Live Music + Gig Reviews

Ex Eye @ Milton Court, London

13 May 2018

Milton Court

Milton Court (Photo: Em Davis)

Max Richter and artist Yulia Mahr’s Sound and Visions weekend is one of scope. From Jlin’s progressive electronics to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s earthy modular creations the breadth of acts on the bill ranges far beyond Richter’s own contemporary classical music, which in itself is difficult to pigeonhole. The Sunday afternoon slot at the Barbican’s Milton Court proves to be as diverse as any paring on the bill, presenting Berlin-based electronic composer Caterina Barbieri to begin and avant-metal quartet Ex Eye to conclude the session.

Visually Barbieri’s set offers little in the way of performance per se, but what it lacks in visuals she more than makes up for with her sonic experiments. That said, there’s something strangely transfixing about watching her conjure such extraordinary sounds with such composure from what looks like an unholy mess of multicoloured wires. Over an hour Barbieri crates a myriad of polyrhythmic, complex and moving pieces that are brutal in places and utterly beautiful in others. It makes for a wonderful opening set that hypnotises, moves and shocks in equal measure.

On the surface, Ex Eye is a very different prospect altogether, being ostensibly a jazz-metal quartet. But while they certainly bring the heavy to the afternoon, like Barbieri’s set brute and beauty combine for a fantastically exhilarating performance. Xenolith: The Anvil opens, as it does on record, and from the off, it’s clear they are going to put on one hell of a show as the four virtuosos on stage start as they mean to go on, at a fever pitch.

The four-piece features some familiar names, not least saxophonist Colin Stetson. His solo shows are an astonishing feat of physicality and skill, of circular breathing and baffling textures, here all of that is present but it’s also great to see him feed off his bandmates. Whether he’s creating the gut rumbling bass pulses of Anaitis Hymnal: The Arkose Disc or the melodically radical tenor sax of Form Constant: The Grid he both grounds and elevates the heady concoction the four collaboratively make with a powerhouse performance. While Ex Eye’s music may arguably be more immediate than his solo work, it’s certainly no less unique or boundary-pushing.

Equally, Liturgy’s Greg Fox is a rare bird. Throughout the set, he proves time and time again quite what in inimitable drummer he is. The sheer variety of pace and style on a track like Opposition/Perihelion demonstrate his power, precision and thirst that make for such characterful percussion. And just to mix it up Shahzad Ismaily provides some astonishing Moog work, a rather brilliant addition given it’s not entirely what you expect to hear in the realms of metal. And while Toby Summerfield, for the most part, maintains a pretty low key, if no less vital, presence he also pulls off a guitar solo towards the end that leaves ear-to-ear grins on his band members faces with lightning-quick scales and an eye-widening feedback interlude.

Live, Ex Eye are as visually engaging as they are musically. They play like demons and seemingly feed off each other’s energy, and the urgency with which they attack their respective instruments matches the music’s suspense. While the music is undoubtedly muscular, it’s far from meat headed, and their show is as entertaining as it is provocative. Their performance was heavy, rhythmical, and thrilling, confounded expectations for an edge of the seat performance that sounded like nothing else. This was a gig that was less a clash of titans than it was a riotous party of Greek mythological grandeur, surely what Sunday afternoons were made for.

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Ex Eye @ Milton Court, London