Live Music + Gig Reviews

Micachu + Thecocknbullkid + Alessi’s Ark @ ICA, London

29 April 2009



More of a mini festival than a gig, the Actionaid 6 Degrees event brought together bands, DJs and fundraisers for the benefit of women’s rights in the Third World.

Kicking off the evening in the ICA was Alessi’s Ark, whose mix of West Coast folk and English pastoralism has been attracting next-big-thing buzz of late. Comparisons have been made with the edginess of Björk and Joanna Newsom, but in truth they’re are an altogether more amiable outfit; with Alessi Laurent-Marke’s low-key sweetness very much the core of the band.

The freshness of sound ensures that we’re never quite in Norah Jones territory, though on the occasions when the music’s as cute as Alessi herself, the patchouli-scented ghost of Stevie Nicks periodically rears its head. Things only really get interesting when they divert from the smooth tunefulness of their Notes From The Treehouse album into ramshackle, late-’60s Bob Dylan electric folk, as on the Hammond-led version of Asteroids Collide.

Though she only has a couple of singles under her belt, Thecocknbullkid is very much the complete package. All jutting hips and wagging fingers, Anita Blay is part disco princess and part Motown starlet, fronting a thunderous electro-rock band. While she wears all of her influences unashamedly on her sleeve, the end result is as sparky and modern as anything out there.

Where electro often risks acting as a mask for questionable musical ability, her talent – and star quality – was very much in evidence here. Even when technical issues (in setting up the electronics for her recent single I’m Not Sorry) brought the show to a standstill, Anita merely giggled and instigated an on-the-hoof pub quiz. Without the merest flicker of concern. Super cool.

Stripped of Matthew Herbert‘s slick production of her Jewellery album, Micachu‘s live act is all about dissonance and experimentalism. Her set opened with the weird, halting Wrong – hardly a crowd-pleaser at the best of times – with the speeding up and slowing down of the tempo even more exaggerated than on record, and every instrument played to sound as raw and distinct as possible. Micachu and her backing band the Shapes are all students of music theory, so it comes as no surprise to hear music that sounds like it’s being physically constructed rather than played.

Everything that could sound choppy, nasty and distorted was made to do so; resulting in a sound that’s closer to the jerky punk of Erase Errata than to the cerebral electronica of her recorded output. A guitar is thrashed upon, at neck level, like a ukulele. An revolving optic stand of vodka bottles is used as a drum kit.

Sounds emerge which cannot logically be traced back to any of the apparatus on stage. And only Curly Teeth sounds anything like a song; amped up, as if in spite, to an intimidating, floor-shaking volume. Quite marvellous if you’re on her wavelength; downright terrifying if not.

Amidst such a diverse and exciting line-up, some profound messages were conveyed via short films and a speech by journalist Miranda Sawyer; preventing us from complacently forgetting that this was an event with a moral purpose. Learning that women in South Africa stand a greater chance of being raped than receiving an education was deeply shocking, and almost impossible to imagine for a predominantly white, middle-class Western audience. A challenging and illuminating evening, on all levels.

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