Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez’ euphoric electro-pop band M83 are plucky. On unleashing April’s expansive Junk, their first album proper in five years, they announced a headlining Australian theatre tour out of season – and not even in tandem with Splendour In The Grass. Presented by Laneway, M83’s inaugural date in Melbourne quickly sold out.
Some rock critics may consider M83’s output too ‘nostalgic’ or ‘cheesy’, Gonzalez fixated on the ’80s, but that ignores their long affiliation with both chillwave and contemporary dance music. Either way, M83 command an ardent fanbase. And they’re now influential, rubbing off on a Porter Robinson.
Another teen prodigy in Japanese Wallpaper, aka Gab Strum, opened for M83. Mid-last year the local chillwave producer issued an eponymous EP – with guest vocalists such as Wafia and Airling. He appeared at Laneway over summer. This evening Strum performed behind his electronic gear, handling most of the vocals himself, accompanied by a guitarist. Strum’s atmospheric music is like Talk Talk siphoned through Washed Out.
Strum has no flamboyant EDM-y presence but, live, his music is impeccable – even beguiling. Three songs in and the chatty muso introduced a cover – which turned out to be Björk’s Hyperballad. He also shared a new single, Cocoon. Strum closed with his biggest song, Forces, featuring special guest Airling.
After an epic interval, the five-piece M83 hit the podium with the anthemic Reunion – off 2011’s double-set Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Indeed, the 2016 incarnation of M83, based in Los Angeles, signalled they can rock as hard as any stadium band – and they have an exxy light show.
Gonzalez & Co followed with a slick version of Do it, Try It, Junk’s hooky lead single – which sounds like Supertramp attempting piano house (a cool thing). Much of M83’s set privileged their later material. One of the surprises came midway with Bibi The Dog – live, an electro-funk number borrowing from George Clinton – which segued neatly into Road Blaster, a loungey jam that allowed M83 to bring the sax(y) back. “Melbourne, now is the time to wake up!,” Gonzalez called out, in his first words to the crowd.
Gonzalez has always been more of a band leader than an obvious frontman – and he seemed content to let charismatic multi-instrumentalist Jordan “J Laser” Lawlor, with flying curls, steal his thunder. The Sparta, New Jersey native won an open audition to join the outfit in 2011 – and is building a solo profile. Mainly playing guitar, Lawlor strutted around the stage. He assumed lead vocals on the swag Walkway Blues. And dude admirably reproduced prestige Junk guest Steve Vai’s guitar solo on Go!.
This tour M83 introduced an even newer recruit in the versatile Kaela Sinclair, who’s replaced singer and keyboardist Morgan Kibby. The flame-haired Texan showed off her vocal chops on Oblivion, which M83 originally recorded with Susanne Sundfør for that Tom Cruise sci-fi movie.
M83 did lose momentum at the halfway mark, descending into progdom – albeit pretty progdom. Towards the end, the retro electronica combo recreated their mega-hit Midnight City – a crowd fave.
M83 pulled out no less than three songs for an encore. They went rave with Couleurs. Ironically, the final song was the night’s oldest – Lower Your Eyelids To Die With The Sun, that 10 minute-plus closer from 2005’s Before The Dawn Heals Us. Predictable, M83 are not.
Photos by Nikki Williams