Buke and Gase, Naomi Alderman and Polygrains – The Lexington – March 5th 2019

I missed my Monday gig. A friend was meeting the Home Office to talk post-Brexit business and we caught up for a few drinks in Soho. I’m resisting the urge to review the drag Karaoke we ended up at.

AirBNB could have been a disaster this week. I got the dreaded ‘host has cancelled’ message just hours before I should have checked in. Fortunately, another place was available. It’s cheap and functional with a bed that has a mattress in which you can feel the coiled iron springs poke at you after every twist and turn. This creaky bed of nails offers little chance of rest.

So, I choose to stay here for the minimum of hours and source a Tuesday night gig. American duo, Buke and Gase come recommended by a great PR company and endorsed by The National. After a lengthy hiatus, they’ve just returned with new album ‘Scholars’. I have a quick gander whilst multi-tasking at work. There’s enough within to hold my interest. 

“What sort of music is that?’, shouts a punter about a third of the way into their set at the rather ace Lexington venue. 

Ha, I was thinking that whilst playing”, says Arone, one half of this male/female duo. “It’s an awfully interesting hoedown”, she kind of concludes. 

The punter isn’t alone in feeling the genre confusion; proud not to be pigeonholed, Buke and Gase play around with conventional sound, time signatures and musical practice to come up with something entirely off the spectrum. It’s prog, it’s math-rock, it’s abstact folk and obscure Electronica. It’s Tom Waits if put through a Daffy Duck filter. All told, a very complex, modern racket. 

It perhaps helps the overall artistic pursuit that little of this sound is created on traditional instruments. Indeed, Buke and Gase are the names of instruments designed by Aron and Arone. They might (or might not) have been retired now and given way to an Arx, a ‪device that allows them to trigger percussive sounds, change effects on their instruments, and control vocal harmonies all with the punch of an arcade button. Whatever, the whole effect is otherworldly and yet organic.‬

Before taking to the stage, Arone introduces us to Naomi Alderman, author of many works but here tonight to read extracts from her novel, The Power. It’s an enticing ten minute interlude. As Naomi recites a tale of graphic sexual abuse culminating in heroic justice, Arone layers a vocal swirl over the top. As tension builds in the storytelling so does Arone’s vocal flourish. Many decide to buy the book based upon this introduction. ‬

Polygrains is the support for tonight. ‬Vasilis Moschas is Polygrains. He stands, moustached and unassuming behind his array of beat-making tools. When he sings, his vocal is mostly gentle. He might be singing about very important things but it gets lost amidst the beeps. “I hope you enjoy this as much as I do“, says Vasilis. I’m not sure we do. But, this is electronica not without merit. It would go down well on Sonar’s Red Bull stage where oddness such as this is encouraged.

 

“There’s too much shit going on“, jokes Aron from Buke and Gase early in their set. And that’s a pretty fair insight into how this gig leaves your average punter feeling. I like the art that’s on offer here but might need to spend more time familiarising to truly appreciate. It’s a soundtrack to your most chaotic of dreams.

I sleep well on the well-worn mattress, the coiled springs waking me before the inevitable nightmares. 

 

Highasakite – Heaven – February 28th 2019

Norwegians are cool. I formed this sweeping generalisation of an opinion over the last year. Back at Eurovision in Lisbon (here), I met three in particular who just seemed to accept, with little notion of the sniffiness that often attaches itself to your typical British Eurovision outlook, that some of the cheesy electro-pop tunes and glorious ballads on offer are sometimes special. 

 

It might seem like a logical leap to some but the coolness of Norwegians is a thought that I ponder whilst watching Highasakite at Heaven on Thursday night. For this is a show, and I imply no criticism by this, that oozes Eurovision. 

It helps that every song sung by Ingrid and Trond and the rest of their troupe is a douze pointer; whether it’s upbeat banger or stylised ballad, the tunes are allowed to stand out here amongst the highest of production values. 

There’s theatre – I miss the skull and beating heart entrance because I’m in a queue for beer but can’t help approving as contours fizz in a graphic display behind the band. When the light show really gets going and the costume changes hit full flow (the red leather is discarded with) you see the sense in scheduling this slinky swagger of a show at Heaven, this most iconic of clubs nestling in the arches beneath Charing Cross station. 

The first show on Highasakite’s Uranium Heart tour is a triumph; roots tangle, veins do what veins do and the arteries block to point of explosion as the beating heart clogs with uranium. 

They sound so much better live than on record’, is the general tone of conversation as we file on out. 

And you have to concede that there’s something in that line of thought. 

In terms of music, I choose the Norway option..