Synthfest 2018 Report – Soundgas Bring The Noise
WRITTEN BY: Tony Miln
UPLOADED: 10th Oct 2018
Synthfest 2018 Report – Soundgas Bring The Noise
This weekend we returned to Sheffield for Synthfest UK 2018 organised by Sound On Sound Magazine. While we’d agreed to bring a more sensible amount of gear than last year, there was still more than a Volvo estate full – even before we realised we’d missed out the Roland SH-5… More information below, but we managed to get out from behind the stand and film some highlights for our new IGTV channel – click on the stills to view (part three featuring the Will Gregory Moog Ensemble’s performance of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York Theme is further down):
Suffice to say, we brought an eclectic selection of synths, effects and oddball gear, as well as a few stunning Roland Space Echoes and of course a Binson Echorec. Gid did a sterling job organising the interactive display/analogue noise-factory, which certainly had the necessary ‘wtf-is-that?!’ quotient. True to form, we managed to mistakenly bring a broken/unserviced polysynth, but nobody missed the Juno 60 with such heavyweight desirables as the ’73 Minimoog and SH-5 available for demoing. Our star turn was almost certainly the Sankei Stereo Entertainer which certainly turned a lot of heads; it was possibly the least well-known ‘synth’ on display anywhere at the show, and attracted a huge amount of interest (though remains definitely ‘not for sale’). Running the Sankei’s FM radio through the achingly-new Meris Enzo synth pedal and various effects provided us with a constantly evolving “Orb-esque” soundtrack that kept us amused (dubbing out radio 4’s “News Quiz” was a highlight…).
After set up, we nipped to see TVAM and International Teachers Of Pop (Dean and Adrian from Moonlandingz and Eccentronic Research Council‘s new project) play a gig round the corner from the Octagon – most enjoyable it was too. TVAM’s set of sumptuous distortion-heavy backing tracks (with old school video/TV accompaniment) overlaid with heavily-effected guitar and treated vocals was a treat – very much Soundgas’ type of sound. ITOP were superb – infectious dancefloor-friendly synth grooves (or ‘nerd disco’ as they style it) with driving live drums that nodded to Sheffield’s unparalleled heritage of iconic synthpop acts. Singer Leonore Wheatley had brought a pal along, and the two singers nailed the set – including a cover of Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall (very nerd disco) – while throwing down moves in fine style bookended by the ‘two blokes with synths’. Dean worked his MS-20 hard, and in between songs Adrian dispensed traditional Yorkshire bonhomie and encouragement to the enthusiastic revellers; a fine time was had by all.
The next day, we nursed our hangovers and girded up loins and various other body parts for the eight hour delights of a room filled with synths, drum machines and eager tweakers. I managed a quick tour of the main room, stopping off to film a few quick interviews for our first Instagram TV episode. A whirlwind tour of the room took me to meet our friends Push and Mark from the fabulous Electronic Sound Magazine; Tom Szakaly and his fine Moog Modular set up; Tom at KMR who was rocking the Elektron Octatrack and Moon Modular – plus that Buchla Music Easel that always has my GAS levels ready to pop; and analogue legend Ian Boddy who was there with Nigel Mullaney promoting the DiN record label. We were introducing people to the new Soundgas Studio Services, and invited a few Sheffield folk to come pay us a visit.
The following seven hours passed in a flash meeting friends old and new: the best thing about Synthfest is the friendly enthusiasm of the attendees – it’s not about selling stuff for us, it’s a chance to meet like-minded people and chat about music and gear. Graham Massey of 808 State came by to say and I managed to have a few words with Martyn Ware of Heaven 17. Martin was very taken with our Hawk Echo and, spying the Korg 700S, spoke fondly of using his 700 to make the first two Human League records – he mentioned he’ll be taking his out live for the first time this year.
It’s always a pleasure to meet our customers; Matt and Lucy Board came by to say hi – they married this year and had asked family and friends to club together so they could buy a Space Echo as a wedding present! It’s now installed in their Devon studio and they’re going to come and pay us a visit in our studio soon. Mark Fordyce (of 80s act The Mood) saw the Syncussion clone and chatted about playing one live on the Razzmatazz TV show. Will Gregory of Goldfrapp stopped for a brief chat towards the end of the day, en route to his Moog Ensemble gig.
Once the show ended, we packed down and loaded out in record time, eager to not miss the Will Gregory Moog Ensemble gig – we made it having sadly missed the opening piece of Handel. If you’ve not caught them live, it’s a must-see – nine people playing analogue synths – a heady mixture of classical pieces (revisiting Walter/Wendy Carlos early Moog work), original compositions (inspired by large concrete blocks and Tim Henman) and of course their show-stopping rendition of John Carpenter’s theme to Escape From New York.
Our final stop was the aftershow at Bungalows And Bears for a few well-earned drinks to a superb soundtrack of electronic and Italo disco classics courtesy of DJs Ralph Razor and Sasquatch. All in all it was another supremely enjoyable show and our thanks go out to the Sound On Sound team and volunteers for making it such a great event.
Want more Synthfest? Read Sound On Sound’s round up of the show, complete with excellent video.
Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.