I’ve got a bit more energy than I thought for this late afternoon/evening. So I’m going to dust off this partially written post for S U R V I V E’s Echoplex performance from Oct. 2016, and finally wrap it up. Let’s get started … and/or finished.
I was first introduced to Austin’s deep synth quartet S U R V I V E way back in 2013 – 14. I’m not entirely sure which year, since it’s practically a lifetime ago. But I know this much. I was working a late night Monday at a design company called Logan, and a coworker was assisting me on a commercial project (I’m not sure which one, either). We got to talking about the music that moves us, as I often enjoy doing, and she recommended these Austin natives.
That previous weekend, she had trekked out to the desert for an underground show (when those were still a thing), and experienced S U R V I V E’s moody atmospherics for her first time, all while rolling under the open air night time sky. Sounds like an exceptionally solid recommend to me, as well as a hell of a way to immerse oneself in the aural sensation and unfiltered harmonics of unrepressed feeling.
Well, back then, streaming wasn’t a super solid solution to music access. Neither was YouTube, or the like. So I didn’t get to to check them out right away. And for one reason or another, I didn’t outright buy any of their albums, physical or digital (which believe it or not, did have a market back then). Hence, it took me a few beats before I actually got around to experiencing their otherworldly and cosmically dark instrumentals.
What ultimately provoked me to seal the deal was this then-unknown under-the-radar Netflix series titled “Stranger Things,” which featured this incredibly hypnotic theme music over this ultra-minimalistic neon title sequence. Turns out, the score was composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, two of the four members of S U R V I V E . The remaining members are Mark Donica and Adam Jones.
I was hooked, eventually learning of their love for ’80s horror movie scores, namely the likes of John Carpenter, as well as their penchant for the analog, versus the digital, side of synth programming. It offered all the differences I needed to hear, the fright film influences splattering the sharp mood and taut intensity, the analog flourishes lending a much-needed warmth to the immersive spatial cavities of the widescreen instrumentals.
It’s probably the reason the score for “Stranger Things” works so well. And also why I chose to resurrect this particular show in the here and now … horrifying pandemic with no end in sight, terrifying election on the horizon, and all around dark times for the day to day. There’s a sound for everything, and S U R V I VE might be the one for today.
Talking about their music in terms of songs is a non-starter. They do have songs, but they play more like experiential affairs, less about the beginning, middle, and end, and more about the continuity of the moment. Not to state the obvious, but their music really does play like a soundtrack. And their albums are meant to be met as complete excursions, rather than picked apart by moments.
Live, which is where this post has been headed, they’re equally consistent in their shrouds of immersive conceptual mystery, a performance intended to flow as a whole, less focused on the parts, most interested in the entirety of it all.
Bathed in virtually zero stage lighting, and set-up like a garage DIY Kraftwerk, the four members stand side by side, each with a seeming box of electronics before them, sculpting their sounds as if by magic, in the most focused improvisation that electronic conjuring can provide. And it’s summoned loud … decibels maxed enough to blanket the intimate confines of the Echoplex in a multi-layered uber-wash of ear-shattering synths and percussive programming. In short, the best way to hear it.
S U R V I V E culled material from their two cryptically titled LPS, “Mnq026” and “RR7349” (2012 and 2016, respectively), as well as a handful of EPs, and of course, the “Stranger Things” soundtrack. Their music is such that despite the diversity of sources, meaning their catalogue of releases, it all plays as degrees of expressive mood and uninhibited emotion, directing your attention down dark and twisty paths, eventually emerging in pools of light and levity, only to tilt back towards deeper contemplation and introspection.
A rock concert, this is not. But for those aural explorers interested in going all in for the mesmeric ride, allowing the music to traverse wherever and whenever it feels, regardless of pace and immediacy, S U R V I V E offered the ultimate cinematic ticket.
Here’s a sampling from their Echoplex performance on October 6, 2016. There’s five clips in total, leading off with the requisite “Stranger Things.” Roughly half of these are complete, while the remainder are excerpts. Like I said, it was long time ago, and this is what I was able to unearth from my archives.
I will say that from an enjoyable re-watch, however brief, it’s all still remarkably worthwhile, if not essential, listening material, depending on where your tastes for moody widescreen instrumentals lie. S U R V I V E’s music offers a singular diversion from the songcraft of the day to day, as well as a wholly specific take on the ’80s synth genre. That alone deserves a moment’s attention.
Enjoy this on-stage flashback from Austin’s atmospheric S U R V I V E. Maybe, like myself, it’ll serve as soundtrack to the present times. Hell, we all need something to get us through the horrors of 2020, and potentially beyond.
S U R V I V E perform “Stranger Things” at the Echoplex on 10.06.16.
S U R V I V E perform “Sorcerer” at the Echoplex on 10.06.16.
S U R V I V E perform “Hourglass” at the Echoplex on 10.06.16.
S U R V I V E perform “Wardenclyffe” at the Echoplex on 10.06.16.
S U R V I V E perform “Omniverse” at the Echoplex on 10.06.16.