26th September | Exchange
Photos: Michael Brumby
Dimly lit in blues and reds, the claustrophobia of Exchange provided a perfect backdrop for the haunting music that appeared tonight. Headlined by post-metal’s First Lady, Emma Ruth Rundle, and supported by the London-based cello virtuoso, Jo Quail, both brought dark and oppressive atmospheres to a night where the support may have equalled the main act.
Jo Quail took to the stage alone, armed with an electric cello and a multitude of effects pedals. This set-up may sound a little trite, but Jo’s use of the instrument created seething, breathing pieces of music before the crowd’s eyes, like a magician’s trick where the great reveal is grand musical crescendos. She teased an array of sounds from her instrument – percussion hits, gravelly distorted guitar sounds, shimmering industrial-like synth pops – and looped them over each other, continually adding to the growing wall of sound until one woman and her cello came to sound like an entire orchestra.
The sound was perfect during Quail’s performance. As the slow build of her opening song, a war incantation that built to a euphoric, sublime induced finale, the ground and our chests shook with reverberations. Elsewhere in her set, she showed off her compositional prowess, especially when playing a new track from the debut from her own label AdderStone Records.
Off-time smaller loops of undulating thuds, gristly chords and sharp melodies collided, became discordant and then blended beautifully, pulsing like a slumbering beast, all whilst Jo controlled the pace and direction of the piece with a bow and some pedals. For my money, Jo was worthy of her own headline spot. Given a few more tracks and a larger venue, her performance would be pure magic.
It may seem that a cellist and a post-metal singer-songwriter might not be the best venue partners, but the melancholy yet enrapturing atmosphere of both artists meant the transition between the two didn’t jar. Emma and her three-piece band, in support of her 2018 solo release On Dark Horses, took to the stage and instantly laid out their mission statement. Much like the work with her other bands, Red Sparrows and Marriages, Emma’s music is built on slow, chugging distortion, floating and cinematic guitar lines, and impassioned vocal performances: a combination of delicate post-rock moved over a thudding, heavy rhythm section. The music lifted and swooned, but it felt a little restrained, like at any moment the deluge could break but the snap never quite came.
The crowd, whilst a little more sparse from the support performance, seemed enamoured however. The seismic riffs moved the room in unison, a hypnotic chime made all the more effect by the tortured, ballad-like croons of Emma. Despite the vocal mixing being a little temperamental throughout the set, when Rundle did come through the glistening wall of sounds it worked well, her range and emotive intonations being the easy standout of the performance (when it could be heard).
Both artists put on brilliant performances in a close setting that added to the unsettling beauty of the music they were playing. Largely brilliant sound mixing and a receptive crowd finished off the making of an incredibly enjoyable night.
See the video for ‘You Don’t Have To Cry’ here: