Austel and Rookes – The Victoria – February 12th 2020

I meant to publish this before spending last week in Spain. Reading it on my return, I thought that the acts would appreciate my thoughts. Better late than never. 

It’s been months since I’ve participated in the weekly listening post on Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know the premise. Each week, 25 songs are selected that you and I can listen to and pick our five favourites. The competition is fierce and this week was no different. 

Austel was always going to make my cut though. There was simply something about the ethereal, laidback meander of her tune ‘Dry’ that appealed immediately. Her voice, a thing of angelic clarity, leaping out above the electronic bleeps. 

 

So, when I notice that Austel’s playing a free Wednesday night gig at Dalston’s Victoria, attendance is a no-brainer. One of my favourite venues in town hosting an act that’s a must-see. Oh yes. 

I pay little attention to opener, Lo Lauren as beer is calling but catch the whole of support act, Rookes, set. Alone on the stage, this East Londoner (for the last two years) surrounds herself with an assortment of colourful, musical gadgetry. Rookes draws heavily on the 80’s as she summons the spirit of Madonna, Annie Lennox and Whitney. Songs about romance and sex are the norm and yet Rookes is equally at home when she’s breaking the patriarchal bad code. Fingering the rainbow-esque squares of her instruments, we’re reminded that Rookes needs no fixing. She has a nervous energy in between songs that could be off-putting for some but get beyond that and there’s a brave talent on the way up. 

Austel is joined by a five piece band. A life support beep emits before a violinist wearing a Sufjan Stevens T-shirt joins in with some bow action; the electronica shivers over the icy fiddle as Austel’s voice, pure chill, distinctly distant and yet very much present, joins in. ‘Cold Love’, her new EP, was released today and the music smartly backs up the lyrical ambition. Over in the keyboard section, Austel’s producer conjures up magical sorcery on an invisible theremin; with his hands, he uses finger puppetry to cast sound shadows of echo, reverb and sustain. It’s mesmerising. We gently sway through the set sometimes allowing ourselves to drift elsewhere. 

It’s a set made for such cerebral wandering. Suitably chilled, I put my bobble hat on and catch the bus home.