Upstairs at The Garage with Minny Pops
After a thirty-year absence, Dutch band Minny Pops who formed in 1978 returned to play three London gigs to plug the release of their live CD/DVD album Standstill to Motion, to be released 30th January.
The band originally gained popularity after supporting Joy Division at their Holland shows before being signed with their label Factory Records and beginning to tour around Britain. It seems quite a good time for Minny Pops to make a comeback; their dark, electronic, synthetic trance sound is one which is proving very popular amongst contemporary musicians and fans alike.
Recently electro pop bands College, Desire, The Chromatics and Kavinsky have all featured on the incredibly popular soundtrack to the equally popular movie Drive. This has drawn attention back once again to a heavily 80s-inspired sound.
The band, having shuffled a few members about, is still fronted by the tall, lanky Wally Van Middendorp who made his way onstage in a crisp, white shirt and black suit pants with a painted mouth of heavy red lipstick, resembling some sort of transvestite pilot. His face, lit by an ominous solo light from below, stared through the crowd before the beat kicked in and the collective Minny Pops (consisting of vocals, guitar, bass, and keys/effects) all stood in fixed positions staring out behind the crowd. After this tense Clint Eastwood-worthy stare-down, Van Middendorp released a succession of high-pitched wolf howls which were answered by many of the crowd.
The effects used throughout the set came across particularly well with the live atmosphere. The excessive use of reverb on the vocals added to the densely trippy, minimalist aspect of their music. They have certainly remained true to their initial sound. Their trademark simple vocal and bass lines allowed the listener something to grip onto whilst becoming sucked into an inconsistent realm of noise, experimentation and improvisation.
After the audience clapped for the songs there was a silence, filled only by the buzzing of dying amplifiers as the band once again stared through the crowd. Some audience members taking advantage of the silence shouted “Smile! Give us a smile!” I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth people expected a smile from a band fronted by the same label as Joy Division and New Order, who gave us lyrics such as, “Directionless so plain to see, a loaded gun won’t set you free.” In any case the band remained unflinching until Wally later interjected in calm retaliation “I’ll smile when it’s over,” and “There’s an inner happiness, believe it or not.”
Despite the lack of the cheery smiles the crowd seemed to hope for, the stage presence of the band was solid and hypnotic. They undoubtedly grab your attention in those silent, staring moments, as in the over-indulgent, theatrical gestures of Wally. During a song break, in an elaborately inelegant fashion, Wally used his whole white-sleeved arm to rather ineffectively smear the red lipstick from his mouth.
The band was joined by Dee Plume from the band Robots in disguise for a song which resembled the psychedelic, nightmare tunnel journey from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This was Wally, not Willy, and Factory records, not a chocolate factory; nonetheless it was equally haunting and hypnotic. Wally and Dee engaged in a sort of polyphonic Dutch dialogue behind a sonorous, vaulting background, interrupted by wolf cries and guitar screeches.
After playing a host of tracks from their 1980s Peel Session Wally informed the crowd in true conceptual artist fashion that the next song was to be their last song, that there would be no encores. He was not lying. An intriguing show, Minny Pops indeed showed the spirit and sound of their 1980s career has not diminished in the slightest.
Watch Minny Pops live at Upstairs at the Garage here: