The definition of fantastic? fan·tas·tic /fan’tastik/ [adj.] imaginative or fanciful; remote from reality.
Enter Johnny Fantastic, whose up-tempo electronic cabaret certainly fits his name — and in a good way. Let’s add to the mix Leah Gage (also of local band BRNDA), who stands beside Johnny on synthesizers and vocals, and you have a Fantastic Duo indeed in DC indie synth outfit Stronger Sex.
Most recently, Stronger Sex romped through 45 minutes of roller-coaster synthpop when opening for Howard Jones at The Hamilton Live on Saturday. The band caught the attention of the very full house, which honestly didn’t know what to expect from them, and charmed a small crowd of people who had finished dinner to the front of the room to listen and sway along to the music.
Early in the set, Stronger Sex play a song titled “Straight Shooter,” which contains a refrain of “he’s lyyyyyy-ing and I can tellllll….” and so apparently it’s a song about someone who rather doesn’t live up to the title! Johnny sings and dances in a purposefully exaggerated manner adding a bit of mirthful camp to his delivery. Most importantly, the band is having fun when they perform, whether focused on their synthesizers or sashaying from side to side behind them.
Leah later takes over lead vocals for an apparently new song “Dead Women,” which she says is about discovering the past. It seems a little bit more mature perhaps than some of the band’s other stuff but the song rests easily in place with the band’s bubbling synths and signature crooning.
Toward the end of the set, Stronger Sex perform “Hassle,” which features Leah on lead vocals in the beginning, and it’s a hazy, seductive sparkler. Johnny sings in the latter half of the song to protest being pressured into a relationship — “don’t try to hassle me” into your arms, he protests! The two don’t necessarily attempt to harmonize as much as they sing together, and occasionally over each other, in a manner befitting of their cabaret stylings.
Stronger Sex close their show with “Love Is a Herring,” which consists of Johnny informing his significant other that they “look like shit” and saying other irreverent things while he and Leah punch up the synth. You’ll certainly like Stronger Sex instantly if some of the more eccentric selections from acts such as Sparks, Soft Cell, or DEVO appeal to you. (Based on this first exposure to Stronger Sex, I have to believe that Johnny holds high regard for the synth and sass of both Kimona My House by Sparks and Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret by Soft Cell, at least!)
Listen to or buy the 2015 self-titled EP by Stronger Sex on Bandcamp:
Johnny has gone through various iterations of Stronger Sex in recent years, and the band hasn’t yet recorded anything commercially available with Leah. It seems to me that he’s found his mojo with this duo, however, so I hope they release some tracks together soon.
And schedule some more dates! In addition to The Hamilton, Stronger Sex have played at the Black Cat and the Dew Drop Inn in recent months although they do not appear to have any shows scheduled at the moment. Johnny and Leah make for an attractive, entertaining team, and you should definitely catch them the next time they perform.
Here are some more pictures of Stronger Sex performing at The Hamilton Live on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.