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CONFRONTATIONAL: a personal report from SYNTHZILLA (video included)

By Massimo Usai

A brief foreword, for full disclosure: I first approached Axel about my intention to do a small report on SYNTHZILLA as soon as we set our feet back in Sardinia. I worked on it for a couple of days before sending it for editorial approval on November 8. As I type this, it is November 15. I completed my first draft with minimal edits and I've spent these last days in shock over the recent events of Paris. I'd just like everyone to know that we are very much looking forward to playing again in France and meeting all of our friends there soon.
Yours truly,

The invitation to be a part of the first edition of SYNTHZILLA FESTIVAL on Halloween came early during Spring 2015. DONE WITH YOU, my first EP released in February, was slowly getting attention from a few intrigued listeners here and there around the world. Madame Pauline's message of invitation came as a surprise proposal, it was swift and it was very straightforward... it also filled me with sheer happiness and joy: to be in the line up - a bill that also included THOMAS BARRANDON, DAN TERMINUS, PERTURBATOR and CARPENTER BRUT - and bring CONFRONTATIONAL in front of a brand new crowd, to perform my music in France for the first time ever. 
To put it simply, it was a dream coming true.

I knew since the very beginning this would be an incredible occasion, and right after reading that first message I decided to prepare and bring the very best show I could think of. I realized then that this would have been the perfect moment to start working on a full length album, so that it would have been ready by the time the festival was incoming.
With precisely the festival audience in mind, I sought to create a set of songs that would engage very directly with the crowd. That's how work on A DANCE OF SHADOWS began, around late April. Songwriting commenced with two songs - TO LIVE AND DIE ON THE AIR and SHADOWDANCING - and for the five months that followed, my schedule consisted of everyday composing, recording and mixing. It was extremely intense, tasking and very lonely at times, but also very rewarding: a process during which my mind was always coming back to the thought of performing these songs in front of the SYNTHZILLA audience.

After finally completing all of the mixes in September, I started rehearsals with my partner in crime Giulia, who has assisted me in part of the arranging and producing duties over the previous months - an helping hand I could never have done without. 
We decided for a minimalist setup, then spent all of October practicing the setlist on a daily basis.

The big day finally came: we left Sardinia on Friday the 30th of October, traveling through Milan and Paris, finally arriving in Lyon during the evening. A series of delays prevented us from making it to the first set of the event, the HOTLINE MIAMI night, with ultraplayer DINGODROLE performing a speedrun livedemo of the game and a DJ set by DAN TERMINUS himself. After arriving to the beautiful hotel we ran out for a quick dinner in downtown Lyon, then got to bed and slept for 13 hours straight - quite honestly, the best sleep I've had in several years.

We woke up to final preparation steps for the big moment: a new set of strings for my Gibson SG, a final check on all of the synths and sequences, and final touches to the setlist on the MINIAK. We then moved on to the lobby to finally meet personally with the Duchess of Synthwave herself, Madame Pauline - a truly epic moment!!! - and introduced ourselves with handshakes, hugs and even kisses to the rest of the crew: Mr. James PERTURBATOR Kent himself, his light engineer for the event Tommy, staff member Mallorie and Clarence, who was  reporting that night exclusively for French music website After packing the car we reached the JACK JACK club, where the staff was already gearing up for the show.

We unloaded the car then reached for the backstage where we met with Thomas Barrandon and Dan Terminus, with whom we started to joke about a lot of stuff since the very first moment. Holders of the collectors passes gathered in the hall for a short meet and greet, and I briefly introduced myself and exchanged a few words - it was really amazing to meet up with them in person.

While Carpenter Brut was finishing soundcheck we got to meet more of the staff members from SYNTZHILLA. All of the place was exploding with incredible enthusiasm as showtime approached. Back and forth from the backstage, more chatting with Thomas, Dan and James, then we moved on to the side of the stage as we started to get our backline ready for the concert. After Perturbator's line check it was our turn to set everything up. Soundcheck came and went in under 20 minutes, after which we were finally ready to go.
The doors opened up to the sold out venue, and the huge room was filled to the maximum as we stood behind the curtains. Lights went down, and as shadows fell we knew it was our moment. The beautiful crowd greeted us with a huge round of applause and I knew right then it was going to be the most amazing concert of my life.

We blasted off into SHADOWDANCING, then got through FLAT/LINE and LIKE A CURSE - with several fists getting thrown up in the air. I'd make eye contact with several audience members that were actually singing to the choruses of the songs - a truly thrilling moment. People were dancing, clapping their hands and screaming wildly. We dedicated TO LIVE AND DIE ON THE AIR to Pauline for making all of this happen and everyone displayed their affection cheering loudly, then we got into the song... more fists were up in the air as Cody Carpenter's solo began filling the room, making me truly emotional. We then moved on to YOU'LL BE MINE, connecting with more eyes, and then played the bonus track from the LP, MOTIONLESS, before thanking everyone for the very special treatment and closing the show with DONE WITH YOU.

We bowed out in front of the beautiful crowd and then retreated to the dressing rooms where Dan Terminus, Perturbator and Carpenter Brut were hanging around. This was Giulia's first show ever and although curious to see what would happen I was sure she was going to enjoy every single second of it all, so it was really amazing to share this story with the fellow artists and get such positive feedback from the people that caught our preparation for the set. After a bit of rest and more chatting and jokes with Dan and James (plus exchanging CDS & dedications alike), we caught the rest of the show in the pit dancing with the crowd. Quite a lot of people asked us for pics and signatures and we really had a fun time getting to meet and hug everyone - all of the French people treated us with the utmost respect and kindness. 

Giulia and I with the Trinity of Dark Synth: Dan Terminus, Pizza & Carpenter Brut (edited for privacy)

Giulia and I with the Trinity of Dark Synth: Dan Terminus, Pizza & Carpenter Brut (edited for privacy)

Down in the pit everything was moving quick! Dan Terminus brought down the roof commanding to the crowd and administering the proper rhythm moves from his platform, having everyone in the club dancing, just as did Perturbator with his incredible video and light show that had the whole house in a trance. The festival came to a close after Carpenter Brut's blistering and truly dynamic set, which included personal faves DISCO ZOMBI ITALIA, LE PERV and ANARCHY ROAD. People went into full moshing for the heavier cuts and the atmosphere was absolutely that of a great metal show. I loved it all!!!

We spent some time greeting more audience members as the club started to close down, taking more pics, signing more CDs, chatting and hugging as much people as we could manage.
Everyone was smiling wildly and it was clear to everyone how much of a success the event was. We were walking on thin air. As we packed the car back so to start the trip back to the hotel yet another adventure ensued, but that's a whole different story... Suffice to say that the Duchess Of Synthwave once again saved the situation, getting our crew back to our rooms in orderly fashion, ready for another good night of rest before departing for a short holiday in Paris the day after, November 1st. 

We are extremely grateful to all of the staff members, the production, the club crew, the artists we shared the stage with and all of the audience for making us feel so special. As a new edition gets prepared for 2016, we'd like to shout out LONG LIVE SYNTHZILLA and THANKS to all of the people and media partners who played a part in making it such an incredible, unforgettable event: VIVE SYNTHZILLA, VIVE LA FRANCE!!!