We’ve all heard the cliché – the one about really good music being able to transport you to another time and place. And no one does that like Ballet School.
An invigorating rush of synth pop, if you close you eyes you could be in an ’80s American teen film, with singer Rosie Blair playing the role of the achingly cool protagonist, the crowd dancing at her command. And if you were to open your eyes, the crowd assembled at the front look the part too; there’s a guy in a vest and handlebar moustache, a girl in a velvet, puff-sleeved dress. All we need is for Rosie to choose one of the sensitive indie boys over a beefed-up jock and everything would be spot on.
We’ve been excited about Ballet School since we first heard their EP, Boys Again, last autumn. Their debut album, The Dew Lasts An Hour – released in September – didn’t disappoint, and tonight they proved they can pull it off live too. They’re the pop band we’ve been waiting for – irresistible dance songs with twisted electronics, glacial guitars, booming drums and a vocal that shatters through it all. Put short, this is alt-pop done the way it should be.
The trio are based in Berlin – “A wonderful place, where you don’t have to have three jobs to be an artist,” Rosie tells us tonight. She met guitarist Michel Collet met a few years ago in Berlin’s thriving ex-pat DIY scene. Having heard him playing in the U-bahn, she immediately asked him to form a band. In 2012 they began collaborating with Louis, another fixture of the scene, and started to rework their life long loves – The Cure and Cocteau Twins (note: Ballet School are signed to Bella Union – run by ex-Cocteau Twins man Simon Raymonde) and early Madonna. Tonight they even pay homage to the latter, with a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek take on Justify My Love.
Blair is a born frontwoman; part Madonna, part Gwen Stefani and part Ellie Goulding, she bounces around the stage, her voice never wavering, while a hooded Collet pouts his way through the set by her side. Unlike fellow Bella Union signing and tonight’s support act, Bernard + Edith – whose Kate Bush-inspired spooked synth-pop and matching odd ball image is spoiled slightly by the latter’s attempts at friendly between-song banter – they never slip out of pop star mode. They’re arena ready.
By our reckoning, the entire album gets an airing. From the slow build-up of opener Ghost to a slowed down, lush reworked version of Heartbeat Overdrive – Heartbeat Underdrive, – it’s pitch perfect, the latter showing that they’re not just about power pop. Those moments of contemplation are equally as effective, with deep, thudding drums coming to the fore.
A slick performance, then, from a band who could never be accused of subtlety. Ballet School are a tribute to its members’ musical loves, and they’re a joy to unpick. This is pop at its best; nostalgic but stylish, and utterly exhilarating.