Live at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds 14th February 2020
I’m not sure that Automatic know quite what they want to be. Playing The Belgrave Music Hall tonight, as support to the thoroughly involving Pins (the Deansgate punk Spice Girls), their set straddles two stools. Opening with resolutely steady bass and simple drumming, there is a sparseness of Krautrock-influenced post-punk and a deliberate distance in the affect. I’m drawn back to Eighties alienation as Prophet synth tones go on the attack, overriding the quiet vocals.
The steady bass is plucked and the higher regions on the neck get used for maximum tonal effect, bringing New Order to mind. The keyboards often drop in washes like those used by Joy Division. For maximum flat effect, The Delta Five’s Mind Your Own Business gets covered, appropriate for a Leeds gig. Whereas bands like Shopping have developed that influence into bouncy dance-pop, anomie is the order of the day here.
As the set progresses, the band gets faster and tunes develop a basic insistence. They become something you can dance to and things get less distanced and more involved. The drummer steps out from behind the drums to deliver theatrical whacks of a syndrum whilst singing a very Eighties song in very Eighties red plastic trousers.
Automatic are in love with distance and dry sounds – this makes their album, Signal, effective in a bedsit listening way but they haven’t worked out how to translate the excitement of something like ‘Too Much Money’ or the compulsion of, say, ‘Calling It’ to the live arena.