Archive for the 'music' Category

Fever Ray at Brixton Academy

September 8th, 2010

Fever Ray at Brixton Academy

It’s probably considered blasphemy by many to say this, but I was never really a great fan of The Knife until lead singer Karin left to pursue her own solo project as Fever Ray, but since then it’s fair to say I’ve been hooked.

What luck then, that on the night of Karin’s last gig as Fever Ray before she goes back to a new project with The Knife, that I happened to have a pair of tickets to the Brixton Academy show.

We got there predictably late and this turned out to pay off rather well as the general murmurs about warm up act Zola Jesus weren’t exactly bursting with enthusiasm, apparently she was bouncing around the huge stage wildly on her own whilst everyone else seemingly had no clue of what was going on.

The atmosphere really had some time to build up, for at least 30 minutes the audience was left with some eerie music whilst the academy was pumped full of smoke, I think even the folks in the front row probably would have struggled to see through the smoke and actually get a clear glimpse of the stage!

Then still in utter darkness came the alternating throbbing of ‘If I Had A Heart’, sending a chill over the crowd for two minutes before the lasers that have been a trademark feature of Fever Ray’s shows kicked in and gave us a glimpse of the stage.

The show was better than I could have imagined, whilst all the time being so stripped back and simple – something that should be easy for every artist to get right but actually pulled off well by so few.

The lighting was provided by lasers cutting through the smoke and forming patterns that looked like clouds floating across the sky, and the bass was punctuated by lampshades on the shade fading in and out with the heavy and lighter beats.

I don’t know how they did it but the bass was body trembling and intense, it felt like the music was trying to flow straight through us rather than just tingle our ear drums!

Highlights of the night were ‘Coconut’ (which I may have taken a sneaky video of), ‘Concrete Walls’, ‘Dry and Dusty’ and ‘Triangle Walks’ which all really seem to achieve that trance like state that the bass, awesome vocals by Karin and percussion bring together.

Looking forward to seeing what The Knife will get up to now that Karin has returned.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot at Barbican

March 21st, 2010

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

The Curve at the Barbican has been taken over by flock of zebra finches that like to rock out, they seem to have expensive taste too – £1,500 Gibson Les Pauls for the lead guitar loving finches and £1,000 Gibson SG Standard Bass for the finches that like it heavy.

The installation by French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is supposed to draw on the rhythms of daily life  to produce sound in unexpected ways, with the finches freely able to fly between the electric and bass guitars, microphone stands, and cymbals filled with either seeds or water.

Some of the guitars seemed to be open game for any of the finches to fly to and use as a perch, but others had two finches attempting to build nests on them and any other finches that tried to perch there would be shooed off.

The nesting finches seemed to lay down a rhythm, as they would frequently fly off to root out something to use to build the nest, then fly back and land on the guitar stings in a number of places. Other finches would crash loudly onto the bass guitars but not stick around for long.

The cymbals were an interesting idea, as the finches peck at the seeds they bash the cymbal, depending on where the cymbal is bashed you get a slightly different sound.

Overall with the various guitars sounding (with some reverb and delay), alongside the cymbals sounding and of course the finches own bird song, you get a strong ambient vibe from the installation that essentially is just nature doing it’s thing, not composed and completely unique.

Despite really enjoying being in an environment where sound was being created in such a unique way, I have to admit I came back with mixed feelings. Guitar surfaces are lacquered and as such the finches that were attempting to nest efforts were in vein; anything they built up eventually slipped off onto the floor. The finches were slipping around on the guitars too.  Seems a tad cruel, I’d expect more from the Barbican.

Admission to the installation is free and it’s open until 23 May 2010; due to the open nature of space there is a limit of 25 visitors at a time, so expect a bit of a queue (30 mins roughly) if you’re going during peak times.

Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin at ICA

March 12th, 2010

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin

I’ve been privileged to be working alongside a bit of a musical buff the past few months who has been challenging and broadening my taste in music, even branching me out into Jazz which I have touched on but never really given much time.

It’s through this colleague that I found out about Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, a quintet from Switzerland that describe their music as somewhere between zen-funk and ritual groove music, and what better way to get to know a band than to see them live and in person.

I’m not sophisticated enough to describe Bärtsch’s music in the terms that he rightly deserves and frequently earns from passionate fans, but the structure of his compositions are really appealing even for someone only just broaching the edge of interest of this genre of music.

You have an intertwined mixture of Kasper Rast’s delicate approach to the drums (stroking even a finger over a drum to get a texture of sound from it), Björn Meyer’s versatile array of styles on the electric bass that plainly left me with my jaw hanging, Andi Pupato on a variety of bizarre percussion instruments including the wonderfully obscure hand crafted Skin-Udu, Sha’s beautiful sax and commanding bass clarinet, and of course Nik Bärtsch himself on (and in) and number of pianos squeezing out any number of sounds.

As individuals it’s clear that each of the band members have strong character, though each play a balanced part in each of Bärtsch’s compositions for the most part, as they progress through the composition the intensity builds and each gets to become the focus of play, absolutely shining.

