The very full house at U Street Music Hall stood politely for more than an hour Friday as they traveled over rolling, melodic sonic landscapes.
That travel was made possible by synthpop band S U R V I V E (which we will now simply call Survive), who visited U Hall fresh off a career-making success with their summer soundtrack to the Netflix hit Stranger Things.
The music of Survive is full and embracing, quite unlike much other prevalent electronic music popular today. Survive eschew floating bleeps and crashing crescendos in favor of deep, expansive sound that occasionally starts out as a trickle before widening into a flood.
This comes as no surprise given that Survive are four men from Austin with a passion for analog synthesizers. In performance at U Street Music Hall, Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon, the Stranger Things auteurs, stood in the middle of a Kraftwerk-style set-up, enabling them to occasionally exchange nonverbal notes quickly and easily over the course of the show.
Steve Petix of DC electronic band Technophobia was in the audience with me Friday, and I quizzed him about some of the things he liked. Steve was pleased to hear “Hourglass” from 2012’s MNQ026 in performance, as it was a song that got him into Survive initially.
In response to my quizzing, Steve rendered high praise for Survive’s synthesizer rigs. He enjoyed seeing the combination of the Korg Polysix and Korg Mono/Poly together, and he complimented their synth bass. “The bass synth through that bass cabinet was crazy!” said Steve. Indeed, when I arrived before Survive took the stage, the bass cabinet and amplifiers dominated the background of the scene!
Michael Stein performed on an ARP Odyssey, which Steve rated highly. Michael would occasionally turn from his Odyssey apparently to operate a sequencer or to run filters and effects. In Austin, Michael once worked at an electronics shop called Switched On, which is also where Technophobia acquire their gear.
Next to Michael, Kyle Dixon performed on the Korg Mono/Poly that caught Steve’s ear. Paired with the Korg Polysix, the synthesizers produced a “very warm and big analog sound,” Steve explained to me. Technophobia owns Polysixes but not a Korg Mono/Poly, and Steve complimented it for its amazing filters.
All in all, it was an absorbing show, and a rare treat to see old-school synth masters at work. They performed material from their new album, of course — a record called RR7349, released Sept. 30 on Relapse Records. They also performed fan-favorite “Omniverse,” which Survive contributed to the soundtrack of a horror film called The Guest in 2014. That film was among the material that inspired the creators of Stranger Things to hire Survive for their own soundtrack.
Survive continue their tour tonight in Jersey City, NJ, and hit a few more dates on this tour before winding down in Chicago on Nov. 6. According to their current schedule, after a few December dates in Texas, they embark on a European a tour in February. Definitely go and give them a listen. To attend a show by Survive is to go with them on a journey over textures and spaces often neglected by even contemporary synthpop bands. It’s food for the synth aficionado’s ear!
Here are some more pictures of Survive performing at U Street Music Hall on Friday, Oct. 28, 2016.