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  • Jack Starr

System Exclusive Review – Neo-‘80s Synth Rock Comes to Sheffield

Chatting with Ari and Matt Jones of System Exclusive while they were setting up, it was clear that their act was a little dream-come-true for them.

They were armed with a beautiful turquoise guitar, a drum kit, and four Roland synthesisers – recreations of classic machines, compacted for size and cost, programmed to give classic 1980s synth backing tracks. It’s a simple setup, deliberately so, to allow them to live a dream of touring the USA, the UK, Europe, and the world, as a kick-ass, retro-inspired new wave duo.

Hailing from Pasadena, Los Angeles, the pair married last June, honeymooning in Italy and Croatia before embarking on a UK and Europe tour, playing small clubs in towns everywhere on the map. They were particularly enthused to be playing in Sheffield, the home of many electronic groups in the 1980s – ‘Human League!’ they both exclaimed excitedly at the mention of Sheffield acts.

Ari provides the vocals and lead guitar. With her bob-cut and alt-fashion sense, along with her commanding stage presence. She is an old-school new wave icon in-the-flesh, reminiscent of Deborah Harry, Joan Jett or even Siouxsie Sioux. The turquoise guitar she wields is equally iconic, though she did have to swap it out towards the end of the set after breaking a string, apparently for the first time in years – with the amount of touring they do, you can hardly fault them. Husband Matt mans the drums and synths, bringing the whole thing together.

Their music hits on post-punk, funk and all the best moody, dreamy rock and pop of the 1980s. The highlight of the set was the title track of their latest EP, Party all the Time. ‘This one’s a cover, of a song by Eddie Murphy’, Ari announced to some bewildered looks in the audience. ‘If you know who Eddie Murphy is’, she laughed. The track, penned by funk legend Rick James, was a 1984 hit for the actor and comedian, reportedly produced as a bet over whether the Beverly Hills Cop star had any singing talent. It is well-known as one of the funkiest, catchiest, up-tempo ‘80s hits, and a source of much amusement with the listener’s realisation that it was sung by Eddie Murphy of all people. System Exclusive take the fun, funky elements of it, and add more of a guitar-oriented punkish edge to it, and it works really well.

System Exclusive give their best wishes to the people of Sheffield, and said that they can’t wait to play here again. Frankly, neither can we – it is a rarity to find a band that captures all the best bits of the ‘80s so well.

Their supporting acts were Hill Cliffe, a young indie group from Warrington, and Cleaver Blue, a local alternative rock and shoegaze group, both of whom had some interesting tunes and kicked off the night well.

You can find System Exclusive on Instagram and Bandcamp. They are currently touring across Europe, and their Party all the Time EP is out now.


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