Nicolas Jaar Live


I learnt three important things at the recent Nicolas Jaar showcase at the Roundhouse. One, Nicolas Jaar can sing in a surprising falsetto. Two, all gig venues should be round and have the acoustic brilliance that the Camden Roundhouse had this night. Three, there’s nothing quite as distracting when trying to absorb the hypnotic, thrilling brilliance of Jaar’s impressively live performance than hearing posh kids saying to their uniformly fashion-forward girlfriends, “don’t worry, it’ll get faster soon”. Sigh.*

Maybe the BPMs were at times a bit slow for the odd demographic that Nicolas Jaar seems to have ensnared with his implacable music and sizeable hype. But as soon the cataclysmic piano scales of his symphonic opening exploded into What My Last Girl Put Me Through’s encircling, bitter funk, the crowd broke away from their nasal overtures to become fully enrapt by Jaar’s incredible, rumbling arrangements.

A visceral instinct for pace and drama saw Jaar manipulating the audience like a mournful puppeteer, guiding us through the haunting hollows in his music, and completely enveloping us in deliciously sonorous noise every time he let the bass back in. The discordant, brilliant chaos of his spectacular debut LP Space Is Only Noise was unleashed with live sequencing software, and electrifyingly enlivened. By the time we got to the epic, masterful composition that is his remix of Azari & iii’s Into The Night, Jaar’s thundering live piano crashing over the top of this elegiac track made it very clear that we were in the presence of a truly intuitive musician.

An enjoyable interlude came in the form of accomplished guitarist Dave Harrington joining Nico on stage, riffing over some of Jaar’s more melodious rhythms. Things then got all a bit kaleidoscopic when they proceeded to perform a few tracks from their Darkside project. The cacophonous layering of retrospective textures gave it a kind of sleazy Daytona vibe, and when combined with the prog-rock drone of Jaar’s vocals in this section, the effect was eccentric but definitely good.

The solitary niche that Nico Jaar has occupied for himself with the indefinable nature of his music – somewhere between techno, hip hop, Ethiopian jazz and a multitude of influences – has given him a licence to be whatever the hell kind of artist he wants to be. And also to play incredible, entrancing shows in whatever type of venue he wants to play in, whether it be the resonant Roundhouse or the more gurn-accustomed surrounds of his three sell out Fabric dates last year.

It intrigued me to note that Nico had taped over the glowing Apple of corporate monopoly shining from the back of his (and pretty much every producer’s) laptop. This is an artist that won’t take direction from anyone, and given the impact of his original, meaningful music and soul-plundering stage show, I’m glad.

Often the ‘live sets’ of electronica producers feel like you’re just paying to see someone fiddle about unimaginatively with Ableton Live. But between Jaar’s haunting vocals, the high drama brought by these terrifyingly dark piano scales, and the soulful sincerity of every aspect of his performance, in the Roundhouse’s confines the seismic impact of Jaar’s production came completely alive.

Anna Herber