Perturbator & HEALTH @ Corona Theatre

2022 has seen a lot of action for synthwave in Montreal. April saw Dance with the Dead rock Les Foufounes Électriques and just before that, Carpenter Brut having stormed through M-Telus. The double bill of Perturbator and HEALTH on September 8 brought another taste of the niche genre, this time at the Corona Theatre.

Except, labeling this concert as a synthwave show is a bit disingenuous. The noise/industrial act HEALTH has dabbled in the genre, but their eclectic catalogue is extremely varied. While Perturbator, a synthwave mainstay, has been subtly reworking his approach to the genre since the 2017 release, New Model. While synthwave is firmly entrenched in the neon gleam of gated drums and reverb-laden keyboards, this wasn’t a revisit to your favourite 80s movie soundtrack.

The context lies in HEALTH's recently released second chapter of their massive DISCO4 project, which heavily features other artists from a plethora of genres. To name a few: JPEGMAFIA, Xiu Xiu, Soccer Mommy, Lamb of God, etc. Two of these tracks were in collaboration with Perturbator. Another was made with special guests Street Sects

Street Sects opened the night. The duo played a raucous brand of industrial music, somewhere nestled between Godflesh and Nine Inch Nails with a lot of hardcore punk mixed in. There was a lot to appreciate in their brutally honest set, with vocalist Leo Ashline screaming with utmost energy, jumping all around the stage, and Shaun Ringsmuth setting hectic rhythms with drum machines, synths, and samples. While I appreciated their short set, they did not garner much more than sensible praise from the crowd.

Eager for more, HEALTH finally took the stage. I'll admit I'm not well versed in their discography, having really only known them for their absurd skit on the Eric Andre Show (check it out here, it's hilarious). I did delve into the aforementioned DISCO4 and could only guess how these tracks would be played live. I was slightly disappointed in that regard, with most of the songs played coming from their previous releases. Despite that, HEALTH provides the appropriate bridge between the chaos Street Sects and the focused Perturbator. Their music often centralizes pulsating rhythms emanating from drummer BJ Miller, with vocalist/guitarist Jake Duzsik providing melancholic verses with his soft voice. The two are brought together through John Famiglietti, the group's wild card. This man works hard on-stage, seamlessly switching between the rhythm section on bass guitar, and then leading the music into sheer walls of noise while playing around with effects pedals. Set highlights included “CYBERPUNK”, one of their true synthwave tracks, and a rendition of “Tears” from the Max Payne 3 soundtrack. They were joined on stage by Leo Ashline of Street Sects for their duet, “The Joy of Sect”, and they ended their set with “EXCESS” featuring Perturbator, both tracks from DISCO4.

The final act came with Perturbator. The main man, James Kent, has been on a bit of a gothic streak, evident from his latest release, Lustful Sacraments. His attention was divided between his ever-present synthesizers and a first from him: guitar with a clean chorus-soaked tone. The guitar was a prominent feature of his recent record. This was augmented by a live drummer and a healthy amount of backing tracks. The set opened with his own “Excess”, the HEALTH track sharing the main guitar melody, albeit at different tempos. A large portion of the setlist consisted of other Sacraments, with the stage lights often sticking to oranges and yellows to match the mood of the album's artwork. When the colours changed to deep purples or bright aquas, we could expect hits from his previous albums, such as “Neo Tokyo”, “Future Club”, “Humans Are Such Easy Prey'' and a personal favourite, the crushingly heavy “Tactical Precision Disarray”. Seeing this futuristic style of music played at the century old Corona Theatre was oddly fitting, reminiscent of a scene from the original Blade Runner. 

I left the venue totally satisfied with the night. HEALTH left a great impression on me, to the point where I've been binging their music ever since. It was my third time seeing Perturbator and it's always a great thing to experience. The tour moves on to the west coast and to Europe in October/November. Definitely don't miss this if you get the chance, or your next opportunities to see HEALTH or Perturbator.

And make sure to listen to Hooked on Sonics' interview with Jake from HEALTH here.