6th April 2022

Live Review: Future Islands

Future Islands combine the perfect amount of emotional reminiscence and techno-beat movement to create a night of immersive sound and boogying.
Live Review: Future Islands
Photo: Future Islands by Millie Sheppard

Future Islands, an American synth-pop band who on the surface look like they’d be more my middle-aged parents’ speed than mine, played in the Manchester Academy on 23rd February. However, one need to listen to only a few of the artists’ techno-inspired tunes to realise that this band’s music demands movement. Having seen videos of the lead singer Samuel T. Herring performing, he certainly doesn’t hold back. 

I’ve been a fan of the quartet since hearing band BADBADNOTGOOD’s collaboration on their single ‘Seasons (waiting on you)’ when I was 18. Three years (ish) later and the song is still one of my favourites to blast when I’m in a dancy mood. 

With the band’s emphasis on the creative physicality of live performance, which has been so vigorous in the past that Herring has ended up hospitalised, I was excited to see what body-popping shapes they would cut on this tour. The band’s most recent releases include their 2020 album As Long as You Are (2020) and subsequent singles ‘Peach’ (2021) and ‘King of Sweden’ (2022), which was performed as a live debut! 

The gig began with ‘On the Water’, the first track on their 2011 album of the same name. The 10 year age of the song seemed apt for the attendee demographic, which appeared to range from me and my friend (in our very early 20s) easily up to concert-goers in their late 50s. 

Judging by the enthusiasm of the grey-haired jumpers in the crowd, the band were clearly aware of their long-time fanbase. This perhaps speaks to the sentiment of Future Island’s songs in general, which combine almost futuristic soundscapes with nostalgic confessions and memories of lost love. 

One particularly poignant moment was when Herring explained to the crowd that ‘A Dream of You and Me’ was about a girl he’d loved and no longer knew, but the lyrics about whom had remained even despite the passage of time. Throughout the entire performance, Herring gave prefatory explanations before the opening bars of the majority of songs. This gave the gig a really personal element which made it easy to understand why the bands’ fans remain loyal. 

However it was with tracks like ‘Ancient Water’ and ‘For Sure’ that Herring really seemed to come into his own, with almost contorting dance moves and his infamous growl that exposes the punk rock and heavy metal influences on Future Island’s self described ‘post-wave’ sound. I’d never heard anything like it in real life. Combining this with what I can only describe as the delicate plonks of thimbles and chimes at the top of the music, the venue was transformed into an intimate space and a 90s techno venue all at the same time. It’s no surprise that Herring has named ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’ (another one of my favourite bands) as one of the greatest influences on the band’s sound. 

Perhaps one of the most captivating elements of the whole performance was the minimalistic set design, consisting of a plain cream backdrop and two triangular structures, one at either side of the stage. The soft lightning gave off just the right amount of melancholy to compliment Herring’s high energy performance. I can’t help but think the seeming immobility (in comparison) of the band’s other members was intended to give the same effect. 

If you’re looking for a night of nostalgic reminiscence (that doesn’t necessarily have to be your own), and the chance to have an unself-conscious boogie to some gorgeous synth beats, Future Islands are definitely the performers for you. Just prepare yourself for Herring’s eruptive growls which made my heart feel like it was vibrating in my chest.

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