Nordic Giants

support Lucy Claire
author NB date 01/05/14 venue Cargo, London, UK

Tonight I am wandering from my office, on the eastern edge of The City, to a venue that’s unfamiliar to me, despite being practically on my doorstep. I find the place in the arches of a railway viaduct, halfway down an alley somewhere between Hoxton and Shoreditch High Street. To get there, I pass a plethora of the painfully hipster “boutiques” and “speakeasies” that seem to be springing up here like they’re going out of fashion (the reality perhaps being that they already went out some time ago). Inside, the exposed Victorian brickwork of the vaulted ceiling makes for a pretty cool auditorium (and, in fact, reminds me of the last time I saw this band at Heaven, under the near identical arches of Charing Cross station). However, when I learn that I will have to pay £5 for a 440ml can of Carlsberg, the shine quickly fades, and I feel obliged to categorise Cargo amongst the worst music venues in London.

Lucy Claire

No support act was mentioned on the promo material for this show, so I am surprised when a trio of elegantly dressed girls timidly creep onto the stage. We never learn this group’s name, if indeed it has one, but it consists of a cellist and a violinist, both centre stage, and a pianist /MacBook Pro operator who is clearly the mastermind behind the outfit. The three proceed to play two haunting, unstructured pieces in a minor key which are pleasing, but ultimately dull. To make matters worse, the instruments are amplified so inadequately that I leave my earplugs out and can sadly hear half the audience deep in conversation, as they cheerfully ignore the band. The Mac user then tells those that are listening that they are Lucy (Lucy Claire, I learn afterwards, alumna of the Royal College of Music), someone and someone, and that they are very grateful to Nordic Giants for having them, before quietly darting off the stage. No grade required, I think, for what appears to have been something of an experiment.

Nordic Giants

After that unexpected detour, the room is flooded with a thick pea-soup from the smoke machines, and the main course is served. For those unfamiliar with Brighton based, post rock double act Nordic Giants, this band is unique. The genre is synth-augmented post rock, with most tracks gradually layering up mournful piano and string soundscapes until they reach a crescendo heavily reliant on furious drumming. However, the music is just the tip of the iceberg. The band members present themselves as avian deities wearing large feathered headdresses and chest pieces fashioned from bone and leather under which body paint further obscures their human characteristics. They are lit from behind by coloured lights and strobing lasers leaving these birdmen as terrifying silhouettes as they attack their instruments in an atavistic trance.

As if the lighting and costumes are not spectacular enough, each song is accompanied by its own music video. Some of these are live action films, others are abstract CGI animations and they range from the pleasantly twee - an animation of a little girl collecting clouds in a box to help a yellow bird get to heaven, in “Shine” - to the dystopian - an android escaping the police along the streets of Moscow, in “The Gift” - to the just plain bizarre - a group of scuba divers emerges from a lake to discover the atmosphere has disappeared and they turn on each other as their air is depleted before being harpooned by a granny with a Zimmer frame, in “The Last Breath”. These films are apparently not commissioned by the band, which is no surprise as they seem to be rather impressive, high-budget productions, but they have become an integral part of their identity.

Many of the songs also feature vocals provided by a number of collaborators, who are occasionally present for live performances. On this occasion, we are joined by two female vocalists, both suitably garbed in feathers, bones and jewels. For the songs where the guest vocalist is not present, a video of them singing along in profile is displayed in front of the projector showing the main film. For the instrumental songs, the band members seem to take a more active role, getting up from their perches and playing additional instruments including a trumpet and a guitar (unusually played with a drumstick). The combination of all these different configurations makes for an endlessly entertaining show; the audience aren’t allowed to take anything for granted. Indeed, this is the third time I’ve seen Nordic Giants perform, and, with a large number of new tracks on offer, this has is the most intriguing and compelling gig to date.

The band takes a bow and leaves the stage and the credits for the various films roll by. Then, before the lights go up, another film starts playing. A man in a cell looks out of a tiny window before he starts to, graphically, smash his skull and cut out his own brain. There is no music, and the disgusted and confused gasps and groans of the audience can plainly be heard. The man throws his avulsed cerebrum out of the window and slumps down dead. The film ends, the band’s logo appears on the screen and the house lights go up with not a word of explanation. It’s an unfathomable cherry to top off an already wonderfully bizarre performance.

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