As one of the regular Saturday Rough Trade RoTa events at the Notting Hill Arts Cafe, this was a daunting eight band line up that started promptly at 3.30pm with Lucky Dragons. An odd amalgam of a jew's-harp, acoustic guitar and two Apple Powerbooks, with what looked like a guru standing at the back, providing spiritual support. The high-pitched feedback was a bit hard to take at first (not sure if this was deliberate or not to be honest). Lucky Dragons are more into mood stretching than 'song writing' in any kind of conventional sense. If the table ping pong sample intro to one piece was maybe trying too hard to be quirky experimental, but they were always interesting.
The next thing I heard was a flabby bass, grungy guitar and a sound that was striving for that trippy and spacey spirit. It took me a couple of songs to realise that I was listening to 2 by bukowski, whose debut album I quite fancied. These are a bunch of Northern lads signed to Greek label Poetra Negra who mix ambient landscapes with dynamic guitar epics in the vein of Godspeed You Black Emperor. After a stumbling opening (and some more unpleasant feedback) this began to improve. A tracks featuring a xylophone and a Lynchian metal percussion backing was compelling. I then began to recognise tracks from their debut. But their sound isn't well suited to a tiny venue like the Notting Hill Arts Cafe. One's to watch if they can find their niche and break away from the Godspeed comparisons.
Portal on the other hand is much better suited to small venues. By now the crowd was starting to feel the squeeze as more and more people arrived in a steady flow. The hippies wasting valuable space by sitting on the floor were beginning to piss me off, but I turned my attention to the band. Which was actually just one guy, a guitar and a shit load of Boss effects pedals. The backing track began with some shattering cymbals. This didn't seem to be by design as there was clearly too much treble coming through the PA tonight. Portal's drum free set utilised chilled bass synth backing and slow, lilting reversed guitar loops. The results soothing until a harsher backdrop forces its way in and culminates in some pretty hurtful noise. Portal's driftscapes are potentially dull but never are. The members of 2 by bukowski who sat watching the set didn't seem to think so either.
By the time Yellow6 began I was starting to wilt with fatigue. Which was a shame as I'm a fan of Jon Atwood's ambient guitar soundtracks. Not a million miles away from Portal, but more mellow and slightly more doom laden. I find it hard to find words to amply describe Yellow6's music. Dreamy, relaxing, moody and sometimes quite tense, it's part ambient and part art experiment. Sometimes appearing with additional musicians, tonight Yellow6 was just Jon, his guitar and a rhythm box. Imaginative instrumentals that appear to have an organic ability to naturally evolve when performed live, the results are very atmospheric and enveloping. The perfect antidote to predictable pop song structures.
Finally, Amp took up their positions in one of their rare live appearances. Visually, their performance was dominated by some dazzling projections of blood red cloth on grey stone and moody silhouettes of twisted tree branches. I was impressed at how well they captured the traumatic and melancholic qualities of their recorded material. From sad piano loops to drum n bass percussion, Amp proved why they have a cult following and are frequently lauded as the gifted musicians they clearly are.
At times it is hard to believe that Karine Charff's remarkably powerful voice comes from such a petite body (I can't help thinking of Anja Huwe from Xmal Deutchland at times). Like 2 by bukowski earlier, Amp's occasionally large sound isn't ideal in such an intimate environment as the Arts Cafe. Although some of their more delicate tracks were fine, the larger pieces suffered slightly from a stifled sound. In some ways this reminded me of the days of those 4AD label nights they used to have at places like the ULU in the 80s ,when you'd have the likes of Dif Juz and Wolfgang Press creating a space all of their own for an hour or so. The same thing occurred tonight here, with Amp transforming this intimate space into a different place entirely. An almost magical experience.