Formal Sppeedwear’s groundbreaking EP that demands to be experienced

Joint review by Lee Barber and Bethan Shuff

Formal Sppeedwear are a band who consider every detail, attention to which cannot be understated and must not be underestimated. They know what they want and they will achieve greatness in the most artistically pleasing way possible. The three piece collective of pure creatives work as a hive mind, singular in their musicality and yet individual to the last, each of them stamping their own character upon the outfit. They are without a doubt at the very forefront of Staffordshire’s music scene right now, they are already right up there, our dreams and hopes resting upon their shoulders. So much musical potential in this city, so long have we cried ‘if only one band could break through!’ Could Formal Sppeedwear be that band?

If this debut EP is anything to go by, then certainly so. The release show itself held an atmosphere that could be difficult to explain. There was an artistic tension, an excitement, that buzz you get when everyone in the room knows they are witnessing something special, bidding the band a fond farewell as they embark upon that mission we all know will be successful, shifting beyond those invisible barriers of Stoke Music Scene and ‘making it’.

The lights drop out, and the three carefully – excruciatingly carefully – placed projectors come to life, framing each member in their own rectangle of white light. It’s happening, this is it. As a venue manager I dare to stand there, looking on as the band rolls through their deftly curated set, drowning in trepidation. Could this be the night? The night every venue manager secretly longs for, catching that local band on that show, where everything suddenly comes together and everyone in the room knows they will one day be able to say they were there. As the set ends and the crowd hustle around the merch table, eager to get their hands on the limited editions of the vinyl, the atmosphere tells its own story…

While many musicians will make the move to London and Manchester to find their path, Beck Clewlow (Bass, Vocals, Synthesisers) Charlie Ball (Guitar, synthesisers), and Connor Wells (Drums, Guitar, Synthesisers) stuck it out in Stoke, devoting their spare time to writing and experimenting, building their own studio out of charity shop finds and cash-converter synths and recording equipment. It really is the band that graft built, in that respect.

Taking creative cues from Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies and Conny Plank’s experimental recording techniques to flesh out synthpop-oriented melodies, the EP stomps along with Scary Monsters-era Bowie guitar lines, early 80s Numan basslines and surreal lyrics. 

Kicking things off, Bunto serves as a bold introduction to Formal Sppeedwear’s eclectic sound. Nostalgic and futuristic in equal measure, the record sets the stage for the sonic journey ahead – and it’s one you’ll want your seatbelt on for.

Clewlow’s vocals, reminiscent of Talking Heads in their prime, weave through layers of electronic wizardry and a rhythm section that hits like an 80s-era dancefloor anthem, propelled forward by Connor Wells’ dynamic drumming and Charlie Ball’s electrifying guitar work. Urgent and frenetic, each note is injected with their own distinct brand of avant-garde experimentation with an effortless cool that’s impossible to ignore.

Wonky synth-pop melodies and surreal lyricism characterise 6 Lofty Ash. “Ready, set on my mark: Tesco Extra, Marks and Sparks” cries Clewlow, his vocals cutting through the blues/funk-infused mix with conviction. Bright brassy tones bubble beneath the surface of this grooving number, taking centre stage between the Ronson-style guitars for a breakdown that could be mistaken for a honk-off on the Potteries Way during rush hour traffic. But the wildest part? It works. This is a band so confident in their sound and vision, and in turn, have curated a cult-like following where the unexpected becomes the norm and every unpredictable twist is greeted with eager anticipation.

The Line follows with a jolting staccato rhythm designed to keep listeners on their toes. “Move a little,” Clewlow instructs – except, before he’s even said it, I already am – my shoulders subconsciously twisting back and forth to angular riffs and hypnotic groove.

Closing out the EP, A Dismount delivers a soaring synth slow burn that showcases Formal Sppeedwear’s versatility and range. As the track builds gradually, from Connor Wells’ cunningly considered marching drums, to a distinctly retro-futuristic synthscape, it’s as if the spirit of Brian Eno himself has been woven into the fabric of their sound, resulting in a record that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Labyrinth soundtrack.

Amidst an eerie interlude, it’s as though the atmospheric instrumentation holds its breath in anticipation before surging back to life, returning to the main melody with added intensity. The fusion of synth-rock and pulsating rhythms, combined with Numan-esque basslines, feels as familiar as it does fresh. But it’s the unpredictability of Formal Sppeedwear’s records that earn it repeat listens in order to search for the patterns where there seemingly are none. It’s a record that demands not to be heard, but to be experienced.

Released May 3, listen to Formal Sppeedwear’s self-titled EP here.

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