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Vessels / William Arcane (live at XOYO)

21 October 2015

I have found it quite dispiriting lately to read so many”death of live music” pieces when my experience is of a scene that is exciting and fresh as ever. I can only surmise that the people who write this stuff are not going to the gigs I’m going to, because I’d defy anyone to go to a night like this and not come away with a sense of optimism.Vessels live October 2015

Indeed so much of the electronic music that is being made at the moment is uplifting in both a spiritual and physical way and I think it is important to recognise the value of venues like XOYO which are keeping affordable gigging and clubbing available. As ever at this venue the crowd are very mixed; you really do see all human life in Hoxton. For all the hype, it remains a vibrant scene that is alive and well and largely unpretentious — I’ve said it before about this place: the staff are nice, the people are friendly, from the guy on the door to the smiley, chatty bar staff. Everyone wants to have a good time. It feels subversive in this era of ostentatious austerity to go out and enjoy oneself, a small act of rebellion that is a stoic reminder to not let the bastards get you down. A mentality that maintains that sense of connectedness and community in a world where those with a stranglehold on the story telling will try to make you feel alone and separate. Dancing in a room full of smiling people is a good place to remember that connection.

First up on the bill for this Wednesday night is William Arcane, a young, ballsy, very competent musician who makes excellent use of (very good) live vocal over looped samples and live percussion/loops. Although I enjoyed his performance, I found the influences a little too obvious — with time I hope he finds his niche. When he does I expect he will be fantastic.Vessels live October 2015

Headliners Vessels are really very, very, good, combining the elegance of their recorded sound with an infectious live energy, and the great communication they have onstage in tandem with the rapport they build with the audience makes for a powerful experience. All five band members are grinning their faces off as they ply their wares — tracks from this year’s excellent Dilate. They are techno pied pipers — looking around the crowd everybody is smiling, and the music is gorgeous — lush layers of melody underpinned with an elegant ferocity of percussion.

What is often missed in the general tutting and head shaking around live electronic music is that the narrative of nerds playing with themselves, twiddling knobs (fnar, fnar), is a cliché that really doesn’t serve the genre. This is real music, this is live music, and it is fantastic in this intimate setting.

Vessels are self-aware enough to acknowledge their techno lineage whilst making something entirely new. This show is fresh and delicious and filled with unexpected twists of loveliness. There are neat touches, such as the cute little shakers made from old tins held together with gaffer tape — the incongruity of such makeshift musicianship contrasting with the swathes of ultra-sleek synthesisers, sequencers and miles of cables — so much kit that their stage set-up looks like an advert for Roland.

Vessels live October 2015

And beneath all this, Vessels are the tightest live act I have seen for a long while — the bass is deep and body-shaking, melodies and samples sliding together seamlessly and that engaged communication means that when the synchronised percussion — drums, shakers, cymbals, samples et al — kick, they really kick.

Dilate has been a favourite record this year, and from the hypnotic simplicity of “Echo In” to the enormity of “Attica”‘s big drums and big samples, the impact of experiencing it this live and this close is immense. The effect is joyful, the very edge of techno elegance. It is an uplifting experience; I called it subversive and really that comes down to this: the unity of the scene, the thrill of being part of something, is a reminder that we are not alone, there are no others, there is no them, there is just us and we are better together. Art tethers us to reality.

Vessels’ joy is a shared joy, and if we can come back to that place often enough, we might just be able to remember it when the lights go out.

-Words: Arwen Xaverine-
-Pictures: Jim Bennett-

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