12th November | Thekla
Evading the rain on the way to Thekla, thoughts turn to what aspects of Kelly Lee Owens will come to the fore live. Her interest in gong baths and Solfeggio frequencies can be heard in the textures of her self-titled debut, released last year. However, beneath the healing frequencies, there’s a purposeful, techno-influenced beat. It’s the product of Kelly Lee Owens the bass obsessive, heavier low-end frequencies which form a welcome juxtaposition with what’s above. Hearing how these elements balance live will become a major sub-plot this evening.
I’m still drying off as Bendik Giske takes a stance at centre stage. A stablemate of Owens, his debut album Surrender will be released on Smalltown Supersound in January. Giske is a powerful physical presence; his unaccompanied saxophone playing blends avant-garde Jazz with the darkest corners of the Berlin underground. You can feel the determined concentration of the audience, admiring Giske’s breathless playing as he shifts through rapid arpeggios, defying the limits of lung capacity.
Following a brief bog and bar interlude, Owens emerges from the wings, hood up, wearing a silver raincoat assembled from the scrapped leftovers of the Apollo program. Taking up a position enveloped by her equipment, she triggers a drone which serves as the jumping-off point for the rest of the set. New elements are introduced piecemeal, before a shuffling 808 beat rolls the night forwards.
During this build-up, we’re treated to a first glimpse of Owens’ captivating vocals. Doused in reverb and possessing an intangible, elemental quality, they’re a focal point of the set which echo through a valley between chest-level kicks and bass. Later moving from behind her equipment to the front of stage, both hands round the microphone, it becomes plain that Owens is a creative performer first, technician second.
The dramatic opening string samples of ‘Lucid’ drift out from the speakers – a sound suitable for staring out over the Brecons. Repeating the track title, Owens’ vocals add a dream-like quality which is soon offset with a bleeping baritone synth line. Bottling the juxtapositions of her sound, it finishes with a wall of arpeggios which cut through the crowd, a stand-out moment midway through the set.
From here, the intensity increases, the harder side of Owens sound winning out. The indicators start flashing during ‘Birds’, the soft percussive introduction becoming overawed by a combination of kicks and bass frequencies. Like a DJ with the audience in the palm of their hand, Owens takes command, ordering us to dance.
As the set peaks at the end, we start to oblige, heads going like a gathering of dashboard dogs. This feels more like 2am in Motion. A shortened version of ‘CBM’, probably the most techno-influenced track on the album, acts as a mere build-up to the set’s climax. By now, Owens is just rocking out, headbanging over her synths as projections are cast across her.
Eventually the onslaught subsides, reverb echoing like a round of applause as Owens exits the stage, coming back to thank everyone once her set is finished. Re-entering the monsoon, there’s little to dampen spirits other than the fact it’s a Monday night. There’s a lot of energy left to be spent.
See the video for ‘Anxi’ here: