16th February | SWX
Photos: Michael Brumby
I have grand visions ahead of Submotion Orchestra’s live show at SWX on Saturday night. Spinning lights, crashing bass and wildly impressive instrumental solos that even Nile Rodgers would scramble to emulate. The reality? It is much more tender, intimate almost, in its sensory overload.
Warming up a mature crowd are the delightful Future Dub Orchestra, fronted by Tenisha Edwards who shimmers radiantly in a glittery red jumpsuit. Their masterful blend of Bristol-approved dubstep and pounding bass is eaten up, and sets the tone for an evening of both reflection and careless abandon.
The band is on stage first, set up somewhat menacingly in a semi-circle, building up tension with the instrumental ‘Doppelganger’ before frontwoman Ruby Wood glides onto stage. “We’re so happy to be back, Bristol,” she smiles as progressive polyrhythms begin to creep up in volume and lush arpeggios clamber atop one another, building slowly to bursting. That is, after all, exactly what Submotion Orchestra have fine-tuned over their ten years performing together; an innate ability to build their sonics up and up and up, almost to breaking point, and just at the point where the drop should come crashing down, the instrumentals are teased a little more.
As Wood glides up and down the scales of ‘Variations’ you start to really understand their hook. Everything about the lead track from their 2018 album, Kites oozes sensuality. It’s a light tickle of the senses before engulfing you in a sea of lush bass and big-band brass; that moment after you kiss on the first date and are left hanging onto the edge of the cliff of desire, desperately wanting more.
The resounding highlight of the night is an epic rendition of ‘Backchat’ from their 2011 album Finest Hour. The perfectly unperfect partnership of warbling dubstep and a piercing trumpet solo breaks through SWX’s sound threshold and takes complete control of the senses. A moment of complete and utter euphoria – there isn’t much you could do but close your eyes, tilt your head back up towards the light and let the sound swallow you whole.
In the deepest soundscapes, Submotion Orchestra also bring lightness in crisp-cut keyboard stabs and an amalgamation of live and synthetic drums. ‘Finest Hour’ is a cold hard classic and lights up the room in beautiful technicolour, Wood’s vocals echoing hauntingly with a clever mic effect. In a similar way, lead single from Kites, ‘Prism’ launches the crowd into an ecstatic frenzy. For a brief moment, we are bathed in warm, welcoming light and nothing else matters.
“It’s been ten years… Amazing, I know!” Woods giggles as the sensory onslaught begins to slow to its final halt. In their youthfulness and fearlessness in playing around with soundscapes in new and diverse ways, it’s difficult to believe this outfit have been performing for an entire decade. But in moments, like during ‘Backchat’ where the production is completely unfaltering and each mechanism in the orchestra worked in perfect harmony, their experience really shows.
See the video for ‘Prism’ here: