Machines Of Loving Grace

The solo synth work of Pikachunes kicked off the action at what was essentially a Lil’ Chief record label showcase at the Monto Water Rats. Pikachunes’ DIY approach to electropop is intriguing not just for the tunes, but also for the fact that he’s ploughing his own particular path and demonstrating that artists don’t have to cleave to the template established by the more classic end of the synthpop spectrum.

There’s a global trend for this form of grassroots electronic music, from Grimes in Canada to Japan’s Sapphire Slows. Now, musicians can write and record whole albums in their bedroom studios thanks to the availability of technology that’s no longer out of the price range of budding artists. It’s also a refreshing sign that the next generation are stepping forward, rather than backwards.

So then to Pikachunes, whose bassy rhythmic compositions via his Akai MPK25 controller and laptop appear deceptively simple, but get the feet tapping and, as evidenced tonight, inspire more than a little dancing. Pikachunes’ lyrics weave angsty tales of kitchen sink dramas on New Zealand life with standout songs such as ‘Nervous’ (also available as a free download via the Lil’ Chief website) and ‘Metronome’.

For the arrival of Princess Chelsea, the stage gets busier with Jonathan Bree on drums, Jamie-Lee Smith on synth/xlyophone and Pikachunes taking up bass guitar duties.

Opener ‘Machines Of Loving Grace’ (also the opening track from the album ‘Lil’ Golden Book’) is a wonderfully evocative slice of electronica whose charm is effortlessly transported into the venue this evening. Chelsea Nikkel’s vocals are the key element of the material – and that’s clearly demonstrated in a live performance. There’s a very light, but pronounced delivery to her vocal style that gives a lot of her material a distinctive and unique edge.

In fact the material from the album doesn’t suffer from any live performance issues, especially as the team on stage appear to be quite flexible in their abilities: halfway through the set Pikachunes switches to drums while Jonathan Bree assumes guitar duties, particularly for his part in the captivating ‘Cigarette Duet’. Meanwhile, Chelsea Nikkel proves to be just as adept by playing bass during the song. ‘Cigarette Duet’ gets a good response from the crowd, which isn’t surprising as it’s almost become Princess Chelsea’s trademark tune (and special 7” vinyl copies were available to purchase from the merchandise stall!).

What was a surprise of the evening however was a cover version of White Town’s classic ‘Your Woman’. In the hands of Princess Chelsea this electropop classic becomes a slice of baroque electronica.

The live version of the wistful ‘Ice Reign’ incorporates recordings of New Zealand rainstorms, while closer ‘Goodnight Little Robot Child’ bookends ‘Machines Of Loving Grace’ nicely. Its nursery rhyme lilt has a charm that’s simple but effective.

What emerged tonight was a demonstration that Princess Chelsea is capable not only of crafting simple strong tunes, but can make them work in a live setting as well. There’s an interesting scene developing in New Zealand and we look forward to seeing what they deliver next.

This article was originally published on The Electricity Club on 17th June 2012