Review: Public Service Broadcasting – Limelight, Belfast
Public Service Broadcasting are a strange band to say the least. Essentially they play indie/electronic instrumentals layered with archive recordings as vocal context.
There’s a lot of inspiration and creativity in the band and they’re consistently pushing new ground with conceptual songwriting. 2017 saw the release of their third album, Every Valley, a concept album revolving around the rise and fall of the Welsh coal mining industry. If this all sounds like a bit much, don’t worry, they’re actually very accessible if Limelight’s turnout is anything to go by.
Support for the night came from Dublin/ Wicklow indietronica 5-piece Columbia Mills. Their sound is a fine line between Joy Division and Interpol, with a heavy lean towards 80s revival.
The set started strong with ‘Head Start’, a driving track with intensely deep bass that began simple and built up to a cacophony of chaos and keys. One standout moment was during the outro to ‘Battles’ which saw the stage lights syncing to the thump thump thump clap of the drums, although on other tracks there was definite need of an epilepsy warning.
Overall it was a stellar and atmospheric set where every thump of the bass drum could be felt, emphasizing the wonderful and darkly emotional music. It’s obvious why these lads have been selling out shows down south.
Between gigs a slew of technicians came on stage to re-arrange and assure the tech was working as intended. Infinite wires ran into keyboards, laptops, tablets, and two giant screens which covered 90% of the background. A quaint little touch in the décor was the mining lamps positioned around the stage. After this interlude Public Service Broadcasting entered the stage clad in corduroy and the show began. They started the gig with a few tracks off Every Valley, firstly ‘The Pit’. A marching tom beat was rolled over the drums as miners got together on screen and clocked into work. It was evident the massive impact the visuals would have on the music as the first trombone swell occurred over miners descending in a mineshaft elevator. It amplified the idea of danger and stuck a sinking anxiety in my stomach. This lead into ‘People Will Always Need Coal’ a bittersweet track about propaganda and recruitment that ended with some interesting instrumentation in the form of agogôs played by guitarist and frontman J Willgoose Esq.
After Willgoose introduced the band and played some archive recordings saying “Belfast”, the band launched into a track from their debut album Inform – Educate – Entertain’s ‘Theme from PSB’ an absolutely adorable bopper. The song saw Willgoose lift a banjo while the band jauntily played through the track, the crowd shaking along. A fake out ending occurred which prompted a premature celebration from the crowd before the band headed back in for the outro, something that would happen a few times throughout the night.
Next up was The Race for Space’s ‘E.V.A.’, a solid track whose accompanying video of vintage models confused me a little. This lead into Sputnik/Korolev’s ‘Korolev’ a dancy synth number with some seriously funky rock segments. Bassist JF Abraham grabbed a camera and roamed the stage broadcasting Willgoose and drummer Wrigglesworth onto the massive screens, an incredibly neat event to see happening in real time.
Coming next was the lead single of Every Valley, ‘Progress,’ a track that started sweet and ahem progressed into an inspiring explosion of trumpets. This saw the only moment where Willgoose, who was positioned at the front of the stage, “sang” for the crowd as he repeated “I believe in progress” into a vocoder. The relaxing and straightforward ‘Go to The Road’ followed this with it’s oddly active drums and clean guitar work.
Inform – Educate – Entertain’s ‘Night Mail’ followed, another track which began quiet and evolved into a frenzy. I was a little disappointed by this track as the catchy “chorus” was drowned out by the music. This was made up for though with the next track, the hotly anticipated ‘Spitfire’. This song saw Willgoose turn up the overdrive on his guitar and let out some soaring, confident lead guitar lines. A return from the camera led to some astoundingly cool imagery as a low frame rate Willgoose shredded guitar on screen in juxtaposition with imagery of birds and planes.
Following the swervy rocker was a complete change of pace with the reserved chill-out track from The Race for Space, ‘Valentina’. The musical performance was lovely and ethereal, meshing beautifully with archive footage of Valentina Tereshkova’s training and civilian life. The track broke down around halfway through to an even more reserved section that built up to another swell while Valentina entered space. The breakdown and build-up perfectly captured a weightless wonder and I don’t know if it was the unusually cold air in the Limelight that night or the music, but I did get a chill up my spine.
A final return to Every Valley was made as Willgoose introduced the next song as an attempt to explore gender inequality. ‘They Gave Me A Lamp’ began as another track with reserved, lush, and cute instrumentation that gave me goosebumps. The simply beautiful track evolved into an inspiring force of music as the brass sang louder and more confidently as the song went on. This track received one of the loudest applauses of the night, no doubt thanks to the transition between the serene beginning and the magnificently upbeat ending. ‘All Out’ came next, a track that I assumed dealt with the anger of coal miners on strike; however, the imagery broadcasted was police brutality shutting these strikes down. The massive sound created by heavily distorted dissonant guitars and vastly sharp drums was arresting and anxiety inducing. This was juxtaposed with verses of quieter, melancholic guitars and softer drumming while miners explained why they were protesting. The comparison seemed to indicate a complete hopelessness against the oppressive intro and outro. Of course the audience loved it and screamed “Yooos” at the crescendos, me included, but I couldn’t help but feel dirty cheering given the subject matter of police oppression. Even still these past two tracks were magnificent standouts of the night.
The band moved on back to The Race For Space for the next few tracks, beginning with ‘The Other Side’. The track was essentially one massive electronic build-up that ended with an enormous climax, flowing nicely into the final song of the main setlist: fan favourite ‘Go!’. This was another driving beat that gripped the crowd and in turn was shown much love during the chorus. Apollo 11 flight director Gene Kranz called for the response of different flight teams during the descent to the moon, gaining the flight teams’, the screen’s, and the crowd’s responses of “Go!”. The feeling of an intense and fast paced technical procedure going so smoothly was wonderfully captured, even causing more of the crowd to join in with every chorus until the entire Limelight was yelling “Go!” at the stage. After this interactive highlight of the night the band left to many cheers.
Returning for the encore Public Service Broadcasting shot into a track that it’s simply impossible not to dance to, ‘Gagarin’. Even the horn section couldn’t help themselves as they shuffled back and forth following the dance from the music video and ending with a clap of solidarity between them. As if the pure gold funk wasn’t enough to call this the absolute highlight of the night, roughly halfway through an astronaut hopped onto stage and began dancing weightlessly with all his heart. The crowd screamed and loved it, talk about atmosphere. The intense energy even ended with a spectacular trumpet solo. To finish their set, the band entered Inform – Educate – Entertain’s penultimate track, ‘Everest’, another epic tune that began with vast synths and ended with blaring horns.
Overall Public Service Broadcasting were a great band. Their setlist covered their discography fairly, with Every Valley’s tracks being a great addition. I was a little disappointed in the lighting after the wonderful atmosphere created during Columbia Mills’ set, but I suppose that would interfere with the archive recordings and it’s not as if there wasn’t an amazing atmosphere in the music anyway. They still managed to make me feel so many emotions with their instrumentation and footage, ranging from dread and anxiety to inspiration and pure bliss. Although some songs weren’t quite as gripping as others, the tunes that did grip were astounding. I’d happily recommend seeing Public Service Broadcasting to anyone interested in indie/ electronic music with a good bit of meat to chew on; their little capsules of time are either entertaining or completely engaging.