Well, the ‘Mutations’ festival may be over for the year, (58 reviews HERE), but the music and its subsequent performances still carry on! I, myself, while unfortunately not catching any ‘Mutations’ sets (Public Service Broadcasting, my beloved, I will see you again one day…!), certainly have a lot of shows lined up to catch this week, but first off, let me tell you about an exciting new voice in modern post-punk in one word, Unschooling.
These guys are a French five-piece band, forming in Rouen, just across the River Seine, only five years ago. After considerable celebration of a semi-tape project entitled ‘Defensive Designs’ a year after formation and their ‘Random Acts Of Total Control’ EP back in 2021, the quintet have recently come out with their long-awaited debut album release known simply as ‘New World Artifacts’. Now, from what I can make out the previous two releases of theirs maintained a more upbeat sound that you could find in all manner of egg punk (a style of music, often jovially referred to as devocore, that contains a DIY ethic of punk via the usage of lo-fi keyboards and eccentric performances), but alas, ‘New World Artifacts’ has been known to place itself in a more atmospheric and dark plateau. What do I make of them, however? Here’s my report:
After trekking through dry weather for the first time in what seems like forever, I make it to the ever-loyal hotspot that is The Hope & Ruin, the hosting venue for Unschooling’s final UK show of their tour. However, before we can experience the French post-punkers, we must first make ourselves comfortable for our upcoming opening act, the Brighton-based Arcadia Residential! With their tenure as a group stretching to a little over a year, these guys are relatively new to live music as a whole, consisting of twin brothers Oscar and Riley Oliver on guitar and vocals, their cousin Jamie Whalen on drums and secondary school BFF Jamie Morrison on bass. Assuming their positions on stage, they introduce us to the first of their six-song set, entitled ‘Round The Block’. Jamie W. keeps a steady post-punk drum groove while the Oliver brothers exhibit a distorted guitar palate that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Parquet Courts track. This palate features steady chords from Oscar, while Riley plays around with feedback and perfect fifth bridges creating a form of bliss in this propulsive haze. The basslines in this track are pretty remarkable too as Jamie M makes his slick way between sections in a manner Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood would be proud of.
The following track, ‘The Pleasures Of Feeling Fine’, sits on a slightly anachronistic plane, like it’s shaped itself from several areas of indie rock and distilled it into another thing entirely. Announced as Oscar and Riley’s mother’s favourite, ‘Seatbelt Signs’ is one of the more pop-structured tracks in the set, complete with matching vocal harmonies and a lot of dynamic fluctuation. Not to mention that Oscar’s vocal tone reaches a point where it reminds one of Tears for Fears…! The track ‘Between The Lines’ seems to stretch towards more recent shades of indie rock by the likes of Mac DeMarco and Her’s, with guitar chords washed in chorus effects and Jamie M’s anchoring bassline keeping a hold of the low end of the track.
Already approaching the end of their set, Arcadia Residential bring us to an untitled track which also happens to be their most progressive and spacious of the entire night. With a drum groove that pulls me into zero gravity and very clever chord changes, this more linear progression works wonders alongside the indie rock flavoured gems they’ve been providing us. The track quickly reaches an incredible tempo modulation before heading into the last leg, heavy, fast and propulsive, led by Jamie W’s floor tom. Finally, ‘All The Stress’ is a great note to go out on, with a strong pace and lyrics full of angst. Carrying a nervous energy that seems to be relieved over time, this track features some tense, booming vocals from Oscar and ascending chord progressions over Jamie W’s steady groove before the three guitarists huddle each other into meltdown for the final sections.
