Over the last couple of years, New York/London-based label Tri-Angle has proved to be one of the most heady, progressive and increasingly impressive imprints in electronic music. Tonight, two of its finest young stalwarts, 22-year-old Bristolian Vessel and anonymous Mancunian producer Holy Other – stop off at Belfast’s stupendously secluded Menagerie on the sole Irish date of their current eight-leg UK tour. With their respective debut albums currently being met with sizeable pre-release buzz, this is easily one of the last chances for the dense, darkly musings of each to roam free amongst such a small crowd before inevitable widespread adulation.
With Mike Collins aka Fort Romeau – La Roux’s touring keyboardist, no less – providing a slick but largely unremarkable DJ set of deep house and scattered shadowy beats, a steady stream of those intrigued and initiated begin to trickle into this city’s most beloved live music recess. With a healthy number of huddled groups coyly forming at a distance, Seb Gainsborough aka Vessel slowly disentangles his unorthodox yet increasingly intoxicating electronic spell. Over the course of an hour or so, his faultless grasp of rhythm permeates a frankly genreless swelling, carefully fluctuating between shuddering R&B anti-patterns and clanging cut-and-paste noise.
Comprised mainly of new material, full of improvisational tangents and wonderfully manoeuvred in-the-moment modulations, the extent of Vessel’s sonic singularity becomes slowly more evident as his set progresses, in no part thanks to the large sector of tonight’s crowd refusing to grant him the consideration and silence his understated style demands. Nonchalantly chewing gum and with a super-hip black-and-white Cahiers Du Cinema movie as his backdrop, neither the crowd nor the clumsy bray of a smoke machine manages to overshadow Gainsborough’s cunningly neo-industrial/post-house shtick; an almost ineffable angle that makes the late-September release of his debut LP, Order of Noise, very tantalising indeed.
Having practically concealed his identity with a tactical black shawl at shows up until to this point, an unavoidable case of ‘wink-wink/nod-nod’ reveals tonight’s main event, young Manchester-based producer Holy Other to be a short, tracksuit-wearing chap bearing a slight resemblance to Canadian actor Michael Cera. Yet whilst the fact this youthful, unassuming young man is currently receiving nigh on gushing attention from critics comes as a genuine surprise, taking to the stage ten minutes after Vessel, his hybrid of UK garage, house and slow-burning R&B instantly re-affirms the idea that it’s the presence and human mind behind this music – not fashion nor the physical form – that ultimately defines what matters.
Guiding us through his profound nocturnalism – a spectral synthesis of dub-inflected two-step and balmy ambience – Holy Other effortlessly lures tonight’s sizeable crowd to the front of the stage, bounds of smoke and scattered strobe lighting instilling a sense of beautiful desolation amidst the surging sub-house piano refrain of ‘Held’ and the broad, shimmering synth-lines of ‘Love Some1’. While the sound tonight could do with a significant boost, our otherwise anonymous headliner conjures subtle dubstep and countless burrowing beats to expose a tangible identity and voice.
Dipping into his debut full-length album Held it’s not hard to see why Holy Other’s debut EP, With U, stood up as one of the most exhilarating electronic releases of last year. In fact, with phantasmal beats surging up from the abyss, melding with a stunningly simmering ambience enveloping the crowd, the fact this young producer consistently draws comparisons to – you guessed it – Burial is not remotely without justification. Trawling the backstreets of his mind to soundtrack the thoughts of a few dozen people in a smoke-filled, belowground Belfast bar, tonight’s crowd leaves sated and certain in the knowledge that such intimacy with this a fast-rising artist will soon be little more than a memory to treasure.