Thursday 2 September 2010

Zola Jesus and The Haxan Cloak - CAMP Basement 01 September 2010

Zola Jesus

I’m back at CAMP Basement for the second time in a week. It’s less busy than for Warpaint, but in a space as cramped as this it does not take many folk at the front of the stage to constitute a throng.

A young man wanders onto the stage and ducks down out of view. Then the droning starts…

…this is Bobby Krilic, aka The Haxan Cloak. For the next twenty five minutes or so he produces a single slab of electronic buzzing, punctuated by some metronomic ticking to provide a bit of beat and variety.

Music like this depends almost entirely on the willingness of the audience to immerse itself in the experience. By concentrating on the subtle modulations in the deafening hum and thrum, an almost meditative state can be reached, and all other stimuli blocked out.

Or alternatively, you could regard it as a lot of old rope and head to the bar.

It’s fair to say that the Haxan Cloak provide plenty of evidence for both reactions. I actually get right into it and rather enjoy nodding out to the monotonous sound. Some colleagues are prodding me in the back and looking meaningfully at their empty beer glasses.

The noise stops, Krilic pops back into view, waves and departs. I head further down the front.

Zola Jesus is gathering a lot of interest at the moment. She is one of the more visible exponents of the current trend towards gloomy, often distorted electronica. I’m loathe to call it chill-wave or dark-wave because these terms have become so tribal that to put an act in one category or another is to invite storms of protest akin to the endless debates as to which heavy rock band is death/hair/thrash/black metal. I’m just here to see what the fuss is about.

Nika Rosa Danilova, to give her family name, is joined tonight by a couple of guys who play keyboards and add backing vocals. But it is Zola Jesus herself who is the focal point.

She is a tiny figure with white hair. She makes herself even smaller by hunching almost double, either rocking back and forth with the rhythm or beetling to and fro across the stage like a little old lady fleeing through a dark forest.

She’s small in stature, but big in voice. Her biography indicates that there may be some opera training in her past, and she can certainly project herself with a deep throaty roar.

However, to my ears there is a fundamental problem. Zola Jesus treads so closely in the footsteps of Siouxsie Sioux and Diamanda Galás that she is always going to draw comparisons with them. And she is going to come up short.

There are few songs here that really stand out. The track ‘Night’ from the new ‘Stridulum II’ album is an exception, but most of the set is samey and lacklustre. Things get a bit more animated towards the end, but generally most of this material is nondescript. I find my thoughts drifting towards Greek duo Mary And The Boy, who operate in a similar field but to much greater effect. (Give ‘Bobby Peru’ a listen).

Zola Jesus is an enthusiastic collaborator with other artists and it could be that via this route she will produce something more original and interesting. Tonight’s show is that of a performer who hasn’t stepped out of the shadow of her influences yet.

She’s got a voice. But has she got a voice of her own?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

That captures all my doubts perfectly. A spot-on review!