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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Austra, Viv Albertine & Daughter at the Windmill: music review

Canadian synth-wavers Austra share the bill with punk veteran Viv Albertine and up-and-coming folkstrel Daughter at the Windmill on Monday 17th January 2010.

Written by Richard Pearmain

austra by anko
Austra by Anko

It may have been a typically miserable Monday night in January, but we were safe from the elements within the hallowed hall that is the Windmill in Brixton. This unassuming little pub just off the busy thoroughfare of Brixton Hill (and in the shadow of a real windmill, the only one remaining in London), has seen many upcoming bands and surprise appearances from old faces grace its stage over the years. My favourite music venue in London (and my second gig there in 48 hours), I’ve had a lot of nights at the Windmill that have been great (including my second New Year’s Eve in London), hazy (ditto) and just plain bizarre.

elena tonra by ellie sutton
Elena Tonra by Ellie Sutton.

The evening began with some haunting acoustica from Daughter, aka Elena Tonra. Plucking at an acoustic guitar, and backed by some subtle electric guitar washes, Tonra’s hushed vocals delivered some daintily dark lyrics that drew the onlookers in. As the Windmill began to fill up, Viv Albertine took to the stage with her new band, Limerence. Once the guitarist and co-songwriter with iconic punk band The Slits, Albertine had been off the music scene for over 20 years after pursuing a career in TV and film directing, but she recently made a return to the stage (indeed, her debut was here at the Windmill) and has gone on to release an EP on the label of Sonic Youth’s very own Thurston Moore.

Viv Albertine by Karina Yarv
Viv Albertine by Karina Yarv.

“Limerence” was a term coined to describe a near-obsessive form of romantic love, though Albertine joked that her songs were generally about pretty much the opposite. Limerence the band is a loose collective of musicians – I’d seen them play at the George Tavern in Stepney last year with pretty much a full compliment, but tonight it was just a pairing of violin and a combo of keyboard, guitar and ukulele. Musically, Albertine has moved on from the reggae infused sound of her old band, though her guitar is still as distinctive as it was on songs like Typical Girls. If anything, there’s a hint of Syd Barrett about songs like Fairytale and the twisted pop of Never Come, and the lyrics are as witty and spiky as you’d expect. Void references a darker part of her punk past, and was introduced with a few reminiscences of 1976. The paired down line-up actually gave an extra edge to Albertine’s songs, highlighted on the unsettling set closer, Confessions Of A Milf, which descended into a one-chord riff on suburban paranoia.

Canadian headliners Austra have been causing a bit of a buzz of late. Hailing from Toronto, and centred on vocalist Katie Stelmanis, with Maya Postepski on programming and Dorian Wolf on bass, they recently renamed themselves (having previously been going under Stelmanis’ moniker), signed to Domino and currently have a 12” single out, with an album in the pipeline for later this year.

Austra gig at The Windmill by Laura Godfrey
Austra gig at The Windmill by Laura Godfrey.

For the UK leg of a whistle-stop European tour, starting tonight, Stelmanis and co were joined by a drummer, keyboard player and two extra vocalists. There was a bit of a shaky start with a technical hitch before things got into their stride. It would be easy to make comparisons with Fever Ray and Glasser (especially as I’d seen both live fairly recently), and Austra do fall into that category of brooding female vocals over dark electronic beats. However, they’re not as dense as Fever Ray or as spectral as Glasser, especially live. I’d read somewhere that Austra were like “Fever Ray gone disco”, which actually isn’t a million miles off the mark. The single, Beat & the Pulse, is distinctly dance-friendly, and while Stelmanis’ vocal delivery may be reminiscent of Karin Dreijer Andersson, the general vibe is more akin to the early to mid 80’s indie-dance crossover. In the confined space of the Windmill, Austra’s songs become much more organic, with the live drums and bass giving an added kick. There was also plenty of theatricality, with Stelmanis and her sidekicks whirling and dipping during each song.

It was a typically great and varied mix of bands and styles tonight, another in a long line of great nights that I’ve experienced at the Windmill, and another one I’m sure that the venue’s legendary Roof Dog would approve of.

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One Response to “Austra, Viv Albertine & Daughter at the Windmill: music review”

  1. Anko says:

    I can’t stop listening to Aura, I’m in love!
    Great job everyone!

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