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Graduate Fashion Show 2007: Central St. Martins

York Hall, London, 29 May 2007

Written by Lena Dystant

Five albums in, medications malady and with only mild commercial success to date, it would be a reasonable assessment to describe Rufus Wainwright’s dramatic, theatrical pop as something of an acquired taste. For many, he over eggs the pudding , and then some. But whilst bold ambition may be a deterrent to some, his loyal fans will rejoice at this offering. This is classic Rufus, and whilst it wont be winning him many new fans, this simply doesn’t matter. This is a record to admire, it may even be his most satisfying work to date.

As expected, Wainwright offers up his usual mix of epic and restrained throughout the 13 songs, and there are a number of gems. Striking orchestration and characteristically high in the mix Rufus vocals lead us into opener Do I Dissapoint You. It is a brilliant opening song to set the tone for what is to follow. The diversity of instruments employed here alone is staggering, and like many songs throughout the album the arrangement is gloriously ambitious. The recurring operatic theme, present throughout all his previous work has been thankfully maintained.

First Single Going To A Town (which was B listed by Radio 2) follows. Its mournful tones echoing latter day Beatles balladry (think Fool On The Hill) and it features the albums most engaging lyrics. Amidst numerous misforgivings with his homeland, Wainwright again finds himself lost in the confusion of love and religion (another recurring theme here), “Tell me, do you really think you go to hell for having loved?” he pleads. For all the record’s grandiose, it is these moments of human insecurity that really strike a chord. It is also one of a number of outstanding vocals on the record.

The pace doesn’t let up throughout the opening half – Nobody’s Off The Hook, Between My Legs and Tiergarten sit easily amongst the artists best work. But, it cannot quite be maintained throughout the second half – a better focus on sequencing next time perhaps. But this is a minor gripe. With each listen, hidden depths are revealed, suggesting that this is a record that will endure also. It is a joy.

Troubles! That’s exactly what the Concretes got into during the last year. One of the three founding members and nonetheless the lead vocalist of the band decided to quit to start her solo project Taken by Trees. If that was not enough the destiny decided to punish them furthermore and as a result they had all their equipment stolen during the U.S. tour. Quite a difficult time for a band, sildenafil isn’t it? However, The Concretes decided to look ahead and continue their career as a seven piece band, giving Maria Erikkson the difficult task to substitute the charismatic and easily recognisable voice of Victoria Bergsman.

This story has definitely something in common with that of another band that I always considered in some way similar to the Swedish one; the departure of one of the founding member of the Concretes is very similar to the loss of Mary Hansen for Stereolab. Such a change is always reflected in the future work of a group, especially if it is not a one man band but a sort of democratic collective that works together in order to create the soft and tender melodies that Concretes‘ fans are used to. Anyway the Swedish guys made it and here they are with a new release on Licking Fingers. The main problem of this 12 track cd is certainly the already discussed new lead vocalist, however, if we consider the work in its context, what we have is a quite enjoyable, typically northern European pop record. Simple and direct lyrics are mixed with a light pop approach to composition. It is definitely easy- listening music that in some of its shapes can be compared with Peter Bjorn and John, another very fashionable Swedish project.

Probably my favourite track has to be considered the positive Firewatch with its guitar arpeggio that together with constant background drums and lyrics like “If you promise to be here I’ll do the same” certainly gives no real surprise to the listener but goes straight to the point: just plain and sophisticated pop.

The album’s start is slow and not very catchy, however the tracklist is well organized and creates a sort of work in progress that leads to songs like the more rocking Oh Boy or Keep Yours, an almost danceable track where Maria Erikkson’s ‘out of tune’ vocals seem really to be in the right place. With If We’re Lucky We Don’t Get There On Time we are introduced into a dreamy atmosphere; in this case the lead vocalist is supported by a second male voice and there are soft beats reminiscent of the Velvet Underground.

It is as if The Concretes were trying to give us a pause, a break from the pretty plain music stream of the album. Then, Are you Prepared takes you directly to some eighties light-hearted pop with the singer constantly repeating “Are you prepared to wake up with me?”. Oh No, on the other hand, is probably the little treasure of this album: the band really seem to work collectively again building an epic wall of sound.
The overall result is not the best achievement by the Swedish band, but still it manages to be delicate and not boring. It’s simple and there is nothing unexpected. All the songs start as you want them and finish exactly when you would say it’s the proper time to stop. Nonetheless they are enriched with a very quality instrumental texture that makes you listen to the album again and again.

