PLAID / M+A / CLARK – Villa Torlonia, San Mauro Pascoli, Italy

acieloaperto_12-giugnoIn the first of an excellent series of ‘a cielo aperto’ (open-air) summer concerts in Romagna organised by RetroPopClub, an impressive line up of three IDM electronica-orientated acts were given an hour each to strut their stuff.

London duo Plaid (Andy Turner and Ed Handley) opened proceedings with a solid but visually dull set. Two guys standing behind laptops is not the most thrilling spectacle at the best of times and the music was not dynamic enough to compensate for this. A few visuals were projected on the walls of the building behind but did nothing to hold the attention.

Local heroes, M+A from just up the road in Forlì put on a much more crowd-friendly show to warm up the atmosphere admirably. On record they are the duo M (Michael Ducci – vocals) and A (Alessandro Degli Angelo on keyboards). For the live show Marco Frattini adds some meaty percussion as a welcome alternative to soulless drum machines.

The stage was abundantly decorated with plastic palm plants to lend a Club Tropicana vibe and the party spirit was heightened by the distribution of multi-coloured LED foam strips half way through the set. These disposable props were a perfect match for the band’s brand of plastic-pop which draws on Italo disco, Calypso, The Love Unlimited Orchestra and Daft Punk. The songs are all in English with plenty of clap along opportunities and catchy hooks. Great entertainment.

We know it's a Macbook Chris! -  Clark uses gaffer tape to hide the Apple logo.

We know it’s a Macbook Chris! – Clark uses gaffer tape to hide the Apple logo.

The stage was cleared for the tekky desk and kick-ass sound system of UK’s Clark. The threat of rain added some tension to proceedings but fortunately a brief shower passed quickly.

There’s plenty of edginess to this man’s music and he’s the first electro-act I’ve seen who seems to genuinely creating  live beats rather than simply pressing the play button and trying to look busy.

Chris Clark orchestrates an absorbing mix that juxtaposes thumping techno rhythms, dark ambience and glitchy drones to create an emotionally charged atmosphere.

After the bland anonymity of Plaid and the boppy charm of M+A, Clark ended with a masterclass which showed that machine music can have soul.