It was tough to consider this gig outside the context laid by East India’s Youth’s triumphant show at the same venue – The Green Door Store – a couple of months ago. Friday night? Check. Full expectant venue? Check. Recently released debut LP? Check. Critically acclaimed? Check. Predominantly electronic? Check. Forest Swords would have some way to go to top that gig.
First were Adolescent, a bass and electronics duo under the management banner of Joe Grant, main man behind the evening’s promoters Be Nothing. They are definitely ambitious, running through a variety of sounds in their half hour slot. The first track – with its sluggish, methodical beats, over-driven synths and simple basslines – recalls the witchy atmosphere of OoOOo or Salem. There’s an exciting hiss and crackle throughout, though it’s difficult to discern if it is an intentional or serendipitidous distressed flavour to proceedings. Second track, the recently released ‘Golden Halls (Part 2)‘, is the high point of the set, with its metronomic percussion and blissed-out synth line recalling a chilled, early u-ziq. However, twice the duo doesn’t quite nail the song as they should. They’ll come back better and stronger for the experience and will be worth catching at their free EP release show at the Bermuda Triangle on 12 May.
Given the excellent critical response to 2013’s long awaited debut album Engravings it seems odd that the Liverpool-based Matthew Barnes and his bassist opted to kick off with two tracks that predated that record. Even in the down-tempo, slow motion, future-dub world of Forest Swords, ‘Rattling Cage’ and ‘The Light’ are two of the least rabble rousing tracks on offer and both were performed in their customary understated fashion to a slightly muted response. Engravings opener “Ljoss’s” familiar Eastern tinged refrain then poked through the haze and for the remainder of the gig the crowd’s attention increased significantly with the nodding of heads rather than the moving of feet.
The duo appears to eschew the attention of the crowd by playing at each other in a manner those who have seen Fuck Buttons will be familiar with. This suits the low-key, anonymous nature of the music but, unlike East India Youth’s exuberance, makes it difficult to feel any personal attachment to the project as it unfolds in front of you. The thoughtful projections offered genuine focus to each song and Barnes’s subtle, live remixing of his own tracks kept thing interesting though. The remainder of the set was dominated by the new album with ‘The Weight of Gold’, ‘Thor’s Stone’, ‘Friend You Will Never Learn’ and ‘Gathering’ all received politely.
Intriguingly, they chose to encore with two unreleased songs. The first track followed the template laid down by earlier offerings, a slow, heavy, dubby bassline with a repeated, memorable electronic motif across it. The second track appeared to move into instrumental hip-hop territory, all it was lacking was a rap. Perhaps that’s the way that Barnes plans to spice up his musically excellent but slightly un-inclusive live experience in the future. He’s got the songwriting and production skills but needs a visual focus to progress further.