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Heroes of Authenticity

by Sean Magner / Images by Chantel Clark / 06.09.2012

‘Born originals, how does it come to pass that we die copies?’ – Edward Young

The second edition of the All Originals Live Performance Series was upon us last weekend. Following the almost-relevant, nostalgic and now disbanded Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the second instalment was headlined by Swedish electronic-pop band, Little Dragon. Fronted by that little Nippo-Swedish bag of popping candy, Yukimi Nagano and expectations were high.

Winter tried to compete with the hype – it was her last night after all. Cape Town must be one of the few places in the world where side-rain is an actual possibility. Transformed from its familiar bourgeois Saturday morning organic hipster market garb, the Old Biscuit Mill donned a sleek new outfit, not dissimilar from some cigarette promo girls in their slinky white dresses. Unlike the promo girls though, this metamorphosis of sorts suited the venue and it didn’t seem unnatural. Wrapped in a warm fabric, the square hall was intimate, providing an easy-enough vista for most even though the gig was sold out.

Christian Tiger School (CTS) were up first and they are truly worth the hype. Sebastiano and Luc produce psychedelic aural patterns, sampling both the familiar and alien grooves, allowing the listener to bob, fresh like morning dew on a blade of grass gently rustled on the wind. Having released their debut album, Third Floor, on local label Bombaada last week, I was able to have a listen to the tunes prior to the gig in the comfort of my own room – and this is perhaps what leads to their biggest challenge. The type of music CTS produce, along with the rest of the Chillwave hip hop stalwarts like Washed Out, Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi, is of an intensely personal, down-tempo nature. A genre which is usually enjoyed alone or amongst a small group of friends, chilling, makes it difficult to perform live and induce the type of lazy joyous reactions brought about through a pair of headphones.

The beats are there to back the boys up though. ‘SABC 2’, ‘Eastern Food Bazaar’ and ‘Vakadis’ are stand out tracks from the album and when combined with the likes of ‘Electric Mountain’ and the Questlove’d ‘Carlton Banks’, all looks promising. Yet something else is going to have to emerge for CTS to become a live act to be reckoned with. The promise is there – when Sebastiano whips out the electric guitar and starts recreating their beloved samples live, excitement flows. But the constant head-bopping and knob-twiddling needs to be incorporated with a bigger more inclusive on-stage energy. I have a firm belief that this will come with time.

After an epic quest and much elbow jousting to get a drink, Felix Laband was pretty much done. From what I could gauge he’d managed to impress, with throngs of hands going up in the air whistling in adulation and even some ululation adding to his outgoing icy soundscape.

I had initially thought Little Dragon would be like most female-fronted bands I’ve seen – a bunch of sullen beards dressed in black with the only inkling of life emanating from a banshee in the front row who’d been dumped a few too many times and taken too many psychedelics. The Swedes were quite the antithesis of that. Yukimi, Erik, Fredrik and Håkan all brought something to the performance in a way in which saw these high school friends share the stage and convey a masterful performance of neo-soul-tinged electronic.

Little Dragon

The band was devoid of a throbbing masculinity, in the best way possible. This was intelligent pop at its finest, not the dross you’ll hear on most of our radio stations. There was no ego surging to the front from any of the band members, their sound too was one of finesse and restraint which would ascend into throbbing bass-lines over manic carnival inspired drum patterns; all the while being casually adorned with Yukimi’s agile vocals and Håkan’s mad keyboard-bashing.

The set was one of frenetic velocity. The sound would vary from trip hop and SA-inspired house material to the wonderful sing-along that is ‘Ritual Union’ – even crumbling into improv-progressive jazz at some points. The energy was evident by Yakumi’s awkward tapping of her percussion pads, Erik’s frenzied mix of electronic and actual drums and how could I leave out the crazed drunk chick in front of me who was so keen she was dancing like a demon possessed. I’m fairly certain her knees bent the other way. At one point I thought to myself ‘wasn’t Nottinghill Carnival last weekend?’

If I could offer one critique of the performance it would be that the improvising happened too often and it would regress to a point where the intricacies of the music was lost leading me to believe it was just some monotonous impersonation of boring house music. But this was a blip on the radar in light of the euphoria that was constantly being exchanged between the band and the crowd. The encore lasting much longer than anyone anticipated. By the end, colours were bursting out of every orifice like a Nyan cat had been hurled across the room. Spring had most certainly arrived.

It’s all good and well to bang the shit out of some drums, screaming ‘more cowbell!’, but it takes a certain type of talent to show restraint. Little Dragon’s choice to close their set with the melancholic ‘Twice’ was what made me realise why they are held in such high regard by their peers – they are after all one of the most collaborative bands out there working with the Gorillaz, SBTRKT, DJ Shadow et al.

Revelling in the hype that was generated last week after his OkayAfrica mix went viral, Jakobsnake seemed suitably charged to sustain the energy after what Yukimi and the boys had initiated. Starting his set with a ‘Shosholoza’ rework that had a bass line more luscious than Nicky Minaj’s posterior.
The mission statement for The All Originals Performance Series was to showcase ‘relevant international entertainers of the highest calibre’ that would inspire our own scene. If they keep bringing acts like these, I have sufficient hope that this concept will provide us with at least a few performances a year that do just that.

*All images © Chantel Clark.

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