Melanie De Biasio and Auclair do not, at first glance, appear a natural pairing but complemented each other perfectly in this show from the James Lavelle curated Meltdown Festival at London’s Southbank Centre. Both artists played with the boundaries of song-form; De Biasio with digressive and lazily unfurling petals of sound and sudden stamen-bursts of activity; Auclair with an endearingly wonky cell-division, a proliferation of incremental rhythmic additions.
On stage first, Auclair looped and chopped her live vocals and percussion with pedals, her synth bathing the venue in bass; musical straight lines were bent and contorted. Songs of love, heartbreak, long train journeys, and Swedish bees were sung in a style reminiscent of a more soul-oriented Bjork; the Icelandic genius also detectable in the clock-work Vespertine-like arrangements; the fractured ice of that classic album replaced with the sweatiness of underground UK dance stylings of the Hyperdub variety; bright pixelated smears of synth washing the ticking rhythms in vibrant acid. Her upcoming EP should be awaited with high expectations.
Melanie De Biasio, playing with a band of drums, piano and electronics, deployed a theatrical but subtle sense of the dramatic, the lighting intrinsic to the show, almost a performer in itself, wrapped around her as she performed in silhouetted profile. The songs’ peaks and lulls were choreographed around the dancing illumination; the ending a fading drone dueting with an upright bright column of green, diminishing into darkness and silence; a brief silence, before much of the audience gave a standing ovation. Superficially old-fashioned jazz derived from smoky bar basements was subverted with ambient drift and avant-garde tangents; like a contracting and stretching wave, the departures into low pressure-pastoral passages were suddenly enlivened with heavy drum solos, the diaphanous nature of some of the songs often suddenly gaining thicker form and mass. A pianist picked up much of the work of a bassist with tight cycling riffs. The electronics were used with an effective scarcity, adding darkness and texture to an already shadowy morass. De Biasio’s voice was remarkable, thick and emotive without being cloying; in close fusion with the music, coming and going at intuitive moments, never centre-stage for too long but commanding when present.