Review: Tokyo Fan Club – We Live Electric

“We Live Electric” is an exciting must-listen debut from new electronic band Tokyo Fan Club. Whilst the band maybe new, the trio are no strangers to the scene; veteran producers and DJs Luke Brancaccio and Gai Barone have been working both as independent artists and collaborating together for several years (despite never having met in person!) with popular releases on labels including Renaissance, Lost & Found, Selador and Platipus, with a beautiful rework of the 1996 Air classic “All I Need” on Music To Die For earlier in 2022. 

Luke and Gai were first joined by vocalist Kiki Cave in 2020 for John Digweed’s seminal Quattro compilation with “Monsters”, after which it’s alleged the Bedrock boss asked for a full album – in this day and age of TikTok attention spans and disposable electronic music with a shorter shelf-life than ever, this really tells its own story. Luke himself is no stranger to Bedrock with numerous previous releases on the label; fitting that this full album is a triumphant return to the label as a trio with “Tokyo Fan Club”. 

“We Live Electric” is a moody nocturnal double-album (more on the double aspect later) with a distinctive synth-laden sound throughout that would be a fitting alternative score and soundtrack to the cult movie “Drive”. Driving basslines and huge synths reminiscent of Vangelis’ iconic Bladerunner contribute to the cinematic feel, giving off “film noir” vibes throughout. Tokyo itself is presumably a nod to futuristic electronic worlds, however, balanced with retro 80s sounds there is also an air of nostalgia; the Tokyo of Ridley Scott’s underrated “Black Rain” perhaps. 

The title track “We Live Electric” is a lengthy 8 minute opener that introduces a lush Bladerunner-esque brassy synth, joined by rhythmic processed and chopped up vocals reminiscent of One Dove’s “Fallen” (produced by the late great Andrew Weatherall) until half-way through, when the drums kick in and they make way for Kiki’s vocal. So far so good, the Fan Club is in stellar company in terms of a sound that is both nostalgic yet current.

“Seasons”’ distinctive snare is another intentional and successful attempt to continue the retro vibes. Not usually the sound or instrument that one would associate with a particular era, there is an undeniable familiarity, whether or not the listener is familiar with Roland drum machines of the 80s. Dancing plucks bear similarities to previous productions by Luke and Gai, but this time it’s less about the dancefloor and more about a listening experience, with chopped up spoken words sounding like broken radio transmissions in a sci-fi movie. If there was another word for cinematic that does it justice, I’d be using it here! 

The most “Drive” track of the album with definite Kavinsky vibes, “You Say” is a radio-length track on which Kiki makes a full return with a pained vocal in a verse and a chorus affair. Angsty lyrics including “why am I feeling this way?”, contribute to the melancholy of the album. 

The track that started it all, a remastered “Monsters” is a downtempo effort continuing the anguish with Kiki singing about cracks appearing and monsters in her head, accompanied by a slightly lazy kick and snare. If the album WAS a movie, this would be the dream sequence with anime dreams depicting imaginary monsters. 

“Horses” is the most dancefloor-friendly track so far, with an arp-like melody and slightly more conventional track structure with just a couple of repeating lines from Kiki. No surprise this one was teased first by Bedrock with a remix by The Echnonomist (picked up widely by too many A-list DJs to mention!) ahead of the full album release. 

In case there was any doubt whatsoever on the cinematic aspirations of “We Live Electric”, “Wasted Heroes” opens with footsteps conjuring up imagery of a dark shadowy scene before a beautiful synth melody and a slow simple kick brighten things up. They say you should never meet your heroes… you’ll only be disappointed… 

“Seven Days” is a bit of an interlude. Some sci-fi like snippets of voices heard in “Seasons” echo around. It’s as if the main character in the film slowly realises they only have seven days left and hurries to meet a deadline as the track builds and crescendos and then breaks into a simple old piano filled with regret; perhaps they failed! 

Back into slightly more familiar territory with “Heavens Sun”. Some signature sounds from Luke and Gai accompanied by a filtered vocal from Kiki with a soft dancing arpeggio and driving bassline make for a slightly more uplifting and certainly more energetic effort. Although the repeating “Yeah you see right through me” lyrics suggests we’re not quite in the clear yet! 

“Buttons” continues with dancefloor-friendly beats; looks like we’ve made it out of the sadness and melancholy of earlier tracks. The “We push buttons” spoken vocal has an air of confidence about it; the monsters have been banished for now. 

Closing out the main album is “Circles” with Kiki singing “Counting circles. Circles in my mind”, so it’s not a completely happy ending. A slightly trippy finale with beeps and bleeps, slightly jarring with their independent rhythms and waves of dissonance, eventually settling down for moment of a peace. 

“We Live Electric” is a release comprised of two full-length albums (traditionally a double album, if you remember CDs or even cassettes!). A “reprise” album follows, with beatless versions of most of the tracks and several additions, cementing the cinematic nature of Tokyo Fan Club’s debut. It’s a soundtrack ready and waiting for a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie set in the near future to accompany it. 

If you were expecting dancefloor bangers, you’ll be sure to get plenty of them in the form of remixes in future (as has been proven already with “The Echonomist”’s remix of Horses). But “We Live Electric” is something a little different from the norm, a brave double album with every chance of standing the test of time, cleverly incorporating retro elements throughout and a beautifully produced ambient album in accompaniment. 

9/10 – Review by Gus Fraser

Available via Bandcamp

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