14th November | Exchange
Carla dal Forno embodies minimalism. The music she makes is ambient and hazy; it doesn’t blast from the speakers, more floats out of them like a fine mist.
Her stage set-up at Exchange tonight is fitting then. Stripped back, it features nothing more than a microphone, a bass guitar and a desk flooded with electronic music equipment at the back. Similarly, the show doesn’t start with a bang, but drifts into focus slowly. Positioned behind the equipment-filled desk, Mark Smith, dal Forno’s right-hand man, conjures up a sea of rustling and clattering sounds. It’s as if there’s someone rifling through a kitchen cupboard in the room behind the stage.
Soon, dal Forno herself appears and a song comes into focus. ‘Don’t Follow Me’ has a certain tension to it; dal Forno’s vocals float in an ambient fog, with a clear beat refusing to emerge until minutes into the song. When it does finally appear, it only increases the tension, adding strength to the song’s chorus chant, “Don’t follow me.”
Dal Forno’s music evades categorisation. On her latest album, Look Up Sharp, it’s easy to pinpoint some of her reference points: the slow-moving, swirling electronics recall early Brian Eno albums, and the repetitive driving basslines echo the work of post-punk bands like Joy Division. Yet despite this, these influences feel transformed when filtered through dal Forno’s unique lens. She makes these sounds her own.
Part-way through the show comes a cover of ‘Lay Me Down’ by the Dutch pop group, Renée that shows this off perfectly. Dal Forno and Smith do a fantastic job of taking the sensual and playful original and stripping it down to something completely new. The sparse instrumentation and dal Forno’s clean vocals – as well as the way she sways side to side distantly while singing – give the song a certain Lynchian uncanniness.
Throughout the show, the duo largely focuses on material from the recently released Look Up Sharp. ‘Took a Long Time’ is a melancholy-tinged slow burner, driven by a relentless bassline, while ‘Push On’ shows dal Forno adding a trip-hop slant to her music. These tracks, like the album’s best songs, exist distinctly in dal Forno’s world but show her reaching off in exciting new directions.
‘So Much Better’ – the evening’s highlight – shows off her incredible knack for painting moods in an economical fashion. The song shudders along at a slow pace while dal Forno recalls an encounter with an ex-boyfriend. Her detached delivery makes the song’s lyrics, and especially its final refrain, “I’m happy that you’re still the same and I am so much better”, so much more cutting. “I’d like to dedicate that song to my ex,” dal Forno quips afterwards with a smile.
While her music isn’t likely to ever sell out stadiums, that isn’t the point of it. Dal Forno and her songs inhabit their own world and feel distinct from just about anything else out there. She’s on her own path and there’s nothing more admirable than that.
See the video for ‘Took A Long Time’ here: