Category Archives: 2017

Nathassia

The Bullingdon, Oxford
14th July 2017

The Bully is bedecked with mystical-symbol-and-fluorescent-fractal wall hangings in a quantity last seen at the closing-down sale of an incense shop in 1999; the promise is to take us ‘from our ancient past to the future’; ‘from Paganism to Transhumanism, Egypt to Nanotech and Third Eye to AI’.

Dutch-born Nathassia – tonight promoting her debut album, Light of the World – is a self-made package, unsurprisingly given the ambition of her premise. It all sounds how you’d expect it to sound, given the periods referenced: glitchy, drum&bass electronica and atmospherics that meander over and under Middle-Eastern strings and wibbly quarter-tones. The trick is not just to pick the best bits of both traditions, but the bits that work the best together, and unfortunately, based on tonight, Nathassia hasn’t quite got it yet. Experimenting is one thing, but a traditional song structure needs a memorable hook.

Nathassia herself has a beautiful voice, but her vocal quirks – over-rolling her ‘r’s, ending lines with what sounds like bird calls – are unnecessary affectations. The journey taken in the eight songs is too short to make a convincing concept album (a genre notably very forgiving of bizarre narratives). The leap from ‘Egypt’s Queen’, about the ancient bust of Queen Nefertiti that the Germans won’t give back to Egypt, to the future when AI will merge with consciousness and we’ll all communicate with each other in our heads (‘Telepathically’) is too quick. ‘Turning Headz’, about a future when we’ll all see each others’ points of view, is the best-formed song tonight, a Pendulum-esque romp that’s desperate for a Pendulum-esque tune.

This is all accompanied by two costume changes, taking us from peacock feathers to LED-covered wings: an interesting development but too grand for the context.

You have to admire Nathassia’s aspirations, and apparent budgetary restraints. She just needs to make everything – the songs, the look, the narrative – cohere better.

Photo: © Kirsten Etheridge

 

From Nightshift, August 2017

Soulwax

Electric Brixton, London
8th April 2017

I’m at a gig, but everybody else here seems to be at a club night. For them, Soulwax are a dance act, whose ground zero was 2005’s Nite Versions, a remix/reworking of their 2004 album, Any Minute Now; for me, a fan of 1996’s Leave the Story Untold and 1998’s Much Against Everyone’s Advice, Nite Versions is the point at which the remixing took over. The Belgian Dewaele brothers, David and Stephen – plus original member Stefaan Van Leuven, three drummers (one ex-Sepultura) and an idiosyncratically stylish geometric and monochrome stage set – do seem to acknowledge their ongoing metamorphosis, as tonight’s rendition of ‘KracK’ falls somewhat between the Any Minute Now original and the Nite version; it’s lower in pitch than the latter, and heavier, but nowhere near as crunchy as the original.

Even before Nite Versions, Soulwax were eminent remixers and, in the Dewaeles’ 2manydjs guise (in which they relentlessly tour), mashup remix/DJs extraordinaire; the latter’s live shows – production sets in which they spliced together a huge variety of rock, electro, dance, hip hop and other pop classics – introduced the accompanying animated ‘musical films based on the record sleeves’ visuals that formed the twenty-four one-hour mixes in the Radio Soulwax internet radio show and free app. Apparently that nearly bankrupted them, but it the result was commendably and enjoyably innovative and inventive.

Meanwhile, the As Heard on Radio Soulwax compilations – collections of shows done for various radio stations across Europe – were highly sought after, especially the ones they they couldn’t get the clearances for and thus couldn’t officially release.

As the 2manydjs shows were properly an experience, so are these ‘Transient Program for Drums and Machinery’ shows: the concept is so polished that they recorded the new album, From Deewee, in one take.

If the fact that all the modular synths, samplers, occasional guitars, drums and vocals are live isn’t enough, the tightness of the drummers is a revelation, especially on ‘Is it Always Binary’ and ‘Missing Wires’. It’s all delightfully analogue; the sheer joy of the crowd at the energy and the imperceptible yet soulful rhythmic variations created by the three drummers alone is visceral.

Stephen Dewaele’s vocals – not very strong on record to start with – get even more lost within the mix tonight, but vocals (and lyrics even more so) seem incidental to Soulwax’s remixes and live shows; they’re not an essential part of the song form, and not treated as such. This is a shame, as they are often poignant (as in ‘The machine has taken all your cash / All the fun is happening somewhere else’ in ‘Masterplanned’), but where they do have power, it’s as an iconic motif – ‘There’s so much bullshit coming out of your mouth’ from closing number ‘Goodnight Transmission’, for example, or the repeated spoken lines ‘Part of the weekend never dies’ and ‘It’s not you, it’s the E talking’ from the Nite version of ‘E-Talking’.

