Latvia didn’t make it to the 2013 Eurovision final but, thanks to Club Radio Free Europe, their kaleidoscopic sound sent trembles through the Boogaloo in London. Both Instrumenti and BrainStorm – Or to Latvians Prãta Vētra – are household names in Latvia, with various chart hits and sold-out stadium tours, but most Brits are unlikely to have ever heard of them.
For many of the Latvian’s attending, this was probably a good thing: the opportunity to see two of their country’s biggest bands in a relatively small pub must have been a once in a lifetime experience. For us, it was an eye-opener.
Instrumenti kicked off the night with their refreshingly melodic and broody electronica. Shipsi leads on synths with a swooping falsetto vocal, whilst Reynsi manages to pound tight drums, backing sing and operate a laptop – an impressive feat. Both dressed down, their appearance was unexpectedly tame in comparison to YouTube clips of their ‘TRU’ tour we’d seen.
For a two-piece band, Instrumenti have an adventurously grand sound akin to Muse. Bubbling arpeggios against abrupt keys and choppy drums, yet never pulling focus from Shispi’s dreamy high-pitched tones or the delicate harmonies from Reynsi or their vocoder accompaniment. Even when they’re bit-crushing beats or over-distorting vocals, there is still something simplistic and twee about it.
Since coming third in 2000’s Eurovision, BrainStorm have released six English albums, six in Latvian and two in Russian, and had every intention of charming the roof off the Boogaloo. Their endearing front-man Renārs is energetic, pulling fists and gesturing his palms out to an adoring crowd.
BrainStorm are rockier than expected, with funky basslines, 80’s toned crystal synths and dramatic guitar licks. The audience shush loud talkers and lead the quieter songs, chanting the words before Renārs begins. It did start to feel like we were the only ones not singing along, but only because we didn’t speak the language: if we did we would’ve joined in eagerly. A strong sense and pride and unity flooded the venue and Renārs was clearly humbled by everyone’s participation.
That sense of unity is part of Club Radio Free Europe’s ethos, and is our lasting impression of the night, especially considering how much of an outsider we were. In many ways CRFE and Eurovision are similar, highlighting different cultures and sounds to bring people on our continent together. However, CRFE is a unique opportunity to be thrown in the deep end and comes without naff politics and overdramatics. The Latvians knew how to rock the CRFE and we’re sure whichever country gets showcased next will do too. Now you just have to see it for yourself.