Umberto – The Banshee Labyrinth, Edinburgh, Thu 1 May 2014 (4 stars)

Umberto – The Banshee Labyrinth, Edinburgh, Thu 1 May 2014

Photo: Tim Goodwillie

Impressively danceable basement set from the horror synth muso

Back in 2012, LA resident Umberto played a live soundtrack set to ridiculous 80s slasher Pieces at the Arches, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. It’s something of a surprise, then, to have him show up in this dingy, wee, 100-capacity basement in Edinburgh’s Old Town – and a definite coup for tonight’s organisers, monthly cult film group the Edinburgh Zombie Club.

EZC organiser Pat McGarvey also moonlights as bandleader of the Southern Tenant Folk Union, a musical collective who channel the synthesized sounds of classic horror cinema into political folk and bluegrass tunes. Tonight that format is turned on its head for their support slot – their folkified songs have been resynthesized for a special electronic set, which abounds with John Carpenter-style waves and washes of neon. Here and there are splashes of 8-bit playfulness and the odd Giorgio Moroder arpeggio, but in the main the trio know their audience, sticking to the classic retro-horror sound and throwing in more than a few Chuck Norris references via their concept album song titles.

Umberto himself is less willing to play it safe, and after a brief intro of vintage horror organ and crystalline giallo-style melodies, he gives way to a highly danceable, beat-driven set that flies in the face of his more broody recorded output. That’s not to say there isn’t still a firm horror genre foundation to his work, but the style of music tonight is more akin to the house, techno and disco you might hear issuing from a 1980s New York basement during a Hallowe’en-themed club night. It’s thoroughly, thoroughly excellent music – properly Thriller-esque in places – that would have resulted in a proper rave-up in venues like the nearby Sneaky Pete’s (or the Arches, for that matter), but makes slightly less of an impression on the more reserved, typically cinema-dwelling audience this evening.

Aside from an ever-so-brief mid-set lull, this four-on-the-floor groove continues right through the set, culminating in a massively unexpected effervescent electro-pop number at the end – more akin to Erasure-meets-Paul Simon than anything from the Carpenter stable. It’s a life-affirming, fist-in-the-air finisher, and shows that even gothic synth sorcerors like Umberto have a lighter side.

Umberto plays Nice’n’Sleazy, Glasgow on Fri 2 May.


Umberto, aka LA's Matt Hill, infuses his synth pop with the throbbing foreboding of a retro horror soundtrack.

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