The Radio Dept. @ VoiceSpace, Bangkok – 5/7/16

Written by on July 7, 2016

According to their long-suffering label boss Johan Angergard, Sweden’s The Radio Dept. are so reclusive they make Scott Walker look like a Kardashian.  Their 21 years of existence have produced a grand total of three (brilliant) albums, they’ve spent the last six years putting out guerrilla political singles and they hardly ever play live.  Tonight’s gig is only their second since they last played in Bangkok in 2013.

Naturally, such wilfulness and integrity are the stuff cults are made of, which is why around 2000 of us have made the trek to one of Bangkok’s more inaccessible venues on a rainy Monday night to catch a rare glimpse of this truly magical band in the flesh.  And yet, it’s a frustrating evening, and not entirely due to the beer situation, though that does of course contribute.  One would expect an event sponsored by Thailand’s biggest beer company to be well stocked with, er, beer, but it runs out 15 minutes before the band take the stage, leaving thirsty punters casting envious glances at the foaming plastic beakers of those who had the good sense to buy in bulk earlier.  Damn.

Since their last, low-key 2013 gig, The Radio Dept. have beefed up their live act.  The sound is noticeably heftier and the light show is one of the most dazzling I’ve ever seen.  Yet something’s lacking.  Admittedly, you don’t go to a Radio Dept. gig for high octane, balls-out, foot-on-the-monitor rock ‘n’ roll thrills, and their shyness is part of their charm, but I do keep finding myself wishing they’d give it a bit more oomph.  Songs frequently reach a point which, in the hands of more outgoing bands – Cut Copy, or RD side-project Korallreven, for example – would be the starting point for a full-on hands-in-the-air rave-up, but which here just fizzle out disappointingly.  2015 single ‘Occupied,’ a throbbing techno monster of a tune, is over before it really takes off; I could have listened to it for 20 minutes.  Ditto new Song ‘Sloboda,’ which frequently threatens to turn into dreampop’s own ‘Step On‘ before coming to an abrupt halt just as we’re about to go all Bez.  It’s all too frequently an exercise in musical coitus interruptus.

But whilst their set is short on moments of skyscraping euphoria, it’s also packed with warm, if slightly melancholic and regretful, hugs.  ‘Heaven’s On Fire‘, Radio Dept’s “hit,” is a song very close to my heart, and judging from the ecstatic response when it’s rolled out midway through the gig, I’m not alone.  ‘I Don’t Need Love, I’ve Got My Band‘ and ‘1995‘ are postcards from an old friend.  ‘Why Won’t You Talk About It?‘ is, indeed, indie as fuck.  And best of all is a towering, thumping version of dub reggae/dreampop fusion ‘Never Follow Suit,’ which prompts a “you know what, they’re actually really fucking good” from my previously sceptical companion.

So a generous 17-song set, which will apparently soon be followed by – gasp – a new album. The Radio Dept. are, by their standards, spoiling us.  Now if they could just occasionally come out of the bedsit and put both feet on the dancefloor, their undeniable greatness would know no limits.

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Photo credit: Max Weiland

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