Another out-on-a-limb gig this one. Had heard minimal Laika (but was intrigued) and no Capitol K but the latter had been recommended to me.
Another one-man project this. A small cluster of boxes and a guitar were the extent of the 'live' instrumentation. The screeching noise and low-tech drum machine that signaled the start of Capitol K (aka Kristian Craig)'s set made it apparent that LOUD was going to be a watch word of this particular act. Not that I'm complaining. The gloopy, underwater technoid rhythms, digital cowboy tunes, wooden and metallic percussion and booming synths produced a mind boggling combination of stuttering beats and stop-start musical loops. Threatening on several occasions to blow the PA system, the sometimes repetitive, always progressive funk noise triggered thoughts of a laid back Cabaret Voltaire. Another point of reference, due to the industrial spaghetti western soundtrack feel to the proceedings, was Australian electro terrorists Snog.
But there was also an air of trendy about Capitol K, sort of instrumental Air meets The Chemical Brothers, but thankfully, the temptation to go for the more palatable and conventional song structure and sounds of those two chart-toppers was kept in check throughout. The almost funky drummer beatz were covered by layer upon layer of guitar, synth and sample noise creating an ever-changing wash of space rock, industrial and the psychedelic. All this and (on a couple of songs) a 60s inspired vocal style that, bizarrely given the music, sometimes gave the impression that Nick Drake had risen from the grave and had crawled into Camden. The drum programming was some of the best I have ever heard. Complex metallic tabla loops, 80s computer game bleeps and squeaks and heavy funk riffs blasting a pretty odd mixture of tunes, samples of bad garage and ambient noise straight at your face, through your skin and into your skull. Impossible to pin down, the sound of Capitol K has to be heard to be believed. You may still not understand it - but at times ignorance is definitely bliss.
After the onslaught of support artist Capitol K, Laika's stage presence (drummer, bassist, keyboard player and lead singer/guitarist) seemed disappointingly conventional by comparison. Out promoting their new album Good Looking Blues and returning to the UK on the back of a European-wide tour, Laika's sedate beginning suddenly reminded me of why we were standing in the Jazz Cafe. I'm certainly NOT a jazz fiend but Laika's take on the genre is just one of several stylistic approaches that seem to have been appropriated simply to a specific end in mind. So the finished Laika sound isn't just jazz - it has many elements. What I didn't expect so much of was the dubby percussion and bass. It was good to hear the bass guitar given the lead for an entire set in place of so much egotistical guitar and things certainly went up tempo in a satisfying way too.
Looking somewhat po-faced and miserable during songs, vocalist Margaret Fiedler was actually really enjoying herself. It must have been the concentration when performing, for as soon as each song ended a big smile rapidly stretched across her face and she thanked the audience for their enthusiastic responses. Electro, funk, blues, rap, dance and drum 'n bass all get a look in when Laika play, but they manage to hold it all together in a convincing manner. The results are not always entirely original or captivating but most tracks do have their moments. Black Cat Bone (from the new album) was one that did make a big impact live; perhaps because it is one their heaviest constructions.
As ever live, the more subtle background elements to the Laika sound are probably best appreciated in the comfort of your own lounge; although it was possible to discern a spooky, floating backwash of guitars and synths drifting in between the louder instruments. I must admit tiredness had a grip on me before the end or their set and I was beginning to flag slightly. The crush of people packed into the small venue didn't help as the temperature rose and the standing space dimished. But I left a contented man with a desire to hear more and an intention to purchase a Capitol K CD as soon as possible.