By Daniel Mackenzie (@EkcaLiena)
Walking through the early Friday night mess-about-to-happen of Dalston, I’m listening to a French black metal (ish) band so at odds with Room40’s curatorial style it’s almost amusing. This band deal in truly hellish atmospheres that sit awkwardly above brutal drum and guitar noise attacks. They really aren’t so different. If you swap out hell for heaven and pull the aggression out so that it jettisons transients, things seem to overlap. It may be a fair stretch to imagine, but the most disparate of genres reach a common ground in noisy ambient music. It’s a slow motion mongrel in the centre of a vortex.
As John Chantler’s set opens I expect to see a vinyl record being manipulated atop a deck. Not so… Anonymous devices instead produce gravelly shifts of sound, smeared across an inaudible void, sonic oils smudged together. Further mangling is added with filtered delays, then a metallic resonance smooths things into noise. It behaves like mercury, chirping in a melting chamber, soon flanked by dissonant organ-like tones and networks of marble beeps. The overall impression is like a temporal experience of a John Monks painting – through overlapping sonic elements one witnesses nothingness arrange into forms, black landing heavily and psychedelic colours streaming through the gaps. The gathering assault reaches a peak and whistling drones fall about it, holding a plateau before breaking down into twenty or so seconds of near silence.
Tonight is the London show of Room40’s 15th anniversary tour of Europe. With the dedication it has to the out-sound community, Cafe Oto is the only place this could have happened really; the sense it makes is bottomless, and the crowd, responsible for a sold out event is familiar and welcoming. In an unconventionally direct address, Raphael Anton Irisarri delivers a prologue to his set, lauding Room 40’s head Lawrence English for his attitude towards releasing music. The voice in the noise is touching, though his set is unfairly hexed…
An amniotic environment is grown, filling the room with lush tone and movement, and the mind is swiftly caught up inside it. Within this lush soundtrack it wanders around the room and settles on myself, surveying the colours of my immediate existence. The beige paper of the beer bottle label and my bare arms, golden in the spotlight above. Then a world of black: the stout in the dark bottle, my clothes and the shadows. By now a group of rich, yearning electric guitar swells have painted the atmosphere with melancholia, too heavy for a Japanese Aesthetic but with the same contemplative, enigmatic mystery. A very post-rock set of distorted strums barely have time to find their feet before technology buckles and an unruly sound card blows and brings about a premature end. A real shame, but after a sincere apology I sense that nobody minds, nobody feels ripped off. The social warmth doesn’t allow anything but friendly commiserations.
So, earlier than planned, and with a little more time to work within, Lawrence English steps up and offers sea sounds swelling with organ tones and increasing bass. An early half-peak dies away to reveal a lush section of beeps and vocal sounding swells, soon decimated by lightning strikes and dynamic thrust. In a fashion typical of recent English, the intensity and fragility exchange places over the best part of an hour, each dramatic arc with a character altered from the last. One more would be too many, two less would leave something lacking… a satisfying midpoint is reached. A softness wraps around the conclusion, sounding like the quieted heartache of Celer, displaced in the cosy atmosphere of the room. And aside from a stranger’s Facebook life waving in front of me on a phone screen for a few unfortunate minutes of the last set (suggesting an attitude of selfish disrespect to audience and performer – was it you?), all else was wonderful. Happy fifteenth birthday Room40, we’ll see you in the future.