Empathy Test + Black Nail Cabaret + Lucy Dreams @ The Garage - Londres (UK) - 13 avril 2024

Live Report | Empathy Test + Black Nail Cabaret + Lucy Dreams @ The Garage - Londres (UK) - 13 avril 2024

Pierre Sopor 16 avril 2024 Pierre Sopor

Empathy Test is ten years old. The duo formed by Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf have enjoyed a meteoric rise thanks to the elegance of their dark, soulful synth pop and, it has to be said, the exceptional voice of their lead singer. However, after a thunderous start, these ten years have also had their share of shadows: between a pandemic that paralysed the world for two years and artistic disagreements that have prevented the two childhood friends from releasing anything new since Monsters, Empathy Test seem to be looking for a second wind... which may come from Isaac Howlett's solo debut. While we wait impatiently to see what the future holds, we went to London to attend the last date of an anniversary tour which, like the band's music, gave off a bitter-sweet perfume, between a desire to celebrate and a certain melancholy due to this particular context.

Lucy Dreams

The evening begins in the thick fog of smoke with Lucy Dreams. The duo, who hail from Vienna, have put a lot of thought into their staging: oversized costumes, pastel colours and a ball of light create a dreamlike atmosphere, something pastel and reassuring but also slightly offbeat. It's likewandering in a Michel Gondry dream, with these two men covered in make-up and glitter playing their introspective yet futuristic dreampop, like two aliens come to lose themselves on Earth to spread their good word. The hushed ambience and high-pitched vocals don't stop the groove infecting a receptive audience (Silver Lines is the kind of song that sticks to your eardrums) as the band perform their most recent singles and their first album, released in 2022... as well as a great cover of Arctic Monkeys' Do I Wanna Know? at the end of the set. Their energy is infectious, and the combination of their extravagance and the kind of shy restraint their music exudes has that refreshing touch, that touching personality that really hits the spot.

Black Nail Cabaret

When Hungarian duo Black Nail Cabaret take to the stage, the atmosphere suddenly darkens. A funereal veil hides the face of singer Emese Árvai-Illé, high priestess of darkness for the duration of a show featuring tracks from the recent Chrysanthemum (which we spoke highly of here). Between the ghostly strangeness of My Home is Empty, the heady Darkness is a Friend and the melancholy of Roadtrip, there was plenty to temper the intensity of more hard-hitting tracks like No Gold. Their 'pop noire' blends a certain obscure coldness with a texture reminiscent of the theatrical synthetic sophistication of Die Form, but also of the deep warmth of Siouxsie Sioux's incantations: you go from the icy to the cathartic without ever losing that sense of seduction, of a musical formula that catches the ear but never shies away from singularity. While Krisztián Árvai keeps a low profile at the back of the stage, Emese puts on a show with her solemn presence and energetic dances in front of an already familiar audience of initiates that might not realise their luck... On the french side of the Channel, no promoter has yet invited Black Nail Cabaret to perform, and after a career spanning over fifteen years and such powerful performances, it would be high time they did!

Empathy Test

To parody the now famous slogan "real gothics are disgusted" that the band prints on its T-shirts, "Empathy Test fans are over the moon". With a generous show lasting almost two hours, we were treated to a more than complete sweep of a discography that includes three albums. It's a safe bet that Empathy Test owe part of their success to the live performances of lead singer Isaac Howlett: not only does he have one of the most striking and singular voices in the synthpop/darkwave/whatever scene, but he also adds a warm, energetic stage presence. His personality radiates throughout the show, providing a humorous counterpoint to the melancholy of the music in his frequent exchanges with the audience, such as that one misfire on Vampire Town, which he laughs off before starting the song again. His delicate presence inevitably attracts compassion and sympathy, and there's something almost childlike about him, as when he dedicates Firelight to his mother, who is obviously present in the room.

"I thought I was going to be arrested", he says, amused, as the clock ticks and a guy comes up on stage to remind him that the venue has a strict 10pm curfew. Nevertheless, Empathy Test went well beyond the time limit: nobody wanted to interrupt this great party in front of an audience who knew the lyrics and could sing along, from the intro to the very Placebo-esque Monsters to Losing Touch, not forgetting Demons, Holding On, Empty Handed, Stop and so many other hits, all indispensable and precious. As the icing on the cake, the performance ended with House of Cards, Howlett's first solo track, which reassured us on one point: if Adam Relf, absent but mentioned in a brief tribute, does not wish to continue the adventure, continuity is assured with a live line-up completed by Nadine Green on keyboards and David Leisser on drums.

Nevertheless, it gives the evening a strange and quite unique tinge, as what should have been a celebration almost feels like a farewell tour. We don't know what the future holds for Empathy Test. The energy of Howlett, the face, voice and now soul of the project, may be above all festive, but it's hard not to find a form of despair in it that echoes the music played: there's plenty to dance about, plenty to cry about, and it's in this elegant balance that this singular evening finds its beauty, as sweat mingles with tears and the hour of farewell arrives. If all this were to stop in the near future, we'll be happy to find this exceptional singer and performer leading his own life, alone and elsewhere.