Burning Horizonsby Roger Young, images Paris Brummer / 14.07.2011
It was fuck cold even inside the venue, a theatre inside Wits that feels makeshift despite it’s history as a theatre lecture space for the drama department; something to do with the plastic chairs and the creaking wooden tiered seating, I guess. It was a Saturday night and I’d missed most of the Howl Folk Festival at the Nunnery; a week of the more obscure acts from around the country performing in interesting double bills, like the sparklingly twee Thomas Krane with the Folky Shotgun Tori or the emotionally exhausting Juliana Venter with instrumental speed chill masters Us Kids Know.
The Saturday was probably the most mainstream of all the couplings; The Frown and A Skyline on Fire; that should explain to you the level of loving obscurity Howl deals in. I’d seen The Frown the night before at Arcade Empire in P Town and their performance here was subdued in comparison; where at AE they seemed to get really into it and shed some of the layers they’re often accused of hiding behind, tonight at The Nunnery they slipped back into the forest with Eve Rakow performing from behind a suspended microphone stand slash body wrapped in white plastic. But I’m starting to risk sounding like The Frown’s personal blogger, so I’ll shut up about that.
During the interval I found Skyline huddled, wrapped and shivering in a doorway, queuing for the one toilet. “Fuck, why did people even come out tonight, are they crazy?” says Werner Burger. Performing under these circumstances is a bitch, it’s freezing, you’re in a large black voluminous stage, in front of a minimal crowd that is seated and you’re two guys on computers, guitar and voice.
When Skyline started, in front of the maybe seven to ten people still braving the cold, there was not much dynamic going on; the only movement was the two tiny photographers moving up and down the side-lines. Skyline, at first, are contained, almost insular and mostly static, either a product of the cold or of their melancholic electronica. The songs flow into one, seem similar, Haasbroek huddles around his table of toys, that is huddles as best as a tall bearded man can. Burger, at least has to keep strapping on his guitar between working on the keys giving some movement to the performance. I’m not really discerning the changes between songs; they are regular waves of build and whispers. Trying to get comfortable on my plastic seat, I’m a little underwhelmed and I find myself slipping away, willing the gig over. Somehow though, I’m drifting into a new space; they function as a meditation, a way of forgetting, a lush cathedral of longing.
I don’t know when this change took place but, by the time they perform Christmas Card, I’m sitting on the edge of my seat. Haasbroek is moving now, slow pounding his arms at half-mast. The theatre is full of tinkling, rolling drum patterns and Haasbroek’s choral looping shifting from live to recorded a second ago so deftly that it surprises when he steps away from the mic. Both of them are now stepping their feet, a sort of marching in place, their movements are slim but the energy pouring from the stage is mountainous.
“Stuck”, vastly different to the album version, starts with Haasbroek turning a single whistle into a flock of birds while Burger delivers stabs and restraint, somewhere along the way, this static gig became a more than just two people behind table of electronica.
They announce their last song, a cover, something they’re working on, “Forgive us,” warns Haasbroek, “We’re not virtuosos.” About three seconds into the snyth build, Haasbroek intones, it seems incredibly slowly, the first lyric, “I want to break free,” and I’m hit with a rush of nostalgia, they’re covering Queen. “I want to break free, I want to break from your lies, you’re so self satisfied, I don’t need you, God knows I want to break free,” is the time it takes for Skyline to have completely turned Mercury and co’s camp classic into a heartfelt plea, a yearning, an clawing out of some emotional wilderness. Haasbroek’s higher register vocal’s then slip into Burger’s slow motion version of Roger Taylor’s guitar solo that jars my consciousness; recalling at the same time the vision of Mercury’s Pan impersonation from the music video while Burger himself wanders around the stage like some lost Velvet Underground son. There is some kind of confluence between Depeche Mode and Jesus And The Mary Chain, yet something altogether new. Then the song builds. A jingling sequence comes from behind, a jogging rhythm sweeping from the back rooms over our heads, Skyline themselves marching and swaying their bodies in the wind of the supplication. And it ends. Abruptly. Cuts off. Into the kind of void that demands a room full of people leap to their feet and applaud. But it’s only the seven of us. And we stumble into the cold, unsure of how it happened, overwhelmed with virtuosity.
*All images © Paris Brummer.