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LIVE REPORT: Ben Frost & Laurel Halo
Maria Perevedentseva , May 12th, 2015 10:41

Maria Perevedentseva reports on this month's edition of Ovation, with sets from Ben Frost, Laurel Halo and Jacques Gaspard Biberkopf

Photo by Carla Cuomo

A genuinely diverse crowd descends on Oval Space for the latest Ovation. You have to congratulate the event organisers on having gathered together a group of people one would rarely expect to share a room, but they are united by a very special kind of early-evening buzz, and everyone seems ready to revise their expectations of the night at every stage. The line-up itself is largely responsible. Every act has a constituency in the audience who would proclaim them headliner over the others, and, for better or worse, the evening does feel like three separate shows.

Jacques Gaspard Biberkopf presents a set which feels very "generation now", giving a glimpse of the path that the music of the future may well take. His immaculate sound design has the same crystalline aggression of Objekt's Flatland, but this is juxtaposed with extended a cappella Christina Aguilera samples and withering Reese pedals. This cornucopia of references is further extended by the visuals – flickers of low-tech video game footage and anonymous waterfalls. In typically self-aware and very New Age fashion, artlessness seems to rule, and this admission shouldn't hurt – the artlessness is not the problem. It is the pacing of Biberkopf's set which raises concern. Impetus lags at the very points at which the musical material is most accomplished, and there are plenty of them. Sustaining momentum is undoubtedly one of the hardest aspects of live performance - the artist has to learn to detach himself from his quotidian working pace, and project himself away from bedroom musings into the kind of time that the audience will be experiencing.

The opening of Laurel Halo's set brings with it something which was previously lacking: repetition. The kick comes in and there is a collective sigh of relief from the audience, who – after the chaos of the previous act – are delighted to retreat back into a 4/4 cocoon. An underlying jollity permeates Halo's entire performance, with skittish minimal chirrups set against a warm, aqueous bass, tight percussion, and just the right amount of harmonic content. The live format seems to afford Halo the chance of fast-tracking through what an organic progression might have been in other circumstances, and she presents a wealth of material. However, apart from one memorable breakdown which sounds like a metallophone medley, there is little foray into musical territories which lie outside of techno city. As her set approaches its end, the building of expectation is palpable - it seems that everyone is counting on Ben Frost to put all of this urban sensibility to shame.

By eleven o'clock we are three hours in, and emotion has yet to rear its ugly head. Then along comes Ben Frost. The first sadistic shriek emanating from his guitar shows everyone that the rules of the game have changed. His set is more disciplined, more heavily configured than the others, and yet, even though it is more subdivided into 'events', it seems to flow better. Abrasive kicks, rhythmically complex bass, and percussive stabs abounding – we are back in techno but this is the high grade. The synths are placed further down in the mix than in the album but this helps to integrate them, make them more a part of the overall organism, and everything is about movement. Even in the sparse, ambient moments, the sound is so resonant that it seems to create a kind of highly-charged atmosphere around the speaker and it is beautiful. MFO's light show adds considerably to this dynamic mirage. It is not overbearing, but certain gestures like the searing white searchlight devour the audience, making them recoil and ask for mercy. This was not to be. The intensity would go on building until the set's climax, which erupts in a torrential downpour of distortion and electricity. By this point, Frost has finally pushed some people over the edge, and the floor begins to clear with a defeatist shuffle. The synth melody from 'Nolan' rings the death knell of the show, and the questions which A U R O R A the album had left unanswered, are finally exhausted. Those of us who are still here stand in a mesmeric haze until applause and cheers obliterate the last embers of sound.