The difference between fashion and style is like the difference between existence and essence in that, although they feed off one another, one is commonplace, the other, unique. A year ago, one would have said that Riviera F were an excrescence of fashion, the electroclash posturing of London scenesters. But now that the zeitgeist is haunting different genres, now that they can’t rely upon the slipstream of fashion, they are an altogether different prospect. So: are they merely fashionable or do they actually have a style of their own?
As the instrumental intro to their opening number drags on, things look doubtful. Riviera F’s stage presence is minimal, even without the distraction of the projection behind them. All we have to look at is Etienne and Logan concentrating on playing their keyboards or Kairo staring at the strings on her guitar. Sartorially, they are authentic 80s, but it is the 80s informed by the outrageous styling made possible by contemporary irony: leg warmers, clunky designs and garish colour combinations. As Alexa Marlen, Riviera F’s lead singer, walks slowly and deliberately up the steps of the Cobden Club’s stage, you get the feeling that it is make or break time: will her presence enliven them? Will she bring something to the mix that will set them apart?
Before I answer that question I should tell you something about the venue. You won’t have seen this gig advertised in Time Out because the Cobden Club is a private members club and it was guest-list only. This exclusivity, enhanced by the classy old building, is mitigated somewhat by the fact that it is located in Westbourne Park, one of the bleakest areas of West London. An area where tower blocks leer menacingly at the pedestrians walking down its desolate streets. Perhaps it is located there for maximum contrast. Indeed, when you look up to the ceiling from your soft sofa at what appears to be part of an orrery, any sense of urban alienation seems far away. Wealth, you realise, is a foreign country: they do things differently there. For instance, Riviera F played three songs, went off for a fifteen minute intermission, then came back on to do three more. Oh, and the answer to my question was no.
The previous times I have seen Riviera (F) they have suffered from poor sound. This time, though, it was perfect. This time I could here the lyrics to opening number, International Lover, lyrics that are actually rather good. Lyrics like, “I met him in a members only club” (ha!), “he calls me from Berlin, Holiday Inn” and the chorus, “International lover, you make my heart go faster.” The only problem is that Alexa’s voice is disconcertingly nasally, sounding not Russian and glamorous, but almost as if she came from the West Midlands. It doesn’t help that the “heart beat faster” line is said as passionately as a supermarket checkout girl asking if you have a loyalty card.
Second song, Hypnotised, shows further the glaring gulf between form and content. A song whose mantra is simply the word ‘hypnotised,’ a word repeated endlessly, should take you on a journey, not leave you standing. I was about to mention this to Dickon Edwards, but was cut short as he made his way to the stage, joining three oddly-interesting, stone-faced girls for the Lya Taboo dance.
Of all their recorded output so far, Lya Taboo is the most compelling. Made up of little more than two chords and a keyboard riff (you should hear my acoustic guitar version), it is simple but effective. Accompanied by the dancers with their minimal moves of head turning and hand moving, it is especially compelling live. Moreover, Alexa’s voice gained a definite presence – a confidence not seen in the previous two songs (“Baby, you’re onto something real good”). Things were looking brighter.
After the intermission, Riviera F came on stage dressed in full eveningwear; Logan Sky even wore a Tuxedo. This, you feel, is when they should have unveiled the name Riviera F*: a second set to show how they have evolved. After two songs passed by, though, including the entertaining number, Information, there was little sense of evolution. I resigned myself to more of the same as Ian Ritchie, saxophonist with various 80s bands, stepped up to the stage dressed in his pink suit. However, to my shock and delight, Dance Alone was actually very good. Ritchie’s sax, slightly reminiscent of the one on Roxy Music’s Song for Europe, added an injection of passionate intent into their sterile sound that felt very good indeed.
So, not Riviera F, but Riviera C minus: could do better, much better.
*Riviera, because of legal issues, have been re-branded Riviera F. Despite my best interrogative techniques, I never found what the F stands for; learning only that it is in no way a reference to Axel F.