Tramlines 2021: 80s-tinged synth pop duo, Deco on politics and “escapism music, right now perhaps we all need that?”

There are a number of superlatives you could to use to introduce the band known as Deco, first of all you can’t go too far without mentioning their - admittedly rather excellent - mashup of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy and Oasis’ Wonderwall that subsequently went viral.

Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 4:25 pm

However, just focusing on their melodious remixes would inadvertently be dismissive of Deco’s own output, which more than stands on its own two feet — aurally of course.

Following a year of in 2019 that saw the duo - consisting of Max Kendall and John Dell - being described as the next ‘breakthrough indie act’ or purveyors of a contemporary ‘kaleidoscopic sound’, sadly 2020 put a bit of a dent in that well-deserved rise in status… thanks global pandemic.

I got the chance to sit down with the two of them at Sheffield’s Tramlines music festival for a bit of a chat, set against the backdrop of the Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough and the freshly laid football pitch. A fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the football-loving Max, who also confirmed that they hadn’t named the group after the Brazilian-born, Portuguese footballing legend — an opportunity missed there.

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Hailing from Burton-upon-Trent (or the home of Carling/Bass to the rest of us), front man and founder Max recounted how he’d sought out the talents of Ashbourne-born guitarist John, ‘I saw you (John) on the circuit and I needed a guitarist, so I got in touch with John and made him a proposal, I think he thought I was going to ask him out.” Thus Deco in the incarnation we know it to be came into being, there’s an aura of respect between the two that seamlessly weaves throughout our chat — it’s refreshing without being disingenuous.

John’s take on the union spoke of an almost instantaneous connection, with almost reverential tones, “when I saw Deco before I was in it, it definitely sounded massively 80s influences in it, Duran Duran, I thought he (Max) sound like George Michael a little bit, things like that”, Max interjects, nodding while adding, “yeah, Tears for Fears, but yeah basically a lot of 80s stuff and lots of bands that have touched upon the 80s from an influence perspective.”

And their influences show in their music but not in a way that’s fawning to what came before or with overtly fanboy, recreational vibes. A pleasingly enjoyable accoutrement of sounds — whereby the influences are merely the side dishes to their main, which is their own music of course.

“In a weird way, even though I grew up with my parents playing music from that era in their record collected, what really got me into it was some of the bands like Friendly Fires and White Lies” adds Max. It is all quite the proto-synth, joyful-inducing high that we all need right now, but there’s a depth to their music even if they do say that they’re not making any great political proclamations with their music.

Deco frontman Max Kendall greets the crowd at Sheffield's Tramlines 2021 at Hillsborough Park. Credit: Ellisha Iddon

“Our music is not very political, sometimes the songs are surprisingly deep, but we’re more trying to uplift the mood… even if the tone is dark, we want to empower people to have a good time.” Something that remains remarkably present within their musical output.

“In a non-pretentious way, it’s kind of escapism music, people always seem to have a good time at our gigs and that’s what we want to bring through our music.

2020 despite all of its pitfalls and frustrations saw the release of the funky, fun, synth-addled, four-track EP, Real Life. Deco like so many others found the lockdowns to be a struggle, particularly after the positively creative highs that were present in the first lockdown. John and Max both found the following lockdowns to be draining and a bit rubbish, for want of a better word. “It did suck, but creatively we got so much out of it… we’ve created over 40 songs and that’s really helped”

After their Tramlines performance, the duo will head down to Birmingham and there they’ll be playing alongside a band called Bears in Trees, which is a product of another one of their viral TikTok moments. One thing for certain is that Deco are intent on continuing their previously paused ascent.

Deco band members play to their fans at Sheffield's Tramlines 2021 at Hillsborough Park. Credit: Ellisha Iddon

Their EP Real Life is out now on all popular streaming services.

Deco guiatarist John Dell, sets off the good vibes at Sheffield's Tramlines 2021 at Hillsborough Park. Credit: Ellisha Iddon