Electronic music

Hot Chip Review – An Immersive Dance Phenomenon | hot chip

VSAllying a group “with an institution” can give the impression of feeding it, in a critical way. It would be more accurate to think of Hot Chip, now on its eighth album, as a perpetual motion machine that rarely fails – a particularly fine example of British engineering. So it’s a surprise that this theoretically urban electronic formation suddenly comes to an end because their beast of a drummer has punctured the skin of his bass drum. And yet, here’s Hot Chip percussionist Leo Taylor welcoming the news that he played too loudly jumping and doing double devil horns to howls of approval.

Hot Chip has maintained a metronomic pulse at the heart of British songmaking for over 20 years, pairing the sweet voice of Alexis Taylor with a kaleidoscopic range of percolating sound. Over and Over was their first hit, in 2006. It’s not just a reworked live staple, faster and harder than the original, but a tenet for the band. Hot Chip called their 2010 album Stand of a lifetime, in part to explore the beauty of committed relationships as opposed to strained one-night stands: another title as a creed. They never parted ways, directing all non-Chip energies to solo albums and record labels such as Greco-Roman, co-frontman Joe Goddard’s side gig. Taylor and Goddard recently published standalone works: Taylor’s Touching Lockdown Meditation, The silencein 2021, and Goddard’s disco and house release with Amy Douglas, Grudgeearlier this year.

Tonight, they arrive dressed in all white, save for token black sheep keyboardist Felix Martin; Alexis Taylor wears a white waterproof cape over a bright pink Comme des Garçons windbreaker, her buzzcut tinted pink by the play of light. The stage doubles as a commercial display of synthesizers, an array of gear punctuated by the eerie cowbell and block of wood, courtesy of percussion multi-instrumentalist Rob Smoughton. Hot Chip’s music regularly draws inspiration from house and funk, electro and synth pop, blending the upbeat energy of the dancefloor with classic pop melodies; if their records are good, their concerts are immersive. You now know Hot Chip’s traveling companions, with the revolving door of band members on tour they operate with LCD Soundsystem, the way Hot Chip recalls everyone from New Order to Pet Shop Boys, while remaining instantly identifiable as themselves.

Alexis Taylor in a waterproof cape. Photography: Andy Hall/The Observer

What is less discussed is how they share with Gorillaz a very British love of American vintage hip-hop and its sources; how their sense of club matches that of fellow schoolmate Kieran Hebden of Four Tet, who recently hosted Hot Chip live in New York. It bears repeating that Hot Chip has been ahead of the Covid-era disco reboot curve by almost a decade. They wrote a song for Dua Lipa in 2020 which they ended up keeping to themselves. It’s Straight to the Morning, which featured Jarvis Cocker on guest vocals. (Cocker is due to join the band on nights three and four of this four-night London residency; tonight Goddard is handling Cocker’s vocal parts.) As with their penchant for disco, Taylor in particular has long brought a strong vintage eyewear game too, favoring engineer eyewear long before everyone started looking like they worked at Microsoft around 1979.

Best of all, Hot Chip’s adamantine consistency has just enough variation to pique your interest. Just when you think you know them, something happens: a record like the recent Freakout / Liberation, for example, in which the title track goes much further than usual towards dancefloor catharsis, and Taylor sings about lust and “primal healing”. Or a song like Down, which is decidedly funkier than usual, with Taylor playing various meanings of “down” (going down, feeling down) as the bass syncopates throughout. Or…they’ll punch a bass drum. What happens after this hitch, however, is somehow extremely Hot Chip. Half the group stumble upon the kit like a Formula 1 pit stop crew, veteran multi-instrumentalists helping their technician with the spare.

While watching, Taylor sings “Is It Still Broken?” Naturally, the song that silenced the kit is called Broken. A star of Hot Chip’s latest LP, he finds him trying to resolve an emotional crisis. Words are insufficient. How do you actually help someone? As the six-piece band brings the party, Taylor’s voice resonates with the tenderness of veteran songwriters, like Neil Tennant singing Roy Orbison.

Tenderness and vulnerability have, of course, long been staples of Hot Chip. What is new, perhaps, is the depth of the consciousness of crisis, of mortality. Philippe Zdar, their collaborator, died in 2019. As the Covid burst into the world in 2020, Hot Chip was on tour in Australia. Rob Smoughton was taken to hospital with a life-threatening illness and recovered; his dynamism tonight is particularly joyful to see. The songs on Freakout / Liberation – of which they play a generous sample – largely deal with the fallout of life; being stuck in your own head, unable to seek or accept help; on deep funks. Like most of the best dance pop, Hot Chip is as much about cleaning up tear-soaked dance floors as it is about carrying on Kraftwerk’s legacy. They can get everyone dancing on a school night; harder and more bruised than their reputation for softness suggests.