Sunday saw the culmination of this year’s BBC 6 Music Festival in Glasgow with another night of music across the city. While big acts like locals Belle and Sebastian and highly anticipated headliners Depeche Mode drew crowds at the O2 Academy and Barrowlands, St Luke’s was once again the focal point for somer of the newer and more experimental acts at the festival.
While the night’s main attraction, Scottish Album of the Year award-winner Anna Meredith was clearly set to be the biggest spectacle, other performers were well worth a mention. Forest Swords, the nom de guerre of Liverpudlian producer Matthew Barnes was a hit with the audience as they were lulled by his particular brand of low-key, laid-back dub. Barnes shared the stage with a bassist which added an interesting live element to the experience, enhanced by the fact that the two performers were positioned far away from each other on either side of the stage, which increased the sensation of mild tension that Barnes’s music induces. While his work has always been a hit with critics, his output has never been prolific, which is in part attributable to the fact that he suffers from tinnitus. However, earlier in the month he released new track The Highest Flood, which he gifted the audience a performance of. With its doom-inspired brass and distorted vocals it’s the sort of track that sends a shiver down your spine for all the right reasons.
Next to take the stage was Brixton artist Gaika. Host for the evening, Radio 6 Music DJ Mary Anne Hobbs introduced him as ‘bringing the darkness’ to the venue that evening, and indeed his music was dark, unrelenting and powerful. Having previously described his sound as ‘ghetto-futurism’, Gaika’s eclectic mix of gothic grime, Caribbean dancehall and hip hop is unapologetically political, representing a new genre of sonic exploration and exposition of masculinity, race and economic struggle in the UK capital. While texturally complex, Gaika’s music is fairly uninteresting melodically, which makes engaging with it challenging, although the performer’s energy on stage helped mitigate this somewhat. While the early-evening crowd was politely attentive, they took a while to warm up to a level that was to Gaika’s liking, leading him to tell them with slight exasperation, “I know it’s Glasgow, but you’ve got to move your arms.” By the end of the performance however, there were even some dancers in the audience and the applause he received suggested he was well appreciated.
After a DJ set from Mary Anne and Mogwai-member Stuart Braithwaite to entertain the crowd while the stage was reset, Anna Meredith and her band finally graced the stage. With minimal fuss they launched into the epic Nautilus, opening track of Varmints, the album that earned her the title of SAY award-winner last year. The album – as excellent as it is – does not do Meredith’s sound justice in the same way this live performance did. The almost overwhelming heavyweight bass of the tuba somehow balanced perfectly against the more gentle sounds of the cellos and guitar. In fact, balance is the perfect way to describe Meredith’s music, which constantly achieves the perfect equilibrium between synthetic and organic sound. The addictive element of this comes from the fact that this balance so often feels precarious – the music is so complex that you are constantly holding your breath as you wait for it to crash and burn. But each time the anticipation lead to nothing as the highly talented band navigated the complicated and ever-changing musical landscape. With obvious enjoyment and passion, Meredith switched between keys, clarinet, percussion and vocals, all the while keeping a close eye on proceedings.
Her solo vocals, however, were somewhat anticlimactic, failing to match the high standard of musicianship she herself had set. However, there is so much to be said for her compositions that this was barely a blip in a highly engaging set. Through her wildly dynamic and creative pieces, Meredith succeeded in showcasing not only her own and her musicians’ talent but also the diversity of the individual instruments and the range of sounds they can create.
Photo by Karen Miller.