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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Beirut

Koko, Camden, London, 26 June 2007

Written by Joanna McGarry

In today’s over-saturated electro market it would be easy to dismiss Simian Mobile Disco as just another bleep and whistle DJ duo. However, stomach troche if the reaction of the Hoxton Bar crowd was anything to go by it would seem that what we have on our hands is a bona fide rave outfit.

I’m not talking lamé leggings and novelty over-sized jewellery here (although the room wasn’t short of any of that), but in a scene that’s more about the fashion than the music SMD stand out as one of the few acts who understand what the phrase ‘Rave’ actually means.

A sweaty, hands-in-the-air music industry crowd is a rare sight, and while many tried the obligatory arms folded, ‘contemplating the relevance of the sound look’, it wasn’t long before the irresistible combination of the spectacular light show and pounding, dance heavy hooks and beats had everyone moving like it was 1992.

With all the retina burning, multi-coloured strobe action and the fact that I was stuck behind a couple of six-footers, it was difficult to catch a glimpse of Misters James Ford and Jas Shaw, although it was clear from the head-bopping shadows on stage that these two were enjoying their music just as much as their sweaty disciples. As things reached their climax with the brilliant It’s the beat, there was barely a still foot to be seen and with the whole night taking on a distinctly retro air it was long before the ‘ironic’ old skool hand movements made an appearance, probably in a bid to disguise the fact that GASP, they were actually enjoying dance music. Like it or not, SMD had brought out the Bez in all of us.

This year the RCA’s Summer show combined various fields in an all-encompassing exhibition space that was both innovative and exciting to explore.

Designer Gerrard O’Carroll and curator Claire Catterall created an exceptionally large tent structure in Kensington Gardens – close to the site of the original Great Exhibition – where graduating students in design and applied arts showed their work. The main college galleries were home to painting, sickness photography and printmaking departments.

A new approach was taken for the display of the work, more about as pieces from the various disciplines were shown alongside one another. This resulted in a common ground where the physical space weaved the various works throughout, and at the same time, encouraged viewers to reflect on the faded boundaries between the disciplines. The brilliant quality of the work unified the display, while the wide variation both in form and content of the different pieces was deeply stimulating.

This year there was a strong emphasis on environmental issues, as well as experimental new technologies. Alex Metcalf for example came up with a “treehugger” whose aim was to encourage people to engage with trees. His project developed from his fascination with trees and the fact that one can hear the sound of water inside the trunk, as it is being pulled up from the roots to the leaves through the xylem vessels. For this he invented a tree listening device, based on the same principle as the stethoscope, and projected the sound through headphones hanging from the tree branches. It is a rumbling sound, gentle but full of life.

Craig Morrison won the BSi Sustainability Award, 2007 with his plywood prototype vehicle design. His aim was to “raise automotive industry awareness that ‘wood body panels’ can have a positive environmental impact. I have created a car using sustainable materials and processes”. The outcome brought together good aesthetics, sustainability, and a design idea that could work for the general population in a future that requires environmental solutions with urgency.

It is hard to say whether it is the realization of the fuzzy boundaries between the various disciplines that has aided in more free experimentation by artists, or the other way around. In any case, the result is with no doubt showing exciting results.

There are some bands that we like to keep for ourselves, no rx a secret bond that guarantees the intimacy of a small venue for live shows and the all important notion that the band are playing directly and only to you.. Beirut are one such band, help but as Tuesday at a sold out Koko proved, Beirut are moving out of the bedroom and into the mainstream consciousness.

First up, Dirty Projectors set the mood with their common breed of gentle indie-folk successfully whetting our appetites for what was to come, but breaking no new ground for the well-versed and discerning music fans in the crowd. Then, fresh from Glastonbury and with a jagged looking ensemble of ten, yielding a delightful array of brass and string, (trumpets, mandolins, ukuleles, violins and so on) appeared Beirut. The aim was to capture and arrest the audience with the dramatic and theatrical sounds borne of Zach Condon’s ardently well-read imagination. And that it did. After opening with the powerful Brandenburg, we meander through the majority of the latest album Gulag Orkestar, most of which the crowd is not familiar with but receptive all the same.

Although clearly moved by the prowess of a modern-day Balkan folk band that adequately filled the spacious dome they inhabited, the crowd remained notably still, unsure whether to celebrate the triumphant performance or silently absorb the drama from the stage, thus reflecting a seriousness found in the music itself. Though they found it harder to contain their joy when old-time favourite Postcards from Italy erupted mid-set. And there is no doubt that the Beirut troupe felt it too. Whole-heartedly bashing out the instruments at their disposal, Beirut deliver and with Zach’s confident yet understated vocals, we are witness to the weaving of a timeless tapestry of musical history. Testament to this dedicated engagement with the drama of the music came late last year when 20-year- old Zach was forced to cancel tour dates after being admitted to hospital with extreme exhaustion.

A satisfying three song encore completed the near perfect set; topping off the night with a cover of Siki Siki Baba by Macedonian brass band Kocani Orkestar who some may remember as featuring on the Borat soundtrack; a brilliant stroke of wit and a swipe at those who insist on politicizing the musical offerings of Beirut. Good show.

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