It’s one of those days where I’m running late for everything, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve just arrived at the door with Thom Yorke. I can tell it’s going to be an excellent night.
I pick up my complementary Mojito (something Koko should offer more frequently) and move down to the main hall to investigate the minimal techno the DJ has chosen at such an early hour of the night. It turns out not to be a DJ at all, but the band I’ve always dreamed of seeing. Brandt Brauer Frick stand austere upon the stage, delicately layering up a blend of time signatures in a percussion epiphany. A classic Jazz chord progression filters through from the piano of Paul Frick; this is minimal with Steve Reich intelligence.
A pleasant mix of swing and hip hop is spun as the stage is rearranged for the next showcase: London-grown four piece United Vibrations. Hard-packed drums hit out an Afro beat with a two-piece horn section that calls upon Sun Ra‘s spirit. A fast pace bass line brings a sense of urgency to the floor as the group bellow their chant lines for opening number ‘No Space No Time’ in thick London accents. After a promising beginning the group invited a tuneless New York MC on to stage, his terrible dancing sadly taking the punch out of this exciting young band.
Another pleasant DJ set led onto Giles Peterson‘s first appearance of the night, as he introduced a very special collaboration of Kieran Hebden (AKA Four Tet) and RocketNumberNine. This really was a showcase of how experimental electronic music should be done, with Hebden attacking his sample pad as if it were a grand piano and Ben Page casually subjecting the audience to the most almighty of bass frequencies. It’s the deeply cool rhythm of Tom Page that provides the atmosphere, building the tension with sweeping cymbals and haunting rimshots, then dipping into understated breakbeat to the pleasure of the crowd. The set flowed together seamlessly, and there was much disappointment when the trio left the stage after only 20 minutes.
Next was the awards part of the night, presented by Giles. As the nominations were read out it was as if the crowd were choosing the winners, with overwhelming applause at the mention of names such as Flying Lotus, James Blake and Hot Flush records. A young James Blake sheepishly towered over Giles as he accepted his award for Single of the Year, ‘CMYK’ (R&S), somewhat naively thanking “anyone who bought the record, cd, downloaded it, ripped off a mix…it’s all the same, just as long as people are listening…” Flying Lotus showed his love for London as Thom Yorke presented him with Album of the Year (shortly after he had received Session of the Year), hinting at the possibility of an appearance later on in the night. Finally the John Peel Play More Jazz Award was presented in spectacular fashion to ex-Special and Two Tone founder Jerry Dammers. Giles paid a sincere tribute, with DJ Lefto appropriately dropping some of Jerry’s greatest hits ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Free Nelson Mandela’. Dammers latest project, the Spatial AKA then assembled amongst the crowd in a procession and made their way to the stage playing a tribute to Captain Beefheart, which then blended to Sun Ra’s ‘Space Is The Place’, before Jerry eventually accepted the award and led the procession back through the crowd and out of sight. Throughout the awards process Giles had kept humbly cool never seen on television award shows, as he seemed just as excited to hear the music as anybody else. Nonetheless there was no impatient chatter; enormous respect was paid whenever he spoke; a testimony to both his influential reach and ability to draw such a pleasant crowd.
Arguably the most anticipated performance of the night was soothed in by a stark vocoder; perhaps not what everybody had expected from rising post-dubstep pioneer James Blake. His set was composed entirely of material from the forthcoming album, much of which had been unheard before. Each track was rich in the same delicate emotion portrayed in his popular Feist cover ‘Limit To Your Love’, some more so than others. By the second song the tension Blake was holding on the crowd split somehow, and eventually it almost became a strain to listen as the audience descended into small conversation, albiet mostly about how great they thought their entertainer was. Closing numbers ‘Wilhelm Scream’ and ‘Limit to Your Love’ retained his grasp with an air of familiarity, particular gratitude paid towards the tremendous bare bass of the latter.
I had read Tom Riste-Smith’s review of Flying Lotus live at this same venue back in October, and got the impression the performance didn’t quite live up to his albums. So as he strides unannounced towards a single laptop center stage, I’m considering navigating my way to the bar. But his smile was radiating his excitement so strongly I stayed, to be completely blown away. He blesses the crowd as a grid-like animation is generated behind him before everything is swamped in a whir of hip hop synth lines and acsending drum breaks. Everyone is fully aware that this spontaneous performance is going to be a short one, and so each scene is treated as if it’ll be the last, the result being a complete saturation of energy. Seamlessly he wove in well known hooks from his back catalogue, rearranging them into new experiences whilst dedicating space to his heroes, with J Dilla tracks and Alice Coltrane dedications. Thom Yorke looked down from the balcony, dancing approvingly. After 20 minutes a man approched FlyLo from behind and whispered in his ear. He paused to speak into the mic: “Oh shit, I only got another ten minutes!” as he dropped back into a supercharged version of ‘Kill Your Co-Workers’. Cutting half through a build up to continue his annoucement, he added: “Nah I’m just fucking with y’all!”, and continued for a further 20 minutes.
It wasn’t going to be easy for Mount Kimbie to follow up an act as loved and energetic as Flying Lotus, but a boost to the low frequencies and a darkly lit stage readjusted the atmosphere fittingly for their breed of claustrophobic South East dub. Gliding keys and eerie soulful vocals made a calm equilibrium with the glitchy off-beat drum sequencing; it was coming to that time of morning when dancing only requires hand and shoulder movements and you can open and close your eyes as you please. The set was a continuous flow of material from debut album Crooks and Lovers [Hot Flush 2010], with heavier dance elements added in places as the pair showcased the fluid motion of their live environment, demonstrating their ability to reconstruct their material in a spontaneous fashion. The set was closed with the pre album track ‘Maybes’, with James Blake appearing to lend his voice to his former bandmates.
After a deep set from Nihal, an excitable Cubic Zirconia entered; one of Giles most hotly-tipped new acts. A carnival-esque live section with a housey dance vibe sat on the backbeat whilst the front was taken care of by an energetic girl with her mic, whistle and high heels. The night was played out by a chilled Michel Cleis, bringing the 7 hour show to the end.
Reflections on the show say that Flying Lotus stole it; but despite being an awards ceremony this night was not about competition in any way, and every artist was as warmly received as the other, such were the friendly feelings amongst the crowd. Giles Peterson is someone I’m going to make much greater effort to listen to in the future, and I will eagerly anticipate next year’s show.
The winners and nominations were:
Track of the Year
**James Blake – CMYK (R&S)**
Jay Electronica – Exhibit C (Decon)
Quest – Smooth Skin (Deep Medi Musik)
Cee Lo – I Want You (Demo Version)
Jamie Woon – Night Air (Cadent Songs)
Session of the Year
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
Album of the Year
**Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp)**
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two (The Return Of The Ankh) (Universal Motown)
Fourtet – There Is Love In You (Domino)
Darkstar – Gold (Hyperdub)
Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here (XL)
Jazz Album Of The Year
**Jyoti – Ocotea (SomeOthaShip)**
Esperanza Spalding – Chamber Music Society (Heads Up)
Miguel Atwood Ferguson – Mochilla Presents Timeless : Suite For Ma Dukes (Mochilla)
Finn Peters – Music Of The Mind (Mantella)
Nick Rosen – Into The Sky (Porter Records)
Label Of The Year
One Handed Music
John Peel Play More Jazz Award