Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Concrete and Glass Festival - various venues, London, 2+3/10/08

See original article here

‘The whole idea of a music and art event we know sounds a bit stuffy, but basically what we hope we do is expose you to a bunch of stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily see…’

Those extraordinary things ranged from the neo-classical piano works of Ludovico Einaudi to the Kung Fu games of contemporary artist David Blandy. But somewhere less high-brow, in the midst of the experimental and the avant garde, Concrete and Glass also offered the punter performances from some of the most enticing and eclectic bands and musicians in the industry, including inventive electronica from Fujiya & Miyagi, stumbling and beautiful indie rock from Frightened Rabbit and laptop-folk from James Yuill and his loop pedal. Set across a prolific number of venues in London’s East End, Concrete and Glass politely asked purveyors of art and music in the impressively comprehensive programme to ‘please try to venture beyond your comfort zone’.

This wasn’t difficult given the magnificent job the organisers had done on the line-up. On Thursday Gigwise discovered two of the more promising acts to appear on our musical radar for several months. We started the evening with the enveloping, lazy psychedelia of The Oscillation in 93 Feet East. Though the turn-out left a little to be desired, those in attendance felt privy to an extended and unusually polished jam session rather than a performance. We clung to the edges of the dark venue like the luminous spotted visuals, which were handmade by a boy with a bowl of water over a coloured light. Saxophones and basslines swirled around the magnetic presence of vocalist Demian Castellanos, each song underlaid by a silken, steady rhythm that underpinned the wandering melodies of lengthy tracks.

Over at Old Blue Last, Errors concocted electronic hypnotism of a different variety. It was almost impossible to get into the tiny upstairs venue, but those with the foresight to get a place ahead of the queues witnessed wonky electro-pop with an edginess Foals can only dream about. This critically lauded Glasgow four-piece meld angular guitar riffs a la Battles over sustained keyboard counter melodies, like a more commercially concerned Mogwai. They ended on the delayed, glitchy keyboard refrain and buzzing bass of ‘Mr Milk’, all smiles and substance where their contemporaries rely on hype and frosty pretentiousness.

Back in the Old Blue the following day, Gigwise is just in time to grab a pint and catch the closing folk-rock cries of Kid Harpoon’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘First We Take Manhattan’. The obvious youth of the diminuitive plaid-clad figure of Kid Harpoon making his way from the stage still manages to surprise, considering his distinctive gravelly vocal style and epic acoustic talent.

It is Lykke Li that Gigwise turns to to kick off the weekend over at Café 1001. The program hails her as ‘the next big thing’, whatever that might mean, but she keeps us waiting some twenty minutes longer than expected, apparently due to illness. She is dizzyingly illuminated once on stage, her recorded hip-hop-pop moulded into new sound-shapes by added keyboards and crashing cymbals, whilst her body buckles its way through polished choreography. It comes off a little try-hard, but is carried by the strength of Lykke Li’s songwriting – ‘Little Bit’, ‘Dance Dance Dance’ and ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’ are pop gems that can absorb a little too much lipsticked pouting and still stick in the head long after the set.

For the darker and cooler musical underground, Cargo’s dank and windowless arches host the height of Brooklyn brilliance – TV On The Radio. It seems the perfect pinnacle to a refined art-school line-up. Vocalist Tunde Adebimpe and multi-instrumentalist/producer David Andrew Sitek rarely grace this side of the Atlantic with their genre-elusive musical melting-pot of hip-hop, electro and punk. This is their first performance in the UK for nearly two years, and the turn-out evidences how much they’ve been missed.

We gather, pinned against each other, stepped on and shoved, with nothing to do except submerse ourselves in the haunting rumble of dystopic guitar fuzz and delicately pitched falsetto. Though the majority of the crowd are crushed and clearly off their faces, TV On The Radio still manage to get them clapping cross-rhythms before the first song is out. It’s testimony to their cult status and magnetically soulful songwriting that so many stick out the set despite the conditions. Adebimpe suggests we make ‘lateral moves’ rather than shoving each other forward, but with the seductively suicidal ‘Dreams’ most of us are at a loss to make any conscious movement at all, and merely sway, squashed against those surrounding us and subsumed by the comforting intelligence of the music.

It is the wonky techno of James Holden at Plastic People that provides our musical outro to the evening. Border Community’s finest plays in an underground pit, in near pitch darkness, with no fancy visuals needed to enhance the mesmerising polish of his intricately placed electronic beats.

Gigwise might not have made it to the art exhibitions, or have managed to witness more than a fraction of the innovative and intelligent musicianship showcased at this two day event, but, unlike from other London day festivals, we don’t come away feeling cheated. A well-written and simply presented programme makes even the most esoteric musical acts seem both accessible and enticing, while venue-hopping is better-accomplished with the help of a good map and pre-released schedule. While Gigwise regretfully misses the non-musical, the quality and scope of entertainment available at Concrete and Glass makes this an event that will keep people coming back for more ‘extraordinary stuff’, year after year.

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