THE UMLAUTS + SHEIVA – THE HOPE & RUIN, BRIGHTON 18.10.23 (More photos HERE)
This month is certainly a busy month for The Umlauts as not only have they dropped ‘Slags’ on 6th October, which features the best of their first two EPs, namely 2021’s ‘Ü’ and 2022’s ‘Another Fact’, along with a trio of new material, but they are out on an 8-date UK tour, which kicks off here in Brighton this evening at The Hope & Ruin which is brought to us courtesy of promoters FORM.
Tonight was the third time that Brighton & Hove News have witnessed The Umlauts performing live. We caught up with them back in 2021 when they played ‘End Of The Road Festival’ on 4th September and then caught them on the bill with Shame at Chalk on 15th November. However this evening was my first taste of the eight-piece outfit which consists of Annabelle Mödlinger (vocals), Maria Vittoria Faldini (vocals), Toby Kempner (drums), Patrick Lister (guitar), Oliver Offord (synths), Alfred Lear (bass synth), Magdalena McLean (violin) and Freya Tate (percussions). Yes it’s a packed stage! Thankfully the venue is packed as well, but I don’t think it has quite sold out, but that’s not surprising with the awful weather outside.
The Umlauts have arrived at this point in their journey via their initial inception in Gloucestershire, Stroud to be precise, in the town’s SVA Artspace, thanks to songwriting partners Alfred Lear and Oliver Offord. Having relocated to London in order to attend Wimbledon College of Art, the duo met visual artists Annabelle Mödlinger and Maria Vittoria Faldini who joined the ranks as lyricists and vocalists. This blew the group wide open in terms of what they could do creatively. Describing themselves as being “just your average trans-European, multi-lingual, art-school, post-punk, techno-inspired, über-group/circus-troop/diaeresis”, they set about working on their debut release, their six tune ‘Ü’ EP, which offered up hewn mix of mechanical synth-pop, spiky no wave and bristling post-punk which reflected their melting pot of cultures from cross-border perspectives.
This evening, their amalgamation of first generation post punk and European wonderfulness is evident. On this note, immediately after the band had finished, two separate people came up to me and both expressed their surprise when the singers spoke English as they had assumed with a name like The Umlauts that in fact they were German!
Music doesn’t follow political borders and The Umlauts are very much a European band who transcend borders of land and time and as a result offer up their unique blend of 30 to 40 year old exquisite vibes and drag them screaming into 2023 and beyond. This is evident from their opening number, the title track of their 2022 ‘Another Fact’ EP which commenced bang on 9pm. This, for me, immediately conjured up the other early names on Factory records that weren’t Joy Division, namely A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column, Section 25, and The Royal Family And The Poor. However, Toby’s drumming was heading towards being on par with Stephen Morris (Joy Division, New Order, The Other Two) on this number and was an early indication of how good he was.
Many tunes from this evening’s eleven song performance were all the better for having Toby on the stix and the drums drove the other seven along rather nicely. Of particular note was song five ‘Energy Plan’ (found on the 2021 ‘Ü’ EP), which also called on the talent of Magdalena McLean on violin; and also track eight ‘Prédateur’, a new one from the ‘Slags’ album, which changing tempo beat witnessed Toby’s rapid fire drumming expertise. There were other examples too, but not wanting to miss any tunes out, I will address these soon.
The stage was awash with keyboards and with synth’s being arguably my favourite sounding instrument – thank you ‘Autobahn’ 1974! I could see a standalone Korg MS-20 mini monophonic synthesizer which was mainly under the control of Annabelle Mödlinger and made the most joyous blips and bleeps throughout the show. There was a Korg Prologue polyphonic analog synthesizer, which was paired with an ASM Hydrasynth keyboard and these were under the supervision of Oliver Offord who was stage right (our left). Behind him there was another keyboard operated by Alfred Lear; there were Roland drumpads which Freya Tate was playing; there was also a sampler box of offer too. The other instrumentation being a guitar courtesy of Patrick Lister who was stage left (our right) and the opposite side was Magdalena McLean on violin; and not forgetting Toby Kempner on drums.
Tune two was ‘Dance & Go’ (from 2023 ‘Slags’ album) with its foot stomping beat, built very nicely courtesy of the drums and Patrick’s repeated guitar chords, which had a whiff of ‘Music For The Masses’ era Depeche Mode about it. Three was very much the lucky number for me with the arrival of ‘Boiler Suits And Combat Boots’ (from ‘Ü’ EP) which saw blond haired Maria create some decent drones out of the MS-20 and Oliver and Alfred getting the best out of their respective keyboards. Possibly the choice track of the set for me!
‘Non è Ancora’ (from ‘Another Fact’ EP) was selection four and witnessed Maria giving over the MS-20 duties to Annabelle and this (like several of their tunes) had a modern day Xmal Deutschland vibe going on but without the Goth finish. As you would expect with 8 people on stage there is a great depth of layers of sound. ‘Energy Plan’ (from ‘Ü’ EP) came next and Annabelle’s vocals very much reminded me of those of Nico of Velvet Underground fame. As mentioned above, the drums and violin were of note for this one. For this Maria took over the drumpads and hit them with her single transparent plastic stick which lit up in pink when it landed, and Freya moved to the rear to constantly hit Toby’s cymbal. The dual vocals courtesy of Annabelle and Maria, work very well together and even expanded to a trio on the penultimate number with Freya joining in.
