You’ll probably struggle to find a live music venue in the UK that’s quite as beautiful as East London’s Hackney Empire. A truly stunning room, the cavernous, three-tiered space is adorned with beautiful golden intricacies on every balcony, wall and ceiling fixture. But of course, a venue of this grandiosity demands a performance of equal measure in order to thoroughly impress, and thankfully, the Erased Tapes 5th Birthday party has rolled into town to do just that.
As we eagerly await tonight’s first act, we’re treated to sounds from The Caretaker’s (Beardrock approved) 2011 album An Empty Bliss Beyond This World. Crackling softly through the speakers, it’s clear that the Erased Tapes crew understand a thing or two about scene setting, and as the last stragglers finally find their seats, the lights dim, and A Winged Victory For The Sullen emerge with a 10 piece string section in tow. Here, the incredible acoustics of the venue are really tested as the band play a set that’s packed full of humongous swells that manage to fill the room completely; and in spite of the warmness provided by the string section, the music still sends shivers racing down the spine. Here in this big room, the song We Played Some Open Chords sounds absolutely stunning tonight; the impressively powerful reverb and overall intensity of the piece seems to electrify the atmosphere in a way simply can’t be replicated via headphones or a fancy living room hi-fi.
After the vastness of the preceding performance, Ólafur Arnalds appears to be very alone as he enters the stage. Bundled up on the left hand side, he sits amongst a couple of pianos and some assorted electronic devices. Gone is the warmth of the big band, and now, with an intangible fragility, Ólafur delicately puts fingers to keys. Amidst the silent reverence, he builds and builds, adding loops, layers and more atmospherics on top of everything, before once again the whole room is filled with glorious noise. Crashing electronic beats juxtapose the gentle tapping of hammers on strings, and the sheer weight of the whole thing keeps us all firmly pressed into our seats and fully alert. Accompanied by Anne Müller on cello and the incredible Viktor Orri Arnason on violin, Ólafur takes us through a magnificent rendition of Near Light that epitomizes the blissfulness that can occur when classical instrumentation is perfectly fused with computerized sounds. But we wouldn’t be getting a full dose of Ólafur Arnalds if our heart strings weren’t pulled to near breaking point at least once. And so, towards the end of his set, the 26 year old dutifully fulfills this obligation with a devastatingly somber piano piece entitled, ’Song For Grandma’. Dedicated Ólafur’s grandmother who passed away last year, it chills the entire room.
Thankfully, the exuberant nature of Nils Frahm as he bounds on stage allows us to shake off some of the sadness we felt before the break. However, cracking out a stiff and notably Germanic take on the notion of sarcasm, he informs us that he only has one song to play for us tonight because of his recently broken thumb. Without further comment, he begins to rhythmically tap on his piano lid, looping and adding delay to the various beats as he goes along. For an entirely percussional piece, it’s surprisingly good. However, after this brief curiosity is over, Nils then makes an awkward exit and leaves a somewhat confused audience possibly beginning to entertain the idea that he might have been serious about not playing after all.
Cue an appearance from Erased Tapes label founder Robert Raths, who stumbles halfway through a clumsy yet endearing thankyou speech before having his microphone hijacked by Frahm who has now thankfully returned to the stage! After a few more jokes, Nils finally settles down at his piano to give us the performance we’ve all been waiting for. His musicianship is unbelievable. Playing often at breakneck speeds, Frahm cross pollinates his piano led music with healthy flourishes of subtle synth work as he reaches over with his left hand to play supporting melodies on an electronic keyboard. Not only does it sound absolutely amazing, but it’s also hugely impressive to see someone work like this, and as Nils blitzes through lengthy pieces, he clearly has every single onlooker engaged and hanging on to every last note. Of particular note is the 2011 track More, which takes on a tremendously hypnotic quality, the powerful low end synth work adding real punch amongst the trebly keys. Nils is rightfully rewarded with a standing ovation as he leaves the stage. By this point, the night feels like an absolute success. But as everyone starts to make a move towards the exit, Nils hurriedly rushes back onstage and asks us if the reason we’re all leaving is because we don’t want to hear any more music. I’ve never seen people return to their seats so quickly.
Everyone from tonight’s previous performances manage to squeeze onstage, and all of a sudden my field of vision is completely filled with a large group of incredibly talented people. Together, in magnificent harmony, the supergroup begin to play what is possibly the most unbelievable piece of live music I have ever heard in my entire life. Utterly breathtaking, the dramatic lighting frames the immense performance, permeated by a techno-inspired synth riff and featuring every single member of the family playing with all their hearts. The noise rises exponentially, reaching a tremendous cacophony before finally, having to shout above the colossal noise, Nils orders everyone to cut the sound dead at exactly the same moment. For a split second, an overwhelming silence stuns the room until the entire crowd erupts in jubilation - the second standing ovation of the evening. Tonight, the Erased Tapes family leave the stage having done their job perfectly. They’ve just put on the best gig of the year.
Posted: Fri 26 October 2012