St. Etienne : London ICA

Saint Etienne remain brilliantly, artfully, detached

The twin cine screens are the first clue, the businesslike run-through of old teasures like ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ early in the set another. For tonight Saint Etienne are bravely premiering new album, ‘Finisterre’ and its attendant short films in their entirety. After the West Coast pop direction, the folktronica album and the Eurodisco years, this is the Et forsaking acid house for the arthouse.

Such experiments are seldom subtle. Just as ancient rockers Pink Floyd used to perform ‘Money’ against footage of cash registers, pounding analogue synth monster ‘New Thing’ is illustrated by cranes and building sites (new things, see?). Most of the films attempt to show the capital in a stark, unforgiving light. This is the London of kickabouts by burnt out scooters, boarded up pubs and derelict suburbia. Best of all is ‘Shower Scene’, which depicts people scuttling about the city in driving rain for three minutes before a delightful acoustic guitar breakdown soundtracks rainbows peeking from behind the office blocks.

In this context, death disco opus ‘Like A Motorway’ makes an obvious and welcome encore. Resisting the temptation to camp it up with the rest of them this year, Saint Etienne remain brilliantly, artfully, detached.

Martin Horsfield