Murmur: Goldie Fawn, New Portals, Æ Mak, Beauty Sleep Saturday
Saturday 11th June 2016 – The MAC, Belfast
Presented by ‘Lustre Pony’, a clever play on Goldie Fawn, the performance is presented as theatre-in-the-round. With no barriers, the evening takes on the authenticity of stageplay or a live TV broadcast, overheard summed up neatly by a member of the audience as being “like Jools Holland on acid”.
The comparison is clear to see in the set as dressed by Timmy White; the handcrafted tropical birds, clouds and lampshades hanging overhead are dressed with colourful streamers and bathed in the soft pink glow of the stage lighting. The stage layout, designed by Niall Rea, sees the artists sharing the same creative arena. Nord and Juno keyboards trace the stage, encircling an impressive three kits for live percussion and an open centre-stage for dance performance. Behind, a tall screen captures visual art tailored to sounds of each act.
A performance rooted in visual artistry, dancer and choreographer Ryan O’Neil works with accompanying dancers Abbie, Rachel and Kévin to give the live sound of each act a physical presence in the performance. On the MAC stage we see creatives come together to present an organic and engaging display of talent. A brief intro precedes the blackout, and the lights dim for Murmur’s Act 1.
Straight from the blackout, Beauty Sleep open appropriately with their first single ‘The Dark’. The track showcases the Belfast outfit’s confident musicianship with silvery harmonies and a guitar line recalling the likes of Phoenix. A pair of dancers parallel the track’s alternating male and female vocal dynamic, and when set against bassist Aimee Williamson’s visuals give a physical presence to the self-styled dream pop anthem. The visual art recalls the single’s video release with bath-bomb bursts of colour and plumes of smoke incensing the live audio. The opening song is clearly a hit, with Ryan McGroarty extending his guitar solo for an eager, mesmerized audience.
As a collaborative performance, we then swap across the stage to Belfast act New Portals who introduce themselves with ‘Do It Right’, R&B inflected synthpop that showcases both rhythmic and vocal talents in the brother-sister outfit. The screen changes to the act’s somewhat darker visual art animation, and Ruth Aicken’s graceful vocal delivery balances against the mix of sequenced and live percussion, reminiscent of acts like iamamiwhoami.
Æ Mak carry the energy further with ‘Sing Hey Love’. The outfit’s dual female vocals are almost percussive with their punchy delivery, while still emphasising leads Aoife McCann and Ellie McMahon’s competence as classically trained singers from BIMM Dublin. Set against the jungle and bubblegum pop stylings of the instrumental, the act’s locomotive vocals make for a truly engaging performance.
After a brief break in the run of performances during which host Katie Richardson of Goldie Fawn welcomes the performers and audience, Goldie Fawn introduces with ‘Save Me’, a track featuring collaborative vocals from Cheylene of Beauty Sleep. New Portals’ ‘Cage’ features a single dancer, giving the track a sense of intimacy, and we see a collaborative effort again in Beauty Sleep’s ‘Living Right’ with Katie taking the synth line for the track.
The performers are clearly confident with the uniquely staged event. ‘Celestial’, from Æ Mak, gives the act an opportunity to showcases their dance abilities. Swinging arms between all performers and a four-piece dance choreography play off the track’s eager, catchy rhythms. Following, New Portals present recent single ‘Groove Boy’, a song that substitutes complex rhythms for a simple dance beat with a trancelike melody that calls to mind Robert Glasper Experiment. Dance rhythms are built on further during Beauty Sleep’s ‘First Time’. In the pink glow of the stage lighting and against the dream pop grandeur of the instrumental the artists and dancers wave long colourful streamers, while collaborative harmonies remain strong.
Act 1 comes to a close with New Portals ‘Stay Here Tonight’. Having recently had its video release, the track is disco-noir with a glassy, hovering synth line and Scritti Politti-like energy. The baby-doll softness of Ruth’s vocal delivery nods to the ambient vocals of Cranes and Lykke Li.
An impressive costume arrangement from the dancers featuring large, ornate golden wings brings the audience into Act 2, which Goldie Fawn opens with ‘Push Down’, a track accented by collaborative vocals from all of the acts. Beauty Sleep keep the atmosphere electrically-charged with follow-up ‘Until We See The Sun’.
Æ Mak’s ‘I Can Feel It In My Bones’ channels the rhythmic confidence of acts like Stealing Sheep and places it against Æ Mak’s unique jungle pop settings. Primal drum patterns and rhythmic vocals are accompanied by the outfit’s unique tribal dance moves, hugely contagious in their simplicity, that find themselves paralleled in the audience who dance along throughout.
Re-energised, the collaborative nature of the performance comes to the forefront again in New Portal’s ‘Winter Skin’, featuring Ryan of Beauty Sleep on guitar. Shared instrumentation gives the track a new depth in its live performance. In Goldie Fawn’s ‘Dancer’ we see the other performers and dancers clap along, with choreography based around centre-stage chairs. Infections rhythms meet the audience alongside lyrics that underscore Katie’s imperative for the evening “dance, dance, dance, dance, dance.”
Æ Mak maintain their charismatic energy with a spirited final track before New Portals close their contribution with ‘Skyline’, a slow-burning showcase of vocal and rhythmic talent. The upbeat electro-pop of Goldie Fawns ‘Savages’ shares tribal rhythmic sensibilities with Æ Mak before ‘Be Kind’, Beauty Sleep’s final track of the evening, reaffirms the vocal talent of the three-piece against a hugely spirited synth-pop instrumental. Backup singing comes from the other acts while Beauty Sleep singer and keyboardist Cheylene joins the dancers centre-stage for a final vocal solo and dance with Katie to round off the night.
The encore comes in the form of Goldie Fawn’s ‘Brothers’, a track from Brian Mulholland’s Northern Irish film ‘The Monday Club’. The song layers an emotionally-charged vocal line over a restrained piano accompaniment, individually showcasing Katie’s powerful vocals and impressive musicianship to bring the evening’s performance to a close. Presenting an immersive creative world that flirts between music and theatre; Goldie Fawn, New Portals, Æ Mak and Beauty Sleep give an unforgettable collaborative performance alongside visual artists and dancers.