Synthwave is mad hot right now. While the subgenre’s retro-futuristic lovefest for 80’s pop culture has certainly amassed a healthy fan base since its conception in the early 2000s, a number of recent major movie and television soundtracks featuring this style of electronic music have propelled synthwave into the mainstream collective consciousness. Don’t believe me? Try to name four people with a heartbeat and a Netflix account who haven’t binge-watched the ever-loving piss out of Stranger Things. As such, it was no great surprise that Montreal’s Corona Theatre was packed to the goddamn gills well in advance of performances from the enigmatic French synthwave artist Carpenter Brut and local supporting act Le Matos.
Once inside the venue, I stopped at the bar to grab a drink and was immediately struck by the eclectic nature of the steadily growing crowd. The room was a surreal melange of club kids, metalheads, gamers, and goths. It is not often you see a man sporting a Gorod long-sleeve standing beside a fellow whose outfit suggested he’d caught his fair share of Pokemon, themselves alongside a group of women rocking club gear and neon, flashing sunglasses.
As the ground floor was getting increasingly claustrophobic, I made my way to the balcony just as Montreal locals Le Matos kicked off their performance with downtempo slow burner “Highway 64.” While the set included a number of hard-charging slappers, with members Jean-Philippe Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupi throwing down some impassioned dueling synth work, Le Matos’s music mostly focuses on ethereal, meditative, dream pop soundscapes meant to gently transport the audience to another plane of existence where everyone looks a little bit like David Hasselhoff . The atmospheric minimalism of Le Matos extended to their spartan visual display, which was anchored by a single, large, neon-white sign featuring the group’s outstretched hands logo, certainly a contrast to the bombastic audiovisual blitzkrieg that the headlining act would soon through down. While I’ll admit I felt my attention drifting near the end of Le Matos set, I don’t see this as a negative. The very nature of the group’s take on synthwave is transportive and cerebral, so getting lost in my own thoughts seemed like mission accomplished.
As mentioned, every aspect of Carpenter Brut‘s live performance is purpose-built to place a bloody vice grip on the audience’s attention. As the artist’sname suggests, Carpenter Brut pulls direct inspiration from the legendary director and composer John Carpenter, as well as more broadly from the visual and sonic aesthetics of 80’s horror cinema. Throughout the set, a giant video screen backdrop played a succession of clips that appeared to be from a variety of sleazy teen slashers and grindhouse sci-fi, but on further inspection were fully actualized short films that not only acted as music videos for individual songs, but communicated a cohesive narrative thread throughout the performance. Carpenter Brut further adds to the intensity of his live shows by performing with a live drummer and guitarist.
The band took the stage while Toto’s “Africa” blared over the house speakers. Before the near-capacity crowd could finish their gregarious sing-along, Carpenter Brut launched into the title track of of his latest full length album Leather Teeth. Even without the horror movie visuals, even the most propulsive and dance-able tracks feel dipped in malice and foreboding (hence the strong metalhead contingent in the audience). Carpenter Brut kept the dance floor moving, playing more cuts from Leather Teeth as well as a good amount of material from his previous trilogy of EPs, including “Meet Matt Stryker,” “Sexkiller on The Loose,” and “Le Perv.” The high-energy performance was capped off with a wonderfully ridiculous cover of the classic Michael Sembello tune “Maniac.” The video screen took a break from boobs and intestines to project the lyrics karaoke-style, although the crowd needed no encouragement to belt out every word.
While it’s easy to dive down the cultural anthropology rabbit hole when thinking about the broad, cross-scene appeal of Carpenter Brut and the synthwave genre in general, the answer may be fabulously simple; it’s just really fucking fun.
Written by Jesse Gainer
Photography by Michael Kovacs
*edited by Kate Erickson