The Royal Albert Hall has a rather colourful history: from vaudevillian variety shows for Victoria, through 200 odd Clapton performances and a spattering of Floyd and Zeppelin to now, a time where the creative direction of one of London’s finest venues has opened to a wholly more modern audience. Its fine reputation as the capital’s go to spot for any performers at the peak of the career has never faltered. Thus, enter stage right Innervisions. Innervisions, that ever-present Berlin label with which we have become so accustomed to over the years has always pertained to have change at its very core; gradual adaptation and innovation is vital to its sound. When you marry the two of these together, you have an evening upon which new ground is being attempted to be broken.
The very architecture of this hall lends itself to the more old fashioned shows; of course, only with time do these structures become un-purpose-built. A mainly audial, but also bass driven show – how would this affect its consumption? I made sure to pay close attention, for your sake people.
The evening began with a gentle warm up set; an ambient soundtrack as people began to fill up the seats. Interestingly, the hall looked far from full at the start, and for that matter, for quite a while. Through most of the Nina Kurtela’s fantastic dance routine, it was even below half capacity, with that ring of Victorian boxes sitting idly like an unused backdrop to the stalls. Her performance was stellar; a long, unabridged piece performed completely harmoniously with the the choreographed footage playing behind her. The almost completely symmetrical performance provided just enough nuance for a presumably un-dance watching crowd (myself included) to be engrossed.
After a small break, the music kicked off. Henrik Schwarz + Bugge Wesseltoft began the rest of the evening. Their set felt more electronica in sound – jangling overlays and touches of jazzy piano throughout gave it a more interesting and probably enthralling start. A short while after that, Howling provided a welcome instrumental interpretation of the evening. Armed, as usual, with a guitar and other exciting old world instruments, it felt more-but-equally less at home for the venue. The set was of course good, as is normally to be expected. The instrumentation forcing the crowd, in small sections, to perhaps consume the show in a less club like, more traditional way.
Next up was Âme Live + Gudrun Gut and Matthew Herbert. Âme’s live set was, as ever, pretty darn good. Frenetic in parts, frantic even, but superbly paced and punctuated, particularly with the addition of Berlin household name Gudrun Gut and our very own musical everyman Matthew Herbert. His more DIY, avant-garde leanings always add an angle you might not have seen without.
To finish the slowly building intensity crescendo to a now full Hall, as it were, were fan and label favourites Dixon and Âme, this time DJing, in a B2B affair. This came equipped with, as expected, exciting song choice and a hard-hitting, often visceral punch to the chest. Acoustically, by this point, it was so hard not to be locked in focus. All in all, relatively musically sound evening. But, alas, here come the ‘but’:
It felt odd to begin with: a not quite capacity Albert Hall, which had maintained a sort of serenity until Henrik Schwarz + Bugge Wesseltoft completely dimmed the lights, used the amazing LED-cube-of-logos to illuminate and then sort of pressed play on obviously heavy, bassy music. The juxtaposition was clearly exciting – the Italianate architecture a bizarre background to your usual nightclub type revelry. But that was sort of the thing I was worried about – was it just going to be your regular nightclub tomfoolery regardless of the music. I feared that the venue itself wasn’t putting on a necessarily different or transgressive show, more of a club night but that-but-posher. Whilst the show was undoubtedly impressive, easily comparable to other club nights, I had sort of hoped for something different, or over and above a regular audial display of techno. I had hoped that the venue would have got behind it and attempted to curate a one off, unique event (a complete lack of coverage on their Twitter probably attests to their level of interest in this ‘first for Royal Albert Hall’). Rather than an immersive, unforgettable experience, I was felt leaving, rather sadly, as if it was just a big club night in a bit of nicer room. Yes, the music was impressive, but when is it not at Innervisions? Nina Kurtela’s set was probably the flavour of what I think would have best served as a groundbreaking event. The place didn’t fill up properly until at least 9:30 – even without some ebullient cast on the stage, that is the equivalent of turning up for the interval.
Was it good? Yes, of course. But, were the bars full of people, not popping out between scenes only to hurry back as to not miss a second of the impressive techno narrative, but relaxing between cigarettes, not acts, like your regular London club night? Well, sort of yes. I think I just expected it to be less of a clubbing experience, more of a show, you know. Call me a naysayer, please, but it may suggest that one can take the techno out of nightclubbing, but….
All photos: Andy Paradise