A chance discovery of a man selling a second-hand Korg synthesiser on a street corner has inspired the synthy rock sound of East London newcomers Midnight Embargo. Indeed, as frontman Rob MacPherson reflects: “God knows what this EP would have sounded like that guy had been selling a ukulele instead?”
The trio first began with guitarist Ian Wybron looking for a new music project. He worked with Rob MacPherson (synth and vocals), discovered they had similar music tastes, went to a few gigs together, considered doing open mic together but, in his words, “quickly realised we had a lot more energy to give than two acoustic guitars in a living room could do justice.” They put the word out and met American drummer Mario Rojas through a friend, and the rest is history.
Rob expands: “We could just tell in our first rehearsal that the magic was there. When you feel that immediate connection with other musicians, it’s obvious. It just clicks and we began writing songs from day one. I wish we’d kept the recording of that first session!
“I remember a week before that first session I was skimming Gumtree and saw someone around the corner selling a second-hand Korg. I was looking for a new sonic toy to experiment with and thought ‘why not?.’ Now the filthy, buzzing bass notes it emits are such an integral part of our sound.”
The trio have honed a funky synthy dance meets rock sound that Mario describes as: “A little bit dark sometimes. Dark but dancy? I think that covers it. I was laughing to myself just now because I thought of the word sexy. You know what I mean? Not sexy sexy, but sexy. A bit dangerous. There’s a sway to our music and it makes you want to move. Maybe it’s because we do that INXS cover Need You Tonight, or maybe I just need to think of a different word!”
You can judge it for yourself with Midnight Embargo’s second EP 00:00, which was released last month. On the EP, Rob told us: “We had an awesome launch at The Water Rats last month where our fans came down and were already singing along to the new tracks. It’s been a fun summer recording these songs – they’re full of energy and a unique edgy vibe so we want people to listen to them and tell us what they think!”
First up is HRTBRK, which opens with a dirty fuzzy synth line under Rob’s meandering vocals, then dives into a big catchy chorus of “Don’t let heartbreak break you up.” A second chorus is followed by a fun guitar solo over driving drums and the fuzzy Korg that feeds into several repeats of the chorus vocals. Give it a listen below.
The delicious rockiness continues in Borderline (Won’t Let Up), which kicks off with a lone guitar, drums kick in and continue into an edgy opening verse of “You’re on a borderline, What are you gonna do, In seven seconds time, We won’t let up, We won’t let up, Come on.” The vocals increase in intensity through several repeats of the latter vocals, then drop into some cool stabby guitars and cymbal hits that build the atmosphere towards another smash of the chorus vocals.
There’s a more prominent electronic feel to the intro to Burn Your Fires before dropping into a verse dominated by Rob’s big singalong vocals then a catchy, jumpy chorus of “You got, We got time, Gonna turn on the lies, Gonna burn all the fires, They gonna take us alive” follows.
Final track Battle Rhythm opens up an ominous low synth buzz that continues through the opening verse, a big drum beat kicks in over the top and continues as stabby synth sounds support Rob’s more intense vocals. Guitars eventually join the party as relentless vocals continue, bringing the EP to an energetic ending.
The music is fun and upbeat, but there’s a certain darkness to their lyrical influences. As Rob explains: “There’s definitely a few recurring themes running through the EP – a lot of the lyrics talk about watching fires burn. After a while I started thinking to myself ‘Huh. Well that’s odd. Maybe I should speak to someone about that…’
“But there’s also a lot of difficult life stuff that we’ve poured into this record. I went through a tough break-up that took time time to get over. I know others in the band have had their issues as well. The music us three create has been a huge escape and a way of dealing with those emotions. That line in the chorus of HRTBRK – “Don’t let heartbreak break you” – that just came to me in the middle of a jam session when we were first working on the song. But it came from a really optimistic place in the middle of a lot of shit emotions.”
The trio’s influences are fairly varied – from Ian being inspired to pick up a guitar by Slash, to Mario’s love for The Hives and The Strokes as well as Metallica and Rolling Stones, through to Rob growing up on rock’n’roll. Rob explains: “I think the way our different influences bounce off each other is one of the things that gives us a really unique sound. I grew up on a healthy diet of rock’n’roll too but over the years have moved more into music with electronic sounds. Whether that’s Nine Inch Nails, or LCD Soundsystem or Daft Punk. Even producers like Kanye and Run The Jewels are making sounds that inspire me to get my Korg out and see what weird and wonderful noises it can create.
The band’s immediate plans have been slightly hindered by Mario heading back to America for a couple of months, but they’re still busy writing new music and gearing up for a tour early next year. As Ian explains: “We’re looking forward to playing some new parts of the country so they can hear the new songs. We put everything into these recordings so we are excited about getting more and more people to hear them, getting some radio play, podcasts. If anyone’s keen – get in touch.”