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Sonisphere 2014: Band Of Skulls & Gary Numan

Knebworth's rocking festivities kick off

Oh yeah, the bass has been aced – courtesy of the stylish, pulsating tones of Gary Numan and Southampton trio Band Of Skulls.

The weekend’s just getting going, but we’re poised to channel our inner glowstick for the post-punky synthpop overlord. Gary Numan technified the 80s, turned the synth into an industrial rocking device, raised the question “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and ended up influencing just about everyone from Basement Jaxx to Nine Inch Nails, Queens Of The Stone Age...

While one might imagine the Gary of today to be a slightly past-it elder statesman (with a surprisingly tall, electrified shock of black hair) today proves what a heavy, angular yet chic sound he and his band are capable of making. For a man so synonymous with the synth, it’s amazing how much today’s fret-punching set makes you want to whip out your air guitar. I Am Dust paves the way for a first-rate show, tapping into Rammstein-esque industrial sensibilities along the way. Indeed the arrival of Cars seems a surprisingly chirpy, poppy contrast to the electro-meets-sexy-distortion foundations already laid - though it goes down incredibly well, naturally. It’s Cars for crying out loud... 

Yes Numan’s voice wavers into a more crackly purr (under the sheer oomph surrounding him) at times. But stacked against the cool, commanding components that dominate today’s show - closing on an ace Are ‘Friends’ Electric? - it barely matters. Gary, you got it right. [8]

Band Of Skulls spent much of the time leading up to third album Himalayan (released earlier this year) on tour with Muse and QOTSA. The fact that it was a smokin’ hot record - today’s show opens with album gem Asleep At The Wheel - reflected this big-scale experience.

It doesn’t totally transfer to the vast Apollo stage today - not helped by an early balance issue that sees Himalayan’s fabulous title track drowned by thickly resonating bass. Still, all’s redeemed on the sound front for the deep, sassy groove of I Know What I Am; strikes of frontman Russell Marsden’s bluesy, Stevie Ray Vaughan-tinged guitar streaking in amid their pulsating alt rock n’ roll core. We just wonder, in terms of overall presence (and it may well just be the cavernous festival setting), whether there’s something missing today - some added charismatic bite to make their music really sing.

A quality band though; much deserving of your investment on record, and maybe in a slightly more intimate live space. (6)

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