, both David and Felix donned multi-coloured capes, and all three of them wore glasses containing LED which certainly made an impact on those watching (but also meant they were basically playing blind as they could not see anything). Even though they didn’t mention the name of the band until the end, that didn’t matter as David’s glasses kept repeating STAR CONTROL, two letters at a time. Felix had also stolen his partner’s classic 80’s game console and it was set up to project behind the band, and people in the audience were encouraged to play games through the set, so they did!

Given everything else, the music perhaps was not surprising in that it was multi-layered synths in an 80’s fashion, but with dynamic live drums cutting through. It has been some years since I last saw Omar play and I had forgotten just how powerful the softly spoken man is when he gets behind the kit. Although David and Felix were playing the lead melodies throughout, it was obvious that there was more music on the backing tracks as they just did not have enough hands. There was very little talking from the band, as they went through one instrumental number after another, and although there were times for me when it started to get somewhat repetitive there was always Omar to cut through and take it in a different direction. Only one song contained vocals, Angel, but here David was channelling his voice through the keytar and creating something very robotic and totally in keeping with the music. There was no doubt that the audience were having fun, with lots of people dancing throughout and plenty of people calling for an encore when they finished.

When I asked Dean Moroney to describe PolarisRadio he told me he was a solo act from Napier who performs instrumental, electronic, synthwave, with rock guitar. He provides dance beats with an 80’s flavour, and plenty of riffs, controlling the output through two iPads, a laptop, a synthesiser, a guitar and a bass guitar, but not all at once. While Star Control were not really a style of music I enjoy (not everyone can like everything), I was sure that PolarisRadio were going to be even further off the reservation, but I was certainly intrigued to see what this guy could do. Bearing in mind this was at The Wine Cellar, a small venue, Dean had gone all out to create something which was far more than just music being created live. There are only so many things two hands can do, so he would set the backing going, and then control it through the iPads, sometimes adding synth, guitar or bass, or just live mixing on the iPads, throwing in different sounds. Then on top of that there were 80’s style computer graphics videos linked in with the music, so it was almost as if Dean was playing a soundtrack. It was not possible to separate the visual and the audio, it was very much all part of the same thing, and one enhanced the other. Musically this felt more intense than Star Control, and there were times when there were obvious Kraftwerk influences, yet at the same time this would be perfectly at home in the rave scene.

Musically, neither band were playing something I would normally listen to, but there is no doubt whatsoever that they are very skilled at what they are going, and the audience certainly appreciated it. A great deal of effort was put into this gig, from both acts, and if this style of music is something you are interested in, then both bands are certainly worth checking out.


Photo Credit: Kev Rowland

 

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