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Nils Frahm at The Roundhouse, plus a small bonus rant about gig etiquette and venue setup.

Nils Frahm and label-mates ‘Dawn of MIDI’ put on a stellar show at one of London’s most iconic venues.

Last night’s show at The Roundhouse was a big gig by most almost anyone’s standards. In fact, one of the guys from Erased Tapes mentioned to me how necessary it had been that Nils had had a run of shows at smaller venues before this one (sorry, everyone that went to those gigs!). While Frahm looked totally at home in the iconic surroundings of The Roundhouse, it’s no surprise to hear that he was slightly trepidatious before the tour began, given the long lineage of hugely successful acts to grace the stage before him. On the night itself, though, Frahm was every inch the professional; funny, witty, cheeky, charming, and consummately skilful.

The night was set up in a way that didn’t cater to modern expectations of a gig – no projections or gimmicks, just a serene stage; the handmade wooden finish of the instruments and warm, sparse lighting redolent of a Scandinavian cabin (just don’t look behind you at the giant neon ‘BAR’ sign).

Frahm clearly has a broad range of influences, running through jazz, classical and electronic; in this show he’s found a way to meld them all together beautifully. There are sounds here that wouldn’t make sense if you were dropped straight into them, but work beautifully when built up layer by layer from a tiny solo piano ostinato.  Sound palettes reminiscent of big-room trance would sound cheesy if not for the 6-minute back-story before they thunder in. Arpeggiated patterns would sound tedious if it wasn’t for the masterful piano improvisation over the top. Through subtle and clever use of dynamics and soundscaping there’s enough variation in the performance to keep you fully captivated regardless of the lack of any commercial hook, or regular beat.

“the only thing taking away from the blissful draw of the show is a couple of audience members that don’t seem to understand gig etiquette.”

In fact, the only thing taking away from the blissful draw of the show is a couple of audience members that don’t seem to understand gig etiquette. That and an apparent lack of organisation, noise-wise, from the organisers at The Roundhouse itself. Personally I think it goes without saying that if you rock up to a gig thirty minutes in, and everyone seems entranced and fully invested in the music, maybe it’s not so cool to push through the crowd and park yourself in front of a bunch of people. Maybe stand at the back and have a little respect. Or wait till a small break in the music. Or just be a dick, whatever.

From a venue standpoint:  if you book an act that relies heavily on dynamic variations – that is, dropping down to a creeping tickle of a piano – you need to think about closing the stage-side bar during the performance. And notify your security staff that they shouldn’t be on their phones, or dragging steel railings around.  (By the way, it’s worth noting here that I think the Roundhouse is an amazing venue, booking incredible acts, and 99% of the time it’s operationally very good too… they just dropped the ball a bit during this one).

“I spoke to three people immediately after the gig who confessed to having cried halfway through.”

Despite these minor inconveniences, it was impossible not to be totally blown away by Frahm. I spoke to three people immediately after the gig who confessed to having cried halfway through. I didn’t go into the gig as a huge Nils Frahm fan – more an interested listener, and curious from a technical standpoint – but I left absolutely awestruck by the man’s talent.

A nod here as well to support act ‘Dawn of MIDI’. The Brooklyn trio set the night up admirably with each band-member layering up slightly off-kilter, cycling patterns in a droning repetitive sort of way.  It was particularly interesting to see them use acoustic instruments to produce a song structure more typically attributable to electronica, with individual yet sympathetic time signature-shifted short loops providing variation in a manner akin to computer automation.

There are still a couple of shows left on this tour – if you have any chance of getting to one I can’t recommend it more; head on down and see the inventor of Piano Day at the top of his game.

Download Nils Frahm’s ‘Solo’ here: http://www.pianoday.org/

  • R.naud

    This review is spot-on! Every points of it!