Versatile, crossover sounds of German piano/electronics duo ultimately prove to be a striking proposition
Few acts have been as successful over recent years in blending the sounds of the piano with electronics as German duo Grandbrothers. It’s a combination pianist Erol Sarp and programmer Lukas Vogel have refined over the course of their last two albums, with both 2017’s Open and last year’s career highlight All The Unknown possessing melodies and textures that were easy to embrace and appreciate.
The early stages of tonight’s show at Islington Assembly Hall were characterised by moderation and restraint, as the pair eased themselves into the set, carefully ensuring their thematic consistency was maintained. During these opening moments it felt Sarp’s piano lines had to work a little harder to compete with Vogel’s electronics but slowly the two components aligned. Before long signs of the emotional warmth that has defined their recorded output began to emerge, the decorative journeying and smooth transitions of Four Rivers being notable in this respect.
One aspect that was hard to ignore however was the sound of audience chatter which occasionally resulted in some of the piano delicacy being lost amid the hum. Had the show taken place at a seated venue such as the Barbican or Queen Elizabeth Hall these moments may have fared better. Yet, you suspect duo don’t mind how their shows involve such social elements and enjoy the lack of restrictions that would come with traditional concert hall etiquettes. Gaining that physical reaction from the crowd is clearly something that is important to their identity. At various points Sarp leans into his instrument to manipulate the hammers and strings and also adds percussive elements via customised pieces attached to the piano. The former recalls Nils Frahm and also reminds us how they are surely the most ‘Erased Tapes’ of artists not to actually feature on the label.
Their live show further confirms how there’s an all purpose suitability to their music, whether it’s something to have on in the background to aid focus while working, its polite clubbiness to which you can gently move or its ability to soundtrack life events (at one stage Sarp reveals how some fans have chosen Grandbrothers tracks to play at their wedding). It’s certainly possible to see a versatility within their music, although it may occasionally be a double edged sword of sorts that risks them falling between musical worlds.
They hold the big hitters back until the end, with the beautiful piano reconciliations of What We See and the gentle electronic reverberations of Organism both standing out. All The Unknown benefits from some impactful strobe enhancements and new track Yonder sees the piano eschewed in favour of high octane beats, helping to elicit a rapturous response from the crowd. It shows how when they fully hit their stride, as on moments like these, their classical/electronic crossover is a striking proposition.