It was another trendy, if low key, night at the reliable Arts Cafe Bar in London's East End. Post rockers Amp were the main draw tonight but good things had been heard about Diefenbach, a multi-guitar combo from Copenhagen.
An essential part of visiting the Arts Cafe Bar is sampling the middle part of its name. The Cafe offers a deliciously tempting selection of made-to-order pizzas. This is proper stuff too - none of your stuffed crust nonsense here. So, suitably fortified by a tasty Hawaiian (oo-er missus), I turned my attention to the main reason for being here - the music. The pint sized venue sports something of a 'performance space' as much as a stage. Must be something to do with the 'Arts' bit in the name I guess.
Anyhow, Badvark were the first to occupy the area. Ignoring all good advice, and going by looks alone, the lone guitarist that first took to the stage looked shockingly like a Badly Drawn Boy. After a solo guitar piece, he was joined by a female singer and later still a denim-clad bowed saw player. The neo-folk sounds featuring some sumptuous guitar were initially quite interesting, and the bowed saw was surprisingly effective, but before very long it became a little too repetitive, the lyrics well-intentioned but still naive. The wavering voice faltered, pieces were on the verge of going of of key; but, hell, these are young folk and deserved the appreciative applause they were given.
Diefenbach are five blokes from Copenhagen who like to synchronise their rocking on stage. When they began I'd never seen so many guitars in such a small space and, had the stage been larger, I wouldn't have been surprised to see them stroll Shadows style as they strutted their stuff. I could have even forgiven such a lapse in street cred, for Diefenbach offer us an unusual but highly effective mixture of ambient guitarscapes combined with God Speed You... pumping epics. The lean combination of guitars and drums is only occasionally supported by the odd backing synth line.
They're not afraid to try some musical free association either, as on one track, when the drummer sat back and relaxed as his four pals pushed out a number based around a Roland 303. Casual and cool with it, Diefenbach swapped instruments, sat down to play some song, chatted with the audience and cast their charming spell over atentative crowd. It's a pretty mellow vibe for the most part but in addition to the above mentioned ...Black Emperor, you can name check Mouse on Mars and Tortoise as points of reference. Diefenbach may be more green, less polished yes, but in their way no less impressive.
A Middle Eastern edge immediately captivates with Amp's opening number. Almost like first album, low-fi rhythm box/guitar wash Cocteau Twins meets the dramatic vocals of 4AD 80s stablemates Xmal Deutschland, Amp are a curious creation. Too modest for front page Wire stardom and yet talented enough to totally envelope you in their live sound.
Being at an Amp gig isn't like most other live experiences. Guitars played with kitchen knives and obscure jumbles of boxes, laptops, drum machines and tape loops discharging a sometimes painful but always intriguing reverberation. Although similar to their recent outing at the RoTa in February, this was superior - the high ceiling here better suited to Amp's large sound. They also seemed more settled, more comfortable with their performance. Singer Karine Charff in particular was having a fun time. Toward the end of their set, she couldn't contain her joy any longer, nimbly skipping around the stage Björk style, to the tunes they were making.
Lacking any hint of pretension, Amp powered their way through an hour that was over all too soon. Perhaps the only surprising thing about tonight's gig was the modestly-sized audience. Bands with the songwriting abilities of Amp and Diefenbach (and live performances to match) deserve a bigger reception. I trust it won't be too long before we catch both in venues and with turn outs worthy of their talents.