From Deewee isn’t strictly the Dewaeles’ first new material since Any Minute Now; they wrote and produced all sixteen tracks on the soundtrack to last year’s Belgian film Belgica under fictional band names. ‘Inward’ by Noah’s Dark, the only track from that album played tonight, is – in the brothers’ own words – ‘apocalyptic yet danceable’, and – intentionally, yet ironically – sounds like a cover version.

Tonight leaves me conflicted; I’m despondent that Soulwax aren’t the pop/rock/indie band they were in 1998, but euphoric that they’re the successful, unique electronic experience they are now. Their late 90s slightly off-kilter charm is still there somewhere in the new stuff; amid the loops and beats and arpeggios and gurgles, the downbeat and understated ‘Trespassers’ has some of the trademark chord changes – and feeling – I fell in love with back then.

My heart mourns the guitar riff from ‘Much Against Everyone’s Advice’, the earnest beauty of ballad ‘When Logics Die’ and the rest of the lyrics of ‘E-Talking’ (surely ‘Rockstar paid me well to lie’ is a lyric too good to drop?), but my head wouldn’t want Soulwax to change any part of the exquisite whole of tonight’s show.

Photos: © Steve Dawson (top), © Jill Faure (bottom)

Goldfrapp

O2 Academy, Oxford
20th March 2017

Goldfrapp are not a band of extremes. The velvety comfort of their pulsing, trippy electro dance beats, overlaid by Alison Goldfrapp’s sensuous and silky voice, is tightly controlled; they never give too much away. This restraint is also apparent live. Alison first appears backlit, and we don’t really get a good view of her for a few tracks; in fact, I can’t see the full four-piece backing band until about half way through.

Tonight is basically a showcase for Goldfrapp’s most recent album, Silver Eye – their seventh. Ocean is a gorgeous reverby Depeche Mode-esque stomp, and Moon in Your Mouth is a sumptuous juxtaposition of ethereal chords and a muffled, primitive-sounding drum machine, but the highlight is Become the One, a charmingly repetitive and hypnotic chugging number about becoming the one you know you are – or something; it doesn’t really matter, because Alison’s voice, as essential as the synths and beats are to Goldfrapp’s sound, has taken me away to somewhere warm and fuzzy.

The subject of the songs is very often at odds with its upbeat tone – for example, they start with Utopia, about genetic engineering, and finish with Strict Machine, about lab rats – but they are communicated by lyrics sung so mellifluously and breathily that you can be forgiven for being swept away by the beauty of the song rather than the despair it forewarns. I know I should pay more attention – I had been humming Strict Machine to myself for a good fifteen years before I found out what it was about – but it’s hard not to miss the point entirely.

The new material played tonight proves that there’s enough variation in Goldfrapp’s formula for their output to be easily ascribable but not bore their fans – and that’s all you can ask for, really.

 

From Nightshift, May 2017

Sal Para – Her single

Released 6th January 2017

Sal Para started as a solo project by Ted Mair, but has now apparently expanded to a four-piece live band – which is a little surprising, given the claustrophobic nature of Her, the lead song of their debut single, which has been released by new local independent label Tremor Recordings. This almost six-minute-long track presents itself quite neatly in three parts. In the first, a sparse, stuttery beat is overlaid by soft synth chords before the quiet, hesitant vocals float in and out. The second part fades in around a third of the way through as the tempo is doubled by a fuller set of drums; these depart two thirds in, leaving a single beat with a rather beautiful Jean Michel Jarre-esque arpeggiated sparkly synth melody for a while, before the pulsating chords return.

The vocals seem incongruously and disingenuously off-kilter and detached to begin with, but insinuate themselves subtly via Arcade Fire-like octave double-tracking and repetition; the apparently strophic single-line lyrics are given a slightly different character each time by what’s going on underneath, and the more you hear the refrain “I only think of you”, the more earnest – yet still mysterious – it comes across.

Oddly, when heard as a complement to the main event rather than an alternative, the Rancid Jazz remix of Her seems to work better; at least to begin with, it presents the vocals – and sentiment – at the distance from the listener they feel they are intended to be, more hidden and lost than in the original.

 

From Nightshift, March 2017

Reviews

 

Nathassia – The Bullingdon, Oxford – 14th July 2017

Soulwax – Electric Brixton, London – 8th April 2017

Goldfrapp – O2 Academy, Oxford – 20th March 2017

Sal Para – Her single – February 2017

Vienna Ditto – Ticks EP – May 2016

Wild Swim – Untitled EP – January 2016

Esther Joy Lane – Esther Joy Lane – October 2015

Charli XCX – O2 Academy, Oxford – 30th March 2015

Rae Morris – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 8th February 2015

