For a man in his fifth decade of making music, John Foxx remains an enigma. In the mid to late 70s, his band Ultravox bridged the gap between the glam innovations of Roxy Music and the synthpop sound of the coming decade, but their albums sold little. By the time Ultravox had regrouped around Midge Ure, Foxx had gone solo, scoring a few minor hits off his stark electronic debut ‘Metamatic’ before being eclipsed by the ‘Vienna’ powered success of his bandmates. Subsequent, increasingly romantic 80s albums maintained his cult status, before his interests diversified into graphic design, video direction and ambient music.
Still looking at least 20 years younger than he ought, Foxx now finds an outlet for his songwriting with The Maths, currently comprising synthesiser historian Benge and music box maker Hannah Peel. With Benge energetic on electronic drums and Peel swooping on violin and synths, Foxx is the still figure at the centre, slightly professorial even as a smile stays on his lips. Taking his cue from Kraftwerk, he long ago withdrew from physical engagement in his live performance, not to the android extent of early fan Gary Numan, just to a point of amused aloofness. If it’s a shielding defence, at least it’s a friendly one.
‘Metamatic’ era songs aside, the rest of tonight’s set hails entirely from the dense electronic textures of The Maths’ three recent albums. Back projections of JFK and the Brandenburg Gate throw us back to those Cold War feelings of alienation and paranoia that fuelled so much synthpop (then again, we’ve only just got off a flight from Berlin, how apt), but the richness and colour of The Maths’ music places them firmly in the now.
Unexpectedly, it’s the encore that moves us the most, Foxx ignoring calls for past favourites in favour of the beautiful electronic tones of ‘The Good Shadow’ and ‘Tides’. There’s a warmth and humanity in Foxx and The Maths’ music after all, they just keep it close to their chests.
Concorde2, Friday 7th June 2013
Words by Stuart Huggett