In the vault at Village Underground the sense for music is a sentimental one; artistry a treasure.
Occupying their cavernous retreat from a computerised world, though they do offer the best in club fare, programming tends toward promoting the seeming commodity that is talented live instrumentalists in the scene. In the synth-scape of pop today, they give underground electronics a platform, a breeding ground for those strains in this music that inform on what is “popular”. With this mission in mind, Tom Misch returns from a worldwide tour to this stage - and a welcome he didn’t expect to be quite so heroic. Facing one of his first ever live shows at Bussey earlier this year for 30, he has had to quickly outgrow any shyness and bear 700.
It is a benchmark billing for the young South London “beat-maker”, to which he is often and obtusely referred. Set against a star-specked backdrop replicating his Beat Tape 2 artwork, the stargazing feel of this artist - as embodied in songs that invite your head to swim in the ether - is well in situ. He and his ensemble are emphatic of their trajectory out of a restrictive orbit that they are categorised as circling. With the help of a few other bright things, Misch is mapping out their own constellation in an otherwise overpopulated space. It is alternative pop, leftfield (South-field even); it is plugged, but very much live.
The evening starts with Carmody, something of a band next door. Performing with an air of romance not simply born out by the lyricism of their sweet singer, it is complimented by Tom’s sister on saxophone who too carries off an intoxicating innocence that is their character. With her presence, plus what appeared to be family in the audience of one or more acts too, the familial affair of this in-crowd from the city outskirts and away from familiar cliques, is underscored.
At times, much like with the tropical house trend, the saxophone appeared to be an artistic statement rather than do service. When minimal it was an emotive element, invitingly out of earshot, sensitizing. At the fore it risked battling with maximal synth whenever clamouring above a whisper - though it may make for a dulcet duet when digitally mastered - in cloudbursts of sound. At highest pitch it was certainly heart-piercing, but at times bordered on ear-piercing too, when Carmody’s calm charm should have shone through in the swell; a character clearly now in bud and with time, even by next Spring, showing all the promise of full florescence.
Maybe even occasionally freeing some ferocity teased within lyrics, in some (orchestrated) abandon. Quiescent moments held all your curiosity, then to quiver and break; sometimes into segments of beat-meets-ballad that were for their quiet simplicity the most striking parts. That said, when it gently meandered through the moods to a crux, it left you crying out for an Anna Calvi-esque flash-flood of chaos out of the blues. Instead it was a steady cascade, floating on a highwater mark for sure, though never quite bursting its banks and bringing us to tears.
When Tom Misch takes to the stage it is very audibly anticipated. Those that have seen his shows are likely to agree that experience of one doesn’t necessarily leave you in the know for those to come, as he tunes and re-tunes the elements much like the strings of his first, formative love. Lick-laden guitar scintillates in a chorus of instruments, with poignant strings from a violin and a palette of guest vocals; in an audacious blend of unique cameos completed in the crescendo of an encore featuring Loyle Carner, Barney Artist, Zak Abel, Laura Misch, Carmody, Sam Wills, Jordan Rakei, each emphasises the spotlight on the main man. He conducts all the energy on stage with a commanding showmanship, amplified by an amazed modesty.
It is star-studded for sure, with the notable exception of Alexa Harley and thus any rendition of “Your Love”. The crowd would also go without the woo-ful “Crazy Dream” from Reverie EP, in a curious omittance. That said, away from the turntablism of Mixmag Labs and point-and-click production in bedroom studios past, it was a new setting making full use of richer textures than past context has afforded. New possibilities. It is a prelude to a chapter no doubt served in an album to follow; making such a statement was undoubtedly the subtext. You are quickly acclimatised to these new musical surroundings, suffuse in the swaying (or swooning) atmosphere of Misch in his ‘lounge lizard’ incarnation, easily seducing the crowd with chameleonic shifts of style on a continuous low simmer.
Among the hits, half way through this two hour special, Tom treats us to a cover of Patrick Watson’s “Man Like You”. The once over excited crowd come to a mellow hush for this slowed, acoustic track. As he scans over the crowd, stunned by the surreality of his achievement, you can’t help but notice the appropriateness of the current song: “I knew a man who got lost in the big dark blue / and came out alive.” Looking back to when he first started his journey with the benefit of journalistic hindsight, how he’s evolved and developed as a producer, DJ and live performer, now finally finding his feet, he looks as if he’s never been more alive and in contact with those around him in a way that illuminates him in a deafening digital culture.
We talk of pop sensibilities, or sub-genres such as sophisti-pop which Tom shares in with a dabblers talent, but what of just plain, sensible pop? Drawing on well-taught trade secrets that draw us in, authentic to the personality behind the voice and with an ear for concerted collaborations - no better shown off than on a freestyle, J Dilla-esque tribute with genius lyricism from Loyle and Baney - all together Misch makes something well composed from a voguish variety of sound. The end result is testament to the venue’s ethos - one suspects Misch shares their mission. In many ways he, here, has seen it to a conclusion.