I’ve been a fan of Ulrich Schnauss’ work since his first album, Far Away Trains Passing By, all the way back in the early 2000s (although I suspect I was actually a couple of years late to it. It’s hard to tell now). And his music’s great. Gently pulsing electronic soundscapes that build and evolve. I’ve seen it sometimes labelled as ambient, but to my mind its way too busy for that. Whatever you want to call it, it’s great. I’ve not kept up with every one of his releases – he’s pretty prolific – but everything I’ve heard, I’ve enjoyed.
Last year I saw him live at Headrow House, and it was great: a dark, intimate gig in their low-ceilinged music room, the rich electronic soundscapes filled the room and Nat Urazmetova’s visuals dazzled. This time, on the much bigger stage of the Belgrave, they seem a little dwarfed by the scale of it all. The room’s hardly full, and perched up on the stage they seem very distant. The music’s great. But it all lacks a bit of impact.
It’s a recurring problem of electronic music – you can never really tell how much of it is live. As Schnauss, with his back to the audience, hammers at his keyboard and occasionally tweaks a dial on his kit, who knows how much of it is prerecorded? It’s a show, but there’s not a lot of show going on. Urazmetova’s visuals are… fine. They’re glitchy and bright, but I’d be hard pushed to call them memorable.
I’m damning this with faint praise, and perhaps that’s a little unfair: the music’s great, the Belgrave serves good beer, we had a lovely evening. I just wanted it to be even better.
When the Belgrave first opened I remember asking someone what it was like. “So hipster”, they replied, explaining it was full of beardy, glasses wearing, craft-beer drinking fans of obscure bands. We did both, of course, fit that exact profile (although obviously WE weren’t hipsters). It feels fitting then, that the Belgrave was the scene of one of my most hipster gig going choices yet: going to a gig having only ever heard of the band at the very bottom of the bill.
Xam Duo, my reason for going, are half made up of Matthew Benn from Hookworms. Whilst they bring a very full on onslaught of noise, Xam Duo are a bit more refined – gentler and (whisper it) even a bit jazzy. Their continually evolving and developing single song sprawled over half an hour as percussive noises, keys and saxophone drones faded in and out. I would have happily seen them play for a lot longer. They’ve got an album on bandcamp which I’ll have to investigate soon.
They were followed by Let’s Eat Grandma, who’s name is basically their strongest point. I’m pretty disinclined to be rude about bands – I’d always much rather focus on positive experiences and ignore the less good bands – but I really can’t just pretend Let’s Eat Grandma don’t exist (however much I might like to). They were excruciating. Style was far outweighing substance as they flicked their hair around the stage moving from one instrument to the next. All the tunes are pretty thing and the lyrics even worse. The rapping was just embarrassing. In fairness to them, they are very young. Maybe at sixth form battle of the bands they’d top the bill. But judged as a real, touring band they fall very far short.
The only baffling this is why so many people around us seemed to love them.
If I was beginning to doubt the sense in coming to a gig on the strength of the support, Anna Meredith more than made up for Let’s Eat Grandma. I’d only had a chance to give the briefest of listens to her album so didn’t have a very clear idea of what to expect and was absolutely blown away. Anyone who brings a cello on stage gets a pretty good mark in my book but both a cello and a tuba? You’re just off the scale. She and her band were absolutely fab. They thundered through their set and looked like they were having a great time throughout.
So, I went to see one band, found another I loved and know to steer well clear of another. Not a bad score really.
Drinks: Ilkley Hanging Stone Stout – good, dark beer that manages to avoid running into the higher ABV numbers. A stout you can drink a few of.
Kirkstall Dissolution IPA – always a safe bet. Great stuff.