It all began slowly. A synth bass pulse, quiet at first, increasing in volume until the whispering, meandering masses turned their collective attention stageward in recognition of Diferente.
So began an evening grounded in Argentina’s nuevo tango style as Gotan Project took to the stage as a 10-piece in pristine white suits and dresses. A string quartet lurked towards the back, behind a grand piano, accordion and guitar, with chillout beats from two besuited DJs lording it over the lower stage from behind one of the projection screens.
The eyecatching presence of singer Cristina Vilallonga centre stage, a vision in white, was offset against a backdrop of projected vintage footage of big bands and ballroom troubadours swinging, writing large Gotan Project’s musical source material across the stage and their very attire.
A couple more tracks from current album Lunatico followed before El Capitalismo Foraneo seemed to ring a bell with some of the audience. The crowd gathered closer and started to sashay to the sassy tango beats. It was a change of mood, but despite all the visuals and the insistent beats, attention at times wandered away from the rather static figures on stage. Why not a tango couple demonstrating the music’s passion? With almost the only movement taking place on film, it felt as though something was missing.
One track featured two projected virtual MCs giving rap voice to the mood music that was dominating the evening. Rattling through La Revancha Del Tango tracks Una Musica Brutal, Triptico and Notas elicited whoops of recognition. There was even space for a new track at the main set’s end – a brave suggestion of more to come that saw several musicians change instruments and a marching drum make its debut.
An encore, complete with generous amounts of time devoted to lapping up applause, closed and, after yet more shows of appreciation, they returned – with Akala. Adding a rapper to a night of Gotan Project, even one harbouring this Londoner’s quickfire vocal style and fearless stage presence, seemed strange at first, visually as well as musically. He was the only person on stage not dressed smartly in white, preferring instead a loose yellow t-shirt. But, as he roved around the stage as a ball of energy, with just one song he brought more passion to the set than Gotan Project, for all their undoubted effort and technical virtuosity, had managed all evening.