Live Music + Gig Reviews

Stateless @ Battersea Arts Centre, London

18 May 2007

Battersea Arts Centre

Battersea Arts Centre (Photo: Morley Von Sternberg/BAC)

In the fickle world of the music business, sometimes talent just isn’t enough. You have to have the right mixture of luck, look and content to reach the heady echelons of super-stardom. A major-record label contract helps, not to mention gritty determination and mass-appeal can’t hurt: if you really want to be huge, the supermarket shelf is as important as the record shop geek.

Stateless are, therefore, something of a puzzle. It would be easy to understand their relatively slight exposure if they were wracked by one of these flaws, yet the boxes are all full of big fat ticks. They come fully endorsed by none other than DJ Shadow (who pinched vocalists Chris James for tracks on his latest album), were signed to Sony, released the excellent Bloodstream EP on Parlophone and now cut the rug with cooler than thou K7.

They also manage to fuse together a mixture of genres which should easily toe the line between critical acclaim, underground appreciation and mainstream popularity. Chris James is Yorkshire’s version of Thom Yorke played through a Jeff Buckley filter. On tonight’s encore Bloodstream, a dark brooding ballad-ish love song he manages to be both heartfelt and genuinely creepy: like being stalked by the boy next door.

They collectively sound like the paranoid android sitting in a corner, switching reception from the radio-friendly British rock of Coldplay to the Lost-In-Space sample laden hip-hop of UNKLE. On This Language, they fit in a sweeping string section, hook led chorus and what sounds like a nu-metal guitar riff, all coagulated into a trip-hop influenced lush syrup by DJ Kidkanevils’s scratches, bleeps and beats.

Exit is the kind of vast, swathing sound scape which would fill a stadium a hundred times the size of tonight’s understated coffee bar venue. The strings build under James’ breathy vocals, a huge drum beat clatters in the background and it all builds into an anthemic blend of samples. Down Here is understated at first: a piano key in harmony with a hushed vocal. But, on queue, drum and bass add some clout and a poignant, catchy chorus holds it all together.

There lays the blueprint for something which could be pretty big. Stateless are easily good enough to cut it with their contemporaries in both hip-hop and independent circles, but look and sound like they could lift from the mainstream record buying public’s wallets much in the same way as Massive Attack or Portishead did in the nineties. They have the disadvantage of a bludgeoning guitar based music scene to compete with, plus showcasing your wares in a caf south of the river hardly compares to their previous stint touring with DJ Shadow, but the formula looks a good one.

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Stateless @ Battersea Arts Centre, London