Wovoka Gentle, Gareth Jones & Laucan – Corsica Studios – June 5th 2019

Wovoka Gentle release their debut album today.

 

‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ is a glorious record. Complex, kaleidoscopic and smart, it draws upon all sorts of influence whilst remaining charmingly accessible. It’s a bold thirteen track statement that says hello to the wider world by making a lot of noise without straying far from the core ambition of ensuring that the overall effect is one of joy. It’s clearly no accident that the final words on the record are a fading refrain of ‘Happy Music’. 

The press release gets things right when it observes that Start Clanging Cymbals is an ‘experimental, psychtronica, folk-rock wonderland’. More than a little obsessed, Sonic Breakfast heads off to the album release party to see Wovoka Gentle for the fourth time in 2019.

Corsica Studios, built in industrial arches a stones throw from Elephant & Castle, is a new venue to add to my list. Dark, compact and club-like, this is an ideal location for tonights sold out gig. Visuals are projected around the box-shaped room; the impact is immersive, inclusive and euphoric. Short DJ sets ensure that the music flows in between the support acts. 

Laucan perches on a stool off-stage and in the crowd with a guitar and gadgetry. He loops his falsetto vocal and guitar licks to draw Thom Yorke-like comparisons. “Where did you all come from?”, he says when the crowd respond by surrounding him. Some sit on the floor at the front of the circle and that feels entirely appropriate for the gentle very-English folktronica that follows. “This one’s about the Old Kent Road”, says Laucan before confessing that he’s wearing his Mum’s jumper and the sleeves are getting in the way. As a whole, this is music that’s yearning for something lost in history and it’s a fine tastter for what’s to come. 

 

I must mention the crowd; Wovoka Gentle’s audience are a good-looking bunch, so much so that I stick out like a sore thumb. Beautiful and classy with the whitest of toothy smiles, a bit plummy, you suspect that these are friends made during stints at conservatoires and finishing schools. It’s not an unpleasant discomfort that I feel. Many keep chatting unaware that the second support has started. 

Gareth Jones stands in a similar place to Laucan but twiddles knobs on a complex array of sound-making machine. When he starts, it’s not immediately clear that he has; the sound is drone-like, glitchy and confidently considered. Gareth stands by his equipment wearing a bandana; he’s a surgeon completing the most complicated operation known to man. The slightest error might cause death and his concentration levels are appropriate. As his set progresses more of the It crowd become IT conscious; they turn away from their chats increasingly aware that this understated noise is actually a performance. The beats build and the melody grabs. “Oh my, this is such a dirty sound”, says somebody nearby, now enthralled by what they’re witnessing. At the set close, there are loud cheers. Gareth joyfully raises his arms aloft; a triumph over initial adversity.

 

Everyone knows when Wovoka Gentle take to the stage. This is their night. I wonder if the set-list will be different from the half hours I’ve previously heard this year; there’s much on ‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ that doesn’t see light of day live. I don’t wonder for long; Wovoka Gentle have plumped for the tried and tested set list; the well-rehearsed one that they’re clearly comfortable with. All three are clearly delighted to be playing a sold-out night here; a vindication that their approach to music-making might well put them on the map.

Two large papier-machė eyes look down on us from either side of the space; a nose made from similar material sits on the floor creating a face to play within. When strobe-like lights shoot out of the eyes, the effect is electric, virtually psychedelic. This is club music for a Nick Drake fan. The acapella sections attain aural perfection with Imogen, Ellie and Will’s voices delightfully balanced together. 

For me, it’s a set that allows three of Wovoka Gentle’s recent releases to come to the fore. ‘1000 Opera Singers Working In Starbucks’ simply sounds respledent and ‘Peculiar Form Of Sleep’ emerges as an audience singalong. ‘Sin Is Crouching At Your Door’ has surely never sounded better and I’m reminded of the quote I’d seen earlier in the album press release.

Yeah, so we tried to restrain it and incorporate natural sounds,” says Imogen. It’s not heavy metal – it’s heavy wood!

Wonderful, happy music with the ability to get under your skin; rewarding noise that is far from simple yet so joyful you can’t help but beam. ‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ has arrived with fanfare and I humbly suggest you join this ride pronto. 

