Review: Julianna Barwick At Oslo, Hackney

Art & Culture

There is a Welsh word that tonight’s opening act Joel Nathaniel Pike, otherwise known as Tiny Leaves, refers to toward the end of his set in support of Brooklyn based ambient electronic musician Julianna Barwick. ‘Hiraeth’, the title of a track from his forthcoming third album, is a word that loosely translates as a longing for home. More than just homesickness, it is more so entwined with a sense of nostalgia, a more emotional and profound yearning for the feeling of being in the place you belong.

It’s a word that resonates well with the atmosphere created by the performance in Oslo in Hackney tonight hosted by Eat Your Own Ears. From the off, the upstairs venue with a 375 person capacity fills steadily, but at no point does it lose its intimacy. Throughout the night, the crowd are taken on a trip of atmospherics and hypnotic melody that serves to leave everyone in the room entranced by a sense of belonging. From the looks on individual faces they could have been anywhere in the world. They could have been standing beside that asshole who used to call them names at school, or next to that particularly rubbish ex, and it wouldn’t have mattered. For those few hours, everyone in the venue looks perfectly at home in their own head.

Opening proceedings, Tiny Leaves’ neo-classical and post-rock cuts wouldn’t feel out of place on an Olafúr Arnalds or Nils Frahm record. The added strings, courtesy of two guest violinists, to his piano and looped guitar drones add texture and depth to the compositions, giving the whole thing an early Sigur Rós or Stars of the Lid tone. While it might not be the most original sounding stuff in that realm right now, there is sincerity in the tracks from his two previous releases and forthcoming LP that makes Tiny Leave’s opening set the ideal one for the night that’s in it.

The choice of playlist between acts doesn’t sit particularly well with the ambience of the evening unfortunately, Biffy Clyro being even more grating than usual (if you can imagine it) after the ethereality of the support. It’s not long before the room is near capacity though and a hush falls over the crowd while Julianna Barwick walks onto the stage.

The lights slowly shift from colour to colour as she veers through her set with little or no pause, allowing the waves of synth, piano and her token vocal loops wash over the room. Standout tracks from her 2016 LP Will and 2013’s Nepenthe leave the crowd transfixed. Hypnotic shifts from the expansive synth patterns of ‘See Know’ and ‘Nebula’ to the featherlike piano of ‘Beached’ make for expertly crafted changes in dynamic that are as subtle as they are effective. The set is structured in such a way that any sense of time goes out the window, leaving only the feeling of belonging in that precise instant. Before realising what’s going on over 40 minutes have passed and coherent thoughts become a luxury we are not entitled to. Instead, as tracks like ‘Same’ and ‘Call’ reverberate with all their delicacy, one can only gawp at the flickering visuals behind the performer, slack jawed and calm as can be.

There really is no need for Barwick to do that now frustratingly meaningless encore trick, and it’s a shame that she does. The hypnotic nature of a set like this is only dampened by interruption and the crowd have already begun to shake themselves from the delightful stupor they have just spend an hour in by the time she comes back. Joined by one of Tiny Leaves’ violinists, this encore just isn’t long enough to allow us to roll back into that daze again, despite the stunning delivery.

It’s not often a crowd of people get to be left this mentally soothed on a freezing winter Monday. Such a trance provided by an artist who has managed to tap into the meditative potential of ambient music this successfully is not something we get to experience too often. Tonight was one of those rare transcendent escapes from reality. Kudos have to be given to the audience who could not have been more respectful in a room where the sound of a shoelace being tied would have been too invasive.  There is a hush still as the venue empties, the sense being that everyone’s thoughts are still very much elsewhere, being carried home by the lingering sounds of Barwick’s lush soundscapes.

Photos by Chris Almeida

Follow Juliana Barwick here

Follow Tiny Leaves here 




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