Henry Hobson reviews the Flower-Corsano Duo // Ashley Paul // Yek Koo line-up at The Grosvenor
It was turning into a cold evening when I arrived at The Grosvenor pub last Tuesday. As I locked my bike to the railing, my cold fingers struggling with the key, I looked up at the blocky scaffolding and tarpaulin disguising the gentrification of the housing block opposite The Grosvenor, a symptom of the changes taking place in Brixton that are setting the pub itself on a course towards permanent closure.
It’s rare these days for venues in South London to offer the kind of environment where performances of this nature can take place; the kind of environment where Helga Fassonaki (Yek Koo) can kneel at the front of the stage and play with experimental vocals and tape loops before setting a practically arrhythmic drum pattern in motion. It’s an evironment in which she can pick up a trumpet and set to work on developing a rolling, foreboding swell, cutting it off with a series of staccato blasts. Later in her set, switching to a grittier, more heavily processed drum sound, Fassonaki gives voice to some primal, almost guttural utterances. “I am interested in voice as an instrument and the throat as a resonating chamber” she writes on her website. The rest of her set continues in a similar vein; the tape loops and beats providing a barely discernible backdrop to vocal and trumpet lines that are obfuscating as well as dramatic.
New York-based composer-performer Ashley Paul announces her arrival on stage with delicately discordant guitar plucking accompanied by vocals that are more clearly stated than that of Yek Koo whilst remaining just as enigmatic; “I can see, I say you know ‘cos I know”. Things develop with the introduction of a saxophone played simultaneously with the guitar. There is humour in this performance, with the two instruments behaving in a way comparable to a pair of siblings, vying for the attention of performer and audience alike, with no clear winner. While the guitar continues with adroit, self-assured confidence, the sax falls into repetitive yet effective strops that beseech and distract. As unsettlingly high pitches from the sax send my mind into a spin and Paul sings “The flies around my head, it’s the heat” the crowd is only rescued from a mass sonically-induced malarial delirium by the chill that has seeped into the room from its exterior. This is a sound that does all it can to transport and transmute.
“It’s about trying to play the same song in different ways each night” Mick Flower told me as we chatted about Flower-Corsano Duo’s current tour before the gig. By recording each show themselves, they are quickly amassing hours of material that will eventually be edited down to a coherent batch of pieces for the next LP. Flower and Corsano don’t rehearse. They don’t even live in the same country. What they present in their live shows are skeletal musical automata that are fleshed out as the crowd bears witness. Their set begins with the inimitable rolling drums offered up by Corsano and Flower’s hypnotic jangling guitar. Together they build a clutter-ridden wall of ethereal, cosmic sound. The magnetism that ties the performance together is tangible and speaks of a connection that transcends geography. They are like the inner workings of a dynamo; rotating through patterns and generating a sonic force that wreaks havoc that somehow remains both understated and overpowering. Gradually they bring the room down. A lifeboat appears on the horizon in the form of a down-tempo coda from Corsano as Flower similarly produces a more accessible pentatonic. But this is only a mirage. As soon as we are drawn in they lift the curtains on yet more chaos. More confusion and doubt. But this hedonistic finale is in itself inviting, enthralling and addictive. A gloriously bleak wasteland of riffs and patterns. With that they finished, and I began my short, bone-chilling ride home, beaming with confusion.