Sunday, 2 March 2008

Keyboard Choir / Champion Kickboxer / Hong Kong In The 60s / The Leaf Library – 22 February 2008, Buffalo Bar

This month’s Fortuna Pop! Beat Hotel happening is imbued with the spirit of Our Lady of the Oscillator, Delia Derbyshire. There she is on the flier looking all ‘60s girl-boffinish in her hair-band, leaning over a bank of reel to reel tapes. Utter coolness.

The Leaf Library are the first to display their Radiophonic Workshop-inspired pop for our delectation, making a welcome return after a loonng time of not being here. They emit sounds that spin perfectly between electro-drone kosmiche and downy, gazing-out-of-windows indie-pop. There are rogue moments of jangling amidst the electric hum. I catch hints of Tigermilk era Bellend Sebastian in their second song - sweet YTS electronica. The third song (sorry no titles here) is dizzy drone loveliness, autumnal and luminescent. The fourth song ebbs and flows elegantly, tucking sparkly guitar in amongst a restrained, pattering Mo Tucker minimalism. The fifth song, an old one, is chiming machine-tooled motorik indie-pop and sounds like ripples on a lake with Stereolab vocals, (sorry the ‘S’ band had to be mentioned here at some point).

The stage is shadowy, highlighted by red light, adding an air of the bohemian. Through the crowd I catch glimpses of the drummer, a girl with a cascade of perfectly straight blonde hair, her face in profile against the red back wall. To her right, Jona does his Thurston Moore thrashy thing on a Rickenbacker bass. Up front Kate plays keyboards and sings. Sometimes there are girl vocals, sometimes boy vocals from guitarist Matt (Matt scoffed at the idea that he could be perceived as a ‘boy’ when I mentioned it before, but I mean the vocals are boyish). For the final song they switch and share the singing as the music rises from drifting and delicate to droning and shuddering, careening along on a reverbed up ending. Marvellous.

In a shock move, Hong Kong in the 60s, list ‘old Chinese and Japanese pop’ amongst their influences. It is a musical genre about which I am damn ignorant, so I am keen to be enlightened. To begin, the band is Tim and Mei Yau on keyboard and guitar, playing faltering, other-worldly pop. A few songs in, they are joined by Christopher who strides onstage to crack out a splendid, throaty rendition of Beat Happening’s ‘Redhead Walking’, whilst the others throw a louche garage swagger into the song. This, though, is an aural anomaly, mostly HK in the 60s make fragile music, laced with spectral tape crackle and softly fizzing radio interference. Mei Yau sings delicately against a glowing keyboard sound. The songs are lulling in their delicate hesitancy, like Broadcast at their most soothing or Saint Etienne relaxing under cherry blossoms. Hong Kong in The 60s end with another cover, this time taken from the fabled oriental pop genre, ‘Tian Mi Mi’ by Teresa Teng. It is melancholically beautiful, with a delicious heart-tugging undertow topped by oddball electronic squiggling produced by Mei Yau on a er, little wibbly keyboard thing (technical term). Hurrah! I feel a bit enlightened now.

We last saw Champion Kickboxer in February 2005 when their mossy, spooky single ‘Like Him and Her and Her and Me’ had recently been released. They don’t play it tonight (old news), but it’s okay ‘cos Champion Kickboxer have new spookily mossy songs to be heard. Their set starts off in early Super Furries sort of territory (the Ankst singles years), rambling over similar psychedelic meadows and marshes to those inhabited by Radio Luxembourg. But where Radio Lux do Barrety sunshine, Champion Kickboxer submerge into an eerie netherworld of sprained popsongs. Their songs are esoteric, ponderously odd, a touch queasy. There are tripsy tunes and drip dripping mournful melodies. The band employ toppling, twining vocals to great effect, voices bouncing off one another, echoes in a basement - see the stately ‘Master Of Dancing’ and the sorrowful swirl of ‘Photos’. The songs appear to become progressively more unhinged, there’s one about a monster plant, and something about ice-cubes in the garden. By the end we’re lost in a rapturous lysergic whirl. Which is just as it should be.

Our first tangling with the mighty electronic wonderscapes of Keyboard Choir was at Truck 2006. Disappointingly, the Choir are no longer clad in fabulously shit home-made robot costumes – bah! Where’s the fun in that? It’s almost as if they want us to listen to the music and not be distracted by folk clad in bog-rolls and tinfoil shuffling around the gaff. So Keyboard Choir stick to rumbling out clutches of apocalyptic synth assaults, soaring across sickly orange skies and nose-diving dizzyingly. They are lead by a conductor who stands centre-stage, back to the audience (you know, like…a conductor) gesticulating at several keyboard players (the ‘Keyboard Choir’, see?). We are ensconced in a far corner, but through the magic of that-mirror-that-is-inexplicably-on-the-wall to one side of the Buffalo Bar stage, it seems like the conductor man is facing us. Mirrors ,eh? We take all this in for a while, but midnight is approaching and the 277 is about to turn into a pumpkin or be driven by mice or something, so we sneak out, sound-tracked by shattering universes.

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