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-machÄ— 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. 

 

Malena Zavala & Wovoka Gentle – The MOTH Club – April 24th 2019

So enamoured am I by Wovoka Gentle, I can hardly pass up the opportunity to see them at the fine MOTH club in Hackney. They’re supporting Malena Zavala and both acts are on the quite stupendous Yucatan records roster. A cheeky E-mail to the label and they’re happy to add me to a guest list. What is not to like? 

I wondered pre-gig if I might have used up the extent of my vocabulary of superlatives on previous posts about Wovoka Gentle (here and here). But I needn’t worry. There’s so much that goes on within their half hour set that you can’t help but observe new variations. The set list might be the same but the experience isn’t. 

The trio take to the stage in shades of pastel-white tonight. Lights at the Moth Club are set to full-beam. It’s got the ambience of a tanning shop in the build up to a British summer (not that I’d really know what that ambience is) yet the brightness simply succeeds in bringing more pleasure. This is joyful, euphoric stuff akin to watching a trimmed down Polyphonic Spree at their peak. ‘1000 opera singers working in Starbucks’ particularly dazzles in the headlights, the harmonies and dynamics within the tune coming to the fore and making it impossible to do much more than broadly smile. Despite it being early evening, we’re taken to a place where we’re basking in hot afternoon sun.

 

From tight acapella to quiet and loud loops and layers, Wovoka Gentle really are the folk-electronica band you must see this year. With their first album up for release imminently, few will be betting against bigger live venues beckoning. Go and see them at The Great Escape or Dot to Dot should you get the chance. I’ll see you there. 

Malena Zavala has a tough act to follow. But this European tour is a few dates in now and Malena’s no slouch in the live stakes either. From Argentina but having grown up in London, Malena’s music has world vision and urban cool, tropical rhythms born out of grimy smog.

Whilst Wovoka Gentle’s support set shimmered in sunlight, Malena and her top-notch band treat us to a much more languid, sun-going-down set. Early on, Malena makes a request for the over-powering lights to be switched to something more moody. It’s needed; many of Malena’s songs hold an inbuilt yearning. That longing to be held close, swathed in a reliable moonlight and to not be broken by the complexity of relationships is never far from the surface.

That’s not to say that this is a ‘slit your wrists’ show. There are enough upbeat moments and generous smiles to avoid such spiralling to the depths. Indeed, when the members of Wovoka Gentle are invited back to the stage, Latin rhythms come to the fore and Malena presides over a dance party. “I was so excited about that that I forgot to play this song first“, confesses Malena before launching into Moon Song. 

There are moments of real beauty at play; emotionally intelligent songs of the utmost quality. I take to shutting my eyes and allowing the crisp guitar solos and the clean tones to wash over me. It’s a stance that yields benefits. 

Malena Zavala makes live music designed to aid escape from the day to day hustle and bustle. Grab the chance and relax. 

 

 

 

 

 

Wovoka Gentle, Swimming Girls & Josiah & The Bonnevilles – Omeara – March 25th 2019

Show me a better and more solid live proposition in 2019 than Wovoka Gentle and I’ll be there with bells on. Let’s not beat around the bush here – Wovoka Gentle’s unique approach to live music-making is jaw-dropping; from splodges of sound and harnessed beats emerge the most beautiful of melodies; harmonic juice born out of the most intense of concentrates. This triumvirate astound with their innate electronic folk togetherness. Just see them should you get the chance.

Sonic Breakfast first became aware of their class after randomly walking past the stage they were playing on at the fine Nozstock festival. That’s been documented here previously in this blog. I’d pay to see Wovoka Gentle but their record label, Yucatan, has generously put on a lovely Monday night free show at Omeara. It’s another new London venue for me and it’s no-brainer to head along to the collection of railway arches just down from London Bridge.

Omeara is an ace venue. I’m none too sure where it starts and others begin. Once I’ve got my hand stamped and briefly look at the faux-dungeon crossed with music hall facility of the main venue, I wander through a series of connected rooms to see bars and street food spaces. A more upmarket version of a Budapest ruin bar, I sit eating pizza, drinking beer and waiting for the music to kick off.

 Josiah (from Josiah & The Bonnevilles) is tonight’s special guest. The crowd watch with interest despite his style bearing minimal resemblance for what will follow. He’s got a birthday coming up in the next few hours and gives quick nods to friends and family in the audience who’ll no doubt be celebrating with him. Catch him at the right angle and Josiah could be Brad Pitt’s shorter and younger brother. These tunes from Tennessee, mostly performed on acoustic guitar but with a brief piano break, are classic Americana. He’s Ryan Adams pre-disgrace. There’s a vibration to Josiah’s vocal not dissimilar to the one employed by Conor Oberst. My favourite tune of his that I hear draws influence from George Jones. “It’s about the saddest song on a record, the hidden-away one that you can’t stop listening to because you’re fucked up”, says Josiah.

