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Robots In Disguise
The Neon Plastix
Cargo, London

Monday July 3 2006

You can certainly tell Cargo is one of London's trendiest nite spots - it's the shades-of-brown faux-70s decor and squishy sofas that give it away. Whatever happened to the tradition that music emporia should be full of hard surfaces and painted entirely matt black? Still, there's Old Speckled Hen at the bar and a band about to get on stage, so let's stop frowning at the furniture and get into what I believe the beat kids call 'the groove'.

The Neon Plastix have a throwaway, trashy, pop-culture name which drops a pretty big hint about the band's chosen stylistic area. Yep, they're all about...well, throwaway, trashy pop. They're buzzy and bouncy, the vocalist cheerfully jollying up the crowd between songs in an accent which I can only describe as 'Yorkshire camp'. It's bounding, brash stuff, although - talking of camps - it looks rather oddly like the five members of the band divide neatly into two stylistic camps. Two street-cool popkids in their thrift store glam rags versus three distinctly more muso-ish blokes - two of whom are sporting worryingly Oasis-ish hairstyles, while the unrepentantly bearded guitarist looks like he's wandered in from the prog-rock gig next door.

Now, I know what you're going to say. Hairstyles aren't everything. Well, sure, but occasionally the carbonated powerpop sound of The Neon Plastix contains hints that this stylistic dissonance carries over into the music. Some of the songs, it must be said, veer towards the muso-workout zone. Sometimes the band's fizz flattens out into interludes of meat-and-potatoes rockin'. Because of this I can't quite lose my heart to the Neon Plastix. They're fun, but I'm nagged by those occasions where they seem stranded in a no-man's land between the Rezillos and Ocean Colour Scene. More Tartrazine required, I think.

It's new album launch night for Robots In Disguise. At least, the album is new to the UK: it seems it's already out on assorted labels in various other countries. An eager crowd of fans have gathered to join the festivities. The two principal Robots, Dee Plume and Sue Denim - hey, d'you see what they (almost) did there? - have gained a certain amount of fame via their associations with The Mighty Boosh, which is some sort of television show, apparently. More than that, I cannot tell you. I am, after all, The Man Without A TV. Cynic that I also am, I can't help wondering how many people have come here tonight because they genuinely dig the music, and how many have come to gawp at celebs off the telly.

But what the hell. Whatever celebrity status Robots In Disguise might be able to muster in other areas, they've got a neat little band going here. Ms Denim and Ms Plume handle bass, guitar, keyboards and sundry other instruments, and there's a drummer, too, who sets up a beat as regular as an atomic clock while allowing herself an occasional small, secret smile, as if she knows where the bodies are buried. All this comes as a slight surprise to me: I was expecting the standard electro-outfit set-up of two humans standing behind keyboards. For an allegedly electronic band, Robots In Disguise are really quite rock 'n' roll, and much of their synthesised sounds seem to come from effects and treatments applied to the guitar. They certainly pitch into the songs with penty of rambunctious rockin' attitude, bashing their way through numbers which, on the album, sound light and synthpoppy, but come across as much more beefy and thunderous in the live incarnation.

In fact, it all gets quite Iggy Pop at times, an effect which is only enhanced when Chris Corner of the Sneaker Pimps makes a special guest appearance, all decked out in cool cat noir, to throw down a few basslines. Sue Denim leans out over the crowd, rock-chickin' it to the max, while Dee Plume plinks and slashes at her guitar, Warholian images looming over her on the screen behind.

At one point, the Robots down tools and stage-dive into the audience in a flurry of kicking legs and flailing arms; then they encourage the audience to get up on stage, and play on, lost amid a crush of bouncing bodies. It's as if the band are deliberately courting chaos, pushing their show to the very edge of control - but always reining it in before real madness breaks out. And, of course, that whumping, steady drum beat never gives up. It's an exhilarating rush of a performance, and quite the antithesis of the cold, measured show the band's 'robots' schtick might have you expect.

I wasn't planning to say this, but it's true: Robots In Disguise? They rock.


Essential links:

Robots In Disguise: Website | MySpace

The Neon Plastix: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston, Red N version by Mark Rimmell.