Skip to main content

Synth-pop group HAERTS performs at DC’s 9:30 Club

Written By | Jun 2, 2014

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2014 – HAERTS are just at the beginning of their musical lives. They’ve gotten a sizable amount of buzz for a band that at this point has only released a lone EP. But this is soon to change with a full-length album expected over the summer.

Add to this the fact that they’re part of a growing wide net genre like modern synth pop, and they are arriving at that sweet spot where they might be just large enough to capably headline small club/bar venues and draw enough people to increase their bookings. But they’re also good enough right now to be asked to open for bands that sell out larger club venues like the 9:30 Club, where they recently appeared. They’re clearly on the cusp of something bigger.

Nini Fabi and Ben Gerbert may have started HAERTS back in Brooklyn in 2010. But the longtime friends have a history dating back to their time growing up in Germany.

It all started with the two of them collaborating. The partnership quickly included guitarist Garrett Ienner and Derek McWilliams on bass. The new four-piece band incorporated a wide range of influences and experiences obviously having a considerable effect on their music and their live performances.

It’s clear HAERTS is a young band. But that doesn’t exclude the amount of musical experience they combine up on the stage, which leads to some pretty interesting results both in the construction of their songs and influence they seem to have developed.

HAERTS exists in a genre that’s both modern and classic, but in odd ways. Synth-pop had its origins back into the ‘80s, yet there was a time when it was almost absent from any sort of musical culture before its resurgence in both pop music and the underground club scene, both of which had always seemed like a natural place for the genre to exist.

But the connection between the ‘80s and the more modern day synth-pop reincarnation has less to do with any of the bands from the ‘80s as it does with the use of similar, albeit updated, technology.

Case in point: For much of HAERTS’ set at the 9:30 Club, they sounded like an excellent recreation of the sound Simple Minds – best known for the lead song from the Breakfast Club – crafted. The odd thing is, it would be absolutely shocking to hear HAERTS list them or any other synth-pop band as an influence. These are bands they may or may not have heard growing up with various pop culture touchstones. But it’s hardly what they would generally have been listening to, especially when Fabi and Gerbert decided to start creating music of their own.

Yet these are precisely the kind of bands HAERTS strongly resembled during their show at the 9:30 Club. Instead of seeming like a poor facsimile of an ancient genre, however, their sound sounds vital, organic and now. The reason? HAERTS is just using the basic template – like so many other bands – while crafting and playing traditional pop songs.

That simple distinction goes a long way to making HAERTS a vibrant live act instead of seeming like a retread – although in fairness, the general audience at the 9:30 Club wouldn’t be inclined to make this connection.

Of course, not a bit of this would be true if the members of the band weren’t quite as talented as they were and are.

One of the key components of HAERTS’ sound, something that is the cornerstone of synth-pop in general, is the prominence the keyboards. Gerbert creates an essential atmosphere for HAERTS’ set, driving their primary sound, while McWilliams compliments everything nicely with his thumping bass lines.

Ienner’s guitar playing is a lot more subtle and is never quite at the forefront of the band’s sound, instead vying for a light airy touch that fills in any voids in HAERTS’ output.

At the center of all of this, though, is Fabi, whose measured and low humming vocals infuse HAERTS’ approach with the necessary air of mystery that makes their sound so appealing.

HAERTS packs a lot of energy into their set without ever really pushing the tempo, which, creates the impression that they’re still a fresh, up-and-coming act.

They don’t have a ton of material at their disposal at the moment, and even less of it is the kind people in the audience might be familiar with. But all signs suggest that’s about to change very soon, which is what gives this band a strong lead-in towards something very promising.

Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer. He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years. Currently he lives in Vienna, VA. He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.