London. Here we go. Again.
Despite being initially misled by a well meaning chap in a Trivium t-shirt handing out “Brexit and Trump = Evil” stickers, the venue is remarkably easy to find. Located just off Islington High Street, the Electrowerkz is a scuzzy, seedy club that feels like an abandoned factory.
There is absolutely nothing glitzy about it.
However, the atmosphere in the venue is unparalled.
With the only light coming from the stage, it feels like you’re about to take part in a mass ritual. which begins when Laura Cannell takes to the stage with her fiddle at the ready.
In the industrial grime that is Electrowerkz, she raises a few murmurs. But these are silenced when she starts playing.
Heavily based in classical and medieval music, she tortures the fiddle and produces a sound that is both recognisable in terms of melodies and experimental (her use of a broken bow allows for a constant drone to ring through the pieces).
Her piece about the legend of Black Shuck is a great example of this. The melodic elements allow the listener to paint an image of a elegant, centuries old abbey complete with elaborate Gothic architecture, while the drone represents the constant threat of the dog, and the little screeches that Cannell punctuates the piece with represent the supposed scratches left on the door by the mythical creature.
She also produces more pastoral sounds with the recorder (or, in this case, two). While these sounds are more straightforward than her work on the fiddle, they still evoke visions of green fields, living off the land and clean rivers. Simple, but deadly effective.
In fact, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the two styles are linked deliberately by Cannell: one is designed to evoke nostalgic imagery of England, while the other represents a tradition that has been used and abused by many for their own end. A comment on the modern world.
Regardless of interpretation, Laura Cannell’s set is incredible and is the perfect support act for Esben and the Witch. You’ve been introduced to the land, now you’re about to experience it during winter.
Having been stupidly compared to Florence + The Machine when they first began, Esben and the Witch have been slowly carving out a niche for themselves, delivering recordings of otherworldly, elaborate beauty. Signing to Season of Mist, they’ve given us ‘Older Terrors.’
Incredible record, but does it translate live?
With the stage lights alternating between blue and purple, and the smoke machine blurting out occasional gusts,
The band take to the stage and open up with ‘Sylvan’, the opening song from ‘Older Terrors,’ Beginning with a simple, pounding beat based around the classic ‘Be My Baby’ beat, the gentle, icy guitar lines begin to take more prominence in the mix and offer a suitable contrast to the relentless beat.
Rachel Davies’ bass and vocals combing both of these aspects. Her voice soars, encompassing despair, isolation and questioning.
When the band combine for the crescendos, the icy veneer of the music is put aside for something much more raucous. Indebted to Swans, these crescendos and diminuendos are what give the songs (and audience) relief from the lonely path that are depicted throughout.
Quite often with a band’s live set, you are treated to myriad songs from differing periods and, often, they can be jarring (as most bands just place them in the set depending on mood/audience reaction etc).
With Esben and the Witch, each song clearly has been chosen to evoke a mood. A journey. Even their cover of ‘Planet Caravan’ sounds like it’s part of their world.
Closing with ‘The Jungle’, we go back to the beginning terrain of ‘Sylvan’, but the thrashy closer, with a smidgen of feedback, strongly indicate that the end has been reached. What that end entails is open to interpretation, but answers were something Esben and the Witch were never good at giving.
A haunting venture through an icy cold world where you are the only survivor. Utterly bleak, yet uplifting.
-Christopher Owens ::: 20/02/17
- Pic by Gary Lloyd