My Robot Friend is no ordinary electro act. This is no ordinary act full-stop. Whereas science fiction (and indeed robots) have always played a part in the presentation and mythology of techno and electronic music, the figure on stage is far from being cliché. Looking like a character from the 80's computer-enhanced film Tron tangled up with a well-lit Christmas tree, My Robot Friend ambles around in front of his audiences powered by a neon-lit 30 pound battery pack.
Seeing My Robot Friend live is an unsettling experience. It is instantly apparent that anything could, and probably will, happen, maybe even including a nasty accident. In fact My Robot Friends presence on stage, and the wonderfully subversive music that accompanies it, appears not only dangerously edgy, but outright dangerous too.
The truth is no one can be sure whether there is a Wizard of Oz-like human behind the curtain, or if the mechanical man on stage is a carbon-based life form at all. When he hasnt got shards of Roman candle, or indeed confetti, pouring from his metallic anatomy, Howard Robot as he is also known, has been seen in New York. It seems likely that the robot isnt always deactivated after his performances but is probably put to use in a musical production setting.
More clues can be derived from listening to the robots creative, other-worldly music. The seeds of a fondness for synth-pop as well as well-crafted rock are evident. Yet this man-machine is clearly programmed to create electronic music with a bite.
Metamorphosing from a talented studio-based musician to mind-blowing performance artist was a robotic leap that is paying off for My Robot Friend. On one hand his music is winning praise from both fans of left-field, quirky art-rock and die-hard electronic music buffs, whilst on the other his ability to steal the spotlight through his live shows at underground parties and festivals across the world is taking him to larger, spectacle-hungry audiences. This was always part of the plan. He was never going to be a stationary silhouette tucked behind a midi console.
His show is something like Devo in terms of influences, the sense of humour and aesthetics. There are all these props that He have made: videos, pyrotechnics and more. You get transported to the robots world. That is his goal. He is not trying to be too serious. People are out there to have a good time. He wants to match the mood of the crowd. He have done that from the beginning when he performed at parties where I had to compete with all these people getting drunk or high and dancing. In those situations all of a sudden everything stops and they have to watch you. So he always wanted to keep the party going at the same energy level and not be a comedown.
His stage show aside, Howards endearing electro-rock sound is far from being a comedown. It is song structured and has rock influences but it is personality-based electronic and synthetic pop music mixed with lewd lyrics and noises that havent been heard before. It's a sound that has not only won him a warm place on the NY art scene, but has got him included in Rolling Stones Hot List as well as opening slots for Scissor Sisters and Herbert amongst others.
The pinnacle of his success so far came with acknowledgement from one of his teenager years favourite bands: The Pet Shop Boys. They were a big part of my life. I did a song that was a tribute to them called Were The Pet Shop Boys. Every time I spoke to anyone in the industry I asked if they knew them. Eventually I got the song to them and they liked it. They were very generous about it. They played it the first time they DJd at Return To New York as their opening song and put it on their website which meant lots of crazy Pet Shop Boys fans wrote to me. Then they covered it. Their version is amazing. It was enough of a coup for me to retire from music.
Thankfully he didnt. Instead his new album Dial 0 appears on the highly-respected Scottish electronic label Soma. Its a fascinating insight to a seriously unserious, creative musician. His cover of Lunas 23 Minutes In Brussels is set to be one of the years coolest club tracks, while his version of Blondie's Rapture is likely to prick up the ears of many music journalists. Antony, minus his Johnsons, also intriguingly collaborates on One More Try. Borne out of acquaintance with mutual friends and doing shows in New York together around 2001, Howard saw an artist with similar aspirations. Initially I asked Antony to record an acoustic song which I thought was perfect for him, then he came over and we discovered we had a shared love for Soft Cell & Yazoo so we talked about doing something along those lines.
Such influences, as well as cult acts like the B52s, are definitely audible on Dial 0, but it is the cheeky subversion of pop and electronica that have garnered him appearances at festivals as good as Barcelonas Sonar. His new audiences are likely to be all-at-once shell-shocked, bewildered and probably a little scared, but also very much delighted by music and a performance that are so daring and original. Never has man and machine come together to make such an exciting avant-garde commotion. Whether this creativity and intelligence is artificial or not, it is brazenly theatrical but also most delectable indeed.
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