Hannah Peel Goes Underground

by coldwarnightlife

Servant Jazz Quarters, London
17 September 2015

Dalston is the kind of place where bearded men tie their hair in buns and eat pizza in restaurants named after songs by A Guy Called Gerald. Come off the main street, follow the sound of industrial drones and dance beats into a basement, and you might find Mal from Cabaret Voltaire on the decks with his mate Phil Winter. This night, the presence of We Are Wrangler is to support an intimate, sold-out show by the multi-instrumentalist, Hannah Peel, and the crowd gathering in Dalston’s Servant Jazz Quarters is an eclectic mix of friends, folkies and fans of Peel’s electronic music. Like Tuxedomoon, Peel straddles styles in a way that appeals to very different audiences, and she will cover a lot of ground in her short set.

IMG_5366IMG_5433Before we get there, Kite Base have the stage. It is the live debut for the duo of Kendra Frost and Ayşe Hassan (also of Savages), and their dueling basses issue waves of rhythm while Frost’s vocals float on top. We’ve previously only been let into one track, the catchy and dreamy “Dadum,” so Kite Base’s first outing is full of surprises. A drum machine and Kaoss pad accompany panels of floor pedals, but the core of their sound is Hassan’s hypnotic, sometimes stroboscopic, movement through the bottom end of the spectrum and Frost’s very capable vocalisation.

In origami, a kite base is one of the basic folds, but its significance is that supports many creative possibilities. With two bassists in the frame, there is nothing elementary about Kite Frame’s performance. There are fragments of rock involved, but they are ground so finely that they shift like particles of sound on a current of post-industrial grooves. The resulting shapes unfold like fractals.

IMG_5779The composer Cornelius Cardew was once asked about English folk music, and he replied that he didn’t know of such a thing; whereas, he noted, the Irish people mark every event through song. That tradition is part of Hannah Peel’s background, and the first two songs in her set, “Find Peace” and “Fabricstate,” resonate with the day’s headlines. “Find Peace” was released at the end of 2014, as part of a series of Christmas singles, and it’s an appeal that has lost none of its currency. Peel’s voice is a sophisticated instrument, and her choice of opener shows that it can tame even the wilder quirks of modular synthesis.

“Fabricstate” is the title track from Peel’s 2014 EP. Owing something to the magical realism of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, on one level the song describes the alienation of urban life, but its martial rhythms and soaring synths also suggest the tension between regimentation and resistance. The black eyes of CCTV cameras know where you are coming from but not where you are going. In the same way, Peel’s lyrics seem less revealing than the melody and instrumental track, which becomes more confident and assertive as it progresses.

IMG_6233“Silk Road,” another song from the Fabricstate EP, follows. Inlaid with Occidental and Oriental tones, it’s an expedition inspired by Marco Polo’s travels. In Peel’s hands, it’s like the opening of a mosaic-crusted, sandalwood-scented box filled with exotica. Indeed, for her next offering – Wild Beasts’ “Palace,” a track covered on her recent Rebox 2 EP – Peel brings out her amplified music box. As the punch card feeds through the device, the real depth and delicacy of Peel’s voice is revealed.

The highlight of the evening is the introduction of “All That Matters,” a new song. Arpeggios descend like ribbons of synthetic sound, and passion is added to the evening’s sonic palette, painted in sweeps as wide as the flicks of Peel’s trademark red hair. It is this organic, authentic and – in the way that Robert Wyatt perhaps would describe it – romantic material that most starkly distinguishes Peel from that other talented multi-instrumentalist, Laurie Anderson. Peel could be at home with the crowds at either Cecil Sharp House or Elektrowerkz, but tonight they’ve come to her and the only disappointment will have been felt by those who couldn’t get tickets.

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