Hozier – O2 Academy, Oxford – 21st January 2015

La Roux – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th November 2014

Tiger Mendoza and David Griffiths – Along Dangerous Roads EP – November 2014

Amy Simpson – Fairy Tales, Stories & Myths EP – July 2014

Banks – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th March 2014

Katy B – O2 Academy, Oxford – 27th March 2014

Foxes – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th February 2014

Vienna Ditto – Ugly EP – November 2013

Blue – O2 Academy, Oxford – 25th October 2013

Major Lazer – O2 Academy, Oxford – 2nd May 2013

Secret Rivals – Just Fall album – May 2013

Jessie Ware – O2 Academy, Oxford – 11th March 2013

Space – O2 Academy, Oxford – 9th March 2013

Kodaline – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 13th February 2013

Bright Light Bright Light – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 27th October 2012

Marina and the Diamonds – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th October 2012

Errors – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 8th May 2012

Lianne La Havas – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 9th March 2012

Rizzle Kicks – O2 Academy, Oxford – 8th March 2012

Babybird – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 29th January 2012

Professor Green – O2 Academy, Oxford – 1st November 2011

East 17 – O2 Academy, Oxford – 2nd September 2011

N-Dubz – O2 Academy, Oxford – 20th July 2011

Sparkadia, A.Human and La Shark – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 24th February 2011

Emiliana Torrini – O2 Academy, Oxford – 9th September 2009

2manydjs – O2 Academy, Oxford – 5th June 2009

Rosalita and Off The Radar – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 4th March 2009

The Subways – Carling Academy, Oxford – 2nd October 2008

Wakestock – Blenheim Palace – 29th June 2008

Alphabeat and Palladium – Carling Academy, Oxford – 28th January 2008

Erasure – New Theatre, Oxford – 3rd September 2007

The Sounds – The Zodiac, Oxford – 24th March 2007

The Noisettes and The Victorian English Gentlemens Club – The Zodiac, Oxford – 22nd January 2007

White Rose Movement – The Zodiac, Oxford – 27th November 2006

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – The Zodiac, Oxford – 15th October 2006

Nizlopi – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th September 2006

The Lightning Seeds – The Zodiac, Oxford – 5th June 2006

Kula Shaker – The Zodiac, Oxford – 18th May 2006

The Go! Team and Smoosh – Oxford Brookes University – 5th March 2006

Idiot Pilot and The Seal Cub Clubbing Club – The Zodiac, Oxford – 6th February 2006

Eskimo Disco, Trademark and Script – The Exeter Hall, Oxford – 2nd December 2005

Knifehandchop, Nervous Testpilot and The Nailbomb Cults – The Wheatsheaf, Oxford – 13th November 2005

King Biscuit Time – The Zodiac, Oxford – 25th September 2005

The Mission – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th September 2005

Josh Rouse – The Zodiac, Oxford – 17th July 2005

Big Speakers, Flooded Hallways and Capsky – The Cellar, Oxford – 3rd June 2005

Melanie C – The Zodiac, Oxford – 2nd May 2005

I Am Kloot – The Zodiac, Oxford – 16th April 2005

Thirteen Senses – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th March 2005

The Others – The Zodiac, Oxford – 25th October 2004

The Ordinary Boys and Dive Dive – The Zodiac – 15th October 2004

Polysics – The Zodiac, Oxford – 16th September 2004

The Last Trailerpark – The September Gurls, The Schla La Las, Goldrush and The Black Madonnas – The Cellar, Oxford – 20th July 2004

The (International) Noise Conspiracy – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th June 2004

Simple Kid – The Zodiac, Oxford – 18th April 2004

Ulrich Schnauss – The Bullingdon Arms, Oxford – 28th February 2004

Dogs Die In Hot Cars – The Zodiac, Oxford – 11th February 2004

Cayto – The Cellar, Oxford – 16th December 2003

The Futureheads – The Zodiac, Oxford – 13th October 2003

Longview – The Zodiac, Oxford – 2nd July 2003

Fiel Garvie, Roquphane and The Epstein-Barr Virus Band – The Cellar, Oxford – 17th June 2003

Panel Of Judges, Byrne, The Broken Family Band, The Maplettes and Spartacus – The Cellar, Oxford – 27th February 2003

Scratch Perverts – Po Na Na, Oxford – 6th February 2003

Zoe Bicat, Spygirl and Joe Hughes – The Cellar, Oxford – 4th November 2002

British Sea Power – The Zodiac, Oxford – 15th October 2002

Trademark – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 29th August 2002

Cumulonimbus, Nervous Testpilot and Blunt Instruments – The Cellar, Oxford – 12th August 2002

a-ha – Royal Albert Hall, London – 25th June 2002

Fischerspooner – The Bridge, London – 30th May 2002

Mansun – The Zodiac, Oxford – 19th May 2002

The Soundtrack of our Lives and Sahara Hotnights – The Zodiac, Oxford – 11th May 2002

AM60 – The Cellar, Oxford – 31st January 2002