Live Music + Gig Reviews

Austra @ Scala, London

6 September 2011


What exactly do you have do to whilst training to be a classical musician? Such a large proportion of them seem to be so immensely keen to spend their lives (post training) doing something pretty damn far away from classical music. Is it like that bit in Kill Bill where Uma Thurman runs up and down temple steps with buckets of water balanced at the end of each arm, while her mentor cackles, strokes his beard and threatens to pluck her eye out with a single finger? Only with quavers, semi-quavers and arias?

Anyway. There is a point, and it’s Katie Stelmanis. The blonde, classically trained – via opera school – centre to Austra. And almighty Christ, what a voice. When she properly unleashes it, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve dipped your face into a wind tunnel. It’s extraordinary. It’s also a hell of a propellent for the music. Whilst there are certainly precedents for having mannered, precise female vocals – hell, at the moment you could even call it a trend – cavorting on top of new-wave electro tracks, Stelmanis’ stands out. It loops and flutters and rises and falls, in a fashion that you could only describe as operatic, if it wasn’t that actually that’s less a description and more a cold hard statement of fact.

This was a gig that really helped humanise Austra. That shot of warmth, of heart, of emotion that got injected live is something that could really help to distinguish them from those ploughing similar furrows. Those waves of undulating Blade Runner synths that, on record, seem a little cool, a little icy, a wee bit wary of your presence, here grab you by the hand, pass you a glowstick and tell you to get on down.

There are similarities to Fever Ray, of course, but it’s a bit more human, a bit more emotive. There are elements of Goldfrapp glamour, but it seems a bit less likely to be crammed into PVC chaps. There are a few common threads shared with Zola Jesus but it’s a bit less like being trapped in an East German smelting plant. Out of those bits of commonality, something glittering emerges. That voice, or voices, as tonight Stelmanis is supported by Sari and Romy Lightman from Tasseomancy, make it soar into the sort of euphoric state you don’t oft equate with a wet Tuesday night in Kings Cross. (Unless you… No. Shan’t go there.)

Darken Her Horse was good, The Choke was great and Lose It was simply stunning. Some kind of mental hybrid of the Habanera from Carmen and Silent Shout by The Knife. And Beat And The Pulse? Epic. Figaro’s loss is most definitely our gain.


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More on Austra
Austra – HiRUDiN
Austra @ Village Underground, London
Austra – Future Politics
This Music Made Me: Austra
Austra – Olympia