London is replete with quality music line-ups week-in week-out, but it’s only every once in a while that something truly unique comes along. For FLOAT’s first ever show, they took Nils Frahm’s international Piano Day celebration as an opportunity to assemble a very special selection of artists to play at one of London’s most stunning venues – Islington’s Union Chapel.
Bringing together artists for an evening of piano, grime, jazz, and dance, FLOAT presented Piano Day 2017 focusing on showcasing the many different ways the piano can be used. Headlining the night was Norwegian Jazz pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, joined by a special collaboration between East London grime MC Trim, and experimental Jazz artist Matthew Bourne, plus Village Green artists Dead Light and new FLOAT signing Andrea Belfi. Providing dance performances for the night was Frankie J Plague from Neon Dance.
There was an air of excitement and uncertainty as people filtered through the foyer and into the church space. No one could really tell how the evening would pan out – improv contemporary dance performances? A grime MC spitting bars in a church? The programming was bold and daring to say the least.
There were a few surprises along the way too. Lily Hunter Green’s ‘Bee Composed’ installation greeted audience members as they came into the main space – which involved an opened upright piano with a real beehive nestled inside. An audio-visual piece was created after sound and video recordings were taken while the hive was active.
The performances opened with live piano and electronics duo Dead Light. Many wouldn’t have guessed that it was their debut live performance together. The execution was seamless and the performance overall was spell-binding. Playing a selection of pieces from their self-titled album as well as some new bits, they set the tone perfectly. They were joined for the second half of the set by Andrea Belfi, who added much colour and depth with his incredibly sensitive drumming. Despite having minimal rehearsal time together they all played with great charisma.
The lights dimmed and for a few moments, people were left in darkness. [track] started to play out, but the stage remained empty. Then, one by one, people from the crowd noticed a waltzing figure quietly making its way to the centre. Frankie J Plague laid simple, elegant shapes as he moved along the aisles to the music. While people might be initially captivated by his distinctive look – a head full of red dreadlocks – they’re quick to notice the poise and natural rhythm that his dancing is styled by. Frankie put out another great performance later on before Bugge Wesseltoft, sliding through the crowd to DJ Koze’s [track].
Wesseltoft’s performance was a lot more experimental than I was expecting (a good thing), and was diverse in its narrative – moving through simple jazz numbers, trance-inducing rhythms, and mixing in electronics. It was impressive to see how he processed his piano playing into distortion and delay effects, although at times felt a little excessive. The use of a drum machine was perhaps a little less successful and in hindsight seemed more redundant when Andrea Belfi came on for his second performance of the evening. It’s interesting – they’d never played together or even met before, but somehow the magic of improvisation produced something quite special. As Wesseltoft’s electronic ruptures subsided, Belfi announced his arrival through a playful dialogue with Wesseltoft, with flourishes across the drum kit and an array of small bell-like gongs.
Though, what perhaps everyone was anticipating the most was the collaboration between Trim and Matthew Bourne. Instigated by FLOAT founder Sofia Ilyas, the pair got together to play brand new reinterpretations of Trim’s songs. Over the previous couple of months, Bourne went through the exploratory process of transcribing his 1-800 Dinosaur album onto piano. The result was a stunning mix of avant-garde instrumental grime (though for the benefit of everyone, I’d maybe discourage anyone from actually making that into a legitimate genre label). Bourne’s stripped down, and percussive accompaniment matched the energy and mood of Trim’s delivery, and there was a feeling of witnessing something genuinely fresh and exciting.
Credit also needs to be given to Stuart Bailes, who was responsible for lighting up the venue’s incredible interior, and Terence Goodchild, who played a major part in making everything sound great in the chapel’s acoustics.
For their first outing FLOAT pulled out all the stops, delivering something different and thoughtful – something increasingly challenging in London’s saturated landscape. As the night came to a close, there was no mistaking the event’s success – not just in terms of the music and dance performances that took place, but also the fact that such an event had occurred. There’s no doubt the audience left with a more open mind, and a keen appetite for more to come.
Photo Credit: Oliver Holms