Soft Riot | 2019

Soft Riot is JJD; a former Vancouverite now residing in the UK who has clocked in over twenty five years of musical output in various bands and projects, including half a dozen art-damaged punk and hardcore bands as well as first-wave post-punk revivalists Radio Berlin. Moving from Vancouver to London UK in the late 2000s, Soft Riot came into full being, having released a couple of acclaimed albums and EPs and staging numerous tours around Europe. He now currently resides in Glasgow, Scotland — where he now calls it home.

With origins from the mid-nineties in the vibrant art-punk/hardcore dominating the West Coast American/Canadian underground at the time (the first EP, No Longer Stranger, is the name of a track by hardcore band Universal Order of Armageddon), JJD followed a trajectory through to the revival of synth-based post-punk music just over a decade or so ago, which spawned a number of highly successful Canadian artists out of that scene.

Soft Riot’s sound is an amalgamation of JJD’s personal experience with music, containing elements of synthesiser-based film soundtracks, romantic italo-style flourishes, throbbing arpeggiations and angular, psychedelic synth-pop all tied together with an underlying tension. It is a science-fiction heavy soundscape that narrates the listener through today’s fractured, excessive landscape with hints of black humour.

Soft Riot, coming from a more punk rock pedigree, often places more focus than the norm on his lyrical content, bringing in detailed pictures and sometimes even linear narrative storylines to subjects such as modern living, technology, surveillance, environment, overpopulation, enlightenment, life elsewhere, forewarning about catastrophic events, vain people in gyms, and not having enough time. The influences come less from other musical artists but more so from written fiction and film —a future predicted by fiction.

When Push Comes To Shove, released on 11 November 2019, is the seventh studio album by Soft Riot, the stylised musical alter-ego of Glasgow-based Canadian artist JJD. Resonating with references from all corners of the synthpop’s origins, Soft Riot’s latest release nonetheless manages to retain its own individual voice, melding and reinterpreting its antecedents with a personal twist and an impressive demonstration of synth-craft and programming.

Although there’s no overarching concept to the album, Soft Riot has used this release as platform to experiment with his own concept of “déja vu”, using minute details of musical phrases and lyrics that have been used before in previously released Soft Riot material, and even between songs on this album. Some of these mirrored details are very subtle and would only be picked up by someone who has listened to all of the material up until now. It could also be the underlying black humour of Soft Riot’s work, mischievously playing off the old saying “it’s all been done before”.

Since then Soft Riot has released a counter-part album, Chin Up, written at the same time as When Push Comes To Shove and released in April 2020. This albums features a notably different sound: more “ambient synth pop” for lack of a better description, and more for late night listening rather than live performance.

2018’s The Outsider In The Mirrors was the first release on the Possession Records: a somewhat new label imprint co-founded by JJD. It is a consolidation of all the stylistic elements Soft Riot has pursued in the past, fusing his maximalist sonic palette with a sharp-edged sense of post-punk anxiety, unique synth interplay and brooding, claustrophobic new-wave dread. The music is tense, synthetic and precise, embodying and exploring issues of isolation, urban alienation and social paranoia. Yet despite these dark thematic preoccupations the Soft Riot sound is not without its warmth and humour.

Prior to that came 2015’s You Never Know What Might Come Next (EXBTN), which further developed and fine-tuned Soft Riot’s evolving minimal, atmospheric sound that started gaining momentum on the 2013 full-length, Fiction Prediction.

In 2014 came Some More Terror, a recording consisting of 11 tracks of instrumental, ambient-influenced synth sounds that provided a slight detour from the more song-based, synth-pop trajectory presented on the two aforementioned albums.

At the beginning there was the No Longer Stranger EP on the Canadian label Panospria in early 2011, featuring a more subdued and esoteric sound followed in 2012 by Another Drone In Your Head, a digital EP of three tracks featuring remixes from a number of similarly minded artists.

When playing live JJD mans no less than three synthesizers, a microphone, an on-stage mixer, and a variety of outboard effects. Soft Riot has toured Europe numerous times over the years, from Spain to Russia and many places in between, and a majority of cities in the UK. Stages have been shared with such peers as Keluar, Absolute Body Control, Parade Ground, She Past Away, Drab Majesty, Uncanny Valley, Lebanon Hanover, Noi Kabát, Robert Görl of DAF and more.

Image manipulation by JJD Works.