Friday, 14 May 2010

Johann Johannsson, The Biltmore, 11th May 2010

Last time I looked in at the Biltmore, I was greeted by the fetid odour of record nerd sweat stench. I witnessed as tattooed punks hung from the rafters; and I ducked and dodged as not-so-empty cans, missiles of piss, lager, or both, flew past me and dropped their contents on unsuspecting audience members. Pretty typical gig really.

So what the hell, Biltmore? Tables? Candles? Mood lighting? A civilised audience that drank wine? Wine! Wine at a gig, well who'd have thought it?

Don't worry Biltmore, I'm just giving you friendly jest. It shows that I like you. You and your mood lighting really made the Johann Johannsson gig a special evening. The gentle chamber music you were playing as I walked in made me feel civilised, which is pretty rare, and the mature audience (some of whom wore shirts rather than 4-day-old t-shirts!) you filled the place with only added to the effect.

It's very rare that neo-classical composers, such as Iceland's Mr Johannsson, put on shows. Probably because they're often overlooked: their works/soundtracks lack that 3-minuteness that most listeners desire, that quick musical fix that grabs you, gives you a high, then is gone. They require concentration, so that you notice their subtle nuances: the way the violin parts flirt with each other, the way that 'power' is built gradually, delicately, and the way the electronic components potter about doing their own thing, come see what the 'classical' instruments are up to, and respect, rather than overpower them. It is a genre which mixes classical influences with modern computerised sounds and innovative recording techniques. When done badly, it is instantly forgettable of course, but when carried out by someone of great talent, it can be sublime.

Here I'm talking in particular about the music of Johann Johannsson, who is my personal favourite in this fluid, ever-shifting genre. Johannsson's works are, for the most part, built around concepts -eg. the failed Brazilian rubber plant 'Fordlandia' established by Henry Ford, or an old IBM computer Johannson's dad used back in the days when computers were as big as houses. Concepts of technological change, human endeavour, nostalgia and much more - thrilling works that have given me much pleasure, and which I share with everyone I can.

The show itself was remarkably enjoyable. An incredibly polished performance, sonically speaking perfect, and accompanied with beautifully photographed scenes to supplement the images created by the music itself. I wont go on, I just wanted to say that it was an event, in a way that all those sweaty shouty guitar gigs struggle to be.

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