On a cold Thursday night in Brixton, two groups of music fans came together under one roof for the long-anticipated twin headline show of Mono and Alcest. The venue is packed, but it’s not too hard to tell which fans are there to see who. The fans of Alcest are enthusiastic, bright-eyed and ready to party; the spectators there for Mono are perhaps quieter but also observant, waiting patiently for the final act to hit the stage. In retrospect, the energy of the fans was a foretelling of the separate spirits of the two bands there.
At first listen, there seem to be more differences than similarities between these two bands. Both Alcest and Mono branch loosely from their shoegazing roots, but take entirely different paths – the dark, dreamy distortion of Alcest contrasts sharply with the surging intensity of Mono.
What brings them together in this tour seems to be Alcest’s newest album ‘Kodama’. The band have recently toured Japan twice, and this album, by the frontman’s admission, is influenced heavily by Japanese culture, tradition and spirituality. No wonder this group grabbed the chance to perform alongside Mono, Japan’s leading post-rock band.
Playing first is Alcest, who immediately induce a dreamy, head-nodding, hand-clapping crowd reverberation to their pulsing post-metal rhythm. They alternate between a soothing reverie of introspective concentration, and the crashing, distorted black metal that heralds the roots of their first album. The new tracks from ‘Kodama’ fall into the latter bracket, signifying a turning point for their discography.
Alcest arguably hit their best moments in these combinations of black metal and shoegazing. The second half of their set was full of these blasting moments; an insistent drum rhythm fills almost all the set, and in the moments where it’s missing, the effect is poignant and lingering. The performers look out over the crowd with small smiles, hinting that they’re as lost in their own dreamy performance as their audience.
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Up next is Mono. As ever they enter with the introduction to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, starting with the twinkling glockenspiel of ‘Ashes in the Snow’ and leading through the most recognise pieces from their discography. Unlike recent shows, they leave their new album ‘Requiem to Hell’ to the very end, a finale of cacophonous noise that erupts through the hall.
The stage presence between the two acts is utterly disparate. Alcest have a clear end and beginning to their songs, even while they move from dreamy slumbers to blackgaze crashes. Mono are a growing storm: stoic from the start, with a quiver of a motif on a piano or guitar, each song leads into a slow crescendo for up to quarter of an hour, until they are creating a whirlwind of sound, punctuated by the thunder of drums and slashes of trebled guitar.
It was unclear who, if intended, was truly the ‘headline’ of the show. Although the cheers for Alcest were loud at first, the eruptions of applause after each Mono song were exuberant and expectant. Many fans came for Alcest, but from overhearing the conversations afterwards, it was clear Mono had frazzled the crowd and won many new fans. Small details could have made Alcest just as sensational, including the slightly neglected stage lighting. During Mono the audience was blinded by sirens of strobe lighting, with splitting fireworks of light emitted at each leading drum kick; the lighting in Alcest was more simple but left their set somewhat wanting in comparison
Was it the right decision to have both bands headline the show? It’s hard to tell. Led from the pumping rhythms of Alcest to the long spiritual pieces of Mono, any hardcore fan of one band might have found the differences of the other too great. But their contrasts did nothing to subtract from their similarities. Both were at once the epitome of the shoegazing genre, with an aloof and almost blasé disconnect to the music they were making until it swept them up into its inevitable tirade. Whereas Mono were like droplets of water forming into hurricanes, Alcest were punchy, dynamic and throbbing. Both acts that night, individual masters of their immersive music, brought the spectators under their spell in dissimilar yet harmonious ways.
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