The performance started off with buzzings, scratchings and eerie clunks and pings. It was electronic robot music; more undulating soundscape than traditional melody and rhythm. The benefit of this contemporary art experience was that through the absence of any monolithic or recognizable structure, the mind was forced free of conceptions, to grapple with what was. The result is an experience that leap-frogs over assumptions and moves us from a place without words. This is what The Krells did to me at their show at Open Space on April 19th.
Open Space is a collective, and its members believe in collaboration. I was there to volunteer tending bar, but when the performers arrived, the atmosphere became charged. They were excited and nervous and pleased with themselves. They’d eaten Caribbean and maybe it added bravado to their steps. One is a UVic prof who engaged me in conversation as an equal, though I’m a undergrad.
They played two sets with a break in between. They let us know at the start that we should be at ease in our bodies and in the room. Specifically, they suggested that we might like to get up and buy another beer.
In the first set, I was learning how to listen to this new thing, so for me it was cerebral. Their introduction was gentle, like the first handling of a new love, and by the half-time break, they had me. There is a sense of relief when an experiment succeeds. The Krells had treated the audience with respect and interest, and it was working.
The second set was even better. The first set finished with a crescendo and left the audience feeling bright and optimistic. After the break, the music tethered us in, drawing us closer and speaking directly to our bodies. Sounds of gastric bubbling and the human voice combined with dark echoes of outer space and the ring of tiny feet on industrial scaffold. The volume, complexity and pace rose, and tension mounted. The visceral quality in the music could be seen in the bodies of the audience. The man next to me hunched close to his mobile phone, but even he was moved, his body twitching with effect.
At one point I thought I might vomit but in a good way; the exhilarating terror of losing control. My heart was pounding, eyes fluttering open, breaths taken in deeply through nostrils that flared. My favourite part of the show was half-way through the second set. Somehow, out of the madness, a beat coalesced. It was a pop-song rhythm, danceable. We grooved long enough to own it and start to feel secure, and then when the artists broke it down, the sadness was not too much. The music thinned out, bunched together and then they led us into new rhythms — less familiar, more true.
The Krells had pushed us over the edge and then thrown us a rope, and now with humour and intelligence, they showed us a new world or a new way of walking in this one. It was more vivid if less secure, and in the end, they let us go.
It’s rare to see such hard working artists going hand to hand with means and mentality. The Krells rocked my world and if you get the chance, I suggest you let them rock yours.
Hear The Krells tracks at: http://www.thekrells.com/
More music at Open Space:
Christopher Reiche performing “Vexations,” a piano marathon
Open Space gallery (510 Fort Street), Fri. June 21, starting at noon, continuing until finished all 840 successive cycles
Free, or $10 per cycle ($25 for three), fundraiser for Open Space music program
More info: http://www.openspace.ca/vexations_fundraiser