Friday 25 November 2011

A thirst for the new

Nonclassical Club Night, Kings Place, London, Monday 21 November 2011

I don’t really like clubbing. All that drunken dancing, all that shouting; I’ve never quite managed to lose myself in a night out, to go beyond the tedious/silly/expensive outer shell of the experience. I am prepared to believe that this is my own failing, but the fact remains: I never feel more like Mark from Peep Show than I do when standing gormlessly in a club. Given this, I generally tend to avoid clubs and club nights as much as possible. So it was with a certain apprehension that I went to the ‘Nonclassical Club Night’ at Kings Place on Monday, and with a certain relief that I saw that Hall Two was laid out with quite a formal seating arrangement. Fantastic, I thought. I shan’t be needing my glowsticks after all.

In truth, ‘Nonclassical Club Night’ might have been a misnomer – ‘Classical Non-Club Night’ would probably have been a more technically accurate description. This isn’t to say, though, that it was a completely standard classical recital – and nor is it to say that the changes of format and tone which it adopted weren’t incredibly beneficial.

Nonclassical, which is a record label as well as a club night, has become a leading presence in contemporary music, in large part through the fresh template they have brought to concerts. Monday evening was arranged, as most Nonclassical gigs are, into three short sets, each featuring different performers. Before, between and after these sets Nonclassical DJs Gabriel Prokofiev and Richard Lannoy provided some more music from behind the decks. I think the idea is that at these points the evening moves a little further towards the ‘club night’ end of the spectrum, and I imagine that this is more the case at their regular venue, the Troy Bar in Hoxton. On this occasion, though, many of the audience filed out of the hall to the foyer, getting glasses of wine and intermingling with attendees from Hall One’s poetry recital. This can’t possibly have been clubbing; I quite enjoyed it.

On the other hand, it absolutely wasn’t a down-the-line, Brahms-and-two-Mozart classical recital either. The atmosphere was light, the performers mixed with the audience, and everyone wanted to hear new things. This is a weirdly rare occurrence at a concert – classical or non-classical, far too often hearing live music apparently functions to consolidate listening tastes, rather than to expand or challenge them. Nonclassical have cultivated an atmosphere in which pushing musical boundaries is generally accepted as interesting and worthwhile, and it’s for this that they deserve the most praise.

Gabriel Prokofiev’s music may stand in the same sort of relationship to clubbing as the evening as a whole. He was the composer of the concert’s opening piece, the fascinating ‘Cello Multi-Tracks’ for cello and 8 loudspeakers, which was performed extremely ably by Peter Gregson. The piece showed a clear and deliberate influence from the rhythms of house and trance music: the second movement, ‘Jerk Driver’, even had a couple of ‘hands in the air’ moments, like in a dance track when the bass drops out leaving high pulsating strings and they stick the smoke machine on. But instead of actual smoke Prokofiev gave us a misty, Debussian chord sequence. And it would have been a bit weird if people had actually put their hands in the air at this point.

In other words, the composition isn’t actually dance music, in the same way that anyone who chose this club night over Ministry of Sound would have had reason to be disappointed. But both the composition and the event do refer sincerely to the club format, and I don’t think it’s meant in irony. It’s a new thing altogether: an event with something of the spirit of a small pop concert, but with the intense listening practice of a classical one. It’s a very winning idea if you like taking music seriously and don’t like dinner jackets.

The second set was performed by guitarist Carl Herring, who played ‘Caprice’ by jazz composer Tim Garland and a gentle, touching piece by Richard Lannoy called ‘Ode in Gratitude’. The third set featured members of the excellent Azalea Ensemble playing compositions by Tansy Davies. The softness of Herring’s performance contrasted markedly to Davies’ abrasiveness, and the overall impression of the evening was of an incredibly diverse array of new musical talent. My only complaint is that the sets could have been longer, or gone into more detail over a particular style or artist. Having created such an open platform for musical exploration, it’s a shame not to get fully stuck in to anything.

That said, this was a great evening – go on then, a great night out – and Nonclassical well deserve their place at the forefront of the contemporary music scene. I will be going clubbing again. Possibly even in Hoxton. That’s my limit, though.


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