Someone somewhere has decided that London should turn into a sleek and gleaming fish tank full of shiny, perfectly groomed empty-eyed creatures, and they are doing their utmost to turn their nightmarish dream into reality. Whole neighbourhoods are vanishing (Soho, Denmark Street...); Alternative music venues and art galleries accessible to artists who do not wear the "approved" badge are disappearing at an increasing pace, and rents are increasing week after week...
And incredibly, some people are still trying to hang on and offer a different reality to the one imposed on us all. Opening a new "alternative" cultural space in which artists, musicians and writers can showcase their work is brave, and it is exactly what new venue /i'klectik/ is doing.
So we get out of Westminster Tube station; we are immediately confronted with "tourist" London: the Houses of Parliament and herds of bored and badly dressed European teenagers.
On Westminster Bridge, we have to try and avoid bumping into the dopey tourists taking selfies - I've always been intrigued by the fact that people are always more interested in themselves than the place they have paid hundreds of pounds to visit.
Past Westminster Bridge though, the tourists have all gone and we are on our own. Barely five minutes' walk and we find ourselves at Old Paradise Yard, another world completely! First a school for the children of the traders on Lower Marsh, it was then turned into a Buddhist centre. Now it has become a creative hub.
Inside, the space is painted white and has a high ceiling. It's at the same time spacious and intimate; most importantly, it's unpretentious.
There are comfy sofas and low tables and a lot of hanging space for artworks. And there's tea and coffee - absolutely my kind of place!
Tonight's event, mysteriously titled "Can You See Your Shadow?" is a relaxed and non-showy affair put together by events organiser Oil54 and the band Autorotation.
I know we are in for a treat: indeed, we spend the evening in the company of four very different acts who all have strong experimental and independent streaks.
The projector is secured (?), we're all ready to start!
Jo Quail has featured in several of my blogs already, and tonight her set is stripped down to the minimum; hers is a very short but (as always) intense set played not on her electric starfish cello but on her trusted "traditional" instrument named Ferdinand. Jo will play her own special show this Saturday 7th February in St John on Bethnal Green and I very much look forward to it.
Next are our hosts Autorotation: founding members Robyn Sellman and Igor Olejar are joined by Aurora Lee. Their set is a heady mix of dreamy, ethereal voices (think Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins), live instruments (dulcimer, percussions, guitar) and ambient electronic sounds and beats digitally put together. We are also treated to colourful psychedelic projections which definitively add to the experience! There are a lot of influences there in their music, which makes it all the more interesting.
Madam, like Jo, are doing an acoustic set tonight (they usually are a six-piece band). It's just charismatic frontwoman and songwriter Sukie Smith and singer/cello player Sarah Gill. Tonight the songs have a folk undertone - although with the full band, they seem to veer more towards jazz/blues territory. I loved their "song about ghosts" which revealed a harsher, more disturbing side...
From the very first song, Raf and O got me hooked. This is beautiful yet unsettling stuff - admittedly my favourite thing in music; it mixes Raf's unusual acoustic guitar to the sounds emitted by O's very own portable music lab which provides percussion, beats, gurgles, scratches and other various noises. The singer's demeanour is also interesting: petite and fragile in appearance as she clutches her red guitar, her steely stare and very slight twitches inspire respect and make her a compelling and disquieting performer.
Raf and O's songs seem to stand on the undefined border between dreams and nightmares, as if on the steps of a majestic but crumbling haunted mansion echoing with the ghosts of the past and the future; Raf's voice whispers, flies up and croons but carries an edge in its discreet tremolos. It is the voice of someone willing themselves to stay calm but who knows the crisis is coming.
Industrial, trip-hop, free jazz, electronic, folk (the names Queen Adreena, Bjork, Elysian Fields and Portishead have all crossed my mind as I listened to the albums) ...
There is no category for Raf and O apart from their very own - and of course, it's better that way. I really look forward to seeing them live again.
Gorgeous music perfect for inspiring my writing.
What a fantastic evening that was... Again, please!
PS: Arcane Publishing had both my novels on the merch table, a treat to be among all those super-talented people!
I think therefore I write.
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