After Stars

Stars from the gods.

Stars from the gods.

Maybe 40 years ago I would have left the Scala ecstatic but last night the melancholy behind the surface got to me. I thought I was immune to this performance – especially leaning against the balcony rail up there in the gods, higher than the lighting rig, looking down at the real audience with all those back-lit smart phones blinking up at me. Up there was alienation territory…like I was asking permission of myself never to come along to this kind of gig again. I was thinking about live performances, about how the music I hear at Cafe Oto works best live with the recorded ‘version’ acting as a stand-in for the actual event. And I was thinking that music that I listen to first as produced, song-based work almost always disappoints live. The band look slightly too old to be singing these youthful anthems of elation and doubt. They run through a set of moves and poses that come from the book of rock cliché – the pigeon toed, legs apart guitar stance, punk hops, raised fists.

But about half an hour into their set the singer Torquil Campbell theatrically halts the intro to ‘Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It’ to tell a story about the ritual he performs every time he comes to London…something about taking the Northern Line to a particular café then standing outside his father’s former house…and instead of feeling distant listening to this sentimental tale I began to dissolve into the present and as the music started I thought about my father and about my life in London and I could feel tears welling up. From there on in I was prey to every naïve or sophisticated nuance of the songs. I was even moved by the audience taking over the chorus of the song ‘Your Ex-Lover is Dead’ (‘Live through this and you won’t look back…’) and I fell for the repeated line ‘put your hands up ‘cause everybody dies…until then, nothing ends’ in the disco thump of ‘No One is Lost’. I have had the feeling of being the oldest person in the Scale before and it could be that I am too old to be at a gig like this…but only because I am at the other end of the experience from the rest of the audience. But as I am entirely invisible there is no reason they should notice…

Here is a link to the ‘official video’ of ‘Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It’…hard to relate this to my reaction above, except that this film has a certain sentimentality and/or melancholy too.

Before Stars at the Scala

The banalities of a rock show (is it a rock show? Pop really….a saving grace) . Obligatory dry ice….I’ve been in this venue when they pumped the stuff out at 1 o’clock in the afternoon…going to the Scala is to enter a liminal space outside of time. Those swooping coloured lights are another banality but I guess it’s all part of the show…..

I can’t quite forget the Scala in its desperate cinema days in the 80s when it still bore the marks of its previous incarnation as the Primatarium…it was always cold and down at heel and it still is. Right now though, I am appreciating it’s other good points….the strange, largely forgotten, balcony that I guess was the gods. Here is another pleasure:

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So it is still some kind of reminder of the faded glamour that was Kings Cross as opposed to the current hyper-gentrifying version.

I’ve seen Stars before (at/in Heaven 3 years ago) and it was a pretty lousy experience. I put my disappointment down to the space and the sound. I know that Stars are one of my weaknesses (unadulterated/unashamed pop with undertones of melancholy seeping up through the optimism). You never know….tonight may be different.

Denovali Swingfest 2013. Scala, London.

The Scala

The Scala

Hard to keep to my idea of not writing ‘reviews’…and wondering why anyone would want to read anything else (or even that)… still…what an odd experience the Denovali Swingfest was. It meant being incarcerated in a dark dancehall in Kings Cross for the weekend,. And this was a weekend that turned out to be the closest that London had got to spring in the course of 2013. But maybe the other celebrants were not worried about this. What we were attending was after all a kind of Masonic meeting for the obsessed. I’ve been there before of course…recently Touch organized a similar (if more diverse) affair in the homelier Beaconsfield Arts Centre and ECM orchestrated a shrine in the form of a museum exhibition and a whole series of gigs in Munich. I didn’t realize I was in thrall to labels this way. And I’m not sure if I was really aware of Denovali until I happened upon this event. This was, in its way, more intense than either of these other events though…us listeners, the audience, needed more stamina and had to exhibit more commitment to the doctrine.

The Pirate Ship Quartet

The Pirate Ship Quartet

Fennesz

Fennesz

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday was something of an onslaught of guitars and decibels. The audience was quite prepared to stand for the duration – about 10 hours from the Pirate Ship Quartet through to Andy Stott (though this is guess work on my part as I bowed out at around midnight before Mr Stott made an appearance). It all began with dry-ice and maybe there should be legislation to prevent the use of dry-ice before 8 pm…and while we are at it someone should introduce a ban on certain guitar poses. I am thinking particularly of the one foot on the monitor position. Along the way there was fantastic noise/sound/music call it what you will. Body shaking bass form the Bersarin Quartett and a teeming wall of sound from Fennesz.

Bersarin Quartett

Bersarin Quartett

James Blackshaw

James Blackshaw

Greg Haines and Thomas Köner accidentally superimposed.

Greg Haines and Thomas Köner accidentally superimposed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As if everyone had already read the script, Sunday’s audience immediately sat down and proceedings were more acoustic, quieter, and, from time to time piano based. If Saturday was relentless then the sound of Sunday was more reflective. The dub card was played with thrilling conviction by Greg Haines, complex polyrythms were provided by Poppy Ackroyd, resonating 12 string was served up by James Blackshaw and icy landscapes were evoked by Thomas Köner. I was left wondering why almost no one addressed us the audience (apart form Poppy Ackroyd…the sole women on stage for the weekend…coincidence? I think not).

Audience

Audience

Poppy Ackroyd

Poppy Ackroyd

 

 

 

 

 

I find it hard to separate the sound-space and the experience of that space from the making of the music. The Scala’s particular penumbral resonances made for a sometimes uncomfortable musical environment. By way of contrast my companion and I sought solace (more than once) in the unlikely surroundings of an ersatz pub newly arrived in Kings Cross Station… a ‘parcel yard’ miraculously re-instated on the first floor above the station platforms. This is a comfortable staging post for some on the way back to Hertfordshire and for us was a respite from the nether world of those dark dance hall days. Considerably better beer than the Scala…but when you sign up for a cult it is not usually for the quality of the refreshments.

William Basinski

William Basinski

Horizontal audience during Basinski's 'Disintegration Loops'.

Horizontal audience during Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a link to a download of a live set from Bersarin Quartett.

And, on the off chance that one day TouchRadio will post the Fennesz set this is a link to that.

You can download a ‘Festival Sampler ‘ from Denovali here.

The running order for both days was:

Saturday

The Pirate Ship Quintet (UK)

Petrels (UK)

Omega Massif (GER)

Fennesz (A)

Maybeshewill (UK)

Bersarin Quartett (GER)

Andy Stott Live (UK)

Sunday

Talvihorros (UK)

Carlos Cipa (GER)

James Blackshaw (UK)

Greg Haines (UK)

Thomas Köner (GER)

Poppy Ackroyd (UK)

William Basinski (USA)