I had a bad feeling about tonight. When a band is booked to play a large venue outside their main fan base, store it usually ends in disaster. The idiosyncrasies of Deerhoof’s sound, medicine no wave rock ‘n’ roll with a harrowing simplicity both lyrically and aurally, just isn’t suited to the cavernous blood red walls of a venue like Camden’s Koko.

Their oddball setup: guitarist John Dietrich lurking at the back, drummer Greg Saunier and his tiny kit perched front right, and the miniscule Satomi Matsuzaki front left seemed forced and overly ‘kooky’. While Dietrich pored over his guitar, Saunier pounded the snare with such enthusiasm it left the beautiful voice of Matsuzaki drowned in a sea of ‘prap prap prap prap’.

The seven minute opener, a mix of tracks from albums Apple O’ and Reveille was surprisingly bold for the trio, whose tendencies to shy away publicly, add to their intrigue musically. But it somehow didn’t fit the occasion. An overwhelming need to fill the space with as much noise as possible, blending songs seamlessly into a maelstrom of gaudy, cartoonish bestiary felt beyond them.

But the gig did pay much needed homage to the sheer mass of material the band have accumulated in their ten-year existence. Featuring some of the beautifully experimental tracks from Holdy Paws and combining it with their later, more playful work. But that was precisely their downfall. Music from Friend Opportunity, their latest release, was few and far between.

For a tour originally designed to promote the album, it seemed more like a ‘Best Of’. Call it a lack of confidence, or the unfamiliarity of playing abroad, but they seemed frightened at the prospect of playing new material live.

For a band that carves beauty out of a prog-rock style setup, they should be applauded above their current left field status. Listen to any number of tracks from their catalogue and you’ll find Dietrich, Saunier and Matsuzaki constantly testing the limits of their sound. Unfortunately, the Koko gig was a test too far.

Living in London isn’t all that bad. Back in my hometown a concert by A Hawk and a Hacksaw would probably never have happened and in case it did take place, adiposity there would just be a bunch of intellectuals judging the band from behind their heavy glasses. On the contrary, the amount of people living in this metropolis makes you expect this event to be sold out even in a fairly big venue. So, no surprise a queue of fans looking for a ticket awaited me at the Uxbridge Road entrance.

Why should you consider this band something special? First of all try to concentrate on the name: how would you ever imagine to choose such a weird name for your band? Then, the music: getting interested in eastern European gipsy folk is not that common especially for a band that originated in the U.S. and whose founder is the ex drummer of the indie project Neutral Milk Hotel.

Despite of all this, Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost succeeded in recreating the magical atmospheres of the Balkan world through the release of various albums capable of mixing Klezmer, Estern European Folk, Gipsy songs and many more influences with contemporary and avant-garde music.

The London gig, part of the Contemporary Music Network Tour, takes place at the lovely Bush Hall and in this case they’re supported by a special guest band of incredibly talented musicians coming from Budapest: The Hun Hangár Ensemble. They enter the stage after being introduced by the two members of the Hawk and a Hacksaw playing the accordion and the violin. They walk through the public wearing masks and giving people that sense of participation that is probably the most important feature of the folk tradition where music is almost considered as a right.

The number of instruments on stage is impressive: Hungarian bagpipes, clarinet, alto saxophone, taragoto, viola, upright bass, accordion, trumpet, violin and cimbalom. The presence of the ensemble creates a distance from the unexpected cuts and pastes you’ve got used to while listening to a Hawk and a Hacksaw album. The show is closer to the traditional harmonies of Hungarian folk and there is little space left for vocals while the attention focuses on instant composition and the band playing as a whole to create the beauty and strength of music. It’s a stream of sound that pretends to be danced, however there is no happiness in the air and melancholy together with a shadow of spectral desperation pervade the work of these musicians.

It’s always nice seeing people playing and enjoying themselves, and on Thursday that definitely happened: mixing old repertoire of A Hawk And A Hacksaw with the re-elaboration of songs coming directly from the folk tradition, the concert seemed unstoppable. The band played for more than 2 hours leaving me absolutely breathless.

For anyone that missed this concert, Leaf Label just released the beautiful A Hawk And A Hacksaw And The Hun Hangár Ensemble EP; something I felt was just necessary to be bought.