Aside from their sheer talent as individuals I truly respect how much they appear to be enjoying themselves and I’m amazed at how they do not ever veer off from the complex polyrhythm that Bärtsch has laid out for them. Though I have to admit that I did find that I kept trying to find a beat within the organised chaos, and quickly ended up confused as the time signatures changed and shifted and I was left bopping to the wrong beat.

Nik Bärtsch is nothing short of a musical genius; you’ll see this for yourself if you ever see him live just by reading the expressions on his face; as he watches his Ronin play he looks almost franic following every little tone like a hawk. His passion is addictive.

The xx at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

March 3rd, 2010

The xx

Okay who doesn’t know about The xx yet? If you don’t already, you really ought to. Hailing from Wandsworth, London this three piece band (previously four prior to keyboardist / guitarist Baria Qureshi leaving the band late last year) have literally burst onto to the music scene in a very short space of time.

Their debut album ‘xx’ at #1 in Rough Trade’s top albums of 2009, #2 in NME’s top albums of 2009 and they have been widely tipped for success throughout the industry, it’s well deserved too in my opinion.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to the album beginning to end since picking up a copy (and bonus mix CD) at the beginning of the year. Packed full of deep, intense bass from Oliver Sim, highlighted with the distinctive sound of Romy Madley Croft’s Gibson Les Paul and interwoven with drums and keyboards from Jamie Smith, the band produce an eerie otherworldly sound that makes for really good listening.

I wasn’t really sure how this album would translate in a live show, I’d heard rumours that we were due an amazing show, and that it’d just be a little calmer than the usual rib bruising affairs.

The stage had been completely obscured with a sheet so we had no sneak peak of what was to come, when the house lights went down we were presented with the trademark solid X of the band’s logo before the drums started to kick in and Oliver and Romy were silhouetted on the sheet by the roaming stage lights.

The xx

The xx really did not disappoint. The set had a lot heavier presence of drums and ear pounding bass not seen in their recorded material, which gave the crowd something to bounce along to (or go a little bit mental in the case of the guy stood to my right!).

Though mostly sticking to tracks from their debut album, they also threw in a cleverly put together cover of  Womack and Womack – ‘Teardrops’.

They put on a fantastic light show that punctuated every heavy beat, and finished off their set by dumping an insane amount of black and silver confetti onto the audience.

To quote my friend James (who captured this sneaky little video), for a band that spends a lot of time standing still they certainly rocked everyone else out.

Both Oliver and Romy are so humble, barely saying a word through the gig other than apologising for their lack of banter, quietly thanking the audience for their applause and finally saying what a shock it’s been for them.

Six months ago they were at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire opening for Florence and the Machine, and now here they are headlining the famous venue two nights in a row. Long may their success continue, I for one am really keen to see what direction they’ll take when they get around to recording some new material.

Also worth a mention were These New Puritans who opened for The xx. I can’t say that I’d really heard of them before yesterday despite them being tipped as one of the upcoming bands of 2010.

I was quite surprised to see a warm up act rock up with their own brass section, and though most of what These New Puritans brought to the stage was good, it was all let down by the fact that we simply couldn’t hear a word that the lead singer was putting out no matter how passionately he seemed to be going at it on stage.

Hot Hot Heat at The Scala

March 2nd, 2010

Hot Hot Heat @ The Scala

Does anyone remember Hot Hot Heat, the four piece band that had everyone chanting “BANDAGES, BANDAGES, BANDAAAAAGES”?

No? Oh well that was way back in 2003 after all I suppose. That and “Bandages” was banned from play on BBC Radio 1 after someone clever at the Beeb decided the playing a song with the word bandages at a time of war was a bad thing.

Some people must have remembered these good folks though as The Scala was packed full of a young(ish) indie crowd and boy were they bouncing all over the place. Secretly I was glad to be up in the balcony though, as much as I usually like being in the thick of it, I feel like someone has been stealing my energy. Give it back please.

Tonight was the last night of Hot Hot Heat’s tour, unsure if it was meant to be promoting their new album “Future Breeds” or not as most of the material played were known hits, not that anyone complained!

Wasn’t really sure what to expect but was really quite impressed with the huge amount of energy that was put into the performance and the dynamics between the group, they gel amazingly well and they have just the right amount of twiddly extra bits and solos in their set to make it interesting. I think the lead singer Steve Bays can only be described as being a bit mental ;)

Hot Hot Heat have a new bass player amongst them, Parker Bossley, sporting a gorgeous Fender Jaguar Bass he pretty much played lead on bass throughout the majority of the set. Full of energy and funky playing, made it well worth going.

Official Secrets Act @ The Scala

Opening for Hot Hot Heat were Official Secrets Act. I’ve managed to forget their name countless times this evening because there are an awful lot of bands with similar names.

Afraid to say that it wasn’t really for me, despite the fact that a lot was being put into the performance I just didn’t feel like there was enough cohesion and ooomph. Technical terms there obviously. I’d love to have seen more involvement from the bass player, and more lead guitar from the lead vocalist/guitarist Thomas Burke, that and make sure the sound engineer cranks that poor Fender Jaguar up next time.

To be fair to the guys they’ve only been on the scene for a few years though, so a bit of refinement and who knows where they’ll be next.