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LIVE REPORT: LA Priest
Josh Gray , November 24th, 2015 22:10

Josh Gray reports from Heaven in London

Photo by Issac Eastgate

If, like me, you were a floppy haired music geek thirsty for something different in the late 00s, then the chances are you became obsessed with Fantasy Black Channel. It was the first and last release from Late Of The Pier, the recklessly alternative Castle Donington trio fronted by the prodigious Sam Eastgate, who took the gradually unravelling threads of dance-punk and nu-rave and tied them into something fresh, exciting and unique. The stage was set for them to become the vanguard of a movement that would sweep the likes of Egyptian Hip-Hop and Cut Copy out of obscurity and onto iPods (now in colour!) worldwide. But then, just as the band were garnering serious attention and started dropping singles 'Blueberry' and 'Best In The Class' in preparation for an assumed new album, things just… stopped.

Seven long years passed: Delphic came and went, the Klaxons fell silent, people forgot who Does It Offend You Yeah? were meant to offend. Then, all of a sudden, LA Priest (the name Sam Eastgate used to release the few demos that were too weird even for LOTP back in 2007) emerged from his cocoon in north Wales where he'd been exploring new sonic horizons. Live, the results of this self-imposed, budget Bon Iver exile are bizarre yet breathtaking; like Sam Dust (he goes by Dust now) has managed to turn his uniquely wired brain inside out to put on display for the public's amusement.

Dressed in silky white pyjamas and alternating between his guitar and a series of heavily customised keyboards and self-built gadgets, LA Priest's principle aim seems to be to throw down the glove to every DJ to ever hit Heaven's decks. He plays as much of his heavily stylised electronica on live instruments as possible, leaping around his sonic laboratory like a mad scientist trying to work his way through his methamphetamine withdrawal. Sam Dust has always been a fan of fusing samples with live instrumentation, but, while this used to detract from LOTP's live performances, with LA Priest it's glorious to behold and successfully conveys his intended combination of the organic and the synthetic (Inji, the name of the album, means both machine and plant in Nigerian). Add to that the fact that any backing tracks in use are pumped through a soundsystem that looks like Dust stole it off the back of Soulwax's tourbus and the resulting envelope of sound is as immersive as reading Game Of Thrones in the Mariana Trench.

As well as adding a sweet bass throb to the already achingly groovy 'Night Train' and 'Party Zute/Learning To Love', LA Priest also finds time to unleash his inner Justice on a dancefloor-killing electronic Segway, as well as improvising a song live built on a sample of the cheering audience. But despite his obvious talent and the enthusiasm of the crowd for him and him alone, Dust never seems confident in his ability to perform his bedroom experiments to an audience.

There is a timeless paradox that lies at the heart of his set: how can a natural introvert reconcile their desire to make strange music alone in their bedroom forever with their knack for producing insanely catchy pop gems? He's one of music's most clichéd comparisons, but when my companion for the evening comments on the subtle similarities between him and Kurt Cobain I immediately understand what he means. It's easy to be either crass or inaccurate when comparing an artist to Kurt Cobain, especially one as far removed from the early 90s Seattle grunge scene as the dance-savvy sampler whizz Sam Dust; but had Kurt been born 15 years later in a sleepy Nottinghamshire town then maybe the warped mirror he held up towards contemporary music might have sounded something like LA Priest? Dust's relationship with his audience: part mutual appreciation, part agoraphobic fear, also brings to mind the unassured self-effacement and charisma of the Nirvana frontman - at one point he even mumbles "I don't know what I'm doing", MTV Unplugged style.

Despite his nerves and scarcity of material (he chose to finish on a repeat of the stellar 'Oino' because some of his friends had just walked in), LA Priest manages to spin out a unique performance, gleefully breaking down barriers between live performance and dance bonanza that I didn't even realise still existed. Solos and self-consciousness are coupled with breakbeats and synthesised sensuality. It might now be seven years after he first encouraged us to move our bodies to the bassline, but it's good to have Sam Dust back and more brilliantly bizarre than ever.

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