Selection six was ‘Frightened’ and this benefitted from an almost DAF (Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft) electronic beat, mixed with a jaunty Sugarcubes (early Björk) vibe. After this, arrived ‘Mad Blue Love’ the third of the new tunes on ‘Slags’, which called upon Patrick to take the lead from the off with a repeated beat, one that could have almost been a snippet of a James Bond theme. For this track Maria brought in to play a tambourine. ‘Prédateur’ was choice eight and I noted that Magdalena was initially plucking the violin with a credit card (or same shaped piece of plastic) before switching to fingers instead of the bow. This was initially a slower tune, but sped up courtesy of Toby’s drums and slowed back down again, whilst Annabelle had another go on to MS-20 as well.
‘Um Politik’ (from ‘Ü’ EP) was next and had piano sounding keys at the start, prior to the drums kicking in and being interspersed with the violin. This then got funky in a Factory records kinda way, before the cymbal action kicked in and the vocals again reminded me of Xmal Deutschland. The main set concluded with ‘The Commuter’, which was the only one of the eleven tracks played tonight that doesn’t appear on the new ‘Slags’ release, which is a shame as it’s another corker as equal best on the night for me! I noted that Freya switched the Roland drumpads for the tambourine, and there were some mighty fine keyboard notes courtesy of Alfred at the rear of the stage prior to Oliver coming to the party when he added the dance rhythm from the upper keyboard, whilst Annabelle, Maria and Freya sung in unison.
Annabelle had warned us that was to be their final number, but the eager punters invited the band back to the stage and they rounded off the night with ‘Sweat’ (from 2022’s ‘Another Fact’ EP), which saw some fab notes from Oliver from his top keyboard and thus this uplifting beat chugged merrily along, in loud and quiet parts. This number had that early Factory records vibe again. At 9:56pm they were done and an orderly queue formed at the merch stall. This was a most enjoyable set and I would willingly see The Umlauts again at the drop of a hat!
Annabelle Mödlinger – vocals
Maria Vittoria Faldini – vocals
Toby Kempner – drums
Patrick Lister – guitar
Oliver Offord – synths
Alfred Lear – bass synth
Magdalena McLean – violin
Freya Tate – percussions
The Umlauts setlist:
‘Another Fact’ (from 2022 ‘Another Fact’ EP)
‘Dance & Go’ (from 2023 ‘Slags’ album)
‘Boiler Suits And Combat Boots’ (from 2021 ‘Ü’ EP)
‘Non è Ancora’ (from 2022 ‘Another Fact’ EP)
‘Energy Plan’ (from 2021 ‘Ü’ EP)
‘Frightened’ (from 2022 ‘Another Fact’ EP)
‘Mad Blue Love’ (from 2023 ‘Slags’ album)
‘Prédateur’ (from 2023 ‘Slags’ album)
‘Um Politik’ (from 2021 ‘Ü’ EP)
‘The Commuter’ (from 2022 ‘Another Fact’ EP)
‘Sweat’ (from 2022 ‘Another Fact’ EP)
Support this evening came from Sheiva who was assisted by her chums Fred Bird, Stank, and Robby C, who all had headed down to from South London in order to play the debut Brighton set for us this evening. The set ran from 8pm to 8:27pm and consisted of seven self-penned compositions with a message behind each tune. Their format was Sheiva on vocals and guitar and the others were on second guitar, bass and drums.
Sheiva’s family live back home in Iran and the anxieties and angst about this evidently filters through into her music. They open up with ‘Spacejam’ which is compared to the others in the set a laidback number. It features a delayed vocal style delivery which works rather well. ‘Pink Skies’ followed which chugged along, before the atmosphere was ramped up with the arrival of the rockier ‘Into The Ground’. This features some blood curdling screams from Sheiva which lets us know without a doubt of her mindset.
‘Get Hurt’ is up next and it’s possibly best described as a post punk number with a faster bopping beat. It’s the best selection thus far! ‘F*ckinnormal’ is introduced before being played and I immediately assumed that more blood curdling screams were to be thrown out of the stage to us, by surprisingly this had a soul-jazz vibe and the lyrics were uttered in a Mike Skinner (Streets) kinda way. The tune seemed a little out to be honest. The penultimate number was ‘Calm Before Storm’, a chugging rock number which featured the bass guitar intro part sound not too unlike ‘Jessica’ the 1973 tune from the Allman Brothers Band, but you’ll probably recognise it as the ‘Top Gear’ theme tune.
For their final number, ‘Never Been Here Before’, Sheiva invites guest vocalist Mikhael Aloufá onto the stage for this off-kilter drumming led tune. His presence added some depth and increased the urgency of the tune especially from the second guitarist. I reckon Mikhael would make a decent addition to the live band for more than just one tune. Maybe Sheiva and Mikhael should get together and write more tunes instead of just this one!
‘Spacejam’ (a 2021 single)
‘Into The Ground’
‘F*ckinnormal’ (a 2022 single)
‘Calm Before Storm’ (a 2022 single)
‘Never Been Here Before’ (a 2023 single & from 2023 ‘Slow Dance ‘22’ compilation album)
Sheiva can be found on Spotify.