Live Review: Tansy Davies @ nonclassical, Cargo

Troubairitz album launch at Cargo, Shoreditch

feat. Azalea Ensemble and the Ritter Duo (I think…)

This month’s nonclassical was a perfect example of the ‘classical club-night’ at its best. Relocated to Cargo for the occasion of the label’s launch of Tansy Davies’s Troubairitz album, both the new venue and the music being showcased fitted the format perfectly. While the small upstairs room at The Horse & Groom can quickly become crowded, and even the raised stage area in the corner lacks perfectly visibility at nonclassical’s ‘home venue’, the larger stage, striking lighting and projected backdrop at Cargo meant that visual aspects of the performance were just as prominent as the brilliant amplification and sound mixing has always ensured the audible aspects will be. The night’s main programme of Davies’s music, performed by members of the youthful Azalea Ensemble in two discrete sets, was given support by the Ritter Duo (or so I believe they were called, standing in as they were for Kamama, the duo listed on the flyer). This percussion duo performed a short set of experimental yet engagingly theatrical pieces which simultaneously foregrounded performance and tone quality, these two aspects explicating each other as the material properties behind systematically manipulated sounds (produced on core, non-pitched instruments) were given explicit physicalised illustration. This level of overt theatricality was, for me, the perfect performance attitude to approach music which is really focused inwards, on the relationships between materiality and sound.

Azalea’s set was wrapped around the great Davies chamber triptych of neon, grind show (electric) and salt box, their distinct yet complimentary blasts of gritty riffing united by the honk of (bass) clarinet, the chug of laptop samples, and an angular rhythmicism that remains more luminously motivic and groovy than most contemporary art music, yet also more bold and purposeful than the edgy jazz and funk which might seem her strongest influence. Along with opening piece inside out 2, the ensemble pieces spray-painted in indelible green letters a thoroughly unique and recognisable style across the set, which was broken up by a number of solo pieces for violin and clarinet, all played superbly if a little bashfully by the performers. The stage set-up, within the partially-deconstructed interior of the club, backed by the ‘trash metal’ which was to augment the percussion section in neon and salt box, and completed by the violinist’s brilliant raspberry leggings, was totally appropriate to Davies’s music, in which slippery, sexy motives are squeezed out against the smoke of the ensemble’s collective clank and splutter.

The cheeky inclusion of a G Prokofiev piece, Sleeveless Scherzo for solo violin, in which an implied dance beat unravels behind rhetorical sighs and hiccups, fitted the programme well but – as ever – the intermediary DJ sets by Prokofiev and Richard Lannoy were too quiet to be the feature that they deserve to be, considering that electronic remixes are such a massive part of what makes the nonclassical label exceptional. Perhaps this was due to the particularities of the occasion – and, as an album launch, at which promo copies of the album were available for purchase with the promise of a free official version sent after its April release date, it functioned very well – but I do always feel like the DJ sections of the nonclassical evening are not given their due prominence. It would be especially welcome if the event, which is always billed to go on ’til late’, could make a smooth transition from ‘listening’ to ‘dancing’ music after the final act, and that the dancefloor potential of the producers’ DJ work might occasionally be tested. I feel that this would encourage a broader audience than the current faithful, and possibly a slightly younger one too, while also automatically opening the electronic parts of the night up to more serious engagement. After all, I listen far more intently when I’m dancing to when I’m chatting or purchasing expensive lager in what are treated as the ‘gaps between’ the musical sets.

While such developments would be an interesting addition to the event’s structure, this was still a very effective evening. The setting and format fit the ensemble and Davies’s music so perfectly that it seems genuinely strange to consider how extraordinary these performances circumstances actually are. If there was ever a ‘novelty’ aspect to nonclassical, it is without doubt long gone, leaving a model for live contemporary art music that seems intuitively natural, even as it is still quite criminally under-imitated and under-attended.


Here is the Azalea Ensemble website

and the nonclassical website

and also Tansy Davies’s website

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