Hot on the heels of sell out shows in Bush Hall and Union Chapel (venues now almost compulsory on the list of any up-coming band worth their salt) comes the second full length release from Fireworks Night – the London based quirky, information pills psych folk outfit fronted by James Lesslie (The Mules). Touted as a ‘giant stride forwards’ from their rather unconventially recorded debut album, As Fools We Are nevertheless remains faithful to the sextets rough around the edges, unpolished approach.

From the outset, the strikingly coarse, nasal tones of singer Lesslie punctuate the songs in a rather unpleasant way. This ensures a challenging listen. Unfortunately, for the most part the challenge is not an enjoyable one, and whilst it would be unfair to attribute the blame solely with Lesslie, the unpleasantness of his voice is inescapable. At its most bearable, a poor mans Nick Cave is an appropriate description.

A large proportion of the tracks follow the same pattern – scratchy, sketchy openings that build into something far more substantial – often these climactic passages will feature a wealth of unusual instruments, but more often than not this results in a crescendo of noise rather than melody.

There are further problems. Large chunks of the songs throughout are dull and disengaging, meaning that the record tends to drift by. There are fleeting moments of interest – snippets of brilliance. Unexpected guitar lines or snappy lyrics, but whilst these instances provide some enjoyment, they also serve to simply remind what could have been. Nevertheless, at least there is some potential, all is not lost.

This potential is best realized in slow burner Favours For Favours, which kicks around pleasantly enough for two minutes before it abruptly changes key and veers off into a wonderfully descending melody. The albums most poignant moment comes in The Beasts and the Bugs, which is both dark and brooding, mysterious even, without being dour. It is within these two tracks where the bands future surely lies. Melodic originality for sure, but in such small doses it simply doesn’t suffice.

Swedish teen twins Miriam and Johanna Eriksson Berhans seem to posses a talent and knowingness beyond their years. At the basis of their act are their amazing voices. Layered and rich, treatment swaying further towards folk than indie and full of raw emotion with the faintest hint of a rough edge. The music itself is beautiful and incredibly listenable but perhaps lacking a fully formed sound of its own, store their debut EP suggesting this will inevitably come in time.

All I Think Of is probably the most accomplished track on the EP. Extremely simple: just vocals, purchase the odd strum of the guitar and the sound of tapping feet. It takes it’s time, languid and unhurried, but with an immediate impact thanks mainly to those beautiful voices and the quirky intonation of some rather lovely lyrics “You started to spit ink on all the papers, swept away, spider web between all my fingers…” The sister thing aside, there’s a touch of CocoRosie about these two: Heartfelt love songs with a playfulness and inventive quality that sets them apart, encapsulated by this promising beginning. Moving onto Belle, which offers something a little more piano heavy this time but strays however into generic folk territory, is probably only saved by the sweet, well-executed harmonies. To Hide This Way picks things up. A Myspace favourite, melodically it really hits the spot. The opening lyrics “Put us back to the cradle again, our eardrums are hurting our heads are getting weak” sets up a melancholic tale of the safety and comfort of childhood. Water and Heart stroll along nicely but once again there’s a certain heard it before feel, a little too saccharine heavy with both lacking the direction of the impressive opener. Thankfully we’re left with something quite brilliant to remember them by with final track Mary, which just screams for a more detailed production but nevertheless is an impressive example of both their songwriting talents and their ability to tell a story with just the highs and lows of their vocals. All in all an impressive if slightly flawed debut which hints at big things for these Scandinavian sisters.
The cavity of mid winter appears to be filling… And I’m out A LOT more! Mother Bar – not my usual haunt let me tell you – seem to be doing half price booze till ten. Give the bargirl a wink (and don’t, sickness like I did, purchase attempt to co-op an umbrella wielding musician into turning off the air con while sitting on your shoulders) and they may let you drink on cheaply even later…

I’m getting very excited about Susan Collis‘ forthcoming show at Seventeen Gallery. Her brand of super refined subtle installation art plays tricks with the mind – begging to the viewer some compelling questions regarding what exactly is it that is recognisable in an art object? Look out for paint drips, more about rawl plugs, screws and nails – the everyday ephemera of the gallery and the practitioner – all transmuted to appear as anything other than what they at first appear to be…

