When Queen Victoria opened the Royal Albert Hall back in 1871, I doubt she foresaw that it would one day play host to an array of laptop-wielding electronic musicians and a ‘participatory ecosexual ritual’. Not to say that Vicky would have in any way disapproved of unDISTURBED – Stillness (who knows, maybe she even dabbled in some red hot earth lovin’ herself). In fact, if the institution’s raison d’être is to highlight the strength, diversity and originality of British art and culture, then I reckon you’d be hard pushed to find a programme more worthy of support than last Friday’s showcase.
The evening was curated by a number of the RAH’s Young Producers (a crack team of 18-25 year olds tasked with bringing a hip and happening edge to the Hall’s calendar of events) and conceived as an all-enveloping journey into the idea of stillness. The Elgar Room was given over to live performance and began with Ben Fehr & Liam Cutler laying down swathes of soaring ambience, backed with intimate and delicately textured visuals by Ru. They were followed by a more R&B/pop-leaning set from Elsa Hewitt, combining tender vocals and production (and more excellent live visuals from Sam Boullier and Alex Campbell) to give a swooning, homespun sound akin to Inga Copeland’s excursions as Lolina or that bewitching Tirzah LP from last year.
The headline slot was reserved for techno royalty turned ambient artisan Anthony Child. Presenting a live set he usually saves for annual Welsh hardware love-in Freerotation, the man AKA Surgeon built a propulsive wave of sound that rose and fell in intensity, often reaching (even surpassing?) peaks as euphoric as those found in his club-focused sets. It was an exercise in forceful calm, an exploration of a heavy-as-all-hell sonic realm led by someone with complete mastery over it.
Things got a little freakier in the North Circle Bar, where collective Intimate Animals laid on the afore-mentioned ecosexual liturgy. I’ll be honest, I’m not universally clued up on my socio-anthropological terminology so I went in without much of an idea of what to expect. As it turned out, the ritual entailed being blindfolded and slowly led barefoot around a ring of deep, damp soil, with auditory stimulation provided by two softly resonating gongs and yet more modular electronic witchcraftery. It was a powerful, intensely tactile experience, the sensation of the earth between your toes made all the more evocative because of how alien and far removed from modern life it seems (hold my socks while I burn down this Pret!).
Nights like unDISTURBED – Stillness are a reminder of how vital and exciting innovation can be and it’s great to see an establishment as venerable as the Royal Albert Hall embracing these far-out horizons. Both in the context of the stately surroundings and everything that was on offer inside, this felt like familiar framework being taken in new, refreshing and enthralling directions. A meditative and thoroughly transportive experience, thank you to everyone that made it happen.
Photography by Joe Hart
Discover more about Anthony Child on Inverted Audio.