Arcadia Residential setlist:
‘Round The Block’
‘The Pleasures Of Feeling Fine’
‘Between The Lines’
‘All The Stress’
Well, I must say Arcadia Residential were certainly a treat to have open for the show, but now, my intrigue for our “egg punk” guests has reached its highest point…! Waves of ambient drones sweep across the stage while the five members of Unschooling set their pla… hang on, Marc Lebreuilly in the middle with an 8-string electric guitar?! And bassist Damien Tebbal with a 6-string bass?! Very cool indeed! Erstwhile lead vocalist Vincent Fevrier and guitarist Paul Morvant are with traditional electric guitars (albeit baritone ones) and drummer Thomas Fromager is with a nice little sample pad placed above his kit. The band begin to warm themselves up, shall we say, with some slow electric guitar plucking, creating a tone that you’d find on a Glenn Branca project, before they jump right in, almost instantaneously, on their opening song ‘Hold Me’, packed with odd time signature skips and alternating lyrical duties between the four guitarists. Already I can hear that anxious Devo comparison in the term egg punk, but a strong resemblance to long-forgotten indie rock darlings Women.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am an absolute sucker for odd and unfriendly time signatures, so the song ‘Boo Boo Dragon’ is automatically a favourite of the set for me! With most of the “verses” (if you can call them that; these songs are very irregularly structured!), sat within an oddly flavoured 9/4 time signature, this track carries the Branca comparison in the sense of every guitarist is doing their own disparate methods, but the end result is something larger and daring. Heading back to the Women comparison for a minute, the following ‘No Shoes’ sees that comparison start to take strong hold; it’s like these guys are keeping the sound and spirit of Women alive from beyond the grave! ‘Brand New Storm’ – so far, rhythmically conventional, which leaves me more time to admire the astonishing guitar interplay between Paul, Vincent and Marc. This song carries a lot of warmth compared to the previous three tracks, as well as an incredible polyrhythmic climax which I absolutely adore!
The pace starts to kick back up again on ‘NYE’ with great guitar duties bouncing around between sections and a damn good bass solo from Damien. I must say, these songs are clearly quite controlled, but there’s still this playful energy to it that makes you think otherwise…! Now, this next track, ‘Excommunicated’, was my only previous exposure to Unschooling and the quintet, and it’s fair to say that it sounds even better live than it did on record! With a very Public Strain-esque intro, and a matching bass-to-vocal riff, this song is bleak, yet beautiful, a characteristic known to be a prominent feature of ‘New World Artifacts’. A quick transition takes place shortly after, with Marc, Paul and Vincent changing their guitars, while Thomas builds up these fast-paced, almost breakbeat drums to close off. Following the irregularly brief backbone, but polyrhythmic bliss of the song ‘Wet Sidewalks’, comes ‘Shopping On The Left Bank’, the first single from the aforementioned debut album from these guys. Swarms of dissonant guitars and a no wave-inspired sonic palate provide much of the gratification in this song, as well as Vincent’s slightly twisted vocal delivery.
‘Irony Strings’ maintains a more progressive introduction, building upon itself, while being rhythmically clever, once again! It’s also a joy watching Damien and Thomas give each other those smirking musicians’ faces… if you’re a musician yourself, you’ll know what I mean! Following another transitional guitar changeover, we enter ‘Ribbon Road’; there’s a slight hyperactivity to this song, particularly when it comes to Thomas’ drum groove, but also these amazing dissonant guitar stabs that scratch my brain in the best way. ‘Social Chameleon’ features a solid repeating guitar motif, a method that is pretty prominent in today’s post-punk scene and is a pleasure to hear in this track. This is also one of the many points where Marc flexes his multi-instrumental skills, switching back and forth between his keyboard and guitar in rapid-fire transition. Heading into the final leg of the set, the song ‘Erase U’ sees Vincent engage in an anxious lyrical delivery under a tom-led pattern from Thomas. The final portions of the track also carry these odd, but great syncopated cymbal and guitar stabs that, at this point, shouldn’t be all that starling with how rhythmically versatile this band is, but yet, they draw you into the Unschooling train flawlessly.
‘More Is More’ draws more into the garage punk realm, with atonal keyboard swells from Marc and Paul wandering off into the crowd with his guitar. I can pinpoint this particular song as where the band’s inhibitions are melting away, drastically! The track ends on a wave of feedback and noise that takes us straight into the final song of the main set, ‘Mom’s Work Force’. Clocking in at barely one minute, the song is short, sharp and a blazing track to boot! However, cries of “encore!” and “one more song!” persuade the Unschooling lads to give us an ultimate crescendo, in the form of ‘(The Second) Punk Broke’. The chiming 7/4 groove and nightmarish incorporation of dissonance give way to a terrifying climax of disintegrating guitars and flailing drums… a perfect way to end an incredible night! It feels like such a privilege to have Brighton act as the closing cornerstone of Unschooling’s UK tour. They’re set to head back to France for two final home shows, within which I’m sure they’ll be blowing fans away with their rhythmically complex, hauntingly beautiful pieces of post-punk bliss!
‘Boo Boo Dragon’
‘Brand New Storm’
‘Shopping On The Left Bank’
‘More Is More’
‘Mom’s Work Force’
‘(The Second) Punk Broke’