Portico Quartet – Live @ London KOKO
aaamusic | On 18, Apr 2013
London, 17th April.
Portico Quartet’s new ‘Live/Remix’ release – alongside this promotional KOKO show – is the sound of a band establishing itself confidently in the UK electronic music scene. Across three studio albums, including last year’s sublime self-titled record, this London quartet have hovered on the outskirts of both the contemporary jazz scene and the experimental electronic music scene (not to mention the instrumental post-rock scene – but we won’t go there), without really being part of either. That was always their charm – the inability to neatly categorise their music or musical aspirations. Did they even know where they stood? Did they care? What’s evident from tonight’s show, and their new double album, is that they are now striving for acceptance in the electronic music scene.
For starters, just look at the list of producer friends they’ve enlisted to remix their compositions for the ‘Remix’ side of their new release: SBTRKT, Luke Abbott, Capac and Scratcha DVA. Similarly, notice who they’ve brought along to support them on tour: Micachu and Anchorsong tonight, with LV and Brainfeeder’s Taylor McFerrin accompanying their 2012 Roundhouse show. They’re also carefully selecting electronic music-centred festivals to perform at – such as Croatia’s Dimensions and Outlook events. Finally, they’ve added subtle but self-assured electronic flourishes to their live songs – such as with tonight’s atmospheric performance at Camden’s KOKO.
Before Portico Quartet take to the stage, however, that is something of a revelation to discuss. Tokyo-born, London-based Anchorsong – aka Masaaki Yoshida – and his exhilarating live show. Accompanied by a female string quartet, who split into flanking pairs, Anchorsong creates dramatic and orchestral electronic music. Yoshida constructs and loops samples live, programming all the intricate drum parts effortlessly, and adding in live keyboard hooks, all the while conducting the quartet’s complementing classical string parts – which prominently soar, yet are never overbearing. The highlights are the renditions of the funky, bass-propelled house of ‘Darkrum’ (from his album Chapters), and the liquid drum’n’bass of the climatic ‘Devil’s Clap’ (from his Lost & Found EP), complete with stabbing strings. One to watch (i.e. literally go and watch him).
Now for the main event. Portico Quartet almost sneak onto the dark stage, not quite allowing the crowd to collectively celebrate their arrival. It’s all very low-key – no introductions, a dimly lit stage, and a minimalist opening cut. This creates a secure sense of intimacy. From this point on it’s a set of slow-burning, minimalist fusion music, with each song starting slowly – sometimes with just a delicate steel drum part, or a quiet programmed beat – and then building to a climatic release, almost like a mini ‘drop’, whether that drop be a beefed up double bass-line, or enhanced live drumming. All this is intertwined with Jack Wyllie’s saxophone – sometimes fragile in its restraint, sometimes free – and Duncan Bellamy’s live, looped samples.
And these electronic loops are significantly more prominent than their 2012 shows, such as their subdued show at Worldwide Festival (one of the greatest thing I’ve ever seen) that opted more for the contemporary jazz route. As the night progresses, even the lighting becomes suggestive of a club vibe – with glitter balls and blue torch lights sparking to life whenever a song steps it up gear. But let me make it clear – Portico Quartet don’t make club music. Their music remains minimalist and eerily spacious, with segments that revolve around soft but experimental art-noise and strung out jazz instrumentation.
The focus tonight is on renditions of tracks from last year’s Portico Quartet album, with highlights including ‘Laker Boo’, ‘Ruins’, ‘Sleepless’ featuring singer Cornelia, and a moving ‘City of Glass’.
Although these recent meanderings into deeper electronic experimentations showcase a band confident of where they’re heading, we can only hope that they don’t embrace the electronic music scene at the expense of their contemporary jazz backbone and minimalist post-rock noodlings. It is the ambiguity of their sound, and the scene that that they belong to, that makes Portico Quartet such a truly unique band.
Clive Paris Rozario