 

The room gets really busy for Swimming Girls. It’s not surprising given that they’re flavour of the month in some quarters. I confess though that, on tonight’s showing, they pass me by a bit. And that’s despite having a guitar player with a Smiths lyric on his T-shirt. They’ve got a sound that’s not far removed from the excessive soft rock of the 1980’s. My notes suggest Starship or an ideal soundtrack to a recently unearthed, never-seen-before, John Hughes movie. Swimming Girls are fronted by Vanessa, a slinky, confident sort who clearly has good rapport with her crowd. When the rest of the band sit down and Vanessa plays a peeled-back number on her electric guitar, the influence of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors comes right to the fore. There’s nothing wrong with Swimming Girls; they do what they do well and the kids love them. I guess their influences were never entirely my thing the first time around. There’s a slight exodus for Wovoka Gentle and the crowd demographic gets noticeably older.

 

Wovoka Gentle must surely be a sound technician’s nightmare. They bring trays of gadgets, cluttered desks of wires and mics onto stage with them pre-set. But with striking efficiency and organised calm, the three members find the right holes in which to plug things in. A violin is sound-checked. Six separate mics are given cursory attention. The three desks look inward; wires now flail across the stage; complicated neural pathways of the Wovoka Gentle brain.

The opening segment almost induces tears from this quarter. William strums an electric guitar and launches into the briefest of covers of 30 Century Man whilst Imogen and Ellie accompany with exquisite vocal harmony. “That’s our tribute to Scott Walker. He very much influenced us”, says William (or words to that effect).

As for the rest, the biggest big-up that I can give is that I make no more notes. This is a set of such variety and such pulsating beauty that I can do little more than stand transfixed. With the slightest of nods, Ellie lets Imogen know what William is thinking. It’s that sort of understanding that elevates this set beyond the norms. I think (though can’t be sure) that the beats are continuous and that the songs of highest quality merge into one. I recognise some but not all; there’s a new album out in June that’ll surely push the genius that is Wovoka Gentle further to the fore. I am dazzled again.

This is where it’s at.

Wovoka Gentle – Peculiar Form Of Sleep

I’m glad to see that Wovoka Gentle are slowly and gradually expanding their fan-base. One of the many perks of going to lots of summer festivals is that you ‘discover’ live acts that you quickly grow to love. You get home, clean out the mud from your tent and reflect on what you’ve seen.

Here’s an extract from my eFestivals review of Nozstock back in 2017 (full review here)..

Earlier in the day, I’ve accidentally stumbled across a new favourite band here though. Think of a folkier version of Caribou and you’d be in the right space for imagining Wovoka Gentle. A three piece, they all convene around an array of instruments in the centre of the stage. With electronic bleeps merging in with more traditional ‘folk’ instruments and their own sampled and looped voices, they produce a blissed-out psychedelia perfect for a Sunday afternoon. There are criminally few here to watch, perhaps because Wovoka Gentle are a name not widely known but I’d recommend checking them out with haste. I curse myself when wondering about what other delights I might have missed around Nozstock – though you can’t be everywhere.”

Given the new favourite band status, I’ve been disappointingly tardy in writing about them on Sonic Breakfast. A whole year has passed since Nozstock. 

A few weeks ago, a lovely PR agency informed me about a new Wovoka Gentle release. This song, 1,000 Opera Singers Working In Starbucks, was right up Sonic Breakfast’s street. It even had a sparkling video with mad animations. I listened, watched and loved. Diligently I added their name to my makeshift list of bands I really must feature. And didn’t. 

Last Friday news arrived of another new Wovoka Gentle tune, Peculiar Form Of Sleep. I was on my way to Benidorm for Visorfest and, in theory, I’d have time to piece some words together whilst sitting on the tram between Alicante and Benidorm. Instead, I watched as we hugged the coastline, passing pretty coves and stretches of beach less populated than the towns book-ending the tram ride.

Wovoka Gentle played London’s ICA a few nights ago. I wish I’d been there. As I’d witnessed back a-while, this trio of clever conjurers magically play with time signatures, traditional rhythms and folk melody to give the most compelling of shows. One wonders if they’re actually as laidback as they appear or if offstage they’re more highly strung. It feels right to write about Wovoka Gentle whenever the mood takes because that’s the ethic they seem to promote. Like a British version of Animal Collective, it’s fascinating to see how this tribe will develop. 

I might write about them again and it mightn’t take a year. They remain a favourite band.