 

L’Imperatrice – Heaven – May 2nd 2019

This is how it must feel to be waking up from a coma after five years out of action – or stepping into a parallel universe. 

I consider myself pretty well informed about this world of popular music. So, how can I possibly have been unaware for so long of the French disco phenomenon that is L’Imperatrice? The 1,600 within this sold-out Thursday night at the iconic Heaven know. They mock my ignorance from afar. Or, maybe they’re just mocking my suit. I’ve had to rush straight from a work function. 

L’Imperatrice descend from space to join us under the arches of Charing Cross Station. With their backs initially to the crowd, their opener draws on space travel imagery. Dressed in white with star-trek stripes, you’re immediately aware that this is going to be a spectacle. Lights draw you in. You recall your favourite time ever had in a festival field and observe the similarity to this. Daft Punk might not play live right now but here we have a ready-made alternative. Seriously, it’s that good. 

Maybe tonight is the night to figure out if you’re in heaven”, asks Flore, L’Imperattice’s impeccable singer. Many don’t need to be asked for we already know. It’s impossible not to beam from ear to ear with the joy being created here.

The incredible graphics are playing a part. Disco balls of light and strobe, the earth spins whilst hands are clapped in tune with the beat. And when L’Imperatrice play ‘Vanille Fraise’ we have a summer scene of tennis umpires, clay courts and dodgy moustaches. Sweat-laden headbands spin like golden rings as tennis racquets swipe in time with the beat. God, this is glorious- a show that doffs its cap to retro 70’s sound and imagery whilst still managing to be entirely modern. 

 

The music is timeless; tunes that have forever been part of your life even though the truth is that this is the first time that you’ve heard them tonight. The groove heads down tried and tested paths; funk, jazz, pop, disco and happy house – a nostalgic soundtrack to your happiest summer ever.

And the images keep on giving. Here we have a grainy collection from when Zidane lifted the World Cup for France. The vocal appears to repeat the mantra that this is your last chance to love. The ascension is glorious as we all proceed to the inevitable lifting of the trophy. Jacques Cousteau gets in on the action; we’re now diving in an underwater world, searching for lost treasures whilst sharks swim in synchronised fashion all around us. It all beats the day job for sure.

I return to earlier thoughts. L’Imperatrice are ready-made headliners of your boutique festival. This would be euphoric in a field as the stars glisten above. Beat-Herder should book them. They’d be a magical fit.  L’Imperatrice – previously unknown in these quarters will not now be overlooked.

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. 

 

Loved Ones – End Of An Error

I’ve spent a delightful Bank Holiday Monday morning scanning back through Sonic Breakfast related E-mails that I might not have paid due attention to when I first received them. Again, I’ve been blown away by just how much fine music runs under the radar. This tune, End Of An Error by Loved Ones, is one such example.

 (Click on page 2 for my further thoughts about it)

Lisbon Kid – Sunburst

It’s not that this winter has been particularly cold. We’ve had no snow and could have had many more mornings of de-icing car windscreens than we actually have. 

But, it’s my sense that it’s really dragged. More than in any previous year, I’ve found myself looking forward to the warmer and longer days of Spring and Summer with an ever-increasing sense of glee. The anticipation is doing me in. 

It’s why this new video and track, Sunburst from Lisbon Kid, is so gratefully received. Comprised of the Soho-based, Portuguese musicians, producers and TV ad composers Danny de Matos and Rui da Silva, this duo are gearing up to release their eponymously titled debut album.

  

Sunburst oozes with continental warmth. It’s easy to allow the visuals to wash over you as this instrumental mix of gentle electronica takes your mind on a relaxing holiday. 

Perhaps we’ve just partied the night away and we need a chilled tune to put on as we watch the sun rise beyond the distant mountain range? Perhaps we’re lying on a sun-lounger, eyes shut and drifting in and out of sleep as Sunburst glistens? We might be laughing and joking with old and new friends as the soundtrack for our summer plays. We might be walking home from the party as night gives way to blue-sky day.

Just as long as we’re anywhere from here, it’s all ok by me. 

Bye bye Winter.