I Break Horses w/ Man Without Country – Scala, London 01/04/12

It’s hardly a secret that I Break Horses’ debut album Hearts was one of our favourite records of last year. Yet despite being one of the web’s  hottest tips, six months after release they’re still relatively new when it comes to playing live.  In fact, when their record first dropped, the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck were yet to even play a single live show.

So it’s no surprise that tonight – only Lindén and Balck’s second London show to date - is as good as sold out. The room is already filling up as sole support Man Without Country take to the stage. With barely a word in between songs, other than the occasional “thank you” to an attentive audience, they deliver a set of full-bodied electronic pop with a headliner’s gusto, helped by the brilliantly atmospheric stage lighting. Vocalist Ryan Owen graciously thanks the crowd after the band’s final song and advises the audience to “stick around for I Break Horses – it’s going to be incredible.”

And judging by the atmosphere in the room, Owen isn’t the only one looking forward to seeing tonight’s headliners. Wandering onto an almost pitch-black stage, Lindén and Balck are joined tonight by three additional musicians and ease into their set with a cover of Spacemen 3’s ‘All Of My Tears’. Starting with a gentle, pulsating synth line and Lindén’s vibrato-laden, reverb-drenched vocals, it softly builds before segueing seamlessly into ‘Pulse’. Setting the tone for the majority of the set, ‘Pulse’ sees Lindén’s vocals submerged somewhere deep in the mix, while Balck’s drums provide the backbone to the two synths and single guitar.

‘Load Your Eyes‘ sees the mood shift from subdued and hazy to something a little bit heavier, while the extended intro of ‘Hearts‘ leads into a version of the track modified to suit a live environment in much the same way as the rest of the set. Comparisons have been made between I Break Horses and My Bloody Valentine and these influences are only emphasised live. The stage is dark throughout and there’s very little movement from any of the band. Drawing out and modifying the songs’ arrangements tips the balance between electronic and shoegaze towards the latter.

The only track immediately recognisable from the album is closer ‘Winter Beats’. Rounding off a relatively short set, the opening bars are met with cheers from the crowd and it proves to be a highlight of the evening, with the band at their most driving and animated. At the encore, Lindén is genuinely taken aback by the crowd’s reaction, and sheepishly dedicates ‘I Kill Your Love, Baby’ to the audience, introducing it as “a goodnight song for you all.”

Lindén and Balck’s musical venture may have begun as a studio project but based on tonight’s performance, I Break Horses are gaining ground as one of the most essential acts around, both live and on record . It’s clear that they’re still growing and developing, unafraid to mix things up and experiment with sound. They might not be quite there yet but with a string of dates supporting M83 in the US starting later this month, it surely can’t be too long.