Christian Marclay’s show at White Cube quite literally blew me away (now on my third visit and counting). Four screens divide a pitch-black mega-room, each occupying a side of the squared (cubed?) space. In concurrent synchronised waves the screens explode in discharged gunfire. The aggressors are cinematic, each shot or round being the violent effluence of an armed and dangerous character in a film. Some like De Niro or Pam Grier are instantly recognisable pistol in hand, others are just achingly cool – cue scene as an elfin like Manga-femme strides confidently across screen offloading calm pot-shots at an invisible target (perhaps the viewer?). Not only is this show good, it cuts right to the heart of the current hysteria regarding gun culture – demonstrating the undeniable omnipotence of guns while also never denying their caustic danger…

On another note (a culinary one) I’ve been over indulging in beigels. I can’t get enough of them. Why are they so smooth? Why so doughy? It’s not right – someone do something! NOW!

Musically I’m bored of people talking about Neon Bible (yawn). It’s all about Smog (again). Though in line with nomenclatorial (I can’t believe that’s a word!) accuracy and his recent name reversal – one should now refer to him as Bill Callahan. Fine by me, Bill.

A packed out Boxing Hall in East London held an eager bunch of rain-drenched fashion fans for this years St. Martins Graduate Show. With 40 designers showing, ask first up was Oden Wilson, cheap who achieved the seemingly impossible – creating a relatively wearable fitted dress out of baby pink PVC – and impressive it was too. Some nice ‘puffa’ style jackets were transformed into dressy top layers and surprisingly the appearance of slightly generic oriental prints did nothing to take away from a solid collection.

Third place winner, Theo Anastasato, lightened the mood with some clever menswear; all done with humour and a touch of Grecian prep wear. The helmet with built in ears and striking older model in a heavyweight smock and white sock/sandal combo were good fun.

Monica Larkin really hit the spot with a collection that pleased the Margaret Howell fan in me. I guess it could be called ‘casual tailoring’ although that makes a beautifully compiled, brilliantly simple collection sound dull. Although not massively original – what she did, she did really well. Stripes, shorts, straw boaters, oversized cotton tops and interesting proportions. Jae Hwan Kim took a similar root with a quirky twist; heavy knits, mismatch brogues, and baby-faced models licking giant lollies; lots of cheeky schoolboy stuff but all very wearable.

Heavy work boots for men and women were a popular accessory. Kate Greenwood used them well in her tartan/neon, top hat and braces based collection, while Michael Furlonger’s models speed stomped down the catwalk to the sounds of heavy techno in theirs – in a dark, aggressive, gothic inspired collection with rave and club-culture very much at its heart. A little too boombox for me…

Kim Docherty carried on the rave inspired theme, albeit in lighter style, with some smart, colourful Bernhard Willhelm-esque prints with a strong African feel.

Dresses were very much the order of the day. I particularly liked Kyoko Fukui’s pastel skin-tight wool numbers and Emma Payne’s 40s tea dresses with the structured hair, swing music and bright red lipstick to match. A standout example was (ex- McQueen assistant) Katy Reiss‘ striking blue velvet figure hugging number but it must be said that the ghost of Christopher Kane was very much present in a couple of the collections, (second prize winner) David Komakhidze in particular.

Ambrita Shamami took things in a different direction with some sparkly, sequinned clad, tailored work wear, presented to the sounds of Dolly Parton‘s 9 to 5. While Olga Kazakova took a risk with her all white ‘paper’ shift dresses, hung almost as if constructed on frames – geometric in shape; it paid off.

With so many collections to show, the organisers did a good job in keeping things flowing at a speedy rate. Some brilliant choices in music helped too. After Maki Ichikawa’s theatrical closing collection things were swiftly wrapped up with the awards ceremony hosted by Grayson Perry (wearing a dress designed by graduate Hyun A.Lee) and Gareth Pugh.

First prize went to Jack Isenberg. His puffy, lace dresses weren’t my cup of tea, but seemed to be a popular choice with his fellow graduates.

Overall, in terms of depth and innovation those CSM kids were on target again, proving that London really does deserve its reputation as a breeding ground for innovative design talent.


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One Response to “Graduate Fashion Show 2007: Central St. Martins”

  1. Michael Furlonger says:

    Its interesting to hear your opinions on our work. Just to let you know, the music in my show was compiled from many drum n bass tracks and excerpts from horror films and peter and the wolf. I dont really like techno.
    Glad you enjoyed the show in general. :)

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