German electronic musicians, eh?
In the autumn of last year, we spent a couple of hours in the company with Wolfgang Voigt stood in the shadows of the Barbican behind his laptop. Other than a cheery wave as he left the stage, there was pretty much no audience engagement.
Six months on, we’re back in the same room with another German keyboard guru, Nils Frahm. It is a totally different vibe though. Where Voigt’s Gas project was cold and austere, akin to a walk through a winter’s forest, the experience with Frahm was completely different.
Frahm had clearly brought a great deal of the equipment from his newly constructed Berlin Funkhaus studio and much of it was clad in wood which mirrored the Peruvian walnut that covers the theatre, designed in 1959. When one considers the look of both the Funkhaus and the Barbican, there are many similarities and Frahm clearly feels at home here. The stage was lit with a warm yellow glow, like an old Edison bulb, adding to the feeling of being transported to Frahm’s Berlin studio back in the 1960s.
Indeed, for this and the following three nights, it would be Frahm’s home. This was the first night of his residency, following previous stints in various London venues. He comes across as a German Anglophile, a musical version of Henning Wenn. Dry, witty and engaging, his personality draws you into the music and is evident through his playing. He’s in a chatty mood all evening, some of it coming from nervous energy.
The gig comes on the back of “All Melody”, released this month and very much a culmination of his work to date to my eyes. Covering all of Frahm’s musical bases, it pulls together the strands of his repertoire. It’s this month’s Rough Trade Album of the Month and you can read about it here.
I can’t begin to list what was played given the way that the music twisted and shifted as the evening drew on, even within one particular piece. The voices that feature on “All Melody” were absent but not missed. The album’s longer tracks such as “Sunson” were used as a jumping off point, Frahm hopping between the two U-shaped banks of keyboards often with an amusingly jaunty leap over the adjacent sound monitors.
All facets of his music got an outing from the pulsing electronica that isn’t too distant from some of his contemporaries into the stuff that sets him apart. A particular high point was a slow beautiful version of “My Friend the Forest” played on a miniature piano with damped strings. We got the rolling violently swelling but melodic “More” and “Toilet Brushes” where Frahm plays the strings of his open piano lid using the hopefully clean brushes as percussive implements. His skills as a pianist and composer of modern classical music were evident. Yes – we had the knob twiddling associated with the more rhythmic side of his repertoire but we also saw his sparkling talent for driving percussive piano.
It was one of those evening’s where a commentary seems redundant. The performance exceeded expectations and the whole audience rose as one at the end to pay tribute to what they had witnessed.
All that was left to do was to join the gear geeks at the front of the stage after the house lights went up, admiring the unique set up that Frahm’s brings to his gigs.
Well, when in Rome: