Live: Sun Araw + Helm @ The Cube in Bristol, 25/09/2015

It’s dark. The most notable sight – aside from the torch-lit figure of Luke Younger (aka Helm) stooped over his table of equipment – is the loops of wiring cast in gigantic shadow on the side wall, curled into inhuman fingers. I hear synths spurting out between the crunch of bone and loose metallic shrapnel. It’s the rhythm of violent, bio-mechanical blood circulation, ever thicker and stronger. The liquid ruptures the body that carries it, as Younger stares intently at the veins of circuitry and organs of electronic boxes – a surgeon thoroughly botching the task at hand.

Suddenly I’m somewhere else. Helm is great at this. At several points during the performance the sonic scenery reassembles itself without warning, and my stomach plummets as Younger rips the floor from beneath me. Now I’m on the edge of a cliff. There’s a vigorous woodpecker tap and then an ominous rumble of bass frequencies, like a bird is chiselling away great chunks of rock around the patch upon which I stand. I shuffle nervously as the rumbles become louder and closer. The door of the fire exit starts to shake. Again and again, the tension accumulates into a throng of liquid pressure and unsettled surfaces – a boiling soup of flesh and microchips. It never gives way.

As Sun Araw start to gather momentum, I breathe out the anxiety that had accumulated during Helm. Everything is rubberised and elasticated. Drums boing against the hands that slap them; synths curve and ping like strips of malleable plastic. Melodies hover and then topple over among the improvisation, like someone trying to stand on one leg amidst a blizzard of bouncy balls, and during these moments I clock little emulations of retro ballad and funk, manifesting as flecks of wah guitar, keyboard and sassy vocal slapback.

It’s about five minutes into the set before I truly hear the cohesion between the three musicians on stage. Before this point, each seems to be in his own world of reflexive fidgets. Pops of cowbell scoot obliviously past the squawk of a DIY woodwind pipe, while belches of keyboard fall down the gaps between metronomic ticks of drum machine. Soon, I realise that my ears need to “step back”, and suddenly I’m hearing the communality that arches over the bubbles of staccato: the songs that trace lines of intention through the haze of missteps and deliberate deviations, like a child navigating a path by hop-scotching between the cracks. Sun Araw take the playful way round.

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