We’ve been members at the Southbank Centre for quite a while. Initially we enjoyed visiting when our daughter was a baby and we could take advantage of the frequent free concerts. We had a stonking new years eve there with Bellowhead and friends in 2010. We became members and have been to some wonderful concerts in the venues, many of which I’ve written about it here.
Recently it has been a case of diminishing returns though. The adjacent Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Rooms and Hayward Gallery are all being refurbished. I think this has affected the music booking policy and the number of non-classical gigs has reduced significantly since the work started last year. I asked the venue if they had consciously changed their approach to the balance of genres and concerts. They denied it but I’ve certainly seen less non-classical music to draw me back to the venue.
Friday night was different though. The record label, Erased Tapes, are holding part of their tenth birthday party there and the old Royal Festival Hall was at its best. The diehard fans were there but there was also a mingling of curious newcomers enjoying the free music in the Clore Ballroom provided by Douglas Dare before the main show and a DJ set by Rival Consoles afterwards. Older people and day-trippers enjoyed the earlier set after a day out in town. The dance floor was rammed later on with party people, kicking back at the end of a working week in the Big Smoke.
Erased Tapes are an interesting proposition. Started in 2010 by the German born Robert Baths, their roster is broad. Initially focussing on electronic music, they now include the modern classic ensemble A Winged Victory For The Sullen, the follow on to the classic seventies band of the similar name, Penguin Cafe and singer songwriter Peter Broderick. They also have a visual aesthetic for their art that sits alongside such classic labels as ECM and Factory Records. All of their sleeves look “of a family” and make for a very covetable collection. They also have a habit of releasing free download compilation albums of their recent releases, providing an ideal affordable way to explore their music. The latest compilation was being given out on CD at the venue. They’ve recently opened their Sound Gallery, a collaborative studio environment in east London. I haven’t been yet but it is now definitely on my “to do” list.
Friday night focused on four differing acts on the label.
First up at 6.00pm was Douglas Dare.
Playing with just a keyboard and incredibly agile drummer, Fabien Prynn, his crystalline playing and pure vocals were just the thing to ease people into the evening. He was confident, chatty and engaging. “Caroline” was particularly impressive, with Douglas completing the song without a microphone, his voice ringing out across the ballroom.
The short video documentary below about a recent trip to play in Lisbon will give you a flavour of his music.
We then headed into the main hall for a set by Dawn of Midi. An acoustic ensemble of piano, bass and drums based in Brooklyn, they were a gripping proposition.
They’ve released two LPs, the most recent “Dysnomia” released on Erased Tapes in 2015.
The performance at the RFH was very much in the vein of the LP. Using a double bass pattern played by Israni, the set began almost imperceptibly. Belyamani, the pianist joined in, playing with one hand, the other kept for damping the strings inside the piano, treating it as a percussion instrument. Naqvi on drums picked up the rhythm but rather than play the bass drum, he actually played the side of it, generating a sharp but resonant sound. In the whole of the 50 minute performance, the pianist never ventured into the right hand half of his keyboard, using only one hand. Israni leaned into his bass, feeling the resonance of his playing through the wood.
The set was almost entirely devoid of melody, yet one did not miss it in the slightest. The music was gorgeous and the creative tension palpable. The closest antecedent I can recall is Australia’s The Necks who use a similar format and non-melodic structure to their music but still create something of beauty. The crowd rode the occasion with them too, cheering the changing dynamic. It is easy to see why Radiohead have employed Dawn of Midi as a support band recently.
Here’s the album in full if you fancy a listen. It’s a start to finish experience – dipping in and out doesn’t do it justice.
After a brief change over, it was the turn of Kiasmos. Hailing from Iceland, the band are more immediate and accessible than Dawn of Midi. It is a laptop, keyboards and effects job but the pair of Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen have the audience in the palm of their hand. The band only have a single self titled album released two years ago and a few EP’s but they still get the auditorium on its feet.
After the first number, Arnalds (who also composed the soundtrack to ITV’s “Broadchurch”) said let’s turn the RFH into a rave and that mission was accomplished. The place was rocking and the grand old room well and truly had the cobwebs blown away. There was a great use of lighting and visuals and despite the lack of live instruments (except for a beautiful new piano led track that they were joined on by new Erased Tapes signing Högni), there was plenty going on to hold the attention. It was life affirming to see so many people let their hair down on a Friday night.
Here’s a set from the 2015 Sonar Festival which gives a flavour of the Kiasmos experience and also their new EP “Blurred”.
I hope that the Southbank Centre will embrace the success of the evening and start booking more similar events. The classical offering is fantastic but a broadening of the offering into more contemporary music would be lovely when the newly refurbished halls and galleries open.
In the meantime, check out pretty much anything in the Erased Tapes catalogue. There is something for everyone.