Tweed-clad, geektastic London-based duo, Public Service Broadcasting performed as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival at Usher Hall. The pair use samples from archive material and build compelling instrumentals around them. Alongside their usual accompanying ensemble of bass, additional keys and wind section, the National Youth Choir of Scotland and Mr McFall’s Chamber (string quintet) lent a hand to bulk out an already epic sound.
The night began unconventionally for a gig, with a discussion between comedian Helen Keen and principle composer, J. Willgoose Esq. While the interviewer struggled initially to set the tone, once the conversation got going the guitarist could gain the affection of the audience easily with his understated, self-deprecating eloquence. He demonstrated an appreciated awareness of the spectators, politely dismissing a question about licencing laws so as not to bore. When asked about when he first started to become excited about space exploration he answers paraphrasing David Attenborough – “I think it’s something that’s built-in. For me it’s a question of when did you lose it?” His honesty that they might “lose a few fans” regarding the duo’s upcoming album Every Valley, due for release this year on 7 July, about the decline of the coal industry in South Wales, was quite touching and shows admirable artistic integrity.
After a half-hour break, the audience reconvened to witness 2015’s The Race for Space played live in full. Seated left, behind a modestly sized drumkit was curly-haired Wrigglesworth in corduroy. To the right stood Willgoose, fenced in by synths and furnished with his Fender. Above them flashed two colossal cathode ray-style TV sets displaying archive footage against the band members’ performances, and a disco ball in the shape of Sputnik, which lit up in dazzling combinations unique to every song. Further back were the bassist and additional synth player, and on occasion the strings and choir entered side stage to help realise some of the subtler atmospheric moments.
The National Youth Choir set the tone, their sirenlike herald drawing us into the PSB world; there is something eerily haunting about this intro that reminds the onlooker of the peril and danger of space exploration. This beautiful opening gives way to the darker electronic beats of ‘Sputnik’ moodily progressing in steely determination towards the riotous ‘Gagarin’, which features an extremely tight horn section. Next came the starkly juxtaposed ‘Fire in the Cockpit’, which retells the story of the Apollo 1 disaster in which the pilots were killed on the launchpad, accompanied by swelling (but not disrespectfully maudlin) strings. ‘The Other Side’s palpable tension attempts to recreate the Apollo 8 mission as the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon, condensing the 37-minute loss of signal to mere seconds, yet still somehow managing to capture that sense of euphoria as voice contact is remade. My personal highlight of this segment was the blistering tempo of ‘Go!’, whose driving drumbeat and gnarly picked bass over melodic synth lines and guitar licks are celebratory in the best sense.
PSB went on to play most of their hit songs (much of their repertoire) after the album was brought to its conclusion. Their eponymous theme from the debut album Inform Educate Entertain was emphatically performed with a minimal red-blue-green colour scheme backing. For two guys their sound is incredibly full and there are moments of awesome stadium rock where Willgoose is layering up guitars with his loop pedal, which seem to transcend their nerdy aesthetic. It will be exciting to see what this duo can produce in the years to come considering the richness of the material thus far, both musically and thematically.
Image Credit: George Cochran, Six07 Press