Music: Review: Iyabe/Run Logan Run/Sugar Horse/LICE

Tony Benjamin, November 5, 2016


The Cube Friday 4 November

This was always going to be a bit of a party, celebrating the final release of artful headliners Iyabe Biology. Biography. Culture. EP after what front woman and songwriter Sophie-Louise Dawes has called ‘“four years of collecting, collage and collapse”. With a four-act line-up it was always going to be a tight squeeze, too, so things got off to a brisk and early start with the proudly chaotic LICE trashing their own sound into a kind of noise/surf mash-up. 

With each of the four band members looking like they came from completely different bands and music that ranged from proggish free jazz to straightforward hard riffing metal (sometimes at the same time) there seemed to be some kind of optimistic alchemy behind the project. Indeed there were even moments when ‘indeterminate shouter’ Alastair’s massively over-reverbed vocals were actively shouted down by non-ironic bass monster Gareth while guest Harry Iceman Furniss added squalling blasts of cornet. All good fun, naturally.

Anyone would sound tight after that, and as it happened Sugar Horse are indeed a tight-sounding outfit, opening with ponderous purpose and darkly droning guitar under subliminal visual flashes. They fully explored their classic guitar trio set up, layering slabs of riff and washes of harmonics over songs like Death By Snake, a stadium rocker with a fine climactic ending, and the more spacious Dreck paying out with its plectrum shredding bass line. 

Another quick shift of the gears and there were Run Logan Run, Dan Johnson hunched over his drum kit and Andrew Neil Hayes flanked by footpedals, his alto sax glittering in the darkened stage lighting. This was a completely disciplined music, the sax rippling arpeggios and catching the rhythm from the drums, the two musicians evolving each piece together, giving and taking to allow their respective sound palettes to develop. Hayes has a rare grasp of the electronic possibilities for the saxophone which allows multiple voices to contribute: sometimes heavily harmonised, at others harshly wrought squawking and occasionally a sweep of pure-toned sweetness. Johnson’s capacity to grow and shrink the drumming role is as crucial, though, giving the dynamics the chance to reshape each tune. It was all too quickly over but, there again, it wasn’t their party and there was no doubt about the centre of attention despite all these distractions. Boasting two drummers, Iyabe flanked the stage with bass and guitar while Sophie-Louise took the centre space and clutched the mic stand, weaving a tapestry of vocal textures as an overture to their often spell-binding set. At its heart the music is a song cycle about confronting broken love and survival yet for all the bleakness of the theme it proved a jaunty musical business, raunchy power-punk and electro-pop as evident as shoe-gazing dronery. 

As the songs unfolded Sophie’s vocals ranged from raging punk to torchy blues via Everything But The Girl languor and the band kept pace with her throughout. The two drummers – Rupert Irving and Hannah Layhe – weren’t just there for firepower, but deploying electronics as well as kit sounds they kept up a complementary rhythm context for Ollie Baldwin’s methodical bass and Ben Harris deft guitar. Each song seemed it’s own piece, often wilfully at stylistic odds to the one before, yet each sat comfortably on their collective shoulders. This was clever stuff that never lost its heart, right through to the post-punk defiance of closer ‘I’ve Done It On My Own’ – a proud collective claim for an individual band that deserves to make its mark as widely as possible.

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