Empathy Test, an 80s enthused electro pop song writing duo based in London, launched their brand new EP Throwing Stones in front of a packed out audience at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen on November 28. Having built a loyal online following throughout 2014, signed to New York label Stars and Letters via Twitter, released two EPs and performed just three shows, it’s fair to say Empathy Test have taken an unorthodox approach to building a fan base.
On record, the band are precision personified with programmed beats and glistening synths underpinned by a warm, pulsating bass but with just two gigs under their built going into this EP launch, I wondered if they could reproduce that cinematic perfection in the live arena.
Gladly, my fears were instantly dispelled as the band opened the show with a rousing rendition of the title track from their first EP Losing Touch. Armed with some of the smallest synths I’ve ever seen, a laptop and a drum machine, the band’s ethereal soundscapes felt like they had already outgrown this small box at the back of Hoxton Bar and Kitchen.
The band’s influences are soaked in the sounds of the 80s, from the euphoric production of bands like Depeche Mode and the synths of film composer James Horner, to the distinctly British vocal tones of the Pet Shop Boys. At times, Empathy Test’s songs all melt into one but this is part of their appeal, rather than a collection of distinct works, the cyclical warmth of the complete production draws you in.
Each song could be fifteen minutes long for all I care, broken up by discreet beat variations, a fleeting falsetto or a drop before the heavy bass kicks in once more. The result is a dark and haunting sequence of programmed pulses that wraps up the audience in a straight jacket of 80s nostalgia.
With just a few tracks under their belt, the show was short and professionally delivered. The fact that this was their third gig and they’d only hired a drummer two weeks ago made the performance even more impressive.
Not many bands sound this good, even after several years together, let alone two weeks into a new line up. It was a lesson in how to transfer heavy production into the live arena; evocative and drowning in the best vibes of the 1980s, this is electro pop at its finest.
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