They dress like your chronically distracted and clumsy history teacher and they would look like him as well if it weren’t for their unmistakably boyish youth. Public Service Broadcasting, or J. Willgoose Esquire, his drummer Wrigglesworth and visuals expert/bassist JF Abraham have a touch of retro to them that is somewhat more authentic than most trendy tweed-toting indie bands around nowadays. Maybe it’s the playing around with vocal and video samples from the British Film Archives, maybe it’s because their music contains such a good mix of past, present and future that they seem timeless, either way they pull it off better than most.
There are no vocals in PSB’s songs, instead they use cleverly placed samples from public information films or historic speeches, generally in relation to major events that happened within the last seventy years or so, giving their songs an epic and intense feel that is quite unique. Add black and white visuals of space flight, astronauts and similar such things and you have a distinctive dynamic experience that cannot fail to captivate the audience.
Filled with famous Sputnik and Apollo commentary
They played some of the classics from their debut album: “Inform, Educate, Entertain”, as well as some relatively new songs from “The Race for Space” – their latest album released in 2015. Filled with famous Sputnik and Apollo commentary, the second album has less of the debut’s raw energy, but is more refined in a way that only comes with experience. With this album PSB also demonstrate a perfect use of vocal samples, coordinating the mood of the songs with that of the various speeches to an impressive degree.
The synth line on “The other side” – my personal favorite on “The Race for Space” – is epic and full of suspense, flawlessly complemented by the recordings of Apollo 8 losing and regaining radio contact with Houston after a few tense minutes.
I’ve seen Public Service Broadcasting perform before, in Lyon, at Nuits Sonores, where they played late in front of a bunch of drunk and excited French people who jumped around and danced like crazy for the whole length of the energy-laden set.
This time in Columbia Theater was different though. I was stood next to the most rowdy members of the crowd: a group of drunken lads from the UK who repeatedly invaded the stage to dance with little elegance and strum air guitars with much gusto. These lads were a stark contrast to the typically calm, almost reserved Berlin crowd who watched and listened carefully as PSB transported us back to the moon landings, the Sputnik launches and the ascension of Everest.
Here it is seen as art, to be observed earnestly and treated with utmost respect
I think the lads’ behavior highlighted the different ways in which musical performance of this kind is perceived in our two different countries. Here it is seen as art, to be observed earnestly and treated with utmost respect. Cross over to the other side of the channel though, and it would seem that many people don’t take themselves or their appreciation for art and music quite so seriously. It was pretty obvious that for the lads this gig was as much about having a good time as it was about enjoying the music. I personally don’t think that either of these two generalized attitudes is better than the other, but there are definitely annoying extremes on both ends.
The drummer was tight and imaginative, the bassist funky at times, continuous and driving at others
Anyway, back to Public Service Broadcasting. I was impressed once again by the ability of these charming music geeks: the drummer was tight and imaginative, the bassist funky at times, continuous and driving at others, and J. Willgoose Esq displayed his talent as a multi-instrumentalist to perfection. I particularly enjoyed watching him tune his guitar with one hand while continuously playing a not-so-simple synth melody with the other, an air of casual nonchalance on his face as if he were tying up his shoelaces or brushing his teeth.
They’re a great band, definitely worth seeing live
It was really nice to see how much fun the band was having on stage. Despite the crowd being slightly inactive (apart from the lads to my left), all three of them looked like they were having an amazing time. They seemed happy just to be playing together, the rhythm section egging each other on as Willgoose alternated between getting lost in his instruments and teasing the crowd with pre-recorded samples.
All in all they’re a great band, definitely worth seeing live. Just make sure you’re next to the English spectators if you want entertainment from the crowd as well as the stage.
Review by George Sims
Photo by Paul Hudson from Wikipedia under CC Licence