Live review: Public Service Broadcasting at Clwb Ifor Bach, 23 May 2013

PSB at Clwb-

Credit: Simon Ayre

On Thursday, Public Service Broadcasting, consisting of the pseudonymous J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth, returned to Cardiff on their Inform, Educate, Entertain tour to do, well, just that. With samples sourced from the BFI, Studio Canal and the Prendergast Archive coupled Krautrock, synth lines, pounding percussion and the occasional banjo, they aim to “teach the lessons of the past with the music of the future” and have certainly stirred up a lot of interest since the debut album release, garnering good reviews from Artrocker, The Independent and The Guardian and a lot more airtime on 6Music since they were first on the Rebel Playlist. J. Willgoose, Esq. explains to me that the “entertain” part takes precedence, however: “It’s a sort of tongue-in-cheek reference to Lord Reith and his edict for the BBC. The history is all there to get into and we’re a starting point of sorts, but we don’t expect people to take notes”.

First to the stage draped with floral tapestries were local post-rockers Wicket, who have recently been making the rounds with shows at Gwdihw and Buffalo. Accompanied by live visuals, theirs was an assured and solid set – ‘Harmonics’ stood out particularly, built up in crescendos against a backdrop of twitching blades of grass before culminating in a Battles-esque finale. The visual footage was understated but effective, consisting of cleverly edited time lapses and rolling footage shot from trains unmistakably making their way from Cardiff Central to stations throughout South Wales.

The floral tapestries are removed to reveal stacks of 1960s walnut-cased television sets, crackling with static. Willgoose and Wrigglesworth enter with an antique radio playing a Welsh conversation, to the delight of the crowd. They open with the title track, a synthesized and percussive range of samples from the album: “Public Service Broadcasting, a bright new era dawning, the vivid pulsating miracle that gives substance to shadow”.

Sirens blare as the duo begin with one from The War Room EP, “London Can Take It”. It’s all too easy with the band’s aesthetic of corduroy, bow ties and samples of RP voices to think that this is a somewhat nationalistic and nostalgic venture, in keeping with ubiquitous ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ iconography that has suddenly become the zeitgeist. Willgoose explains that this isn’t the case, but that there’s certainly a desire to be “respectful of the source material.” ‘Spitfire’ exemplifies this; Willgoose explains that in context, it can be legitimately celebrated:

“There’s a sense of positivism in there. Even though it’s a horrendously butchered story, the making of the Spitfire and the key role that it played in defending us from the Nazis, it can be celebrated without nationalist overtones. It’s something we’re careful to tread.”

‘Night Mail’ particularly exemplifies the band’s ability to stretch out into other styles and genres; WH Auden’s poem of the same name, written for the documentary from which the footage is sourced, is sampled and sped up to fit the loping beats that mimic the sound of the “night train crossing the border, bringing the cheque and the postal order.” Context naturally more than often not serves as the backbone to the tracks: the most obvious example of which being ‘Everest,’ which served as encore and is arguably the duo’s most enduring and popular track. Taking footage from the 1953 documentary ‘Conquest of Everest,’ Willgoose explains the process behind layering the track:

“It’s a good example of a song that hangs around a sample. It’s about altitude sickness and oxygen deprivation deluding and debilitating you. When I heard that line, I thought there’d be a bit where it breaks down in the middle of the song.”

Public Service Broadcasting’s most prominent dynamic is the compelling juxtaposition between the echoed voices of broadcasts gone by with modern technology, between analogue and digital; one that is even more striking in a live setting. A giant television set serves as the projector backdrop behind the band, displaying the visual content, which is also brilliantly edited with distortive effects on the surrounding stacked televisions. The setting, not to mention the amount of smartphone recordings in the crowd, lends another sense of poignancy to the performance of ‘ROYGBIV,’ an ode to analogue and the advent of colour on screen, of “hope for the world to come.” It’s tongue-in-cheek and optimistic and evidences the band’s sense of humour, for the show isn’t a history lesson: they don’t interact with the crowd verbally, taking a slightly Daft Punk with bow ties approach by using a sampled RP voice to thank and talk to the crowd: “We have always wanted to play in … Cardiff.”

After the Inform, Educate, Entertain tours, Willgoose and Wrigglesworth have shows from Istanbul to the British Library, slots on the Rolling Stones’ and New Orders’ bills and the possibility of an autumn tour with new singles – it’ll be well worthwhile keeping an eye on what the future and the past has in store for them.