Erased Tapes 5th Anniversary Tour at Hackney Empire

I’m not an expert at reviews, especially gig reviews, but on Thursday I was lucky enough to go see the Erased Tapes 5th Anniversary Tour at Hackney Empire in London, and I feel compelled to put down my thoughts after one witnessing a rather special evening.

I have to admit, before Thursday’s concert, I wouldn’t have claimed to be a typical fan-boy of any of the artists on the lineup. I love Erased Tapes as a whole, A Winged Victory For The Sullen released one of my favourite albums of late, Nils Frahm has conjured some of my favourite pieces to date, and Ólafur Arnalds has master-minded many-a-gem recently, especially when collaborating with Nils on ‘Stare’. But, unlike most of the gigs I book-up months in advance, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you every song which is being played, and I could be mistaken for walking past any of these guys at the bar….

I could tell you what their twitter profile looked like, what the last thing posted to their Facebook page was or how long each MP3 is on their latest album [I have iTunes OCD] but, this was for me, an experience that the digital age is guilty of overshadowing and the type of gig that needs to be treasured, respected and above-all, experienced by everyone who loves this type of music. Erased Tapes, and its more-impressive than ever roster showed me what it truly means to have talent, and what no Soundcloud waveform will ever be able to communicate.

A Winged Victory For The Sullen began the night. Taking to the stage, were around thirteen performers, flighted by Dustin O’Hallaran on Piano and Adam Wiltzie on guitar accompanied by a cello and numerous violinists. What followed were tracks from their much-respected self-titled album, blanketing the anticipating crowd with emotion from the-off. Every performer on the stage was absorbed and the crowd quickly followed. The immense force of the combined strings, piano and feedback amid touches of delicacy was enough to make you sit back in your seat and just smile.

Every good performance has an unexpected moment, and for AWVFTS it came with a cover of Gavin Bryars “Jesus’ Blood (never failed me yet)“. A little jarring at first, the crackling sample was the first non-instrument to grace our ears, but it soon became enveloped in what seemed like an eternity of beautiful instruments.

I was with a friend who was relatively new to everyone she was about to see, and both her and I were astounded at such a start. Dustin ended by saying ‘we’ve only got one record’, and this was the only moment of disappointment I felt all night.

Ólafur Arnalds followed, and immediately charmed the crowd with his Icelandic wit. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ólafur and as if to take advantage of this unknowing, he began by getting the crowd to ‘arrrrr’, recorded and looped it, creating the first texture to then lay his delicate piano on to. Several tracks featured my much loved electronic ‘punches’ of his, carefully balanced by Anne Müller on cello along with violinist, Viktor Orri Arnason, who also played an unbelievable solo piece. Olafur had continued the night with examples of beautiful piano playing and his emotional, self-immersed stature peaked at a ‘song for Grandma’, where I paid witness to the many memories flowing from his head to his hands. I was on the front row, and after each of their performances I could often hear the faint gasp of breathe as another spellbinding moment came to an end.

Nils began with more comedy introductions and by now, I was just blind-jealous of this super-talented, down-to-earth collective. Everyone who took to the stage was genuinely having the time of their lives, and this made the performances and overall night, that extra bit special.

Yet more unexpectedness followed, as Nils began to use the Piano as percussion, drumming the wood, the mics and anything else which was just out of my sight to an amazing beat. His following set was quite simply unreal. I’m no piano-player, and I haven’t seen many ‘pure-piano’ performances like tonight, but I was lost and mesmerised in Nils’ talent. I don’t think I blinked, and I probably didn’t even take a breathe through his whole set. Music that progressed from simple piano chords took whole new meanings, new journeys and when he began playing two pianos at the same-time I had to laugh… this was ridiculous. I was paying witness to a talent that has undoubtedly taken years to develop, and i’m not sure if this was him at his peak, but I couldn’t imagine it being any better. Nils was in his own world, sweat dripping from his forehead as he smashed the keys and put the entire audience in a trance, gently rocking back and forth with the odd glance at the accompanying Anne Müller – he was playing a masterpiece.

The night ended with the collective on stage playing together. But by now, the solo pieces were still racking around in my head as I took a prolonged few minutes to gather what had just happened. It was big, it was loud and of course it was a perfect end to the night, but I would prefer to see every person on that stage play alone again.

The unexpected simplicity of the entire night was what made it so special. Never before had I witnessed such talented people portray so many beautiful moments, and often just with one instrument. This was a night which was as far away from the electronic world as you may wish for, and it couldn’t have been any better. Erased Tapes proved that a live performance by a talented musician will always be a world apart from any recording you’ll ever own.